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A decade of new enterprise-- and new concerns: The 1790s
As the 18th century winds down, Fredericksburg contends with local and national issues. This is the last in a 13-part series.

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Date published: 6/7/2003

Last of a 13-part series

THE MERCHANTS of Fredericksburg in the 1790s were enjoying the fruits of free enterprise. The merchandise for their stores arrived from England and Scotland and also American seaports and the West Indies. The newspaper made it possible to attract patrons as soon as a cargo arrived.

By 1790, there were two merchant wharves in addition to the public wharf (which was rented out)--James Somerville's at the foot of Frederick Street and William Glassell's below town. Some merchants collectively organized a wharf at the lower end of town (just below today's City Dock) and there would soon be more.

Council elections were held annually. On election day, property owners gathered at the Market House to drop their lists in the ballot box. The votes were instantly tallied. The top 12 vote receivers, none of whom had campaigned, were the next council.

Until the middle of the 1790s, the leaders who had served from the beginning remained on the top of voter lists and there was relatively little turnover.

In 1795, however, eight newcomers were voted into office in the spring election. Dr. Charles Mortimer, George French and James Somerville, all former mayors and leaders since the corporation was formed in 1782, did not receive a sufficient number of votes to rank in the top 12.

The newcomers were principally merchants. The domestic reforms enacted by the new council were not remarkable--more patrols to keep order in the streets, repairs to the Market House, a new ducking stool, and a quarantined house for infectious diseases. (Smallpox was still feared.) The problem of hogs running in the streets had never gone away. In 1798, the council made a count of hogs in the town; there were 244.

There was evidently a growing dissatisfaction with the haphazard disbursement practices that were a throwback to the old county "levy," tallying expenses and reimbursing them at the end of the year.


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