Pictured here is the city seal for Fredericksburg Virginia


Picture of Fredericksburg Virginia State Marker
Lakelyn Wiley, “Fredericksburg Roadside Historical Marker in Fredericksburg, Virginia,” 2018.


Captain John Smith was here in 1608; Lederer, the explorer, in 1670. In May 1671 John Buckner and Thomas Royster patented the lease land grant. The town was established in 1727 and lots were laid out. It was named for Frederick, Prince of Wales, Father of George III. The court for Spotsylvania County was moved here in 1732 and the town was enlarged in 1759 and 1769. Fredericksburg was incorporated as a town in 1781, as a city in 1879, and declared a city of the first class in 1941.


Fredericksburg, Virginia was established in 1728 and served as a trading post on the banks of the Rappahannock River (1). Although the history behind the name is not clear, it is said that the fledgling town was named for Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of King George II. The evidence for this lies in the naming of the streets after his royal family; Princess Anne, William, and Amelia (2). Fredericksburg was home to Scottish and British agents, Tavern Keepers, merchants, artisans, indentured servants, new immigrants, and slaves. The eighteenth-century made Fredericksburg a major site for tobacco cultivation and distribution which strengthened the economy.  From 1733 to 1773, the quantity and quality of tobacco exports experienced a rapid increase of 150 percent(3). Before the Revolutionary War, most of the goods that Fredericksburg imported came directly from Britain (4). The amount of money that Fredericksburg received as a major distributor of the imports aided in enhancing the retail scene allowing numerous craftsmen, tradesmen, doctors, and lawyers to start their businesses (5).

Pictured here is Mary Ball Washington, George Washington's mother
Portrait of Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s Mother (30)

With all of the increased revenue, the City expanded its official borders in 1759 (6).  In 1772, George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, moved to the city along with her sister Betty Lewis and her husband Fielding Lewis, who lived at the Kenmore estate nearby (7).

Change erupted in Fredericksburg throughout the Revolutionary War. Fredericksburg provided material for the Virginia Militia by manufacturing firearms at the Gunnery that was managed by Fielding Lewis and Charles Dick (8).Being the bustling city that it was, Fredericksburg served as a major meeting ground for patriots who were calling for independence. Founding fathers George Washington and James Monroe had ties to nearby locations and would frequent the area during the climb to national independence. George Washington’s family, who had lived in nearby Stafford County on Ferry Farm, had lived there since 1738 (9). After the war, Fredericksburg was incorporated as a town in the new Commonwealth of Virginia in 1781 (10).

1854 View of Fredericksburg from Ferry Farm
1854 View of Fredericksburg from Ferry Farm (31)

While America experienced a profound transformation shortly after winning their independence, Fredericksburg did too through a social, economic, and religious change. The town had lost the ability to trade worldwide since the new ships were far too large to navigate the Rappahannock River; ties with British were loosened (11). This challenged the town and transformed it into a quiet Southern community with less distribution. Fredericksburg then shifted from an agrarian society to a commercial district (12). There was a growth in mills along the river that would ship their goods to major city ports in New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore (13). By 1838, Fredericksburg was home to five churches, four taverns, ninety-seven stores and remained a semi-active port town (14). Due to internal improvements leading up to the Civil War, Fredericksburg’s infrastructure experienced superior growth with the construction of roadways to aid in transportation (15).

pictured here are African Americans harvesting in the fields
African Americans working the fields–African American slaves were vital in the development of Fredericksburg (32)

While Virginia did have indentured servants who would one day have freedom, most of the African Americans working in Fredericksburg and Stafford County area were primarily slaves (18). Slavery served as a main component of the economy contributing to labor on plantations, (lumber workers, wagon drivers, and warehousemen). Male slaves in Fredericksburg also worked on the railroad and the canal system beside the Rappahannock River (19). The women worked in the fields or served as help in the household (20). While most African Americans were slaves, some were free. Before the Civil War, there had been about 1,000 freedmen in the area and most of them lived in Fredericksburg (21). However, following emancipation, slavery was banished and many newly freed African Americans moved North to fight for the Union or made an attempt to create a new life for themselves (22). The abolition of slavery was detrimental for those who had led Fredericksburg before the war because the system had served as a major part of the economy for decades. Further, the end of the Civil War ended years of physical and emotional hardship of which the town would feel the effects for decades.

