Snapshots of 19th century life in Raccoon Ford

The Library of Congress/National Endowment for the Humanities website Chronicling America is an invaluable resource for gathering articles and ads from America’s newspapers. A review of the site yielded the following mentions of happenings in pre-Civil War 19th century Raccoon Ford that document a thriving small village.

August 10, 1838, Richmond Enquirer: An Executor’s Notice of sale of land near the Rapidan River in Orange and Culpeper counties. The notice highlights “three very fine merchant mills upon the river,” one of which is identified as Raccoon Ford Mills. Source: Richmond enquirer. [volume] (Richmond, Va.), 10 Aug. 1838. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

January 18, 1850, the Alexandria Gazette: Under the headline “Post Office Appointments” it is reported that Philip P. Nalle has resigned as postmaster, and Joseph J. Halsey has been named to succeed him. Source: Alexandria gazette. [volume] (Alexandria, D.C.), 19 Jan. 1850. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

September 19, 1851, the Alexandria Gazette: The sale of Benjamin L. Hume’s 5 to 600 acre property near “the flourishing village of Raccoon Ford” is posted. Hume highlights that the property is in proximity to Culpeper Court House, Fredericksburg, Alexandria and the proposed Orange and Alexandria Railroad route. Also highlighted are the richness of the farmland, nearby commercial enterprises and churches. Plus, he is “anxious to sell and will give a bargain.”

Hume’s ad, above. Source: Alexandria Gazette. [volume] (Alexandria, D.C.), 19 Sept. 1851. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

May 28, 1852: Reported in the Richmond Daily Dispatch, “Several cases of small pox have occurred at Raccoon Ford, Culpepper county. Mr. J.W. Crittenden has fallen a victim to the disease.” Source: The daily dispatch. [volume] (Richmond [Va.]), 28 May 1852. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

January 7, 1853: The Alexandria Gazette reports that “A general interest has been awakened in the region of Raccoon Ford & c., in reference to the proposed Plank Road to Culpeper Court House, by way of that place.” Interestingly, this news was tucked below a notice that the Syracuse and Binghamton Railroad would be adding berths to their night cars, and above a mention of the funeral of War of 1812 veteran Commodore Charles W. Morgan at the Navy Yard in Washington. Source: Alexandria gazette. [volume] (Alexandria, D.C.), 07 Jan. 1853. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

October 19, 1853, the Alexandria Gazette: As a follow up to the mention above regarding the Plank Road, this October article alerts that the Plank Road from Fredericksburg to Liberty Mills is complete and that the branch through Raccoon Ford to Culpeper Court House was begun in August and completed in September. “This branch strikes off the main stem about 26 miles from Fredericksburg – near Deadman’s (ed.: unknown) – making the distance from there to Culpeper Court House 15 and a quarter miles.” The writer observes that “horses and mules … seem to have taken a fancy to the plank and instead of shying off, leave the road with evident reluctance.” Source: Alexandria gazette. [volume] (Alexandria, D.C.), 19 Oct. 1853. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

January 22, 1856, Alexandria Gazette: A report that “Mr. Eggborn of Culpeper has offered a resolution in the House of Delegates for a plank or graded road from Brandy Station via Stevensburg to Raccoon Ford, in Culpeper.” Source: Alexandria gazette. [volume] (Alexandria, D.C.), 22 Jan. 1856. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

For development of another road from Raccoon Ford, the following act was passed by the House of Delegates on February 6, 1856:

  1. Be it enacted by the general assembly, that it shall be lawful to open books for receiving subscriptions to an amount not exceeding twelve thousand dollars, to be divided into shares of fifty dollars each for the purpose of contructing a graded turnpike road from the Raccoon Ford in the county of Culpeper to Mitchell’s station on the Orange and Alexandria railroad in the county aforesaid. The books shall be opened at the store of Mr. R. S. Stringfellow at the Raccoon ford, under the direction of John A. Porter, George Pannill, junior, James O. Harris and William Colvin, or any one of them; and at such other places and under the direction of such agents as a majority of the above named commissioners may appoint.
  2. When one-third of the above capital shall have been subscribed, the subcribers, their executors, administrators and assigns, shall be incorporated into a company, by the name and style of The Raccoon Ford Turnpike Company; subject to the provisions of chapters fifty-seven and sixty-one of the Code of Virginia: provided that the said company shall have the privilege of making the said road, or any part thereof with rock gravel, sand, clay or plank, as to them shall seem most expedient; that the said road shall occupy not less than twelve feet in width nor more than thirty feet; and that is grade shall in no case exceed three degrees to the mile; and further, that the rates of toll shall not exceed those by law authorized to be collected on the Fredericksburg and Valley plank road.
  3. This act shall be in force from its passage. (Source: Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia: passed in 1855-6 in the Eighteenth Year of the Commonwealth)

