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Chapter I - Early History

Oct 2, 2013
Chapter I - Early History
  • Chapter I
    Early History of the Area

    CHAPTER I. A SKETCH OF AQUIA'S EARLY HISTORY

    The Indians
    Human habitation of the area encompassing Aquia Harbour began thousands of years ago, perhaps as early as 14,000 B.C. Evidence of this early occupation has been found by Harbour residents in the form of stone artifacts such as dart points, spear points, arrowheads, and other implements dating as far back as 8,000 B.C.

    After establishment of the Jamestown settlement by the English on the James River in 1607, Captain John Smith, the settlement's quartermaster, set out in 1608 to explore the Chesapeake Bay. His expedition took him up the Potomac River where he discovered the Indian tribe known as the Patawomecks, now called the “Potomacs.” The Potomac tribe was part of the Powhatan Confederacy under the rule of Chief Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas. The tribe's principal village, Patawomeck or Patawomeck Town, was located on Potomac Creek near the confluence of Aquia and Potomac Creeks with the Potomac River. The town was about 5 miles as the crow flies from Aquia Harbour. The tribe had other nearby villages, including villages on Aquia Creek. Aquia Creek was then known as Quiyough, meaning the place of the gulls.

    Eager to find precious metals, Smith journeyed up Aquia Creek to inspect an Indian mine about 8 miles from the Potomac River. There, he found the Indians extracting an ore, washing it in a nearby stream, and placing it in small bags. The product was a silvery substance used by the Indians to decorate their bodies but was found to have no value to the English.

    A great deal of what we know about the ways of our Indians is attributed to the adventures and writings of Henry Spelman, an English lad sent in 1609 to live with the Indians at Powhatan's village to learn their customs and language. During a low point in English-Indian relations, Henry learned of a plan by the Indians to kill him. Henry fled Powhatan's village and found refuge with a party of Potomacs who were returning Home from a visit with Powhatan. After spending about a year with the Potomacs, he was picked up by Captain Argall at a Potomac village on Aquia Creek. He later became a successful trader but was killed in 1623 during a raid on a Nacostan village at the juncture of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers.

    Virtually all Americans, even our children, are familiar with the story of Pocahontas and her kidnapping by the English. Few, however, are aware that the event occurred in our locale at Patawomeck Town. Even fewer know of the complicity of the Indians in the kidnapping. In 1612, English Captain Argall was at Patawomeck Town trading for corn when he learned of Pocahontas's presence at the village. Argall decided to take her hostage to aid the English in negotiations with her father, Powhatan. To facilitate the plan, the Potomac king and his wife agreed to lure Pocahantas to the English vessel anchored off-shore. In exchange for their cooperation, the king's wife would receive a copper kettle. The plan came off without a hitch. When Captain Argall announced his intentions to the party on board, the king and his wife feigned a vigorous protest. As the English sailed away with Pocahontas, the king and his wife merrily rowed ashore with their copper kettle. Pocahontas subsequently married Jamestown settler John Rolfe and traveled to England where she became ill and died.

    Local folklore holds that the first European visitors to our area were Spanish Jesuits who established a mission on Aquia Creek in 1570 but were soon massacred by the Indians. As the story goes, a converted Indian youth betrayed the Jesuit fathers and led his tribe to murder them. The story is true except for its location. In truth, the mission and massacre occurred on the York River to the south. See Clifford M. Lewis and Albert Loomie, The Spanish Jesuit Mission in Virginia, 1570-1572, 1953.

    The Settlers
    In 1930, the Catholic Women's Club of Richmond placed a plaque and large bronze crucifix near Aquia Creek at the intersection of U.S. Route 1 and Route 637 (about one mile north of the Harbour's entrance at U.S. Route 1) commemorating the first English Catholic settlers in Virginia, the Brents. The Brents, Giles and his sisters Margaret and Mary, emigrated from England to the Maryland colony at St. Mary's City in 16 37 where Giles and Margaret became prominent residents. Giles held various offices in the colony such as Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice. Margaret was a unique woman in her day. She practiced law, held land in her own right, and served as executor of the estate of the colony's founder, Governor Calvert. Because she exercised rights usually accorded to men, Margaret has been described as America's first feminist.

    In the 1650s, the Brents left Maryland and established plantations on Aquia Creek. Their extensive land holdings included what is now the Aquia Harbour development. Because of the Aquia settlement's religious tolerance, the Brents were followed by other Catholic immigrants from England. These were the Cavaliers, followers of King Charles I. The Cavaliers fled England to avoid religious persecution after Charles was beheaded.

    As stated by the historical marker near the crucifix, George Brent, the nephew of our original settlers, served in the Virginia House of Burgesses in the 1680s and was the only Roman Catholic delegate to that body during the colonial period. On land including Aquia Harbour, George Brent established a plantation called Woodstock. His plantation Home and the Brent family cemetery are located in close proximity to the crucifix.

