Fredericksburg Region’s Lesser Known History
The Fredericksburg area has witnessed moments that have changed the course of history. There are many of intriguing untold stories waiting to be heard, too. For instance, did you know that Chick- Fil- A sauce was invented in Spotsylvania County, or that Spotsylvania County native Sydney Shannon helped start Eastern Airlines?
Read on for more lesser know history of the Fredericksburg area.
The Physical Geography of the Sea (1855), the first extensive and comprehensive book on oceanography ever published, was written by Spotsylvania County native Lieut. Matthew Fontaine Maury, of the United States Navy. Maury also developed a uniform system of recording oceanographic data that was adopted by navies and merchant marines around the world! This unique system has been used to develop charts for all major trade routes. Lieut. Matthew Fontaine Maury’s birth place is marked by a sign on Chancellorsville Battlefield road, between Old Plank road and Catherine’s Furnace.
Henry “Box” Brown was born a slave in Louisa County. In 1849, his pregnant wife and three children were sold to a plantation, in North Carolina. Horrified, he watched helplessly as 350 chained slaves, including his wife carrying their unborn child and their three young children, march south. It was in that moment, that he resolved to become free. With the help of James Caesar Anthony Smith (a recently freed man) and Samuel Alexander Smith ( a white sympathizer ), he sealed himself in a box and shipped himself to freedom. The box was three feet long, two feet eight inches deep, and two feet wide, and marked as “dry goods.” The arduous journey took a whopping 27 hours! The box containing Henry “Box” Brown was received by William Still, James Miller McKim, Professor C.D. Cleveland, and Lewis Thompson, in Philadelphia PA. The moment the box was opened, Brown said, “How do you do, Gentlemen?” and recited a psalm, “I waited patiently on the Lord and He heard my prayer.”
The rocks visible from the bridges that span the Rappahannock River, were created approximately 350 MILLION years ago, when the African continent collided with the South Eastern United States.
The oldest fossils ever discovered in the Fredericksburg/ Stafford area, are footprints (trace fossils ) of dinosaurs, amphibians, and reptiles. The largest, most complete record of dinosaur footprints ever discovered in Virginia, and maybe the East Coast, is located just two miles down river from the Chatham Bridge, at Little Falls. These footprints are from the Upper Mid- Cretaceous, and are approximately 110- 112 million years old. The footprints were made by eight large animals. The biggest of which was a 70 feet long sauropod! Not sure what a sauropod is? Imagine the brachiosaurus from Jurassic Park that sneezed all over Lex. They’re part of the sauropod family.
Stratford Hall, in Westmoreland County, has world class records of fossils that go back 16 million years. The largest predator in Earth’s known history, a 40-60 foot shark called Megalodon, has been found at Stratford! Scientists have also discovered fossils of large whales, salt water crocodiles, and other marine life from the Miocene Epoch. Interested in fossil hunting? You can pan for sharks teeth and bone fragments at Stratford, or Westmoreland State Park!
European explorer Captain John Smith sailed up the Potomac from Jamestown to present-day Stafford, and set foot on its shores.
Powhatan Indian princess, Pocahontas, was kidnapped from Stafford’s Indian Point, by English Sea Captain Samuel Argall. The kidnapping was an attempt to trade prisoners with the Powhatan tribe, who had abducted English settlers. Contemporary accounts hold that in April 1613, Captain Argall, in collaboration with Chief Japazaws (of the Patawomeck), in exchange for a copper kettle, captured Pocahontas. She had been living in Patawomeck as part of a goods trading mission for her father, Chief Powhatan. Unfortunately for Argall, Powhatan did not free the English. Pocahontas remained with them and later married John Rolfe.
From the late 19th to early 20th century, Scott’s Island (previously known as Brown’s Island), was a hub for local activities! Fredericksburgians enjoyed an entertainment complex, dancing, swimming, gambling, and boxing competitions. They even held an annual Fourth of July festival there! In 1890, the City of Fredericksburg purchased the island and leased it to various entertainment enterprises, including The Casino Company and Richard Southworth’s Pleasure Island. Accessible only by stairs from a bridge, the island remained a local attraction until the City of Fredericksburg denied to lease the island, in 1924. Currently, The Fredericksburg Area Museum has an exhibition called Pleasure’s Past, which features objects related to the history of entertainment, in the Fredericksburg area. It includes many objects from Southworth’s Pleasure Island.
There are tunnels that run underneath downtown Fredericksburg. Beneath the intersection of Caroline and George St., there is a tunnel large enough for a wagon to pass through and people to stand upright. No one knows exactly what the purpose of these tunnels were. Since they’re fortified with brick in several places, and there is evidence of torches being used ( smudges along the sides of the tunnels ), it’s speculated that they were used to transport goods from docks along the river to other locations.