For centuries Stafford County has been home to the Patawomeck (Potomac) Indian tribes, who thrived on its rich resources for hunting, fishing and river travel. In the late 1500s – 1600s a powerful leader of the Powhatan Tribe formed a coalition of some 30 tribes who resided mostly along the eastern Virginia shores. While Chief Powhatan oversaw the consortium of tribes, each tribe had its own leader. It is estimated that there were between 14,000 – 21,000 Native Americans in this alliance in 1607 when the English settled Jamestown.
During this time nearly half of the arriving English and Europeans came as indentured servants. As expansion continued the colonists began bringing in enslaved Africans to supplement their expansion efforts. By 1700 the number of subjugated Africans reached 6,000. It was a harsh existence and it was not uncommon for Africans, English and Europeans servants to escape their taskmasters and join forces with the Powhatans. They lived together with the indigenous peoples and intermarried. The most famous “interracial” marriage was between “Pocahontas” and John Rolfe, which was the first record of such a union in American history. The story of Pocahontas has been romanticized and much of the fairy tale is untrue. She is credited with having saved the life of John Smith, though there’s no evidence to prove that is true.
Today, the Powhatan Indian Nation numbers 3,000 – 4,000 and many continue to occupy their original tribal territory. Only eight of the thirty original confederation tribes are recognized by the government and allowed to occupy the original tribal lands. Thanks to anthropological research done by the college of William and Mary, additional tribes have been proven to be part of the original federation and Virginia currently recognizes eleven of the tribes. Hopefully as additional research takes place the remaining tribes from the confederation will be recognized by both the state and federal governments.
One of the most famous residents of Stafford County was George Washington. Born in 1732, he moved to the county in 1738 at the age of six and lived here until he was nineteen years old. His boyhood residence, Ferry Farm is open for visits and tours. Another famous resident was George Mason, who authored the Declaration of Rights in 1776.
When the Union Army arrived in Stafford County during the Civil War, many slaves took advantage of the opportunity during their five-month occupation to escape to freedom. It is estimated that as many 10,000 fled, crossing the Rappahannock River to freedom. Some were employed by northern soldiers as camp workers. Thousands more headed north via foot, railway and wagon or boarded steam ships headed for Washington, D.C. and Alexandria. One of the most famous abolitionists and free-thinking advocates for ending slavery, Moncure Conway, personally led thirty-one of his father’s slaves to southwestern Ohio. Today, one can trace the Trail to Freedom, one of the largest exoduses of slave in the United States up until that time.
Other historic sites include: Chatham Manor, Aquia Episcopal Church, built in 1751 – 1757 and one of the oldest continuously used Colonial churches; Government Island, the quarry where sandstone was mined for use in the White House, Capitol and other buildings, and which is now preserved as a park with walking and biking trails; White Oak Civil War Museum; Grapes and Grains Trail, a tour including four award-winning wineries, a brewery and a distillery and The Trail to Freedom.
Stafford County is also home to many parks, award-winning golf courses and other recreational activities for individuals and families.
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