    Woodstock
    By 1734, the Virginia House of Burgesses discontinued a tobacco warehouse at Marlborough (near the old Indian town of Petomek) and officially replaced it with a new one at or near the head of Acquia on the Brents Woodstock property. A town sprang up around the warehouse called Woodstock or Woodstock Town. For a number of reasons, the town and warehouse were short-lived. They were situated on wet, mosquito-infested lowlands and malaria was epidemic during summer months. Aquia creek at the site of the town silted, thus impeding transportation. Also, the population shifted to other locations.

    According to Jerrilyn Eby's 1997 book They Called Stafford Home, the Brents Woodstock plantation Home was moved in the 1790s from its original location in Woodstock to higher ground - a ridge above the flats of Aquia Creek. This is the present site of Aquia Harbour's Golf and Country Club. Harbour residents in the 1970s observed some small farm outbuildings and a silo at that location, but these structures were more suggestive of a 20th century farm than a colonial plantation Home.

    In 1997, the Northern Virginia Chapter of the Archeological Society of Virginia began its investigation of the site of Woodstock. In 1998, archeologists found a shallow basement filled with late 17th and early 18th century artifacts. The following year, the original hearth and chimney base of George Brent's Woodstock plantation house were discovered.

    Peyton's Ordinary
    Like motels today, ordinaries during colonial times were inns where travelers could dine and sleep. They were also social centers where patrons could hear and share the latest news. Within sight of the Harbour's present entranceway at U.S. Route 1, and near the Pizza Hut now located on Route 1, stood Peyton's Ordinary. George Washington is known to have stopped at this inn at least three times: twice in 1769 and once in 1772. French General Rochambeau's army, which aided General Washington during the Revolutionary War, camped there in 1782 during its march north from Williamsburg.

    Government Island
    Near the Aquia Harbour Marina on Aquia Creek is an island known today as Government Island. The island is visible to many Harbour residents from their homes on the creek, as well as Harbour boaters who pass the island as they travel to and from the Potomac River. From colonial times, sandstone from the island was quarried and used to make tombstones, steps, basements, and architectural trim for buildings. Smaller quarries were located across Aquia Creek from the island and these are visible today. Examples of structures utilizing the stone include Aquia Church (at the intersection of U.S. Route 1 and the Harbour's entranceway), Christ Church in Alexandria, and George Mason's Gunston Hall. George Washington purchased the stone to construct steps and walkways at Mt. Vernon. The island's sandstone is called freestone because it could be freely cut.

    The most significant use of the stone was to build the Nation's Capitol and White House. For that purpose, the island was purchased by the United States in 1791. Skilled workmen from the north and Europe were employed to cut the stone, while unskilled laborers were acquired locally.
    In 1963, the island was sold by the General Services Administration. In subsequent years, ownership of the island changed hands a number of times. By the 1970s, it belonged to Aquia Harbour, Inc. which divided the island into lots for development. This firm sold the island to a Richmond attorney for $10 and services rendered. After holding title to the island for 12 years, the attorney sold it in 1998 to Stafford County for $200,000.


    The county plans to open the island as a public park in the spring of 2007. The plan includes the building of a 1,600 foot boardwalk out to the island, improving the 1.5-mile trail that already runs around the island, and Construction of a parking lot near Coal Landing and Confederate Way, a restroom, and park benches. In 2002, the island was officially recognized by the Federal Government as an historical site. The island is on the Virginia Landmark Register and officials are working to get it on the National Register of Historic Places.

    As Jane Conner tells us in The Birthstone of the White House and Capitol, the White House Association's Christmas ornament for 2000 was made with Government Island freestone. This was done to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the completion of the White House. To make the ornaments, the association collected loose stone from the island, ground and mixed it with resin, and poured the mixture into molds of the White House. Millions of Americans who purchased the ornament now have a piece of our freestone.

    The island's quarry cannot be seen from off-shore. To fully appreciate it, one must visit the island. The visitor will be amazed at the quarry's sheer, vertical bluffs of freestone bearing laborers' tool marks and corridors cut through the stone. Spared development, the island will remain an unspoiled monument to the building of America for the enjoyment of generations to come.

    The Civil War
    For a brief period at the beginning of the Civil War, Stafford County was held by confederate forces whose defense consisted of batteries of artillery placed on the hills overlooking the mouth of Aquia Creek. These batteries protected the railhead of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad at Aquia Landing and impeded the Union's use of the Potomac River. At that time, the RF&P Railroad ran from Richmond to Aquia Creek. When the Union invaded the Virginia Peninsula (between the James and York rivers) in 1862, the confederates withdrew from Stafford County and never again regained control over the county. For most of the Civil War, Stafford County was occupied by, and under the control of, the Union army.

    To break the confederate blockade of the river in 1861, the Union's Potomac Fleet bombarded the confederate batteries on May 31 and the following day. These were the first shots fired by the U.S. Navy in the war. Rifled cannon of Walker's Tennessee Artillery succeeded in striking and damaging two Union vessels. The brief battle was indecisive, although the confederate batteries remained intact. Incredibly, the casualties were few as only two men, one on each side, were wounded.

