History of Stafford County, Virginia
Long before the first Europeans set foot on coastal Virginia, the area that would become known as Stafford County was peopled by Native Americans. They clustered around the waterways and left many artifacts attesting to their presence. Around 1647 the first permanent Europeans settled along Aquia Creek. While hilly and not particularly suited to agricultural pursuits, the land abounded with timber, sandstone, fish, iron ore, and water power, all of which were utilized and made early Stafford an industrialized rather than a farming community. It was industry that dominated the county’s economy from the late 1600s until the Civil War devastated Stafford’s land, people, and resources. Not until the coming of Interstate 95 did Stafford completely recover from the effects of the Union occupation.
Stafford was home to several of our nation’s leading figures. The Indian princess Pocahontas was part of the Potomac Tribe that resided here. George Washington grew up on his family’s Rappahannock River farm in King George County, now Stafford. The Washingtons settled here because George’s father managed Accokeek Iron Works near what is now Ramoth Baptist Church. George Mason was a fourth generation Staffordian who received his education in his uncle’s home at Marlborough. James Hunter built a massive iron works and manufactory near Falmouth. This became one of the largest such facilities in colonial America and was a major provider of arms and supplies to American soldiers during the Revolution. Stafford-born slave Anthony Burns raised awareness of the Fugitive Slave Act. Kate Waller Barrett of Wide Water was an internationally recognized humanitarian. Gari Melchers, world acclaimed artist, lived for many years in Falmouth.
Stafford’s extensive quarries provided much of the sandstone used in the construction of the White House, Capitol, U. S. Patent Office, and U. S. Treasury buildings in Washington. Many of the Union soldiers who camped here during the brutal winter of 1862-63 referred to Stafford as their Valley Forge. Over the course of the war, Abraham Lincoln visited here on six different occasions. In the Potomac River off Wide Water beach Samuel P. Langley experimented with his aerodrome just months before the Wrights successfully flew at Kitty Hawk.
But Stafford’s history extends well beyond the notables to the everyday people who lived, fed their families, dreamed, and died here. The Stafford County Historical Society welcomes all to enjoy and share in the story of Stafford that is so much a part of the story of our nation.