This Month in Stafford County History

The American Revolution forced Virginia’s royal governor, Lord Dunmore, to return to England.  One of his last acts as he did so was to burn William Brent’s home in Wide Water.  A newspaper reported:   “Since our last, we have certain advice that Lord Dunmore, with his motley band of pirated and renegadoes, have burnt the elegant brick house of William Brent, esq; at the mouth of Aquia creek, in Stafford county, as also two there houses lower down Potowmack river, the property of widow ladies, with several ferry boats; that on Tuesday fe’nnight he remanded on St. George’s island, but was beat off by 1200 Marylanders; that he had burnt eight of his vessels, and was seen standing down the bay the Thursday after with all his fleet.” (Virginia Gazette, Sept. 6, 1776)

In 1912 workmen were endeavoring to improve the Warrenton Road, now U. S. Route 17, by putting a layer of gravel on it.  John Hammett (1874-1946) and his brother Eppa Hammett (1879-1953) owned a farm near the junction of Poplar Road (Route 616) and the Warrenton Road and the gravel was being dug from one side of their property.  A newspaper article reported:


“Difficulty Over Gravel.  Much excitement was caused on the Warrenton road above Falmouth Saturday morning when a difficulty arose between Messrs. John and Eppa Hammett and Mr. Goodman foreman at the gravel pit.  The Hammetts objected to their land being plowed to secure gravel for the new road.  This caused a personal encounter between these gentlemen.  During the melee several shots were fired by the Hammetts and a club used by Goodman.  Ex-Sheriff Chas. Kennedy and several others appeared on the scene and the encounter stopped.  Warrants were issued for all the parties engaged in the trouble and Sheriff Moncure, who was here, went at once to the scene of the trouble.  The work on the road was suspended on account of the trouble” (Fredericksburg Daily Star, Nov. 23, 1912).  This article was followed by:


“John &  Eppa Hammett fined $25 each for assault of A. N. Goodman, foreman of the gravel pit on Warrenton Road.  Hammetts objected to the extension of the pit on to their farm” (Free Lance, Nov. 26, 1912).

The Stafford Telephone Company was founded in mid-July, 1904 though the name soon changed to the Toluca and Fredericksburg Telephone Company.  The first board of directors consisted of Hugh Adie, president; Charles A. Bryan, secretary; and the Conway, Gordon and Garnett National Bank, treasurer.  Other board members were Marion K. Lowry, Napoleon B. Musselman, Edgar S. Moore, Dr. Robert J. Payne, Robert A. Moncure, and Capt. Wesley Knight.  After Robert A. Moncure’s death in 1923, his daughter, Miss Anne E. Moncure, managed the company from her home, The Fleurry’s (now the site of Aquia Town Center shopping center).  The company provided telephone service to Stafford until being bought by the Central Mutual Telephone Company in 1947.

Peter Lowry (c.1820-1868) was a farmer and fisherman who lived east of Stafford Courthouse.  HIs obituary read:


“A case of cholera–Mr. Peter Lowery of Stafford county, died on Monday last, after a few hours illness.  His attending physicians pronounced a case of genuine Asiatic cholera.  Mr. L had been indulging in melons.  The deceased was a most worthy and estimable citizen, whose loss will be very generally deplored.  Warm-hearted and kind in all the relations of life, his memory will be cherished by the recipients of favors during the days of ‘the great strife'” (Virginia Herald, Aug. 20, 1868).

From the late 1800s until around 1930, Stafford County was one of the leading producers of pickling cucumbers in the state of Virginia.  Nearly everyone with a few acres to spare grew cucumbers and sold them either to the Brooke Pickle Factory at Brooke or to a similar facility in Falmouth.  A September 1901 newspaper notice stated, “‘Tis said one of our Onville friends met with quite a mishap going to the factory with a load of pickles some time since; one of the barrels upset, throwing the pickles to the ground, all of which had to be picked up and wiped off, one by one; the sun was so hot before our friend got thorough, that when he arrived at the factory he came near passing himself off for a pickle, so well was he ‘cured’ by the sun” (Free Lance, Sept. 19, 1901).  This little blurb was written by Charles Adams Bryan (1849-1918) who was for many years clerk of the court for Stafford.  He was a regular contributor of little “newsy” and humorous articles to the Free Lance newspaper and wrote under the pen name Scribbler.

