Prince William County; Virginia, History Starts Here!
By Renée S. Gordon
"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered."
Prince William County was mandated in 1731 by Virginia's General Assembly and named in honor of the third son of King George, Prince William. When John Smith arrived in 1608 two tribes shared the area, the Dogue, Algonquians, and the Manahoac, a Siouan tribe. Because the Manahoac were more nomadic the colonists had the most contact with the Dogue and though the Dogue were friendly eventually they came to be thought of as liars and cheats. It is widely held that "to lie like a dog" is from this era. By 1730 the Native Americans had moved from the area.
Prince William County is an oft-overlooked treasure filled with unique historic sites and modern attractions that will enchant both the solo traveler and family vacationers. The county's quiet cities and quaint towns are located within 50-miles of Washington, DC, with easy access via I-95.
"Potomac" is a Dogue word meaning "trader" and you will find it in place names throughout the area but none so appropriately named as Potomac Mills. This huge covered mall is already the largest outlet center in the state and they recently announced the opening of several new venues later this year. The more than 220 shops, movie theaters and dining establishments include Neiman Marcus' Last Call, Saks OFF 5th, and a children's play area. This is not just a mall it's a shopper's paradise. www.simon.com/mall/default.aspx?ID=1260
Laser Quest is a wonderful adventure for small groups while in the area. This is totally safe and loads of fun. Participants are given a brief orientation and then they test their skills in a futuristic laser maze. Hint; Wear dark clothing. www.laserquest.com
Potomac Mills and Laser Quest are located in the historic village of Woodbridge, the site of the first deeded land and the County Courthouse. The earliest non-native settler was Thomas Burbage in 1653. In 1796 a wooden bridge was constructed over the Occoquan River to provide access to the Potomac Path, a former Indian trade route now Rt. 1, and a plantation and nearby village took the name Woodbridge. The 1731 courthouse had to be erected in the center of an inhabited area and at the time that was Woodbridge. Eleven years later it was relocated.
Eight children were born in a mansion in what is now Leesylvania "Lee's Woods" State Park. The land was patented to the Lee family in 1658 and would be home to the father of Robert E. Lee, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee Ill. Ironically, Lee II, who owned 55 slaves at his death, introduced a bill into the Colonial Virginia Legislature to tax slavery out of existence in 1766. The property stayed in the Lee family until 1825. The park offers excellent views of the Potomac River and consists of hiking trails, a cardio-fitness trail, a fishing pier, picnic area, boat ramp, amphitheater and visitor center. Freestone Point Confederate Battery, also on the grounds, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). www.visitpwc.com/leesylvaniapark/index.html
In 1714 Richard Blackburn, of Rippon, England, built Rippon Lodge in Woodbridge and today Rippon Lodge Historic Site is one of the premier historic sites in the county as well as its oldest standing colonial structure. Blackburn designed his home as well as the original house at Mount Vernon and his granddaughter married George Washington's brother John. Because of family connections and the tobacco plantation's location near the King's Highway, the Potomac Path, Washington truly slept here.
Blackburn owned four highly skilled slave carpenters and they built Rippon as well as at least four other structures in the area and George Washington's study at Mount Vernon. The house had four rooms and a central staircase originally. In 1800 Richard's son enlarged the house. Legend has it that the house is haunted and Route 1 was altered because people did not want to be on the grounds.
Today visitors to the 30-acre park tour the house, the Little Cabin, family cemetery and grounds. The house is listed on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and the NRHP. www.pwcgov.com/historicpreservation
Occoquan's six-block Historic District, bordered by the Occoquan River, was added to the NRHP in 1983. The name means "at the end of the water" and the charming town is filled with Federal and Colonial structures, specialty stores and eateries. A footbridge, the original of which was constructed by Quaker Nathaniel Ellicott who donated the land for the town in 1804, indicates the beginning of the historic area. Ellicott established Merchant's Mill in the 1750s.
The Mill House Museum is a monument to the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. Housed in the restored 1790s miller's office the museum is literally filled with items from the 400-piece collection.
The artifacts showcased here are great but the stories interpreted here are even better. John Underwood, an abolitionist and carpenter, was a thorn in the side of the pro-slavery forces. In 1857 he was fined $312.50 for public Unionist statements. On July 4, 1860 he and a group of fellow Unionists, three of which were free African Americans, hoisted a "liberty pole" in support of Lincoln that was later chopped down. Although the entire 55 votes cast for Lincoln in Prince William County in November 1860 were cast in Occoquan it was no surprise that when, after the war began, Underwood was arrested by Confederate troops during a raid in December of 1861 as a traitor. Upon his release Lincoln made him a US Marshall to honor his loyalty.
Confederates carried out two raids on Occoquan basically to fill army ranks. Interestingly, Samson Greenbrier Sites was "exempted" because he was the county's best moonshiner.
