In Stafford County: Omens of 1675

In the year 1675 four interesting events were recorded in Stafford County. Three of these were considered omens of the fourth, and the fourth was considered of significance to the history of our area.

The first event was in the heavens. In the southwestern sky, for more than a week, each day appeared a large comet with a long tail resembling that of a horse on a windy day. The Indians and the whites alike wondered what might be the meaning of this heavenly sign.

The second event rose from the ground. For a period of a month there emerged through spigot holes in the earth swarms of large flies about an inch long and big as a man's little finger. Today, of course, we still witness the periodic emergence of the seventeen-year cicada or locust. And today, some still believe their appearance foretells dire events of great consequence.

The third event was a repeat of one thirty years past. There came a flock of pigeons, the length of their flight having no visible end while in width they covered a quarter of the mid hemisphere. At night when they settled to roost, the branches of great trees broke under their weight. The year 1644--when such a flock was last seen--was also the year of the last Indian massacre in the area.

The establishment of these three phenomena as true omens was reinforced when, on Sunday morning in 1675, Stafford residents on their way to church discovered the bodies of Robert Henn and a servant massacred by the Doeg Indians--an event which triggered the future Bacon's Rebellion.

The Grand Assembly at James City responded to the Henn Massacre by ordering 111 men out of Gloucester to establish a fort of defense in or near the falls of the Rappahannock River. Major Lawrence Smith was to be its chief commander. (This Lawrence Smith was, in future years, the surveyor who laid out the city of Yorktown.) The amount of ammunition, four hundred pounds of shot, provided for this fort was greater than the allotment made to any of the other forts established along the river.

The fort establishment was apparently not made until four years later, 1679, when Major Smith was authorized to mark out a strip of land one mile long and one-fourth mile wide on which to build habitations for 250 men (double the number originally authorized). Fifty of the men were to be well-armed at all times, ready to respond at the tap of a drum. Smith and eight commissioners were also to assume responsibility for additional land two miles below the fort, three miles above and four miles back from the river.

They were, subject to certain limitations, to hold court and administer justice within the area. If justice was administered to the extent permitted by law, the soldiers should have been well-behaved, for blasphemy was punishable by traveling a gauntlet of 100 men. If repeated, the offender was to have his tongue bored with a hot iron. Any effort to strike an officer, whether hit or miss, permited the loss of the right hand.

There is continued controversy over the actual site of this fort, its location being claimed by both Stafford and Fredericksburg.

Editor''s note: by the old way of reckoning the year which ended in March,the famous comet actually appeared in 1674.