Fredericksburg, Virginia 1608-1908/3

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Fredericksburg Incorporated by Law — Col. Byrd Walks About Town — Church Erected — Patrick Henry Rector — Augustine Washington a Trustee — Fairs Inaugurated — Limits of the Town Extended, &c.

Although the site upon which Fredericksburg now stands was settled by white men, possibly in 1622, in the location of plantations by the London Company referred to by Capt. John Smith, and certainly in 1681 by the construction of Major Lawrence Smith's fort, yet the town was not incorporated for many years thereafter. That it was a trading station and a place of importance before its incorporation is admitted in the act of incorporation itself, besides earlier writers refer to it as such. If the inquiry should be made as to why the town was not incorporated earlier if it was a place of importance, it might be answered with the fact that prior to that time the authorities did not seem to think it was necessary, as neither Richmond, Petersburg, Norfolk nor Alexandria was incorporated for several years after Fredericksburg had a legal existence. Fredericksburg was founded by law in 1727 and named for Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of George the Second, by which act the people of the town showed their attachment to the royal family of England. But this was not all; they emphasized that attachment by calling nearly every street in the original survey of the town after some member of the royal family or of some country to which English royality was closely allied. Sophia street was named for the sister of George II; Caroline for his wife; Princess Anne for one of his daughters, and Prince Edward for his grandson. The cross streets were named, Princess Elizabeth for a daughter of George II; Frederick for his oldest son; William for his second son, and Amelia for a daughter. George was named for the King himself; Charlotte for the wife of George III; Hanover for the House of Hanover, and Prussia for the country of Prussia. This includes every street in the original survey except Charles and Wolfe. We do not know for whom these two streets were named; and we think the evidence is very clear that they were not laid out as streets at the time of the original survey.

The act of the House of Burgesses, establishing Fredericksburg, in which are preserved as near as possible the form, orthography, punctuation and capitalization, is as follows:--

I. WHEREAS great Numbers of People have of late seated themselves and their Families upon and near the River Rappahannock, and the Branches thereof above the Falls, and great Quantities of Tobacco and other Commodities are every Year brought down to the upper Landings upon the said River to be shipped off and transported to other Parts of the Country and it is necessary that the poorer Part of the said Inhabitants should be supplied from thence with Goods and Merchandise in return for their Commodities, but for Want of some convenient Place, where Traders may cohabit and bring their Goods to, such Supplies are not to be had without great Disadvantages, and good Houses are greatly wanted on some navigable Part of said River, near the Falls for the Reception of safe keeping of such Commodities as are brought thither and for the Entertainment and Sustenance of those who repair thither from remote Places with Carriages drawn by Horses and Oxen; and forasmuch as the Inhabitants of the County of Spotsylvania have made humble Supplication to the General Assembly that a Town may be laid out in some convenient Place near the Falls of said River, for the cohabitation of such as are minded to reside there for the purposes aforesaid, whereby the peopling of that remote Part of the county will be encouraged, and Trade and Navigation may be increased:

II. BE it enacted, by the Lieutenant Governor, Council, and Burgesses, of this present General Assembly, and it is hereby enacted, by the Authority of the same, that within six Months after the passing of this Act fifty Acres of Land, Parcel of a Tract of Land belonging to John Royston and Robert Buckner, of the County of Gloucester, situate, lying and being upon the South Side of the River Rappahannock aforesaid in the County of Spotsylvania commonly called or known by the Name of the Lease Land, shall be surveyed and laid out, taking the whole Breadth of the Tract of Land upon the River, by the Surveyor of the said County of Spotsylvania; and the said fifty Acres of Land, so to be surveyed and laid out, shall be and is hereby vested in John Robinson, Esq; Henry Willis, Augustin Smith, John Taliaferro, Harry Beverley, John Waller, and Jeremiah Clowder, of the County of Spotsylvania, Gentlemen, and their Successors, in Trust, for the several purposes hereafter mentioned; and the said John Robinson, Henry Willis, Augustin Smith, John Taliaferro, Harry Beverley, John Waller and Jeremiah Clowder, are hereby constituted and appointed Directors and Trustees for designing, building, carrying on, and maintaining, a Town upon the said Land: And the said Directors and Trustees, or any four of them, shall have power to meet as often as they shall think necessary, and shall lay out the said fifty Acres in Lots and Streets, not exceeding Half an Acre of Ground in each Lot, and also to set apart such Portions of said Land for a Church and Church-Yard, a Market Place, and publick Key, and to appoint such Places upon the River for publick Landings, as they shall think most convenient, and, if the same shall be necessary, shall direct the making and erecting of Wharfs and Cranes at such publick Landings, for the publick Use. And when the said Town shall be so laid out the said Directors and Trustees shall have full Power and Authority to sell all the said Lots by publick Sale or Auction, from Time to Time, to the highest Bidder, so as no Person shall have more than Two Lots; and when such Lots shall be sold, any two of the said Trustees shall and may, upon Payment of the Purchase Money, by some sufficient Conveyance or Conveyances, Convey the Fee Simple, Estate of such Lot or Lots to the Purchaser or Purchasers: And he or they, or his or their Heirs and Assigns, respectively, shall and may for ever thereafter peaceably and quietly have, hold, possess, and enjoy, the same, freed and discharged of and from all Right, Title, Estate, Claim, Interest, and Demand whatsoever of the said John Royster and Robert Buckner and the Heirs and Assigns of them respectively, and of all Persons whatsoever claiming by, from, or under them or either of them.

