September 21, 2010

I will be speaking at “Woodlawn on the Eve of the Civil War: A Changing Cultural Landscape.” From plantation slavery to an integrated community – 1846-1865

2nd Season
2010-2011 Woodlawn and The Pope-Leighey House Lecture Series

“Woodlawn on the Eve of the Civil War:
A Changing Cultural Landscape.”
From plantation slavery to an integrated community – 1846-1865

Susan Hellman is a professional architectural historian with an M.A. from the University of Virginia School of Architecture and a B.A. from Duke University. After several years working as a Historian for Fairfax County, she is now the Deputy Director of Woodlawn/Pope-Leighey.

Maddy McCoy is a Certified Historic Preservationist and creator of the Fairfax County, Virginia Slavery Inventory Database, a searchable genealogical database of enslaved and free black individuals who lived in Fairfax County, Virginia prior to 1865. She is a Historian for the Fairfax County Park Authority, and part of Gunston Hall's Seeds of Independence Group, researching the post-bellum African American community on Mason Neck.

Thursday, September 30
Historic Woodlawn
7 – 9 p.m.

Admission: $15.00; National Trust members; $10.00

Please respond to Karen Sherwood at 703-780-4000 extension 26321 or All major credit cards accepted; checks payable to Woodlawn; mail to address below.

9000 Richmond Highway▪ Alexandria, VA 22309
Mailing Address▪ PO Box 15097▪ Alexandria, VA 22309 ▪

I will be speaking about the Fitzhugh slaves at the Oak Hill Open House, Fairfax County, VA




(Opening ceremony at 12:30 pm)

4716 Wakefield Chapel Road, Annandale, VA 22003


The Fitzhugh Family and 17th & 18th Century Fairfax County

In 1670, William Fitzhugh (a.k.a. “William the Immigrant”) settled in Westmoreland County Virginia. He became a governor of the College of William and Mary and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. He also established one of the largest land grants in the “new world.” He owned land that stretched from present day Stafford County to Arlington County. The Fairfax County portion of this property, the 21,996-acre Ravensworth Tract, was described in 1694 as “upon the runs of Accotinke, Mussel Creek run and on the south side of the run Four Mile Creek.”

In the 1680s and 1690s, the Fairfax County land known at the time as Ravensworth was marketed to French Huguenots who were suffering under religious persecution. In 1686, William Fitzhugh wrote the following to entice the Huguenots to buy or lease this land: “The land I offer to sell or lease is scituate in this county, lyes within a mile and a half of Potomac River, and of two bold navigable creeks, is principal good land and is proper for Frenchmen, because more naturally inclined to vines, than yours or any about our neighborhood; and will engage to naturalize every soul of them at 3 per head without anymore or other matter of charge or trouble to them, whereby the heirs will be capacitated to inherit the fathers purchase.”

In 1730, tobacco warehouses were established at Little Hunting Creek and Occoquan. These helped to make Ravensworth a very prosperous tobacco plantation. By 1782, Ravensworth was the fourth largest plantation in Fairfax County, and had 203 slaves. In 1783, the north section of the Ravensworth tract was divided among the five [great] grandsons of William Fitzhugh. The south section, south of Braddock Road, remained largely intact until Robert E. Lee’s children inherited it. Richard Fitzhugh, one of the five [great] grandsons, built Oak Hill in 1790. In the same year, Ossian Hall and another house named Dover*were all constructed by the [great] grandsons of William Fitzhugh. Today Oak Hill is the only remaining home built by the Fitzhugh family left in Fairfax County.

Built in 1790 by Richard Fitzhugh, Oak Hill was patterned after the rigid symmetry of the late Georgian style which was inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture. In 1830, an extension was added to the west side of the original house. In the 1930s renowned restoration architect Walter M. Macomber restored and remodeled the house in a Colonial Revival style. Other than the sunroom added to the west side of the house in the 1970s, most of Oak Hill stands today as it did after the 1930s restoration. One feature of significance is the Colonial Revival wood paneling in the dining room which is a replica Federal-period mantel that is detailed with a molded shelf, decorative carved medallions, marble facing and a marble hearth.

The grounds of Oak Hill are also remarkable. From Braeburn Drive up to the front doors of Oak Hill is the original lined drive to the house. This drive is lined on both sides by boxwoods that date back to the 1790 construction of Oak Hill. It is unusual to find so much of the original landscaping including oak trees and boxwoods still intact over 200 years later.

The purchase of a historic easement on Oak Hill offers a unique opportunity to preserve an important piece of the history of our area for generations to come.

Written by Paul Gilbert, Director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

*Recent research has clarified the term Dover as “Dower,” which is the widow’s share of property upon her husband’s death. Fontainebleau is the name of the house that Mordecai Cooke Fitzhugh built and bequeathed to his wife, as part of her dower share, in the 1858 division of their property.


Speakers—Maddy McCoy, John Browne, Dennis Howard

Before and after emancipation: African Americans in the Oak Hill community. Maddy McCoy, developer and curator of Fairfax County's Slavery Inventory Database, shares insights from her research of the lives of Ravensworth's slaves, former slaves and free blacks. John Browne maps changes that divided up Oak Hill and Ravensworth land through generations of inheritance and sale. Together the speakers present what is known of a now-lost African American community that developed in the late 1800s on former Oak Hill land on Braddock Road.

Springfield resident and author, Dennis Howard recounts his family's passage from slavery in Culpeper, Virginia, to becoming land owners and proprietors of a blacksmith shop on Little River Turnpike, to their contributions in developing our community.