On both sides of the Rappahannock River and near the modern Interstate 95 bridge over this waterway are substantial granite deposits.  During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, efforts were made to develop these commercially.  Rail access to the quarries on the Stafford side of the river was a necessity and several attempts were made to build a branch line out to them.  One newspaper article reported:


“The ‘Forge’ tract of land which was purchased through Mr. W. F. Ficklen of the Ficklen estate by Mr. W. E. Grant and other capitalists, of Richmond, promoters of the Rappahannock Railway Co., is situated just north of Falmouth, on the Rappahannock river, and contains between 400 and 500 acres.  The new purchasers will develop the granite quarries on the property, the product of which is said to be of superior quality and supply inexhaustible.  The railroad, which will run only from this property to the R. F. & P. R.  R., is intended only as an outlet for the shipment of Granite from the quarries, thus saving the great expense of hauling and handling.  There will be no passengers traveling on the road, only shipments by freight, and besides granite, grain and other freight can be shipped from Falmouth, as a station will be established there.  The road will connect with the R. F. & P. R. R. at Cool Spring, and its entire length will not be more than 2 1/2 miles.  The new owners of the granite quarry expect to spend a large amount in developing the property and will employ many operatives.  Mr. Wm. W. Butzner, of this city, is the council of the Richmond parties” (Fredericksburg Daily Star, Oct. 26, 1906).

Bell View was the home of Thomas Ludwell Lee (1730-1778) and overlooked Potomac Creek near Belle Plain in White Oak.  During the War Between the States, the farm was owned by the Catlett family.  Like most Stafford residents after the war, the Catletts were very poor.  A newspaper noticed announced their good fortune, though some of the details are suspect:


“A few weeks ago, a Stafford youth, alike to fame and fortune both unknown, while ploughing over the site of an old pre-revolutionary building, drove his ploughshare through a box of gold coins.   When first revealed to his sight, the young man could not realize his good fortune; but on close examination found the treasure to be genuine, old British gold; guineas, sovereigns and several old Spanish coins.  This treasure was found by one of the Catletts, on the old Bellevue farm, near Potomac creek, on the site of a commanding eminence, once crowned with a large brick dwelling, built during the last century, of bricks brought over from England by two wealthy Scotchmen, who according to report, disappeared during the revolutionary war and have never since been heard of.  The building gradually fell away, until during the late war, the United States troops camped in that vicinity, removed every vestige, down to the last brick of the foundation, to make chimneys for their winter quarters.  Since that time the spot has been cultivated, and the processes of cultivation and the action of the weather, by degrees wore away the covering of earth and the fickle goddess, for once at least, conferred her favors, not with her usual blindness, but with some discrimination upon those to whom it would do the most good.  Accounts vary as to the amount found, some alleging it to be hundreds of pieces, and others a much smaller number.  It is very certain however, that a considerable number have found their way into the hands of some of our collectors of old coins.  The pieces are dated from as far back as 1715, but most of them are about one hundred years old, and just as bright and clean as when they left the mint” (Virginia Star, May 12, 1877).

In 1902 the National Copper Ore Company came to Stafford to inspect a reported deposit of copper near Aquia Run and Garrisonville.  They quickly discovered that the mineral here was pyrite, not copper, but they set to work to mine it anyway.  A newspaper reported:


“The pyrites mines of this place propose to begin active operation in a few days.  For two or three weeks the works have been closed down.  Mr. Chas. Gill, of this place has just sold the mineral rights on his Onville farm to the same company, New York National Copper Ore Company, for $1,200.  We sincerely hope mineral of paying quantities may be found.  This company has spent about $50,000 in the search.  It means much to Stafford, and especially to Garrisonville, if the long looked for veins are located” (Free Lance, Jan. 21, 1904).

