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Falls of the Rappahannock: The Chapter Name

One year after the first permanent English settlement was made in America, Captain John Smith, in the summer of 1608, led an expedition from Jamestown to explore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.


The party sailed up the Rappahannock River as far as present day Falmouth where their progress was blocked by the falls. Smith's party anchored at the falls where he searched for a passage around them. It was here at the falls of the Rappahannock that the Seacobeck Indians lived and placed their fish traps for their daily diet. 


Two forts were built in 1676 for protection against the Indians. One was located just below the falls of the Rappahannock River, on the South bank of what now is Spotsylvania County. It was a fort which furnished protection but did little to advance white settlement westward. 


Captain John Smith was named commander of the fort built below the falls of the Rappahannock. This fort was garrisoned by one hundred eleven men from Glouchester County and furnished with 480 pounds of powder and 1,443 pounds of shot. Smith was to keep fifty men under arms at all times ready to march twenty miles in any direction. He was also given power to exercise martial law over his command and in conjunction with two others had power to arbitrate civil and criminal cases. With these powers, Smith governed with an armed force to enforce his every dictate. He also had the protection to develop his land holdings. The fort was discontinued in 1682 by order of the House of Burgesses. 


The Rappahannock River and its tributaries provided a natural transportation system to early colonists, adventurers, and planters who soon flocked to its shores in the region about the falls. Court records and land books reveal the vast acreage patented by these early colonizers, looking to the promising future in commerce, trade, and social activities that later developed in Falmouth town. 


While visiting the port of Fredericksburg in 1759, the Rev. Andrew Burnaby observed "that Falmouth at the Falls of the Rappahannock is a small, mercantile town, consisting of eighteen or twenty houses, whose inhabitants are endeavoring to establish a trade rival to none." 


How well the people of the Fredericksburg-Falmouth neighborhood lived in the mid-Eighteenth Century is told by a traveler who noted his observation in the Journal of an Officer who traveled in America and the West Indies in 1764 and 1765. Visiting the major town of the Virginia colony, he wrote:

"This....would be my choice in preference to any I have yet seen; the country in general is more cleared of woods, the houses larger, better, and more commodious than those to the Southward, they all drive six horses, and travel generally 8 to 9 miles an hour....going frequently sixty miles to may conclude from this their roads are good. Their provisions of every kind are good, their Rivers supply them with a variety of Fish....their pastures afford them excellent Beef and Mutton, and their Woods are stocked with Venison, Game, and Hogs. Poultry is as good as in South Carolina, and their Madeira Wine is Excellent, almost in every house; Punch and small beer brewed from Molasses is also in use, but their Cyder far exceeds any cyder I ever tasted at home.In the back country there are Mines of Lead and Iron.... All manners of European fruits, roots, and Garden Stuff do well here....."


And so it seems both fitting and proper that in an area where the Rappahannock River has provided a gateway westward in the history of our country, that the falls of that river should be singled out as a significant point of settlement by earliest man as a desirable place to live. The FALLS OF THE RAPPAHANNOCK is an historic point of designation for which a new area DAR chapter is both proud and happy to single out for its name.


By Norma Polley, 1980




A History of Early Spotsylvania, James Roger Mansfield, 1977; Colonial Fredericksburg and Neighborhood in Perspective, Oscar H. Darter, 1957


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