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.

Masons of Marlborough Point

Besides the Brents, the Masons were another English family that settled early in Stafford. George Mason (I) left England along with his cousins, Thomas and Gerard Fowke of Staffordshire. (George Mason (I) was the great-grandfather of the famous George Mason (IV) shown above.)

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.  

George Brent joins his Stafford Family

George Brent, nephew of Giles (I), Margaret, and Mary Brent, joined them in Stafford in 1673.  As a young man he was sent from England to reside with them “to learn how to live.”  He certainly accomplished this; he later became captain of the Militia, lawyer, attorney general of the Colony, and Stafford representative to the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg .  

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.

Kidnapping of Pocahontas

While Pocahontas was at Indian Point, English Sea Captain Samuel Argall, decided this was the perfect opportunity to kidnap the Indian princess.  He was hoping this move would encourage Powhatan to free English prisoners. According to tradition, Argall went to Japazaws, “Ye King of Patowmeke,” and said if his wife would lure Pocahontas onto his boat anchored at the point, he would give her a copper kettle.  

Pocahontas and the Marlborough Point Peninsula

From the water, with homes hidden, the Marlborough Point Peninsula near the old Indian Point area, probably looks much like it did during the time of the Patawomecks.  There are two theories about Pocahontas being in this area during 1613.  Some believe that she was living with the Patawomecks and actually married an Indian named Kocoum.  

Ax Head

Between 5,000 and 1,000 years ago, native-people tribal groups occupied the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay including the Stafford area. Subsisting primarily on small game and nuts, they migrated from hunting camp to camp. About 3,200 years ago the Woodland-period began.


Tracks of huge herbivore dinosaurs, such as this 60-foot long Astrodon, have been found in local rivers and streams. Not only was the Astrodon long, but it was as tall as a three story building.

Man’s Time on Earth

Earth’s age is estimated to be 4.5 Billion Years.

If the Empire State Building represented that age, man’s total existence on Earth (3 million years) would be a thin dime placed at the top.

Recorded history currently dates from 5,000 years ago (in western Asia).

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.    

Path of Conway Slaves to Freedom

Georgetown, D.C. to

Baltimore, MD.  to

Pennsylvania to

Columbus, OH. to

Yellow Springs, OH.

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.”

Succeeding in Georgetown, D.C.

Immediately, the Gwinns and the rest of the former Conway slaves established two businesses, a laundry and a bakery in Georgetown.  By July, they were making a profit when Moncure Conway found them.  He then realized that African Americans, if free, could make a living for themselves.  

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.”

12,000 escape to Freedom

Estimates were that 10,000 slaves escaped to freedom after they realized that Union forces were in Stafford. Later, Confederate newspapers said that 12,000 slaves had left their masters.  This greater number is probably more accurate, as Southerners considered slaves their property and were very much aware of their loss.

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.