Our area was first seen by English settlers in 1608 when Capt. John Smith and his crew, came up the Rappahannock River as far as the “fall line.” (Of course, the “locals” – the tribes of Rappahannocks, Manahoacs, Patowmacks, Mattaponi, etc. had been here for centuries.) The fall line is where the rapids begin and the tidal river ends. It was the perfect place to establish a small trading center to bring tobacco and later wheat from the area planters to the waiting ocean-going ships to send the valuable commodities to the markets in Glasgow, Scotland and London, England.
Although populated very sparsely for its first century of English colonization, the pace picked up in the 18th century. Counties were established with public wharves and official tobacco inspection stations to ensure the tobacco was of highest quality (and the Crown received the proper taxes on the value of the tobacco!). Two such inspection stations were established in the small communities of Fredericksburg and Falmouth. With the tobacco, wharves, and ships came sailors, taverns, merchants (mainly Scottish), churches – civilization. Our heritage was established and official transactions were recorded in offices and courts in town and in the surrounding counties of Stafford (established 1664), Spotsylvania (established 1720), and King George (established 1720).
Article on County Boundaries.
It was here that George Washington grew to adulthood and received his education. It was here, too, that Thomas Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom – later destined to become part of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Here, a young lawyer, James Monroe, began his practice that would eventually move him to the White House. And on the banks of the Rappahannock, in King George, was born James Madison, Father of the Constitution and President. And in the early 1770s, a Scottish mariner visited his brother, a local tailor, whenever his ship was in port. He was John Paul who mysteriously added Jones as his last name and helped to create a Navy and a country.
Luckily the Revolution spared the area of the devastation that comes with war, and the little communities grew and prospered. But slavery remained, and another war would have to be fought to rid the area (and the nation) of it.
As the Civil War dawned, Fredericksburg found itself situated precisely half way between the two warring capitols of Washington D.C. and Richmond, VA. As a result, both armies camped and fought all through the region – 4 major battles fought within 10 miles of Fredericksburg: The Battles of Fredericksburg (1862), Chancellorsville (1863), Wilderness (1864), and Spotsylvania Court House (1864). Many counties lost many records during the war, but our region again was mostly spared the devastation. There remain many records going back to the colonial and early republic periods in our local repositories. Churches have many parish records intact recording much of their histories and the parishioners who congregated within their walls. And cemeteries abound – many going back to the 18th century or earlier.
While the Society has no records itself, many repositories in the local area are filled with records going back to their founding. Some of the physical sites include:
- Fredericksburg Court House in Fredericksburg
- Spotsylvania Court House in Spotsylvania County
- Stafford Court House in Stafford County
- King George Court House in King George County
- Stafford Historical Society
- King George Historical Society
- Central Rappahannock Heritage Center in Fredericksburg
- Central Rappahannock Regional Library, Virginiana Research Room, in Fredericksburg
- LDS Church Family History Center, South Stafford County
Some of the local on-line sites include:
Fredericksburg Research Resources, a project of the Historic Preservation Department at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg
(A veritable gold mine of local info. Indexes of ALL local papers from the first issue, index of Deeds and Wills – all on-line and FREE!)
US GenWeb (including transcribed cemeteries in their “Tombstone Project”) sites for the following areas
King George County
And for Virginia research:
The Virginia State Library and Archives in Richmond
Past Portal, a collection of early Williamsburg information and the entire run of the Virginia Gazette newspaper from its founding in the 1730s to 1781
For national research:
National Archives, just up the road in Washington, D.C.
The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library, Washington D.C.
Cyndi’s humongous web site of genealogical information pages
Planning a Visit?
For those contemplating a visit to our region, your first mandatory stop would be the Virginiana Room at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in downtown Fredericksburg (1201 Caroline St). Although the room is small, it is packed with genealogical information in the form of books, microfilm, and on-line access. It is a gem. Many people have left information about their ancestors in the Family Files. It has the complete run of Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine, Hening’s Statutes at Large, the Calendar of Virginia State Papers, and the William and Mary Quarterly – a great source for anything Virginia. The local newspaper collection on microfilm is fantastic and well indexed! Come and spend a day or two.
Of course you’ll also want to visit the courthouses for the records in the Clerk’s office; as well as our cemeteries – many going back into the 18th century and surprisingly intact.
Another great source while you are here are our churches – many going back into the early 19th century. Our first, established by the Crown, was St. George’s Episcopal Church (corner of Princess Anne & George streets). It was established by the same legislative act that created Spotsylvania County in 1720 (in those days the county was also the parish boundary). While St. George’s has many parish records intact, the earliest records (all those before 1861) are lost. They were taken to Richmond during the Civil War for “safe keeping” and were destroyed in the fire in April 1865. The church does have most of the vestry meeting records from its earliest days, though.
About the time of the Revolution and the founding of our Republic other churches starting sprouting roots in our area – Shiloh Baptist (Old Site), Fredericksburg Baptist, Fredericksburg Presbyterian, Fredericksburg United Methodist – the list grows. Please, check out these sources. Alas, no one has undertaken the massive effort to transcribe and index all of our area’s church holdings – a very worthwhile project for someone to consider.
Finally, make sure you build in enough time to visit some of the historic attractions of our town while you are here.