I spent a lovely weekend in Fredericksburg, VA recently. The down side was the traffic on Friday afternoon, it took three hours to get there. It was 49 miles south of Washington, DC. Driving home on Sunday morning, it took 35 minutes.
The first stop was Chatham Manor. Built in 1771 by the Fitzhugh family, it stood on 1,280 acres. There was a dairy, an ice house, barns, stables, a fish hatchery, a garden, two orchards and crops in the fields. About one hundred slaves supported the estate.
The Fitzhughs moved out of Chatham in the 1790’s. It seems they were very popular and received hundreds of guests each year. As he grew older, Mr Fitzhugh complained that these guests were putting a strain on his pocketbook. He put the house up for sale.
Major Churchill Jones bought the plantation in 1806 for $20,000, and then the property changed hands once again when the James Horace Lacy family moved in. James had married Churchill Jones’s niece. In 1862 Mrs. Lacy and her children moved out when Union forces arrived and occupied Chatham. Her husband, James, had already left to join the Confederacy as a staff officer.
In November 1862, General Ambrose E. Burnside brought 115,000 Union soldiers into Fredericksburg. The Union was defeated, with about 13,000 casualties, many of them ended up at Chatham which by then was a makeshift hospital. Clara Barton assisted doctors and Walt Whitman wrote letters home for the wounded. The house itself was gutted and soaked in blood.
It wasn’t until the 1920’s that Chatham was revived. Daniel and Helen Devore restored it and today the house sits on 85 acres of lovely gardens. In 1975 the owner, Mr Pratt, willed the property to the National Park Service. It sits atop a hill overlooking the river and Fredericksburg. Walking the beautiful grounds made me think on all that had happened there and what a fitting memorial it was to this country and the challenges and hardships people endured over the years. Slavery, war, neglect, and rebirth.