VIRTUAL MUSEUM An online collection of Stafford history and artifacts

Plans of the Patawomeck Tribe of Virginia

The Patawomeck Tribe of Virginia is planning to build a replica village and cultural center in White Oak, as 80% of the current tribe lives in that area of Stafford. The village will contain long houses and such things as dugout canoes in various stages of development along with interpretive signs.

Captain John Smith

Much is known of the Indians in Stafford County because of oral traditions and the writings of Captain John Smith.  In 1608, he explored Aquia and Potomac Creeks from the Potomac River. He visited the Indians at Indian Point in Marlborough Point as well as exploring the Rappahannock River.  

Identifying Friend From Foe

Silver “badges” were presented to “friendly” or allied Amerindian tribes by British colonists.  They demonstrated friendship and protected the bearer from violence by colonialists.

Native American Tribes in Stafford

From 2,500 years ago, tribal groups expanded in present-day tidal Virginia and in the Piedmont region. Hunting, fishing and agriculture provided reliable means of subsisting within evolved societies.  Two principal Native American tribes populated the area of present day Stafford, the Patawomecks and Manahoacs.    

Former Slaves Capable of Economic Viability

After situating the former Conway slaves in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Moncure Conway traveled to Boston.   He had speaking engagements along the way and visits with abolitionist activists Samuel Gridley Howe (shown above) and Julia Ward Howe (author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”).

Former Slaves Join Union Army

One of the Stafford slaves that escaped was Andrew Weaver, a slave of J. Horace Lacy of “Chatham.”  He escaped in spring/summer 1862 and was later a soldier in the 23rd U. S. Colored Troops (USCT) Infantry Regiment.

Freedom-Seeker Honor Roll

For years Norman Schools (current owner of the Moncure Conway House), John Hennessy (chief historian of the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Park), and Al Conner (of the Stafford County Historical Society) have been gathering names of slaves who sought freedom.  The following list is constantly changing when new names are discovered.    

The Gwinns

Conway brought this group of his father’s former slaves to Yellow Springs, Ohio, to settle in freedom.  Eliza and Dunmore Gwinn were the patriarchs of the group.  Eliza was mother of 19 children, 9 of whom she brought to Yellow Springs.  

Conway Slaves leave Falmouth

In May of 1862, after saving and securing the Conway House,  household-slaves Eliza and Dunmore Gwinn led a group of at least 42 former Conway slaves  north to freedom.  Some historians say that there may have been more freedom-seekers who joined the exodus and traveled north to Georgetown in D.C.,

Solomon Northrup in Stafford

Prior to the two “Trail to Freedom” exoduses during the Civil War, Stafford’s Aquia Landing witnessed other fugitive slaves attempting freedom.  This slide, and the next two, will talk about three famous “Seekers of Freedom.”  One of those was Solomon Northrup, the subject of the movie, “12 Years a Slave.”

Conway Colony

The Conway former slaves did well  in Ohio.  Moncure Conway, despite his travels to Boston and the United Kingdom, constantly sent the colony money to help them out.  Other family names besides the Gwinns were Hempsteads, Morgans, and Taylors.

A slave saves the Conway House

When Union troops entered Falmouth and marched along the King’s Highway (today’s River Road) a shot was fired. Not knowing if it was from the house or from the grounds, the soldiers damaged the lock and broke down the door. Finding an empty house, they searched each room.

Died at Falmouth April 17-18, 1862

Lt. James Nelson Decker, Company D, 2nd New York Cavalry

Private  Patrick Devlin, Company M, 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry

Private John Heslin, Company L, 2nd New York Cavalry

Private Josiah Kiff, Company H, 2nd New York Cavalry

Private John Murphy, Company G, 2nd New York Cavalry

Private Thomas Norton, Company M, 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry

Private George Weller, Company H, 2nd New York Cavalry


Stars and Stripes

John Washington observed the continuing stream of other escaped slaves, dubbed “contrabands,” (based on liberal interpretation of orders allowing “contraband of war” to be “confiscated”) into the Stafford camps. He wrote, “Day after day the slaves came into camp and every where that the ‘Stars and Stripes’ waved they seemed to know freedom had dawned to the slave.”

John Washington

One of those slaves was John Washington.  He was “born a slave” in Fredericksburg on May 20, 1838.  He was almost 24 years old when he escaped and crossed the Rappahannock River into Union lines.

In 1872, just seven years after his emancipation, a thirty-four-year-old John penned the story of his life, calling it “Memorys of the Past.”

Escaping Slaves

Many slaves saw the arrival of the Union Army in Stafford, in April 1862, as a chance for freedom.  During the Union occupation that spring and summer, slaves from Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania, and surrounding counties streamed into Union lines.  It was likely the largest single exodus of slaves in America up to that time.

Second Exodus

There were additional “freedom-seekers” or “escaping slaves” after January 1, 1863, the effective date of the Emancipation Proclamation.  This picture was taken in southern Stafford during this “Second Exodus.” There are no macro-numbers as in the first exodus, but there are anecdotal numbers of individual sightings such as, “50 former slaves passed by here.”

May 1862

On May 2, 1862, a command-reconnaissance party under Brigadier General Rufus King, crossed the new canal-boat bridge and reconnoitered Fredericksburg. An infantry company swept the town, occupied a tobacco warehouse, and posted pickets after discovering no Confederate threat. Five days later, the entire 23rd New York Infantry moved into the town and established headquarters opposite the railroad depot.

Lincoln in Stafford and visits Fredericksburg

Once Union troops were in Fredericksburg, Lincoln came to Stafford.  On May 21st he visited commanders and troops at the Lacy House.  He went over the canal-boat bridge to Fredericksburg and was met by General Marsena Patrick who was commanding Union troops in town.  

7th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment

The 7th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment is shown here in Stafford overlooking the town of Fredericksburg.  Notice their Hardee hats.  They spent most of this First Federal Occupation as members of the “Iron Brigade.”

Lacy House Porch

During this First Federal (Union) occupation, Brigader Rufus King’s division was initially headquartered at Chatham, known then as the Lacy House.  King is standing on the bottom porch step, in the center with a white vest.  Lt. Colonel Judson Kilpatrick is on the right.  

84th New York Infantry’s History

84th New York Infantry (14th “Brooklyn” N.Y.S.M.)

The regiment was uniformed, organized and trained as chasseurs a pied – different from, but similar looking to  the more ubiquitous Zouaves.

The 84th left Brooklyn for Washington, D. C., May 18, 1861, and was mustered into United States service there on May 25th.

Sharpshooters Arrive in Stafford

Wyman White, Company F, 2nd U. S. Sharpshooters, described entering Falmouth after they passed the scene of the previous night’s initial cavalry fight. They were witnessing the horrors of war for the first time and the memories would be indelible. White would rise to first or orderly sergeant of his company and would write his highly perceptive memoirs after World War I: “…we marched past the barricade and place of the charge and I shall never forget the shock and the feelings of the sight of the dead and wounded men as they lay there in the dust of the road in their own life’s blood.


The guard-mount photo, in front of the O’Bannon house on slide #14, is one of the very few taken of the Sharpshooters in their green frock coats while in the field.  This photo is a studio image of a Sharpshooter in full regalia, including leather leggings, a fur covered knapsack, and a special hat.  

Col. Hiram Berdan

Hiram Berdan was an engineer and  inventor as well as being a colonel of the famed United States Volunteer Sharpshooter regiments.  He was considered their guiding force as well as a world-renowned marksman.