For many years a magistrate was available in Falmouth to try certain types of cases.  The little brick office, which still stands on Cambridge Street, was so small as to be able to contain little more than one or two people at a time.  For many years, court was conducted at Roach’s Mill, formerly the mill belonging to the Chatham estate.  This stood near the railroad underpass on Naomi Road (Route 607) and near modern Woodmont Nursing Home.  In August 1910 magistrates Lee Wallace (c.1856-1935) and Robert H. Gray (1873-1958) met at Roach’s Mill and tried the case of several boys accused of stealing watermelons from Thomas Jett’s farm.  They pleaded guilty and were fined $1 plus costs.  “The shade of an old apple tree was used for the courthouse.  A large crowd was present at trial” (Free Lance, Aug. 23, 1910).

Violent and destructive flooding has always been a problem on the Rappahannock River  Many bridges have stood on the sites of the present Falmouth and Chatham Bridges only to be washed away by floods or ice dams. One newspaper reported:


“The heavy and continuous rain of the past few days resulted in a tremendous freshet in the Rappahannock River, the like of which has not been known since 1814.  On Wednesday morning, the swollen, turbid mass of water, increasing rapidly in height and volume, raged onward with such force as to sweep away panel after panel of the Falmouth Bridge, which with similar velocity, borne down by the impetuous current, struck the Chatham Bridge…and carried off about one-third of that structure…In a few hours the whole of Falmouth Bridge had disappeared, and from bank to bank surged the restless tide of waters…Captain Stevens we believe, was accidentally carried down the river on a portion of Falmouth Bridge, but rescued near French John’s after an exciting involuntary voyage” (Fredericksburg News,  Apr. 12, 1861).

In October 1942 the U. S. Government condemned some 50,000 acres in Stafford, Prince William, and Fauquier Counties for the expansion of the Quantico Marine Corps base.  Of t his, 30,000 acres were in Stafford.  Those residents fortunate enough to receive their evacuation notices early had 21 days to pack up their livestock, furniture, and families and find new places to live.  The ensuing months proved to be nearly indescribable for those forced to leave their homes.  A newspaper reported:


“These citizens must indeed have felt that they were being kicked and jumped on after they  had already been knocked down.  The more than 180 property owners in the area were required to move out before December, 1942.  On short notice, they had to find new homes.  Under the present cumbersome condemnation procedure, the owners could receive no compensation from the government until titles to their land had been cleared.  On Apr. 8, 1943 it was disclosed that of the 180-odd landowners, a grand total of eight had been paid, in whole or in part.  As of this week, fewer than one-third of the titles have been cleared.  Meanwhile, many former residents of the area have borrowed money with which to purchase farms elsewhere, and are waiting patiently to be reimbursed for the property condemned in 1942.  As if this were not enough, it has now been announced that owners of the land in the three-county region must pay a part of 1943 county taxes in spite of the fact that they surrendered the land in 1942, and although the government has had physical possession and use of the land since then.  Property taxes are assumed by the purchaser only after the title has been transferred and recorded.  Had the government moved with more dispatch, the problem with county taxes would not have arisen.  It does exist, however, and the former residents are liable, no matter how unfair the assessment may be” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, Oct. 31, 1943).

Jeremiah Carter (c.1810-1863) was a respected merchant who kept stores in the village of Aquia, at Stafford Courthouse, and in Fredericksburg.  He also ran a hotel and tavern near the courthouse, which is the location of the following event.  Jeremiah Carter and his wife resided at Eastern View, which was located about where the old Bolling’s Lumber Mill used to stand on Courthouse Road (Route 630) east of the courthouse.  A newspaper reported:

“Distressing Event.  William Hewitt, we hear, was killed at Stafford court House on Wednesday last by Jeremiah Carter.  The facts of the case, as we have heard them, were these.  Hewitt and Henry Atchison were fighting in Carter’s house.  Carter attempted to separate them, when Hewitt turned upon him and beat him severely.  Disengaging himself, he seized a gun near, and in a moment of uncontrollable passion shot him, causing instantaneous death.  Carter is a highly respectable man, of irreproachable character, and we understand most grievously laments the event.  He is a Merchant and Hotel keeper at the Court House.  This is the third murder in the last 12 months in Stafford–and all within some 8 miles of each other.  This would seem not very creditable to the county.  Yet we believe a more peaceable and orderly people are not to be found in any county in the State” (Fredericksburg News, Nov. 1, 1850).