In the course of exploring Aquia Landing and vicinity through various blog posts, let’s pause in one of the periods predating the steamboats and railroad. The typical visitor to the public beach there who gazes across Aquia Creek to Brent’s Point in Stafford County is probably unaware they are looking at the tip of a peninsula that hosted the Fredericksburg area’s only known Revolutionary War fighting between organized units.
The shooting part of the Revolution came to Stafford in July 1776, 15 months after Virginia’s Royal Governor, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, declared his colony in rebellion and a year after he moved the seat of his “government” to a British fleet that would raid up and down the Chesapeake and its tributaries. That these operations included an amphibious attack on the Widewater peninsula—dramatic and much commented-on at the time—has recently begun to reenter common knowledge locally, thanks to the posting of primary accounts on Robert Heges VIIII’s Encyclopedia of Dumfries, Virginia website, around 1997, and the publishing of other primary accounts, together with extended narratives of the Widewater episode, in works such as Jerrilynn Eby’s They Called Stafford Home: The Development of Stafford County, Virginia from 1600 Until 1865 (1997) and Donald G. Shomette’s Maritime Alexandria: the Rise and Fall of an American Entrepôt (2003).
The following contemporary description, perhaps penned by an officer in the Virginia State Navy and recently made available online by an archive in Illinois, provides an overview of the amphibious operation of 1776. It began with four British warships sailing past on the Potomac on July 22, and continued the next day, when at least one of the four, the 44-gun, two decker HMS Roebuck, returned to dispatch landing craft to William Brent’s Richland. Richland, centered around what was described as an “elegant brick house,” was situated on the Widewater peninsula roughly three-quarters of the way up (northwest along) its Potomac shoreline. Brent owned land in Prince William County as well as in Stafford, and was captain of the Prince William militia: