History travel in Stafford County leads to surprising and impressive discoveries. From the fossilized remains of prehistoric animals of all sorts along the shores of the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers, to the modern Marine Corps Heritage Center, Stafford’s rich history covers every era.
Virginia Indians lived here in substantial numbers when Captain John Smith sailed up the Potomac from Jamestown to explore its shores. Tales of Pocahontas tell of her kidnapping from Stafford’s Marlborough Point. The first English Catholic settlement in Virginia was established on Aquia Creek prior to the formal establishment of Stafford County in 1664.
Fisheries, tobacco plantations, iron works and flourmills here were major suppliers to Great Britain during the Colonial period. George Washington lived here as a youngster, as did George Mason, author of the Bill of Rights. James Hunter’s Iron Works was one of the major industrial plants of the Revolutionary era, supplying the Colonial army. In nearby Washington, D.C., the White House, U.S. Capitol and many private homes were built using Aquia sandstone. As the nation confronted the momentous issue of slavery, Stafford’s Anthony Burns was the subject of America’s first major fugitive slave case.
During the Civil War, the bloody Battle of Fredericksburg took place across the banks of the Rappahannock River in December, 1862. Chatham Manor, in Stafford County, served as the Union headquarters and a hospital to treat the wounded. Stafford saw Union General Burnside’s last effort to sweep the flank of Lee’s army in January 1863’s abortive “Mud March.” It was from Stafford’s side of the Rappahannock that General Hooker launched his attacks resulting in the loss at Chancellorsville in May 1863.
The civilians of Stafford may have been the first in the world to suffer the devastating effects of modern war, having to host the entire Union Army from 1862 to 1863. Over 125,000 men – more than today’s population – were housed, fed, warmed and entertained, straining the county’s resources to the point of collapse.
Area agriculture and fishing industries along the Potomac provided the economic base of the region in the early part of the 20th century. Prosperity returned to Stafford County during World War I when the U.S. Marine Corps came to Quantico. Wide expansion of the base during World War II fueled further growth. A Civilian Conservation Corps camp was located in Southern Stafford during this time.
The completion of Interstate 95 in the 1960s and the more recent addition of commuter rail have made this one of Virginia’s fastest growing localities. Stafford County not only encourages vibrant growth, but maintains an idyllic rural atmosphere, making it especially appealing to travelers.