The origin of the name “Raccoon Ford”

Much of the history of Raccoon Ford that is discussed relates to the Civil War, but the area also may have played a role in our country’s early history. Ron Vecchioni, who is currently renovating historic St. Paul’s Church in Raccoon Ford, shared the following information:

It was the Marquis de Lafayette’s stop here in the spring of 1781 that earned the hitherto unnamed ford across the Rapidan River its name.   While waiting for additional forces to join him, Lafayette directed his troops to begin cutting down trees to build ramps on either bank of the Rapidan River, to aid in moving their supply wagons and cannons across the shallowest point in the river.

 As his troops began cutting down nearby trees for construction of the ramps they came to a tree with a mama raccoon and her kit of babies.  There are two versions of the events that transpired there.  In one version the tree is unceremoniously cut down and the raccoons scampered across the river, hence the name Raccoon Ford. 

 In the other version, a heated argument breaks out, as Lafayette, who has never seen raccoons before, directs his men to leave the animals unmolested and instead cut down another tree a further distance away from the river.  This of course meant more physical labor for the troops. 

Who knows which version is the truth?  It is however safe to say that there was a tree, there were raccoons in it, and Lafayette was there. 

Thus Raccoon Ford was the springboard for the final campaign of the American Revolution.  It was here that Lafayette’s 1,000 Continental soldiers and 2,000 New York Militia waited for “Mad” Anthony Wayne’s Army to join up.  Wayne arrived with an additional 800 Pennsylvania Continentals on June 10, 1781.  A few days afterwards, William Campbell’s force of 1,000 additional militia gathered from southwestern Virginia arrived.

With a sizable force of over 4,500 armed men, Lafayette now was strong enough to march towards and confront Cornwallis who was advancing up the Virginia peninsula towards Richmond, Virginia.  At Yorktown Lafayette was joined by a Continental Army led by General George Washington along with French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau.  The combined land force encircled Cornwallis and laid siege to Yorktown.  With the help of the French Navy blockading the Chesapeake Bay from the British Navy, Cornwallis had no choice but to surrender on October 19, 1781.

 The Yorktown campaign was the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War.  The defeat of Cornwallis and capture of his entire army prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict.  The 13 colonies had finally won their independence and the United States of America was created, and the whole thing began at a little unnamed river crossing on the Rapidan River now known as Raccoon Ford in southern Culpeper County, Virginia.

Contributed by Ron Vecchioni

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3 thoughts on “The origin of the name “Raccoon Ford””

  1. Thank you for this post. I am beginning to believe in serendipity as yesterday I came across a reference in a paper I am copying on my husband’s relative’s service in the Revolutionary War where he tells of crossing the Rappahannock River at Elys Ford and recrossing at Raccoon Ford. Now I know it was the Rapidan River that was crossed and have corrected the record.

    1. Hello – Interesting! Would you mind sharing more of the story? I’d be interested in the date of his Raccoon Ford crossing and who he served with. Thanks for your comment.

      1. Yes, I would be glad to. This was the year 1781 and the army was General Wayne’s “we pased through several counties and crosed the Rapohaech River at Elies ford and met General Wane and recrosed the River at the racon ford here all the men who had left from the counties below the mountains were taken from several companies and formed into one and the command given to Maj John Caldwell of ( I believe) Charlot county”

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