The town had a free black community and their lives are also interpreted. Ebenezer Baptist Church was built in 1883 under the leadership of former slave Lewis Bailey. The congregation held baptisms in the river until the 1950s. The current church was constructed in 1924. www.historicoccoquan.com
Michelle Obama recently stopped in Occoquan's Mom's Apple Pie & General Store for a slice of what is widely held to be the best pie around. This family–owned bakery has been serving baked goods since 1981. www.momsapplepieco.com
The Miss Rivershore departs from the Town of Occoquan Wharf for narrated one hour scenic tours of the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers. The 50-ft pontoon boat is also available for private and fishing charters and round trip rides to Tim's Rivershore Restaurant and Crabhouse. Tim's is situated on the shoreline in Dumfries with a 400-ft. multilevel dock and beach dining. The menu offers the best of the area's seafood and it is a great place to kick back and watch the sunset. www.missrivershorecharters.com and www.timsrivershore.com
On November 15, 1917 33 suffragettes who had been arrested for picketing the White House were transferred to the Occoquan Workhouse. The women suffered outrageous treatment including force-feeding and brutal beatings. The site, now in Lorton, Virginia, is the location of a historic marker honoring women's quest for civil rights.
Dumfries, on Quantico Creek, is the oldest continuously chartered town in Prince William. It began with a gristmill in 1690 and went on to become an important port. The town's most popular attraction is the Weems-Botts Museum, named after two of its owners, Mason Weems and Benjamin Botts. Weems wrote Washington's first biography and is the one who penned the cherry tree story. Botts, who purchased the home in 1802, defended Aaron Burr at his treason trial.
Ninety-minute tours of the Weems-Botts Museum interpret the Colonial, Victorian and Civil War Eras. The Church of England built the house in 1749 for use as the vestry and in 1798 Weems purchased the house for use as a bookstore. The house is furnished with authentic period furniture. One of the subsequent families had an epileptic daughter named Mary who was confined to an upstairs room because they believed her to be insane. Visitors can see the tiny room where she spent her life. This is considered one of the most haunted places in the county and has been the subject of numerous spiritual investigations. www.historicdumfries.com
Quantico dates from the mid-1600s when it was settled as the town of Potomac," by the large stream." Scots settled there and started tobacco farming and by 1690 there was an active gristmill on Quantico Creek. During the Revolution Virginia launched naval operations from the nearby waters and the first acts of the Confederacy after they seceded were to confiscate the ferry that ran to Washington, DC and establish a blockade. Throughout the war soldiers, civilians and spies plied the area's waters. Quantico Marine Corps Base was established in 1917. www.quantico.usmc.mil
"The safest place in Korea was right behind a platoon of marines. Lord how they could fight." F. Lowe
The 120,000-sq.-ft National Museum of the Marine Corps opened in 2006 on a 135-acre tract adjacent to Marine Corps Base Quantico. From the exterior the museum was designed to remind visitors of the 32-ft. U.S. Marine Memorial Sculpture of planting the flag on Iwo Jima.
To enter the museum is to be submerged in the history of the marines, from 1775 thru Vietnam, and inspired with awe. The rotunda soars and is surrounded by interactive exhibit galleries. Inscribed in the walls at ceiling level are famous quotes that have served as inspiration throughout the years. At floor level there are several full-scale tableaus of Marines in action.
Tours begin in the Boot Camp Gallery where visitors can literally stand in the footprints of a recruit and experience training camp. There are six historical galleries that begin with the authorization by the Continental Congress for two battalions of Marines on November 10, 1775. It is believed that initial recruitment took place in Tun's Tavern in Philadelphia. Galleries are chronological and each has a life-like, experiential, diorama. They are all well done but the five-star highlights for me were the Korean and Vietnam War Galleries.
Visitors enter the Korean War Gallery and are immersed in the lives of the "Frozen Chosin," Fox Company at TokTong Pass immediately prior to an attack by Chinese Troops. There are sound effects, special lighting and the temperature is controlled so that you feel the Korean cold.
You physically enter the Vietnam War Zone through a CH-46 helicopter and are confronted with nightmare scenes, sounds of mortar fire and aircraft.
The museum is free as are guided tours every day except December 25th. Plan to spend the day. www.usmcmuseum.org
The Civil War Experience Pass saves visitors a 50 percent discount to six of the major historic sites as well as 10 percent off purchases in the Manassas Museum store from now until December 2013. This pass and the overall affordability makes Prince William County is an affordable treasure hidden in plain view. Spend a day or a week. You will love it. Planning information is available online. www.visitpwc.com and www.manassasbullrun.com
I wish you smooth travels!
"Emancipation 2012: 150 Years Since the New Beginning," an in-depth commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation, will be held on the hallowed ground of Gettysburg, PA from September 21-23. The event will consist of a series of programs and events the highlight of which is the exhibit of a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln. Note that the Emancipation Proclamation is actually two executive orders, the first issued on September 22, 1862, declaring the freedom of all slaves in Confederate States. The second, issued on January 1, 1863, enumerated the states. Information is available at www.gettysburg.travel
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