Mason County, formed by an act of the Virginia General Assembly on January 2, 1804, in the first of several divisions of Kanawha County, was named for Virginia patriot and statesman George Mason. The 1804 act directed the county court to “proceed to erect the necessary public buildings at the town of Point Pleasant,… which shall hereafter become the seat of justice.” Strategically located where the Kanawha enters the Ohio, Point Pleasant predated the county's formation by a decade. It was established in 1794, although settlement began some two decades earlier. As mentioned in the introduction to this volume, Point Pleasant was the site of a dramatic episode in the history of westward expansion, as well as in the history of the colonials' deteriorating relationship with England. On October 10, 1774, the decisive battle of Lord Dunmore's War was fought there. After the battle, troops erected Fort Blair, a log stockade that became the nucleus of settlement.
Once peace was secured, the fertile bottomlands provided an early base for a strong agricultural economy. In 1798 Tarleton Bates voyaged down the Ohio and noted that “for 8 miles above Point Pleasant on either side are cabbins.” George Washington, who died the next year, willed his extensive land holdings in the area to a number of heirs, and settlers from eastern Virginia soon purchased many of them. The antebellum, slaveholding lifestyle they inaugurated produced a number of plantation groupings reminiscent of prototypes they had known “back east,” with large brick houses surrounded by service structures. According to the 1840 census, 808 of Mason County's 6,777 inhabitants were slaves, among the highest proportion of any western Virginia county.
In the decade before the Civil War, two groups of New Englanders came to mine coal and establish salt furnaces along the Ohio. They were moderately successful, and they established towns on either side of Sliding Hill—Hartford and New Haven—named for the two Connecticut cities from which they emigrated.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the county's population had grown to 24,142. From that 1900 figure, it has since fluctuated very little. In 2000 the population was 25,957, a slight decline from the high of 27,045 reached in 1980.
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