Formed from Brunswick County in 1745, Lunenburg County, like Brunswick, was named for a German holding of the king, in this case George II, duke of Brunswick-Lunenburg. During the early days of the Civil War, the county acquired the nickname “Old Free State” when a vocal part of Lunenburg's population threatened to secede from the nation—and the state—because Virginia was slow to secede from the Union.
In 1720 the region was opened for settlement, but few took advantage of the opportunity until tax and other incentives were offered in an act of 1738. Most of the earliest settlers were English, some with a few slaves, who moved here from nearby eastern counties. The Scots-Irish, the next-largest group of settlers, began arriving around the middle of the eighteenth century, along with Swiss, Scots, and a few Huguenots and Germans. Lunenburg's original territory of nearly five thousand square miles extended to the Blue Ridge Mountains and encompassed counties as far away as Franklin and Henry. Today's Lunenburg, a relatively small county, is bounded on the north by the Nottoway River and by the Meherrin River on the south. With its rolling hills, dense forests, and relatively fertile soil, Lunenburg was, if not an Eden, at least a good prospect for farming or raising export cash crops of tobacco. Since its rivers feed into North Carolina's shallow Albemarle Sound, in the eighteenth century its exports had to be transported to faraway Petersburg, the nearest tobacco inspection station. Hogsheads of tobacco had to pass over rough roads and, if the water level was high enough, perhaps could be floated down the shallow, rocky Appomattox River just north of Lunenburg.
Except for a few absentee landlords, only a smattering of the early settlers owned more than one or two slaves to raise the labor-intensive tobacco. In 1800, slightly more than half of the inhabitants were enslaved, but by 1850, slaves made up over 60 percent of the population and their labor produced more than 50 percent of Virginia's tobacco.
In the early twentieth century, the Virginian Railway, built as another link between the West Virginia coal fields and Virginia's seaports, also served as a means of transporting local products to markets. New towns, including Victoria and Kenbridge, grew up along the lines and the county seat at Lunenburg Court House languished after the railroad bypassed it. Almost all of the surviving early structures in Lunenburg County are frame and relatively modest. Brick construction was rare in early Lunenburg County; one exception is the courthouse (LU1). Today, a large percentage of Lunenburg's population works in Richmond.
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