In the spring of 1864—150 years ago—the toil, sacrifice, and destruction of three years of Civil War merged into a swelling Union tide whose advance seemed inexorable, even if its success and destination remained in doubt. The Civil War became a whirlwind, rushing southward through Virginia and the Confederacy. Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg joined the lengthening list of the nation’s bloody battlefields. That divided nation and the world watched intently, for that spring and summer the final course of the war would be set.
Stafford County has a rich Civil War history including a naval battle, cavalry skirmishes, and Union encampments. Many of these Civil War sites can still be visited today.
1903 was a banner year for aircraft development, and Stafford County was on the bleeding edge of it. On December 17, Orville and Wilbur Wright had the first successful manned flight of a mechanical, heavier-than-air machine at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. But two months before that, on October 7, Samuel Pierpont Langley—with the blessings of Smithsonian—launched his design at Widewater in Stafford County. The only problem was, the well-funded flight crashed, dooming Langley’s dreams of being first in flight.
By 1900 the forests had recovered sufficiently from the ravages of the Civil War to support a lumber business again. Long boats sailed from Coal Landing to Aquia Creek, up the Potomac and on to Baltimore.
Between 1890 and World War I, wood provided one of the few available cash incomes in Stafford. The locals would cut what timber they could and haul it to Coal Landing by wagon or boat to sell for pulpwood. The stacks of logs waiting at the docks were often forty feet high. Because the docks at Coal Landing were fairly extensive, there were a number of fishing boats that worked out of here, also.
Gold was discovered in Stafford during the eighteenth century. In 1787 Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Notes on Virginia, “I know a single instance of gold found in this state. It was interspersed in small specks through a lump of ore, of about four pounds in weight, which yielded seventeen pennyweight [1/20 ounce] of gold, of extraordinary ductility.” This gold was found in Stafford about four miles below Fredericksburg on the north side of the Rappahannock.
The University of Mary Washington's popular Great Lives Chappell Lecture Series returns in 2014 with another great lineup. Lectures begin at 7:30 p.m. in Dodd Auditorium and are free and open to the public. For more information about each lecture and presenter, see the full schedule here.
The Central Rappahannock Regional Library is proud to support this outstanding community program by selecting library materials that will help you delve further into the fascinating lives of each historical figure.
John Wilkes Booth - Presented by David O. Stewart on Thursday, January 16
Jim Henson - Presented by Brian Jay Jones on Tuesday, January 28
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Presented by David Garrow on Tuesday, February 4
Bob Dylan - Presented by Sean Wilentz on Thursday, February 6
Aquia Creek would have so many tales to tell if only that were possible. The creek has been a vital part of the development of the county since Giles Brent established his home there in the late 1640s.
James Hunter (1721-1784) was the son of James Hunter, merchant of Duns, Scotland. His uncle, William Hunter, settled in Virginia in the 1730s and was one of the first Scottish merchants to settle in the Fredericksburg area. James was brought up in the mercantile business and soon began making business trips to Virginia during which time he also bought property here.
For over 200 years Chatham has stood on the high ridge above the Rappahannock River, a serene sentinel watching over the city of Fredericksburg. The house and its occupants have been involved in most of the critical events of Virginia’s history from the American Revolution through the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The design of the house bespeaks the elegance and dignity of the Virginia plantation era at its height. That dignity was sorely strained during the unwelcome Yankee intrusion of the Civil War; like the spirit of the war-ravaged Southerners, however, it emerged from the experience older, somewhat battered but none the less proud.
Kate Waller Barrett (1857-1925), gently raised daughter of a prominent Stafford County family, was confronted as a young woman by a heart-wrenching scene that played out before her in her home. It stirred her heart and propelled her into a public life. The humanitarian work inspired by Kate Waller Barrett’s experience led eventually to established shelters and services across this country and abroad known generally as the Florence Crittenton Mission.