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central islip, New York
September 17, 2007
From journal Chathom Manor
June 7, 2006
Chatham has one of the most beautiful settings anywhere. It hard to believe looking at the peaceful setting along the banks of the Rappahannock River that this was the site of so much bloodshed and pain during the Civil War.The history of Chatham however goes back much farther, to the 1768 when William Fizhugh decided to build a Georgian Manor on the river near Ferry Farm. Chatham was a plantation in the grand manner with a whole supporting cast of buildings and the slaves that would be necessary to run the over 1200 acres farm. They were famous for the race horses that they raised here.
In the 1790s the Fizhughs moved to Alexandria to escape from the hundreds of guest who visited Chatham every year. The cost of housing and entertaining the guests were putting a strain on the purse of the aging planter. In 1796 after an ugly slave rebellion the house was placed up for sale.It took 10 years to sell but the new owner Major Churchill Jones had been an officer in the Continental Army. Robert E. Lee was a guest of the Jones family during their 66-year- ownership of Chatham. There was a connection between the Washington and Fitzhugh families, Molly Fitzhugh married George Washington Parke Custis, whose daughter in turn married Robert E. Lee. The owner at the time of the Civil War was James Lacey who had married the niece of Churchill Jones. He left to serve in the Confederate Army and his wife and children remained until 1862 when the Union Army arrived and forced them to move.Chatham became the headquarters of the Union Army and eventually an Army field hospital. In 1862 Abraham Lincoln met here with General McDowell giving Chatham the distinction of being one of only three houses where both Lincoln and Washington were guests. Clara Barton and Walt Whitman were both here nursing the wounded. Today there are grave markers on the grounds marking the burial sites of some of the patients who did not survive, most of the dead were moved shortly after that to the National Cemetery.When the Laceys returned after the war the house was in shambles. They sold the house in 1872. It wasn’t until the Chatham was purchased by Daniel & Helen Devore in the 1920s that an attempt was made to preserve it. The final owner of the house John Lee Pratt willed it to the National Park Service which maintains the house today.We toured the house which has almost no furniture with our Ranger Jaime. There are large plaques in each of the rooms introducing us to Chatham and the many people who had a part in its history.The grounds are quite lovely with gardens on one side and slopping lawns down to the Rappahannock on the other. Since Chatham was the launching point for the Battle of Fredericksburg you will see one of the vessel that the Union Army used.
From journal Fredericksburg Va- Americas Most Historic City