Every year brings a lot of newcomers to the northern Stafford area. At first glance, they may see its many stores, wide roads, and convenient subdivisions. That’s modern Stafford, bedroom community to D.C. and Quantico Marine Corps Base. But Stafford County has a significant place in history, too.
Well-known local historian Jerrilynn Eby’s Land of Herrings and Persimmons is a tremendous volume that chronicles the county’s farming and industrial past, place by place, including Stafford County communities that were enveloped and lost when Quantico was established.
With Google's now infamous detailed photos, it's rather easy to see how a town is laid out today. But what about 50, 100, or 150 years ago? Where are the maps that show how the towns and counties grew through the years? One excellent source of information is the Sanborn fire insurance maps.
"One of the most eccentric and accomplished politicians in all of American history, John Randolph (1773--1833) led a life marked by controversy. The long-serving Virginia congressman and architect of Southern conservatism grabbed headlines with his prescient comments, public brawls, and clashes with every president from John Adams to Andrew Jackson. The first biography of Randolph in nearly a century, John Randolph of Roanoke provides a full account of the powerful Virginia planter's hard-charging life and his impact on the formation of conservative politics."
You can find them on a map. Barely. Little towns that used to be rather important hubs dot the Virginia countryside, dating from the days when agriculture ruled along with the horse and buggy or mule and wagon. These central spots, often near rail stations, rivers, or better roads, were communities in their own right and many have faded away as the interstate system grew. The Lost Communities of Virginia, by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg, takes a look at these fading places, several of them near our area, including Mineral, Woodford, and Milford.
Fans of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café can relate to little Milford, situated in Caroline County and still located on a railroad line. Originally the popular area here was Doguetown, named for the Dogue Indians who used the Mattaponi River for transportation. Milford, named for a nearby plantation in 1792, also used the river as a point for shipping—and inspecting—tobacco. The Mattaponi River was connected to both the York River and the Chesapeake Bay. By the early 1840s, the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad ran from Richmond to Aquia Creek with a stop in Milford. Milford’s North-South railroad connections made it a target in the Civil War.
Fiction authors sometimes begin historical narratives by announcing the discovery of a long-forgotten strong box in a dusty attic containing purportedly true accounts of times passed handily preserved for the modern reader’s enjoyment. T.O. Madden, Jr.'s We Were Always Free starts with just such a scenario, but unlike historical fiction, this is no ploy. The history unearthed is real and traces back to colonial Virginia when Mary Madden, an Irish woman, gave birth to a child of mixed race on August 4, 1758 in Spotsylvania County.
Because of the laws of the time, just as the mother was free so would Mary’s child, Sarah, be considered free, as would all of Sarah’s descendents. Mary and her newborn were first tended at the Collins farm in Spotsylvania, and the church vestry paid the Collins for their year of upkeep with 600 pounds of tobacco taken in tithes from the parishioners. In 1759, still being paupers, Mary was sent along with her baby, to the local workhouse where the poor labored to support themselves.
From The Journal of Negro History, Volume 1, January 1916
The following is excerpted from The Journal of Negro History, Volume 1, January 1916, pp. 30-36, which is available online at Manybooks.net.
She was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, October 1, 1841. As her people left that State when she was quite young she did not see so much of the intolerable conditions as did the older members of the family. Miss Richards was successful in getting an early start in education. Desiring to have better training than what was then given to persons of color in Detroit, she went to Toronto. There she studied English, history, drawing and needlework. In later years she attended the Teachers Training School in Detroit. Her first thought was to take up teaching that she might do something to elevate her people. She, therefore, opened a private school in 1863, doing a higher grade of work than that then undertaken in the public schools. About 1862, however, a colored public school had been opened by a white man named Whitbeck. Miss Richards began to think that she should have such a school herself.
From A History of Hamilton County, Indiana
At Spottsylvania, Va., prior to the war of 1812, lived a wealthy and influential citizen, George BOXLEY. He was a man of strong character, and, when he believed himself to be right, he was immovable. By honest toil, he had acquired his wealth, and, at the time of which we write, was the proprietor of a saw-mill, grist-mill and "carding-gin" or woolen-mill, all three being operated under one roof, in a building situated on the bank of one of the streams of Spottsylvania County. Like many persons of means in those days, he possessed a number of slaves, but became impressed with the injustice of the institution and liberated them.
This webliography accompanied the lecture "Uncertain Road: Slavery and Emancipation in the Rappahannock," presented by John Hennessy, Chief Historian/Chief of Interpretation, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, on February 12, 2004.
From the Central Rappahannock Regional Library:
Beginning a three-month tour of the Southern states in April of 1791, President George Washington came, unannounced, to Fredericksburg from Mt. Vernon.
Without delay, all forces were organized and an elegant dinner was prepared at Fredericksburg's Market-House/Town Hall to honor the hometown boy. The principal inhabitants of the corporation amassed at the brick building at the west side of Caroline Street, just below Market Alley.
On Sunday, April 24, 2005, the parade of 19th-century-era coaches came again to historic Stratford Hall, once home to two signers of the Declaration of Independence, a Revolutionary War hero, and Robert E. Lee. The triennial event is a major fundraiser for the National Historic Landmark in Westmoreland County.