When President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month in 1976 during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial, he urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history,” (The American Presidency Project, University of California, Santa Barbara). The history of Stafford County cannot be segmented by color, creed, or ethnicity. Stafford’s history consists of the earliest peoples, the Patawomeck Indians; the earliest Europeans arriving by choice; and Africans brought here in bondage. All who populated Stafford contribute to the fabric that weaves the history of the Stafford community.
There are many places that teach about the struggles, strengths, and victories of African Americans in Stafford County.
You see a river, they saw hope. Tour through the Stafford region with a walking and driving tour of the historical sites that played a major role in thousands of enslaved persons paths to freedom. Halfway between Richmond and Washington, D.C. sits a trail that was once used by freedom seeking men, women, and children during the summer of 1862. The Trail to Freedom provides an opportunity to see the region that witnessed over 10,000 of the enslaved escape and claim freedom. These brave families traveled thousands of miles on foot, by wagon, and rail through Stafford County, Virginia. Take the driving or walking tour and see where self-emancipating freedom seekers bravely crossed the river, traveled through Stafford’s Aquia Landing, and then on to contraband camps in Washington, D.C.
Many of these freedom stories are unknown to historians, but some have been documented – these remarkable accounts are waiting to be discovered.
- Learn about the daring escape of Henry “Box” Brown, a man who mailed himself to freedom in a wooden box and endured wagon, railroad, steamboat, and ferry rides almost losing his life after his box overturned on the docks of Aquia Landing;
- Hear the story of Anthony Burns, a runaway freedom seeker from Stafford whose case was instrumental to the testing of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850;
- Chronicle the kidnapping of Solomon Northup, a famous memoir and slave narrative written in his book 12 Years a Slave, where he traveled to bondage in 1841 and back to freedom in 1853 through Aquia Landing.
While no major Civil War battles took place in Stafford County, Virginia, the Stafford region and the Rappahannock River played a major role in thousands of enslaved people’s lives as it was the gateway to freedom. Not only did thousands of enslaved men and women pass through Stafford, but hundreds of thousands passed through as members of the Union and Confederate armies. See where confederate troops worshiped and made their mark on Stafford between 1861 and 1862. Visit the Aquia Episcopal Church where you will see soldiers names and regiments carved into the exterior of the church, also known as “confederate graffiti.” Then visit where Union troops rallied before the Battle of Fredericksburg at the Stafford Civil War Park, also known as “The Union Army’s Valley Forge.”
Stafford County was also home to a famous voice against slavery, Moncure Conway of Falmouth. Conway shared his views on abolition with President Lincoln and in the spring of 1862, Moncure Conway helped 31 of his own family’s slaves escape to freedom from Falmouth to Yellow Springs, Ohio. Visit his childhood home, known as the Moncure Conway House, and see where the famous abolitionist was raised and discover a Stafford historic treasure.
Stafford County has so much to discover when it comes to African American History and the preservation of Black History is very important to the community. The African American community in Stafford is a vibrant and growing part of our population. The Stafford County Branch of the NAACP remains the primary civil rights organization. The NAACP, National Council of Negro Women, and the Stafford County Historical Society have contributed to the preservation and dissemination of African American history through their programs and publications. An African American history mural at the Rowser Building commemorates the significant contributions made by the African American Community.