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Freedom has roots in county
The pursuit of liberty--in all its many forms--is intertwined with Stafford County's past and present.

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Date published: 10/30/2002


FROM THE EARLIEST Indi- ans to modern-day com- muters, residents of Stafford have had a special attachment to the concept of freedom, according to Dr. James Bryant.

But Bryant said the county's history is full of stories of triumph and tragedy because the goal of freedom--in all its many facets--often has brought groups of residents into conflict.

Bryant is a former historian with the National Park Service who now is an assistant professor of history at Shenandoah University in Winchester. He spoke on the ways in which freedom has become intertwined with our past and present in a lecture titled "Stafford County as a Flagship of Freedom" at a recent meeting of the Stafford County Historical Society.

"Stafford has been a flagship through times of war and peace," said Bryant. "Freedom has been cultivated and practiced in Stafford and continues to flourish.

"But in some cases, people in Stafford have been fighting for different meanings of freedom. Hopefully, we don't need a crisis for us to work together for freedom in the future."

Bryant said that for the early Indians who lived in Stafford, freedom meant being able to fish and hunt and maintain their traditions.

After European settlers arrived, Bryant said, Stafford residents like George Washington and William Fitzhugh played leading roles in establishing American freedom from Great Britain.

Fitzhugh, who built Chatham manor across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg in the late 1660s, was present at the Second Virginia Convention in 1775 when Patrick Henry made his famous liberty-or-death speech.

Fitzhugh said all Virginians should step forward in support of the Revolution and added that he was more than willing to shed his blood in order to "preserve my liberty."

After the war, Stafford and the rest of the South had trouble coping with the paradox of slavery existing in a free society, Bryant said.

Many slaves were treated well, he said.

"But if the slaves had their say, they certainly would have preferred to be their own people. And if all slave owners were good, there would have been no runaways."

Bryant said that some Stafford residents probably had a role in helping fugitive slaves escape to the North.

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