    The first use of a torpedo during the war occurred in the Potomac River near the mouth of Aquia Creek. There, a Union gunboat found floating in the river a confederate device consisting of two barrels connected by a length of rope and having a metal cylinder full of powder suspended under each barrel. The device would presumably detonate if a vessel passed between the barrels, engaged the rope, and drew the barrels and cylinders into the sides of the vessel.

    Following the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, the defeated Union Army of the Potomac, comprising over 110,000 men, retired across the Rappahannock River and made Stafford County its winter quarters. This huge force camped between its headquarters in Falmouth to Aquia 14 miles to the north, and during the winter of 1862-1863 virtually lived off the land. The Army needed wood for many purposes to make trestles and crossties in repairing the RF&P railroad; to corduroy unpaved roads; to build wharves and piers, stockades, sheds, and huts; and to provide fuel for locomotives and steamboats and firewood for stoves and campfires. To meet these needs, the Army cut down the county's timber. As described by Bruce Catton in Glory Road, Stafford County in 1862 became a desolate wasteland of war, as bleak and comfortless as what the last man will see when he takes his last look around, lay between Fredericksburg and the Potomac River landings . . . The livestock was all gone, the fences had vanished, every bit of household furniture or farm equipment that could be carried away had disappeared. The desolation was complete.

    Nor did homes, churches, and cemeteries escape the devastation. By the time of the Civil War, another farm, Stony Hill, covered part of the lands now within the Aquia Harbour subdivision. This farm, the Home of Moncures and Peytons, adjoined the Woodstock plantation on its south side. Stony Hill was destroyed by Union troops during the war. Margaret Waller Ford, whose family owned the Woodstock plantation lands at the time of the war, wrote a letter complaining about the Union soldiers camped on her farm. She claimed that they removed tombstones from the Brent family cemetery (near the crucifix at the intersection of U.S. Route 1 and Route 637) and used them to make fireplaces. This may account for the lack of markers at the Brent cemetery today.

    Union troops also camped at and made use of Aquia Church (at the intersection of U.S. Route 1 and the Harbour entranceway). As stated in “The Story of Aquia Church by Thomas M. Moncure, Jr. and Molly A. Pynn, The Church grounds were used both for encampment and for a hospital. The Church was occupied, as were most other buildings, and used as a stable. The pews were used as stalls, and the horses gnawing or cribbing on the pews necessitated them be shortened after the War. When Rev. Henry Wheeler, Chaplain of the 17th Pa. Cavalry, first arrived at the church, he was appalled at its condition. He prevailed upon his superiors to place him in command of the church. He then required members of the regiment to clean up the church. During the winter of 1862-1863, Rev. Wheeler conducted religious services at the church for overflow crowds of regimental members. Some Union soldiers who died during the occupation were buried in the church cemetery, although no markers of their graves remain.

    Remnants of the war and the Union Army's occupation have been found by Harbour residents and evidence of the occupation still abounds for all to see. Union cavalry camped on the ridge extending from Aquia Church into the Harbour along which our entranceway now runs, as evidenced by a road bed, tent holes, and relics found by our residents such as pistol and carbine projectiles, buttons, and horseshoes. Another camp site, occupied by infantry, was in the vicinity of Harpoon Drive and some of its intersecting streets. Here, Harbour residents have found belt buckles, breast plates, bayonets, projectiles (.58 cal. Minie balls), and a Springfield rifle. Union and Confederate solders graffiti is still visible on the cornerstones of Aquia Church, such as B Dull and P Pass of Co. G, 17th Pa. Cavalry. A tell-tale sign of the destruction resulting from the occupation is the absence of trees between Aquia Harbour and the Rappahannock River pre-dating the Civil War.

    Bibliography:
    Bruce Catton, Glory Road (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1952)
    Albert Z. Conner, Jr., A History of Our Own: Stafford County, Virginia (Virginia Beach, Virginia: The Donning Company Publishers, 2003)
    Jane Hollenbeck Conner, Birthstone of the White House and Capitol (Virginia Beach, Virginia: The Donning Company Publishers, 2005)
    Jerrilynn Eby, They Called Stafford Home (Westminster, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc., 1997)
    Frederick Gutheim, The Potomac (New York, Chicago, San Francisco: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1949)
    William Jack Hranicky and Floyd Painter, A Guide to the Identification of Virginia Projectile Points (Richmond, Virginia: Archeological Society of Virginia, 1989)
    Thomas M. Moncure, Jr. and Molly A. Pynn, The Story of Aquia Church (Fredericksburg, Virginia: Cardinal Press, Inc., 1987)
    Stafford County Sun, September 29-October 5. 2006
    Stafford Star Weekly, Week of October 2, 2006, No. 182
    The Free Lance Star, October 2, 2006, Vol. 122, No. 275
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