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Historic Fredericksburg

( Originally Published 1932 )



MODERN progress has touched Fredericksburg, some-times ruthlessly, but it has not entirely obliterated all traces of the old village that had such an intimate touch with colonial history. There will be found spots that are remindful of the grace and elegance of the past; of candlelight, and shadows cast by blazes from logs burning in an open fireplace, of soft laughter and powdered hair and knee breeches and courteous men. There will be found the fragrance of old English boxwood and still older poplars, and portals that have known the entrance of Washington, Jefferson, the Lees of Stratford, of Madison, Monroe, and of Mason. On side streets, neglected by the business rush of today, will be found low brick buildings, with slated, sloping roofs and dormer windows, or simple frame cottages and quaint, half-hidden gar-dens with box bordered walkways, althea bushes, and at times the smell of calycanthus.

Few communities have had more intimate or constant association with the colonial and early republican days of the country. Captain John Smith sailed to the site now occupied by Fredericksburg in 1608, one year after the establishment of the first permanent English colony in America. A gravestone found near the town bearing the demise date of 1617 indicates that settlers were about very early in that century. There are other traces of settlers, but the first official cognizance of the place is recorded as of May 2, 1671 when Governor Berkeley granted to Thomas Royston and John Buckner a section that now comprises the heart of the town. The lease was described as adjoining the lands of Captain Lawrence Smith, which shows that others were in the section before the coming of Royston and Buckner, indeed if they were not at the site previous to the lease.

Three years later, in March, 1764, "Ye Grande Assemblie at James Citie" again took official notice of the place, this time ordering that Major Lawrence Smith and 111 men be stationed at the "forte or place of defense at, or near, the falls of the Rappahannock." This was for the purpose of protecting the colonists. A few years later, in 1679, Major Smith "with two others of said privileged class" were empowered to hold court, hear evidence and settle disputes, both criminal and civil. It was thus that Fredericksburg became a self-governing community.

In 1727 the community, before that time known as Lease-lands, was incorporated and named in honor of Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of George II, and its streets named in honor of the royal family. These names, such as Princess Anne, Prince Edward, Princess Elizabeth, George, William, Caroline, Sophia and Amelia, still exist.

In its Leaseland days the community was an important frontier trading post, and later as an incorporated town it became the foremost town of early Northern Virginia. Substantial residences of brick or heavy timber replaced the earlier structures, its residents became prosperous, and it was a center of political and social activity, attracting people from the plantation for miles around to the gatherings of various characters.

The immediate community was the home of the Washing-tons, their farm Pine Grove in Stafford directly opposite lower Fredericksburg being the only place that the entire Washington family lived. The town was also the home of James Monroe, of John Paul Jones, of Matthew Fontaine Maury, "Pathfinder of the Seas," of Lewis Littlepage, the only American citizen ever to have held office in the cabinet of a king, and it was the gathering place of many of the illustrious of various times. In the War Between the States it was the scene of two battles and a devastating bombardment.

But even war and the ravages of time left untouched some of the places that had known the old days when the community was nothing more than a village.

On lower Caroline Street is the home of Roger Dixon who owned the ferry that operated across the river to the Washington family farm. This home later was owned by Dr. Charles Mortimer, physician to Mary Washington and first mayor of Fredericksburg.

Included in the places of interest are the Charles Dick House, on Princess Anne Street, said to be the first of the pretentious homes in Fredericksburg. The house was built in 1745 by Major Charles Dick. Just across the street is the Doggett Home, built probably in the early 1790's on land originally owned by Dr. Hugh Mercer, friend of Washing-ton. The house was built by Dr. Stephenson, from whose family it passed to Dr. J. B. Hall and from his family to the late Dr. A. C. Doggett. The latter's daughter, Mrs. Thomas R. Boggs, also the wife of a physician, still owns the place and has recreated much of the old atmosphere. The parlor in the main house is noted for the scenic wall paper, put on more than one hundred years ago, and the little corner office building still stands.

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