Settlement of the area began around 1640 with the county being officially formed in 1669 from a part of Lancaster County. The county's only incorporated town, Urbanna, was established in 1680 serving initially as a port for shipping agricultural products and later as the county's commercial and governmental center.
Rosegill Estate, a Middlesex County plantation first constructed in 1649, served as the temporary seat of the colony under two royal Governors of Virginia:
- Sir Henry Chicheley, who served under Thomas Culpeper, 2nd Baron Culpeper of Thoresway
- Lord Francis Howard, 5th Baron Howard of Effingham
The home remains a private residence to this day, though the estate has been purchased by a Northern Virginia Development firm, and much of it is slated to become a 700-plus home subdivision.
American Civil War
During the American Civil War, Urbanna was initially planned as the point of landing for General George B. McClellan's 1862 Peninsula Campaign to take Richmond, but ultimately, the failed campaign utilized Fort Monroe as its starting point, almost doubling the distance by land to the Confederate citadel. Delays in reaching the gates of Richmond allowed the Confederates ample time to erect substantial defensive batteries, contributing to the Union failure.
The Historic Middlesex County Courthouse was built from 1850 to 1874 by architects William R. Jones and John P. Hill, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. A new courthouse complex began construction in 2003 and was completed in August of 2007. The new building has been fully operational since September, 2007. The Historic Courthouse has been remodeled and now serves as the Board of Supervisors meeting room and the Registrar's Office.
Urbanna was incorporated on April 2, 1902, comprising an area of 0.49 square miles (1.27 square kilometers). The Town of Urbanna remains the county's largest commercial center and its only incorporated area but the county seat of government has moved to the Village of Saluda on U.S. Route 17.
To the east, almost to Stingray Point, the Village of Deltaville is situated on State Route 33 between the mouths of the Rappahannock and Piankatank Rivers. Once a major center for wooden boat building, the village remains a commercial and recreational center. The waterfront east to Stingray Point is home to many marinas, with a heavy concentration on Broad Creek.