"Fredericksburg; may it increase and its commerce flourish." --Toast by George Washington, 1784
Fredericksburg-area residents and visitors have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Washington and Lincoln. Both presidents were entertained lavishly across the river at Chatham estate, but under very different circumstances.
To Washington, this small town of Fredericksburg was his childhood home, populated by many friends and relatives. His sojourns here are noted in his diary with a pleasant familiarity. Lincoln's view of Fredericksburg could hardly be of greater contrast, for Fredericksburg was a Union-occupied town, and although the president was certainly welcomed by his own men, he was not welcomed by Confederate townspeople. In the chill of that December, Fredericksburg would become the site of one of the Union's worst defeats.
The simple house of worship on White Oak Road, across from the White Oak Civil War Museum, has its historic roots in the separation of church and state and was a hub of Union Army activity in the winter of 1862-63.
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.