12:00—12:30 House open for unguided walk-through first floor only

Ticket distribution for Guided-tours begins

12:30 Opening Ceremony

1:00—2:00 Guided House tours (first floor only)

Entry time into house – 10-15 persons at a time: 1:00; 1:20; 1:40

2:00—3:30 House open for unguided walk-through (first floor only)

3:30—5:00 Guided tours of house (first floor only)

Entry time into house – 10-15 persons at a time: 3:30; 3:50; 4:10;


1:00—1:30 Dennis Howard

1:45—2:45 Maddy Mc Coy & John Browne
3:00—3:30 Dennis Howard
3:45—4:45 Maddy Mc Coy & John Browne
Between 1:00 and 4:30 on the lawn—Food, Music and Children's Activities
Fairfax County is committed to a policy of nondiscrimination in all county programs, services and activities and will provide reasonable accommodations upon request. To request special accommodations, call 703-324-2321 or TTY 711. Please allow ten working days in advance of events in order to make the necessary arrangements.

September 13, 2010

The wild, wild West End

By Derrick Perkins

It’s difficult to look at the West End and see anything other than a heavily trafficked Duke Street, the prefabricated chain stores of the Foxchase shopping center and rows of apartment buildings.
The West End was as bustling some 149 years ago, but there’s little evidence left of what it bustled with: farmers, slaves and soldiers linked together by their experience on a farm-turned-Union Army camp.
Local researcher Amy Bertsch of the Office of Historic Alexandria has dug through the veneer of the recent past into a world of slaves, farmers and soldiers in blue. She revealed her findings at the Morrison House Tuesday night.
Foxchase, formerly Shirley Duke, and before that Volusia, was home to all three during the War Between the States. The faces of slave Julia Hughes and her extended family peer out of the faded photographs Bertsch has found.
In 1861, Amelia McCrae and her husband Felix Richards owned and worked the land now known as Foxchase. Though slaveholders and Virginians, the couple remained loyal to Washington — not Richmond — when war broke out.
“That was a surprise,” Bertsch said. “They were loyal to the Union, they were people into preserving the Union, but weren’t about to free the people they held.”
Their support came with a cost and like other southern families, the Richards’ paid dearly for their loyalties.
But during the war the Richards’ offered hospitality to the officers and soldiers stationed around Washington — eventually honored with an army camp named after them.
“The provost marshal of Alexandria, in 1862, ordered men to protect the Richards’ home,” Bertsch said. “He assigns sentinels from 143 New York Volunteers and has them posted to make sure the property would be protected … There’s a great deal of loyalty and trust on each side.”
As the fighting grew, so did the needs of the army. Union soldiers seized the family’s livestock, hay, and oats. They confiscated the Richards’ slaves as contraband and a regiment of New Hampshire volunteers — one of whom may have taken the existing photographs of the farm during the war — made quick work of the land’s forest, logging the timber for the war effort.
Felix grumbled that the “Granite Staters” could knock down trees by merely looking at them, Bertsch said.
Of the Richards’ slaves, Hughes and her family are the best known. She reared seven children on Volusia, including twins, Wilson and Levin, and another boy, Jesse. Levin remained in the Alexandria area, while Wilson and Jesse went off to war.
By Appomattox, the farm, family and slaves had been wrenched apart by the fighting. Richards had died of illness in October of 1862. The land stripped of all value, McCrae perished in a home for “gentlewomen reduced by misfortune” in 1910. Congress would eventually compensate McCrae after her death.
Wilson, the former slave, contracted malaria during his enlistment and never recovered, dying in 1883. Jesse died during Maj. Gen. George McClellan’s ill-fated campaign on the Virginia Peninsula in 1862.
The officer who writes the Richards’ of Jesse’s death, Mark Wilks Collet, dies at the Battle of Salem Church in 1863.
And when the City of Alexandria annexes the former farm in the early 1950s, the streets winding the Richards’ land were renamed in memory of Confederate heroes. 


September 6, 2010

Some of West Rehoboth, DE

Maddy McCoy
Fairfax County, Virginia
Slavery Inventory Database

Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church Cemetery, Rehoboth Beach, DE: I

A few weeks ago, I asked a family gathering in West Rehoboth where the cemetery for the Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church was located. A lovely woman loaded-up a bunch of kids in her van and drove us to the nearby site that lies just off Rt.1. The Rehoboth Colored School (extant) is the northern-adjoining parcel to the cemetery.

Note: Last year (2009,) the Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church stated it was established in 1884. There are a few headstones in the burial ground that I photographed that predate 1884. [See posting: Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church Cemetery, Rehoboth Beach, DE: II.]

Note: There are very few traditional headstones here (typical.) What really caught my attention was how disturbed the landscape is with burials. I tried to capture the rolling and dipping of the ground in these pictures. Due to these landscape similarities, I wonder if there are more unmarked burials outside the fence on the south side of the fenced cemetery plot.

Adjoining parcel lying to south of cemetery parcel:

Maddy McCoy
Fairfax County, Virginia
Slavery Inventory Database

Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church Cemetery, Rehoboth Beach, DE: II

Maddy McCoy
Fairfax County, Virginia
Slavery Inventory Database

Rehoboth Colored School, Rehoboth Beach, DE

Neighbors told me that structure is currently used as a day care and a soup kitchen.

From Delaware Public Archives:

Insurance evaluations of public schools recorded and photographed in 1941.

Rehoboth Colored School, 1941.

Maddy McCoy
Fairfax County, Virginia
Slavery Inventory Database