The Contribution of African Americans
African Americans have contributed significantly to the history of Isle of Wight County since its establishment in 1634 as one of the original eight shires of the Virginia Colony. The history of the county and its records were preserved and are available today because of the efforts of one man.
Charged by the Clerk of Court to take the records from the Courthouse of 1800 into hiding, Randall Boothe, an African-American slave, took them by wagon to Greenville and Southampton. After the war he returned the records, was freed and served as the Caretaker of the Courthouse.
Several attractions feature the significant role of African Americans played in the area's rich history.
Begin your visit to Smithfield with breakfast at the Smithfield Gourmet Bakery on Main Street or Taste of Smithfield - Smithfield Foods' flagship shop and bistro cafe.
Next, stop by the Visitor Center, also home to the Arts Center @ 319. This unique facility offers tourist information, a gallery/gift shop and the opportunity to chat with resident artists. Be sure to pick up a map and brochure on the town's Porcine Parade - eight life-size statues of market hogs, painted by local artists to reflect an aspect of the town’s rich history, culture & recreation. Also ask for a copy of our downtown map/Historic Walking Tour brochure and our Children's Coloring & Activity Book which offers a scavenger hunt through town shops, restaurants and attractions to win a free ice cream cone at the Smithfield Ice Cream Parlor or Ringo's donut!
Further down Main Street is the Isle of Wight County Museum with its overview of the county’s history and the world's oldest ham, an example of Smithfield’s famous ham curing process. Just across the street is the Old Courthouse of 1750, modeled after the Capitol Building in Colonial Williamsburg.
Enjoy lunch riverside at Captain Chuck-a-Muck’s in the village of Rescue. Then head to Historic Fort Huger, the “Gateway to the Confederate Capital,” built mainly by slaves and freed slaves, and featuring a self-guided walking tour to view mounted cannon and the ghost fleet on the James River. The names of those who worked at the fort are displayed.
Afterwards visit the Courthouse of 1800 and peruse the genealogical records, protected for the duration of the Civil War by Randall Boothe. The courthouse is still in use today and in 2011 the county's new records room was renamed the "Randall Boothe" Records Room in his honor. Tours of Boykin’s Tavern, named after Major Francis Boykin who served with Patrick Henry and George Washington are available upon request at the Visitor Center and given notice of your visit. A savvy businessman, his tavern was located next door to the land he donated for the Isle of Wight Courthouse of 1800.
Finish your day with dinner at the historic Smithfield Inn followed by one of our local concerts or events.
Have breakfast at the Smithfield Gourmet Bakery & Cafe on Main Street. Then head down Main Street to the Schoolhouse Museum. Built in 1932, it is an African American History Museum of Public Education, featuring period desks and books and over 150 oral histories of those who attended the school. Be sure to call ahead (757.365.4789) as the Schoolhouse Museum has limited hours. The museum is available for tours by appointment as well.
Lunch in Smithfield at the Smithfield Ice Cream Parlor, then stroll down Main Street to browse the unique shops and art galleries of the downtown district.
Finish your visit to Smithfield & Isle of Wight County with dinner at Smithfield Station, and enjoy a stroll on the boardwalk and a gorgeous sunset over the Pagan River.
More family-friendly itinerary ideas!