III. PROVIDED nevertheless, that the said Directors and Trustees shall pay, or cause to be paid, unto the said John Royston and Robert Buckner, out of the Money to be raised by the Sale of the said Lots, as soon as the same shall be by them received, after the Rate of forty Shillings for every Acre of the said fifty Acres of Land, according to the Right which the said John Royston and Robert Buckner now respectively have to the same; and the said John Royston and Robert Buckner shall also have each of them two Lots, which shall be assigned to them by the said Directors and Trustees, and they shall respectively remain seized of such Lots of the same Estate whereof they were respectively seized in the said Land before the making of this Act.

IV. AND be it further enacted, by the Authority aforesaid, that after the said Lots shall be so laid out and disposed of, as aforesaid, the said Directors, or any four of them, shall have full Power and Authority to apply all the overplus Money which shall be raised by the Sale of the said Lots to such publick Use; for the common Benefit of the Inhabitants of the said Town, as to them shall seem best.

V. AND be it further enacted, by the Authority aforesaid, that the Grantee or Grantees of every such Lot or Lots, so to be conveyed and sold in the said Town, shall, within two Years next after the Date of the Conveyance for the same, erect, build, and finish, on each Lot so conveyed, one House, of Brick, Stone or Wood well framed, of the Dimensions of Twenty Feet square, and nine Feet Pitch at the least, or apportionably thereto, if such Grantee shall have two Lots contiguous; and the said Directors shall have full Power and Authority to establish such Rules and Orders, for the more regular placing the said Houses, as to them shall seem fit, from Time to Time. And if the Owner of any Lots shall fail to pursue and comply with the Directions herein prescribed, for the building and finishing one or more House or Houses thereon, then such Lots upon which such Houses shall not be so built and finished shall be revested in the said Trustees, and shall and may be sold and conveyed to any other Person or Persons whatsoever, in the Manner before directed, and shall revest, and be again sold, as often as the Owner or Owners shall fail to perform, obey, and fulfil, the Directions aforesaid; and if the Inhabitants of the said Town shall fail to obey and pursue the Rules and Orders of the said Directors, in repairing and amending the Streets, Landings, and publick Wharfs, they shall be liable to the same Penalties as are inflicted for not repairing the Highways of this Colony.

VI. AND for the continuing the Succession of the said Trustees and Directors, until the Governour of this Colony shall incorporate some other Persons by Letters Patents, under the Seal of this Colony, to be one Body Politick and Corporate, to whom the Government of the said Town shall be committed, Be it further enacted, that in Case of the Death of the said Directors, or of their Refusal to act, the surviving or other Directors, or the major Part of them, shall assemble, and are hereby Empowered, from Time to Time, by Instrument in Writing, under their respective Hands and Seals, to nominate some other Person or Persons, being an Inhabitant or Freeholder of the said Town, in the Place of him so dying or refusing; which new Director or Directors, so nominated and appointed, shall from thenceforth have the like Power and Authority, in all Things relating to the Matters herein contained, as if he or they had been expressly named and appointed in and by this Act, and every such Instrument and Nomination shall from Time to Time be recorded in the Books of the said Directors.

VII. AND whereas William Livingston is possessed of a Lease under the said John Royston, for certain Years to come, of Part of the said fifty Acres of Land, and hath erected buildings and made several Improvements thereon, which will be token away when the said Town shall be laid out: For making Satisfaction for which

VIII. BE it further enacted, that the two Lots to be assigned to the said John Royston, pursuant to this Act, shall include the Dwelling-House and Kitchen of the said William Livingston, and shall be held and enjoyed by him for the Residue of the said Term, and at the Expiration thereof shall revert unto, and be vested in, the said John Royston, as aforesaid; and, moreover, the said Trustees are hereby enjoined and required to pay unto the said William Livingston the Sum of twenty Pounds current Money out of the Monies arising by Sale of Lots, as a Consideration and Compensation for the said Lease.

IX. AND be it further enacted, that the Town aforesaid shall be called by the Name of Fredericksburg.

This act of incorporation which elevated the Lease Land into the town of Fredericksburg, was signed by William Gooch, Esq., Governor, and John Holliday, Speaker.

By the authority conferred upon the trustees of the town by the sixth section of the above act, the following paper was issued by the board of trustees, appointing Augustine Washington, the father of General George Washington, one of the trustees of the town. The original was presented to the town some years ago by one of the descendants of Augustine Washington, and is now preserved in the clerk's office:

"Whereas, at a meeting of the Trustees of the town of Fredericksburg, April 6th 1742, according to directions of act of Assembly, Intitled an Act for erecting a Town in both of the counties of Spotsylvania and King George, To Supply the number of Trustees in the Room of those Gentlemen deceased, we have Unanimously made Choise of, and Elected, Augustine Washington, Gent., to be one of the Trustees or Feoffees for the town of Fredericksburg, in Spotsylvania county to fill up and compleat our full number and for confirming of the same We have according to Directions of the Said Act, set our hands and seals, this 20th day of April, 1742.


