Poquoson is an independent city located in the U.S. state of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 12,150. The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Poquoson with surrounding York county for statistical purposes.
Poquoson, which was formerly part of York County, became an incorporated town in 1952 and an independent city in 1975. (In Virginia, municipalities incorporated as independent cities are not part of any county.) However, the ties remain close. Over 30 years after Poquoson became a politically independent entity, some constitutional services such as the courts, sheriff and jail continue to be shared with neighboring York County.
Poquoson is one of the oldest continuously named cities in Virginia. It is also one of the few to retain a name which derived from the Native Americans who inhabited the area before colonization by the English began in the 17th century.
The name of the city is a Native American word which roughly translates to "great marsh." The term pocosin, with its varied spellings, was a term used by the area's inhabitants to describe a low, marshy, woody place covered by water in the winter, but dry in the summer. These Native Americans were Algonquians, a tribal group affiliated through the Powhatan Confederacy, and were hostile to the early settlers. A petition to have the name of the parish and river changed was an attempt to rid the language of all vestiges of Indian terms. However, "poquoson" has survived through the centuries and has become a proper noun used to designate the present city.
The current city is a remnant of a larger area known from the first days of its settlement in the early 17th century by English colonists as the New Poquoson Parish of the Church of England. In the colonial times before separation of church and state and freedom of religion were established in Virginia and the United States, the church parish boundaries and governmental ones were often the same. In addition to the current city of Poquoson, New Poquoson Parish originally included the areas in York County known today as Poquoson, Tabb, Grafton, Dare and Seaford. This land was opened for settlement in the year 1628 and was occupied by people from the English settlement of the Virginia Colony established at Kecoughtan in 1610 by Sir Thomas Gates which eventually became part of the current City of Hampton. The first reference to Poquoson is believed to be in Colonial records of a land grant of 500 acres in New Poquoson to Christopher Calthorpe in 1631 by a court in what became the former Elizabeth City County.
In 1634, the eight original shires of Virginia were created. Poquoson was located in Charles River Shire. The name was changed to York County in 1642-43. The York River was known earlier as the Charles River, and its name was also changed about the same time.
Poquoson grew as a close-knit rural community of York County for the next 300 years. During the American Revolutionary War, independence was won at nearby Yorktown, a major tourist attraction of the Historic Triangle of Colonial Virginia.
Poquoson became an incorporated town in 1952, as the citizens of the community did not want their children to be bussed to York High School due to distance. When the town was incorporated, Poquoson's small predominately African American community known as Cary's Chapel was given the choice to become a part of Poquoson or remain with York County. The Cary's Chapel community chose to remain just outside the town limits in York County. The town became an independent city in 1975 in order to maintain this status. The change from incorporated town to independent city status also effectively protected Poquoson from potential annexation suits by the adjacent City of Hampton.
The changes to incorporated town and independent city were part of a wave of municipal changes in southeastern Virginia in the third quarter of the 20th century. Although Poquoson is one of the smaller of 10 independent cities extant in the Hampton Roads region in the 21st century, it is not unique in the area as a city having large areas of undeveloped and protected wetlands.