Along Route 1 stands a town that has watched history play out.
Dumfries is made up of an array of businesses, community organizations, and agencies that serve residents and visitors of eastern Prince William County.
It’s also filled with a rich history that remains unknown to many.
That history includes the town’s role as a sea port.
During the late 1600s, Quantico Creek drew immigrants from Scotland to the area, according to Historic Dumfries Virginia Executive Site Manager Lisa Timmerman.
Historic Dumfries Virginia is a non-profit that operates The Weems-Botts Museum in Dumfries.
Over time, the population of Dumfries continued to increase as more people started claiming property. In 1749, the significant growth led the town to apply for and receive its charter, making it the first charter town in Virginia.
Various businesses also set up shop, including a horse track and play houses.
Tobacco, the main export, was also produced and transported along Quantico Creek.
“One of the cheapest and easiest ways to for Prince William farmers to cultivate more tobacco was just to cut down more forests and plant tobacco in those new fields, and let the old fields grow back into wood lots,” Prince William County Historic Preservation Division Preservationist Bill Backus said.
The silting of Quantico Creek
The production of tobacco caused life to change in the 1700s and early 1800s.
Before trees could regrow, rain water was pushing sediment into water sources, including Quantico Creek.
“A hundred years of tobacco farming and the focus of tobacco eventually led the creek to actually start to silt. Everything was going into the mouth of the creek, making it very hard to navigate to Dumfries,” Timmerman said.
Despite the silting issue, the Town of Dumfries continued to serve as a prime location for community members.
In the 1750s, Prince William County’s courthouse was moved to the area.
“So, even though the port is slowly silting in, you still have a lot of people coming into Dumfries because they have to pay their taxes, they have to go to court, they have to do any of the civil records that we take for granted today,” Backus said.
Around the turn of the century, many residents began moving away.
“Although not everyone left and people were still working towards restoring Dumfries as a sea port — such as the 1795 Quantico Company that formed — a lot of people just found it easier to go to Alexandria or other areas, and by [the] 1820s the courthouse that we even had in Dumfries left, as well,” Timmerman explained.
Connecting to the past
The town continued to serve its residents and those traveling through it. However, many were deterred by Kings Highway — now known as Route 1 — which wasn’t paved.
Instead, they opted to sail along the Potomac River.
Around the 1820s, more citizens were moving out — rather than into — Prince William County.
“For about a hundred years, Prince William keeps losing population,” Backus said. “So the town of Dumfries is a good reflection of Prince William County as a whole during this time period.”
Even though its role as a sea port ended about 200 hundred years ago, Dumfries’ history continues to help people.
According to Timmerman, many reach out to Historic Dumfries Virginia to learn about their ancestors, who lived in the town during this era.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people did leave during the siltation of the creek, but a lot of families today realize the importance of Dumfries and contact us to research their family history,” Timmerman said.
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