The earliest inhabitants of Stafford County, Virginia, (population 120,723), included members of the Patawomeck and Doeg tribes according to John Smith, who explored the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers in 1608, and documented many Native American riverfront villages. By the end of the 17th century, Stafford was a colonial frontier populated primarily of subsistence farmers. As tobacco plantations flourished, the port town of Falmouth was founded in 1728 at the Rappahannock River fall line.
Throughout colonial expansion, trade and industry thrived. The Washington family moved to the area in 1738 to operate Accokeek Iron Furnace and reside at Ferry Farm, where George Washington lived from the ages of 6 to 19. The local Hunter’s Iron Works provided weapons and tools to the Continental Army, helping win the American Revolution. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, several grist mills and quarries were established, including the Government Island quarry, which produced stone used to construct the White House and the U.S. Capitol.
Stafford was marked by several major events during the Civil War, including the 1861 battle at Aquia Creek, the establishment of Union Headquarters at Chatham, the arrival of an estimated 10,000 African American slaves in 1862, and the occupation by more than 120,000 Union soldiers in the winter of 1862-63, decimating Stafford County. To survive in the war-ravaged landscape, local citizens turned to subsistence farming and fishing.
The economy was slow to rebound until well into the 20th century, when U.S. Highway 1, the Marine Corps base at Quantico, and Interstate 95 directed businesses and visitors to Stafford’s doorstep and created a future in the tourism industry. Today, business is flourishing.
Many historic structures still remain throughout the county, including Aquia Church, built between 1751-1757 and one of the oldest active colonial churches in America. To the south, the Historic Port of Falmouth, established in 1728, contains more than two dozen structures dating to the 18th century. Just east of Falmouth is George Washington’s Boyhood Home, Ferry Farm, where archaeological digs are seeking to locate the foundation of the original house. The White Oak Civil War Museum houses thousands of artifacts from the Confederate encampment, and Chatham, a Georgian-style mansion that served as a Union headquarters and hospital during the Battle of Fredericksburg, is part of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. Built in 1771 and renovated in the 1920s, Chatham, its various outbuildings and dependencies, and the historic grounds surrounding it represent a small preserve in which the entire scope of Virginia heritage can be understood and appreciated.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2008.