Following the South’s struggle during the period of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, some of African American population took part in the Great Migration and moved from the rural South to industrial communities in the North. Without a plantation system, Fredericksburg relied on industrialization more than ever. The railroad arrived in Fredericksburg in 1872 and allowed the city to rebuild the town and the citizens’ wealth (23)

Students of the State Normal and Industrial School for Women, Fredericksburg, c. 1913
Students of the State Normal and Industrial School for Women, Fredericksburg, c. 1913 (33)

In 1908, the University of Mary Washington was founded as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women (24). The school became Mary Washington College in 1938 and was in close association with the formally only men’s college, The University of Virginia. In 1970, Mary Washington College became independent and accepted both men and women (25). The name was changed to The University of Mary Washington in 2004.

Fredericksburg continued to be a manufacturing economy throughout the twentieth century. The community struggled and still felt the reverberating effects of the Civil War and the blow to any and all agrarian based businesses. Most of the citizens in Fredericksburg were employed in factories but many would lose their jobs as a result of the Great Depression(26).

World War II helped grow the economy and population following the devastation of the Great Depression (27). Interstate 95 was constructed in the 1960s and helped with further development in Fredericksburg and allow citizens to commute to work to major cities such as Washington DC throughout the 1960s and 1970s (28). Aside from access to the capital of America, Fredericksburg is also in close proximity to major military bases like the Navy’s Dahlgren Surface Weapons Base, Army’s Fort Belvoir, Quantico Marine Corps Base, and National Guard’s Fort A.P. Hill.

By the 1980s the Virginia Railway Express was established and allowed for easier commuter access to the DC and metro area (29). With the thriving DC metro area located just North of historic Fredericksburg, the city continues to enjoy growth and improvement with each passing year. Fredericksburg may have the appearance of being stuck in the nineteenth century, but within the old buildings that line the streets of downtown are profitable and creative restaurants and businesses that add to the finesse that Fredericksburg is now known for.

Pictured here are shops on Caroline Street


Featured Image:

Lakelyn Wiley, “Fredericksburg Vistors Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia,” 2018.

(1)Suzanne Steiner Hintz, and Laura Daughtry, The Fredericksburg Connection: Selected Readings Tracing the History of Fredericksburg, and Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties, (Fredericksburg, VA.: Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, 1980), 22.

(2) Ibid

(3) “Colony to Nation,” Fredericksburg, https://www.fredericksburgva.gov/index.aspx?NID=778, (Accessed April 5, 2018).

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid.

(6) Ibid.

(7) “Mary Washington House,” Preservation Virginia, https://preservationvirginia.org/visit/historic-properties/mary-washington-house, (Accessed March 31, 2018).

(8)Hintz, 22.

(9) “Colony to Nation.”

(10) Hintz, 22.

(11) Hintz, 23.

(12) “Early National Period,” Fredericksburghttps://www.fredericksburgva.gov/index.aspx?NID=779. (Accessed March 31, 2018).

(13) Ibid.

(14) Hintz, 23.

(15) “The Antebellum Period (1830-1860),” Fredericksburg, https://www.fredericksburgva.gov/index.aspx?NID=780, (accessed March 31, 2018).

(16) Hintz, 23.

(17) Hintz, 3.

(18)Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, A Different Story: A Black History of Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania, Virginia, (Fredericksburg, VA: Unicorn, 1979), 113

(19) Ibid.

(20) Ibid.

(21) Fitzgerald, 115.

(22) Fitzgerald, 118.

(23) “Reconstruction and Growth (1865-1917),” Fredericksburg, https://www.fredericksburgva.gov/index.aspx?NID=782, (Accessed April 10, 2018).

(24) “University History,” UMW Libraries, http://libraries.umw.edu/university-history/, (Accessed April 14 2018).


(26)”World War I to World War II (1917-1945),”Fredericksburg, https://www.fredericksburgva.gov/index.aspx?NID=783,(Accessed April 14, 2018).  

(27) Ibid.

(28) “New Dominion,” Fredericksburg, https://www.fredericksburgva.gov/index.aspx?NID=784, (accessed April 14, 2018). 

(29) Ibid.

(30) Robert Edge Pine, “Mary Ball Washington at the Age of About Four Score” Digital image. Library of Congress. 1786. http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/mary-ball-washington/.

(31)”Circa 1854 view of Fredericksburg from Ferry Farm,” Digital Image, Fredericksburg, Virginia. 1854. https://www.fredericksburgva.gov/index.aspx?NID=779.

(32)Photograph of African Americans Working Fields in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Digital Image, Central Rappahannock Regional Library, http://www.librarypoint.org/african_american_history_of_fredericksburg_virginia.

(33)”Students of the State Normal and Industrial School for Women, Fredericksburg,” Digital Image, University of Mary Washington, 1913, http://libraries.umw.edu/files/2015/02/Normal_School.jpg.

(34) Lakelyn Wiley, “Street View of Fredericksburg’s Shops on Caroline Street,” Digital Image, 2018.

Tagged with: , , , , , ,