The Port of Hopewell is located in Prince George County, Virginia, and is part of the James River Waterway and the Chesapeake Bay Waterway. The Port of Hopewell is about 15 nautical miles (21 kilometers or 13 miles) southeast of the Port of Richmond and about 66 nautical miles (98 kilometers or 61 miles) northwest of the Port of Norfolk. The Port of Hopewell is an inland port located at the juncture of the James and Appomattox Rivers. In 1923, the Port of Hopewell was the headquarters for General Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War. The 2010 US Census reported a population of almost 22.6 thousand people in the Port of Hopewell.
Archaeological evidence indicates that humans inhabited the future Port of Hopewell area as long as 16 thousand years ago. These ancient dwellers were hunter-gatherers who moved frequently, leaving limited evidence of their presence.
There were as many as 20 thousand Powhatan, a confederation of tribes, in eastern Virginia and what would become the Port of Hopewell when the English established Jamestown in 1607. The confederation contained 30 affiliated tribes organized by Chief Wahunsunacawh (later called Chief Powhatan by the settlers) in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries.
After Chief Powhatan died in 1618, conflict with the colonists increased as the people attempted to drive off the English. Attacks by the Powhatan led to reprisals by the English that almost eliminated the tribe in the 1640s. Infectious diseases introduced by the Europeans also decimated the Powhatan population.
During the 1700s, black slaves and some white indentured servants who escaped the colonists sought refuge with the Powhatan. After the 1676 Bacon's Rebellion, the colonists began to enslave many Powhatan. Although the House of Burgesses abolished Indian slavery in 1691, many Powhatan continued to be enslaved into the 18th Century.
The Powhatan and English cultures were merged through unions and marriages, the most well-known being Pocahontas and John Rolfe. Many First Families of Virginia have both Powhatan and English ancestry.
In the 21st Century, the Commonwealth of Virginia has recognized eight tribes as descendants of the Powhatan confederation. The tribes have as many as 3500 enrolled tribal members, but up to four times that number are eligible for membership. Two tribes, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey, still retain their 17th Century reservations in King William County.
City Point, the oldest area of the modern Port of Hopewell, was established in 1613 as Bermuda City. Representatives of City Point were burgesses at Virginia's first House of Burgesses (the first assembly of elected representatives of English colonists in North America) meeting in 1619. The City of Hopewell annexed the Town of City Point in 1923.
During the Siege of Petersburg in 1864-65, General Ulysses S. Grant was headquartered at the Port of Hopewell' City Point. President Abraham Lincoln visited the headquarters at Appomattox Manor, one of Richard Eppes' three plantations in the Port of Hopewell area. During the Civil War, Richard Slaughter, a former slave, and all but 12 of Eppes' 130 slaves, escaped to a Union ship. The City Point Railroad linked Petersburg and the Port of Hopewell's City Point as a critical part of the Petersburg siege strategy. The City Point Railroad is the oldest portion of today's Norfolk Southern.
In 1914, the DuPont Company developed Hopewell Farm from part of the Eppes' plantation. They built a dynamite factory on the site of the future Port of Hopewell, replacing it with guncotton manufacturing during World War I.
The Port of Hopewell was almost destroyed by the Hopewell Fire of 1915, but it prospered after the fire. The Port of Hopewell was incorporated as an independent city in 1916.
After World War I ended, DuPont abandoned the Port of Hopewell, and the city almost became a ghost town. However, the Tubize Artificial Silk Corporation took over the old DuPont site in 1923. That year, the Port of Hopewell annexed City Point, creating a positive environment for future prosperity.
In 1935, the Port of Hopewell hit the national news when a bus crash at the Appomattox River Drawbridge just outside the city limits took 14 lives. The bridge was replaced by the Charles Hardaway Marks Bridges. Another accident gained national notice in 1977, when a tanker hit the Port of Hopewell's Benjamin Harrison Memorial Bridge.
Today, the Port of Hopewell is home to large chemical plants owned by Hercules Chemical and the Honeywell Corporation. It also has a paper mill recently purchased by Rock Tenn. These plants have created environmental challenges for the residents of the Port of Hopewell. In the 1970s, the Port of Hopewell gained national attention in what is called the "kepone debacle."
The Port of Hopewell is an important industrial city, but it has faced struggles with the loss of jobs, residential changes, and environmental clean-ups. Today, old rental properties and low-income housing dominate the Port of Hopewell's housing stock.
Over the past decades, the Port of Hopewell has encouraged development of its large waterfront and the City Point Historic District.