McDowell County was established by an act of the Virginia General Assembly in 1858, two years before the start of the American Civil War. In 1863, the county was one of the 55 that separated from the Old Dominion to form West Virginia, thus earning the nickname "the Free State." Long before this, though, McDowell County was known for its bountiful natural resources; a great geologist, Dr. Thomas Walker, touted these vast "coal lands" after his 1748-1750 exploration. Political leaders like Thomas Jefferson, who knew of the county's mineral wealth, steered Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution, to obtain all of McDowell County in the land speculation boom of the mid-1790s. After Morris was sent to debtor's prison in 1799, however, his land holdings were acquired by Michael Bouvier, a cabinet maker. In the 1920s, the remains of Bouvier's holdings were purchased by Henry Ford, the automobile tycoon. Other famous personalities associated with McDowell County include J.P. Morgan and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.