March 21, 1857, Alexandria Gazette: Fire, a hazard of the times, was all too frequently reported. According to the Gazette, “The dwelling of Dr. George Morton near Raccoon Ford in this County, was consumed by fire one day last week, together with a portion of his furniture. We learn that it was quite an old building, and that the Dr. proposed pulling it down this Spring in order to rebuild.”

August 4, 1857, The Richmond Enquirer. Property sale notices, particularly for attractive properties, would make it into the large regional newspapers. The area around Raccoon Ford had a number of farms, including this one in a “fine state of cultivation” and “considered a superior Wheat and Grass Farm.” Note the list of the neighbors, who presumably contributed to the “society equal to any in the state.”

Source: Richmond enquirer. [volume] (Richmond, Va.), 04 Aug. 1857. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Stevensburg Civil War history markers installed

Following the roads of present-day Culpeper County, the distance between Raccoon Ford and Stevensburg to the north is just over 7 miles. Although clearly not neighbors, similarities create a linkage between the two localities.

Both are located along the historic route of the Carolina Road, the byway that early travelers followed from Pennsylvania to South Carolina. Both villages and their immediate surroundings saw significant military action during the Civil War, and both were overtaken by the Union Army’s winter encampment during 1863-64.

Today, Raccoon Ford and Stevensburg are small and quiet communities melding village and rural landscape. Each has faced the challenge of utility scale solar development proposals, inappropriately planned for productive agricultural and historic land and inappropriately sized in excess of 1000 acres. This challenge as well as others — residential and commercial development, roadway construction or widening — erase the landscape that brings to life the story of a place, making it all the more important to share local history and its contribution to our country’s heritage.

With this in mind, we share an article by journalist Clint Schemmer in the February 19, 2019 edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent highlighting the history of Stevensburg .

The mills of Raccoon Ford

Reportedly, the earliest presence of a mill in Raccoon Ford dates to the late 18th century. We continue to piece together information about this important enterprise within the community. As research continues, our goal is to transform the informational nuggets below into a chronology of mill operations in the ford.

A notice in the Richmond Enquirer of July 19, 1825 advertised the Rackoon Ford Mills for sale. (Many references cite this spelling, Rackoon, as the original name of the village or as the early spelling of the village name. However, a letter to the editor printed in the Enquirer in August 1862 also used this spelling.)

The ad states:

The subscribers having purchased the above mills under a deed of trust, but not being acquainted with the milling business, are disposed to sell them very cheap. They lie on the Rapid Ann River, in the counties of Orange and Culpeper, and consist of a Manufacturing, Grist, Saw, and Plaster Mill; a picking Gin and a Carding Machine. The Manufacturing Mill is undergoing suitable repairs for the next grinding season. The Grist Mill, &c. are new.

This property is so advantageously located that it is believed twenty-five thousand bushels of wheat can be commanded with much ease–that the toll from the corn mill will (e)average two hundred and fifty barrels, and that the saw mill, (c)arding machine, &c. will command a valuable custom under proper management. All persons disposed to engage in the milling business, are invited to make a personal inspection, as the subscribers feel confident, so good a bargain will rarely be offered in property of this kind.

Jackson Morton

Jere Morton

Source: Richmond enquirer. [volume] (Richmond, Va.), 19 July 1825. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

The Richmond Enquirer of August 10, 1838 posted an auction notice for the estate of William Hansbrough, whose property straddled the Rapidan River. As a selling point to generate interest in the property, the auction notice refers to “three very fine merchant mills upon the river,” one of which was identified as Raccoon Ford Mills.