In the year 1732 the seat of justice, which had been located at Germanna, where Governor Spotswood had settled, and where he started and operated the first iron works in this country, heretofore mentioned, was removed to Fredericksburg as a more convenient place. That change did not continue long, for, in 1749, the law was again changed and the court was moved back to Germanna, where it was held for several years, and until it was located at Holidays, thence to the old Courthouse and finally to Spotsylvania Courthouse, where it was held until abolished by the new Constitution.

In 1732, five years after the town was established by law, Col. Byrd, then living on the James river, where Richmond now stands, made a visit to Fredericksburg. This visit was made at the time he made his trip to Germanna to see his old friend Governor Spotswood. While here, Col. Byrd wrote a description of the new town to a friend as he saw it, as follows:--

"Colonel Willis walked me about his new town of Fredericksburg. It is pleasantly situated on the south shore of the Rappahannock river, about a mile below the falls. Sloops may come and lie close to the wharf, within thirty yards of the public warehouse which is built in the figure of a cross. Just by the wharf is a quarry of white stone that is very soft in the ground, and hardens in the air, appearing to be as fair and fine grained as that of Portland. Besides that, there are several other quarries in the river bank, within the limits of the town, sufficient to build a large city. The only edifice of stone yet built is the prison, the walls of which are strong enough to hold Jack Sheppard, if he had been transported thither. Though this be a commodious and beautiful situation for a town, with the advantages of a navigable river, and wholesome air, yet the inhabitants are very few. Besides Colonel Willis, who is the top man of the place, there are only one merchant, a tailor, a smith, an ordinary-keeper, and a lady, Mrs. Livingston, who acts here in the double capacity of a doctress and a coffee-woman. It is said the courthouse and the church are going to be built here, and then both religion and justice will help to enlarge the place."

The church spoken of waa built soon after Col. Byrd's visit. It was located on the lot where St. George's church building now stands. It was a wooden structure, about thirty by forty feet, to which two additions were made as the town increased in population. The first addition was made to the side of the church, which gave the building the shape of a capital T, and the second one was made a few years afterwards on the opposite side, giving the building the form of a cross.

The first rector of the new church was Rev. Patrick Henry, uncle of the great Virginia orator, Patrick Henry. Rev. Henry remained rector for a short time, and was followed, in 1734, by Rev. James Marye, of Goochland county, who was the great great grandfather of our late honored fellow citizen, Gov. John L. Marye. Rev. Marye had charge of two churches within the parish, one located on the Po river and the other at Fredericksburg. His salary for the first year for the entire parish was discharged with sixteen thousand pounds of "farm tobacco." St. George's church is noticed more at length under the head of churches.


In the year 1738 a law was passed by the House of Burgesses authorizing and directing that "fairs should be held in Fredericksburg twice a year for the sale of cattle, provisions, goods, wares, and all kinds of merchandise whatever." The act provided that all persons at such fairs, going to or from them, were privileged from arrest and execution during the fairs, and for two days before and two days after them, except for capital offences, breaches of the peace, or for any controversies, suits and quarrels that might arise during the time. These fairs were continued from time to time, by various acts and amendments, until 1769, when the right of holding them was made perpetual, they having proved a benefit to both town and county. We have no record as to when they ceased to be held and no citizen now living remembers to have attended one. They may have been changed into agricultural fairs, which are mentioned elsewhere.


In March, 1739, the trustees of the town found it necessary to have another survey and plat of Fredericksburg made. This work was done by William Waller, Surveyor of Spotsylvania county. By this new survey it appears that the lots and buildings of the town had not only occupied the original fifty acres, but had also encroached upon the lands of Henry Willis and John Lewis; and, as this gave rise to controversies and threatened law suits, the Lieutenant-Governor, Council and Burgesses of the General Assembly passed an act in May, 1742, which was declared to be "for removing all doubts and controversies," and which declared that these lands, belonging to the estate of Henry Willis and John Lewis, should be held and taken to be part of Fredericksburg and vested in the trustees, and purchasers claiming under them; provided, that the trustees should pay to the executors of Henry Willis five pounds, and to John Lewis fifteen pounds. The area of the town, as ascertained by this survey, was not quite fifty-three acres.

The irregularity of the buildings having necessitated an enlargement of the original fifty acres, the style of buildings must have caused serious apprehensions of danger from fire, as we find that, in 1742, it was represented to the General Assembly that the people were often in great and imminent danger of having their houses and effects burned by reason of the many wooden chimneys in the town, and, therefore, it was made unlawful to build any wooden chimneys in the town thereafter, and unlawful, after the expiration of three years, to use any wooden chimney already built; and, in case the owners did not, within three years, pull down and destroy these wooden chimneys, the sheriff was authorized to do so, at the expense of the owners thereof.