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Honest Abe’s visit to area recalled

Stafford County’s 350th anniversary will only last a year, but the county wants the celebration of Stafford’s history to leave a lasting mark.

So by the end of the year, the county plans to unveil around 20 historical markers at sites whose stories may not have been as well known.

“Apparently, 50 years ago, there was a bit of a lack of diversity. We didn’t appreciate the history then. So we knew we wanted the diversity of the community to be recognized throughout the whole [350th] programming,” Sue Henderson, the 350th anniversary program manager, said.

On Tuesday, the eighth sign was unveiled at Stafford Courthouse to remember President Abraham Lincoln’s fourth visit to Stafford in April 1863.

“While all the signs are special, we think this one deserves extra attention because it marks the fourth visit of our 16th president [to Stafford],” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jack Cavalier said at the ceremony.

Lincoln had come to review the 11th and 12th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. He stopped at the Stafford Courthouse area to visit with Union General Oliver Howard, whom he later selected to head the Freedmen’s Bureau, an association designed to aid freed ex-slaves after the Civil War.

Howard went on to found Howard University in Washington, D.C., Jane Conner with the Stafford Historical Society said.

In her book called “Sinners, Saints, and Soldiers in Civil War Stafford,” Conner says that Howard later recalled that Lincoln had to take off his hat in order to get into his tent during his April 1863 visit. The two men then discussed some Scripture that Howard had out.

After the unveiling, the Stafford Courthouse marker was immediately taken down once the county realized that Lincoln’s name was misspelled near the end of the text. It was spelled correctly in the heading on the marker.

Troy Dawson with Art & Signs F/X in Fredericksburg said the sign company didn’t catch the spelling mistake after the sign came back from a third party that the company uses to cast the signs. Art & Signs is covering the cost to replace the marker.

The marker has been temporarily replaced by a nearly identical marker that the county had sent back to Art & Signs. That marker had been sent back because the 350th seal artwork on that sign was not right, Tom O’Connor, Public Works construction engineer, said.

Many of the markers that have already been unveiled are those at Stafford’s African–American churches. One marker now stands in front of Mount Olive Baptist Church, which was established in May 1818 and was Stafford’s first African–American church. The Mount Olive community later founded Mount Olive School after the Civil War.

“They [the African–American churches] were the social gathering place and they were the source of schooling, even before the Civil War and certainly after the Civil War, and then they were the host of the civil rights movement,” Henderson said.

Another marker entitled “Patawomeck People at Belle Plains” says the creek provided fish for the Patawomeck people, whose descendants continue to work as watermen.

A recently unveiled sign at the Massad Family YMCA shed light on a more modern chapter in Stafford’s history. That marker commemorated three Stafford High School graduates who all made it to the Olympics.

The county consulted with the Stafford Historical Society, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Patawomeck Indian tribe of Virginia in deciding where the historical markers should be placed.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975