The Richmond Enquirer of July 22, 1845 contained the following notice:

This is to notify Jeremiah Beckham that I shall proceed to take the deposition of John Porter and others, at the Rackoon Ford Mill in the county of Orange on the 30th August near, between sun-rise and sun-set, and continue the same from day to day until completed – to be read as evidence in a suit pending in the Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery for the county of Orange, in which I am plaintiff and you are defendant. JAMES BECKHAM

From the Alexandria Gazette of January 12, 1866:

WANTED immediately a good MILLER to take charge of the Raccoon Ford Mills on the Rapidan River, in the county of Orange. A man without a family preferred. Apply at once to C.B. Porter at the Mill. For particulars, apply to Messrs. T.A. Brewis & Co., Alexandria, VA.

The map below is an overlay of a plat found in the Chancery Causes at the Library of Virginia in Richmond (microfilm reel LVA632-P301; chancery cause 1882-011 Orange County; Phillip Pannill v Jeremiah Pannill, etc.).
The colored parts are current conditions, with lot lines in red. The plat detail in black was drawn by a surveyor of that era, Joseph J. Halsey, in 1874. Many of his property lines are still recognizable today. Many have also been superseded. Note the one acre rectangular parcel that appears to cross the “Rapid Ann” River. Could that be a mill? Halsey had noted: “Mill Tract 99 1/2 acres.”

The Midland Journal of Rising Sun, MD reported on November 19, 1886:

I.M. Clayton Carhart of Zion recently paid a visit to Haines England, an old neighbor, who is at present established in the milling business at Raccoon Ford in Culpepper county, VA. While there he killed a wild turkey and “any number” of partridges.

The Fredericksburg Free Lance on May 23, 1903 reported the death of R.H. England of Raccoon Ford.

Mr. Robert Haines England died Thursday at his residence, at Raccoon Ford, aged 76 years. Mr. England was a native of Cecil County, Maryland but moved to Virginia 27 years ago. He was a well known farmer and mill owner at Raccoon Ford. He is survived by a widow and three children – Mr. Edward E. England of Culpeper County, Mrs. Edward Difford of Pennsylvania, and Mrs. E.J. Haskwell of Baltimore. His body was taken to Cecil County, Maryland for interment.

The Richmond Times Dispatch on November 25, 1904 reported that Mr. E.E. England has sold his mills at Raccoon Ford on the Rapidan River and has purchased the Nalle Mills in Culpeper county. The Times Dispatch reported on March 5, 1905 that Mr. Allie Rhoades, of Orange county, has purchased the Raccoon Ford mill and farm in Culpeper county and the store and stock of goods from Mr. G.B.W. Nalle at that place.

On April 2, 1911, I.S. England of Raccoon Ford placed the following ad in the Times Dispatch:

WANTED, A MILLER AT ONCE AT the Raccoon Ford Mills. Address I.S. England. Raccoon Ford, VA.

However, shortly thereafter in June 1911, Raccoon Ford Mills ceased operations due to fire. On June 13, The Free Lance ran the following notice about the loss of the mill, attributing ownership to E.E. England:

On December 31, 1911, six months after the fire, I.S. England again placed a classified ad seeking a miller AT ONCE. Perhaps Raccoon Ford Mills had been rebuilt?

The Battle of Culpeper Court House

The Rapidan River became the dividing line between Confederate and Union troops after the battle of Culpeper Court House, September 13-15, 1863. The Union Army retained control of Culpeper County for a month.

An article written by Culpeper historian Clark B. Hall captures the chaotic few days of military engagements around Culpeper Court House, with Federal cavalry chasing Confederate cavalry south to Raccoon Ford. As this happened, supporting artillery fired upon the village, according to Hall.

Read Hall’s article, “Culpeper attacked in 1863 on ‘wild and boisterous Sunday”, published in the Culpeper Star Exponent, September 15, 2019.

1863 – A sketch by prolific Civil War illustrator Alfred R. Waud entitled “Reconnoisance (sic) by Bufords Cavalry towards the Rapidan river” captures the Union line looking south. Done in pencil and Chinese white on brown paper on September 14, 1863 as the two armies engaged in the Battle of Culpeper Court House. (Image source: Library of Congress,

Map of 1864 Rapidan River landscape

Clark B. “Bud” Hall is a historian and preservationist who has written widely on the role of cavalry in the American Civil War. In 2012 he received the Civil War Trust’s “Lifetime Achievement Award,” in recognition of his 25-year efforts to protect America’s hallowed ground. He is an expert in the history of the Civil War in Culpeper County and is a frequent contributor of articles on local history to the Culpeper Star Exponent. Hall shared the map below with the following comments:

This 1864 map by Captain William H. Paine depicts the still-pristine territory along the Rapidan River near Raccoon Ford. On the lower left, the confluence of the Rapidan and Robinson (Horseshoe) rivers is seen just beneath “Garnett’s Mill.” Fifteen miles to the east, downriver, Mine Run enters the Rapidan. 

In the center-right of this superb military map, Raccoon Ford is shown in bold script by the mapmaker and he did that for the ample reason that Raccoon Ford is the single most significant ford on the Rapidan Front.

Note the mapmaker has highlighted Robinson (now Struan); Nalle (now Greenville); and Stringfellow (Summerduck) – all historic properties that continue to thrive in the Raccoon Ford area. Morton’s Ford, site of a February 1864 battle, is situated just beneath Robinson.

The officer who created (and field-checked) this map, Captain William Paine, was the top mapmaker in the Army of the Potomac. After the Civil War, Captain Paine, an engineer, built the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Editor’s note: For more about William Paine, please see

Post on Raccoon Ford – Mysteries & Conundrums Blog

In 2013, one of the editors of the Mysteries & Conundrums blog visited Somerville Ford and Raccoon Ford. This blog was created by the NPS staff at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. The visitor, John Hennessy, was guided by two area residents. The resulting blog entry is interesting, and incorporates photos from the 2013 visit, modern maps with wartime roads marked, and quotes from Civil War soldiers who passed through the area.

Read Exploring Culpeper and Orange – Somerville and Raccoon Fords

Somerville Ford and Raccoon Ford in the center of the map.
(Also of interest: the road below the fords marked as Marquises Road – Lafayette’s 1781 route south through Orange County to Yorktown.)
Sketch of Rapidan River valley, 1864; source: Library of Congress,

A Western Visitor to Raccoon Ford

In late March of 2019, Donald Brown of Colorado stopped at St. Paul’s Church, located roughly one mile from Raccoon Ford on Algonquin Trail. He had driven across the country to visit Raccoon Ford. His great grandfather was a Private in Company C of the 4th New York Cavalry Regiment who fought and was captured by Ewell’s Confederate troops at Raccoon Ford on September 16, 1863.

After being unhorsed and captured, Mr. Brown’s great grandfather, Private John W. Brown, was marched under guard to Orange Courthouse, and there put on an Orange and Alexandria Railroad train to Gordonsville.  At Gordonsville he was then transferred to a Central Virginia Railroad train that took him to Richmond.  He remained a POW there until January 6, 1864 when he was paroled under the Dix-Hill Cartel exchange agreement.  At City Point, Virginia he was handed over to Federal authorities and boarded a side wheeler steamboat and sailed down the James River, eventually ending up in a Union Hospital in Annapolis, Maryland.

Private Brown rejoined his cavalry unit in time to participate in the Gettysburg Campaign, until reaching Hanover Junction June 30, 1864.  The 4th New York along with the 2nd Brigade was detached and sent to Manchester, Maryland where it picketed the surrounding countryside until July 3 when it was sent to Westminster, Maryland.  On July 4th, the New York Volunteers joined Kilpatrick’s Division in pursuit of Lee’s retreating army and participated at Monterey Pass and many other engagements until Lee had re-crossed the Potomac River. 

Ron Vecchioni, who owns and is refurbishing St. Paul’s Church, showed Mr. Brown the original, now sunken, Raccoon Ford road trace on the church property and told him that his great grandfather had ridden his horse down that very path 150 years ago and likely stopped and rested inside the very church he was standing in front of.  It was an emotional moment for Mr. Brown. He then eagerly went inside to take numerous photos and look at the few exhibits in the church.

Raccoon Ford and the surrounding landscape have remained largely unchanged over the years. Because of this, visitors delving into area history have a unique opportunity to take in the same topography that was settled and cultivated, as well as marched on and fought over, during years past. This experience can be powerful for those, like Mr. Brown, who are researching family and find themselves able to walk in their ancestor’s footsteps, taking in the unchanged views of rolling hills and river bluffs.