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Chatham Manor, Fredericksburg

#2 of 57 in Things to do in Fredericksburg
Historic Site · Tourist Spot
Chatham Manor is a Georgian-style mansion home completed in 1771 by farmer and statesman William Fitzhugh, after about three years of construction, on the Rappahannock River in Stafford County, Virginia, opposite Fredericksburg. It was for more than a century the center of a large, thriving plantation, and the only private residence in the United States to be visited by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Chatham also reflected the new country's racial tensions. In January 1805, Chatham's slaves overpowered and whipped their overseer and assistants in a minor slave rebellion. An armed posse of white men quickly gathered. They killed one slave in the attack, and two more died trying to escape capture. Two other slaves were deported, likely to the Caribbean or Louisiana, and Fitzhugh soon sold the property.

Five decades later, in 1857, owner Hannah Jones Coalter (the 77-year-old mother of a disabled daughter named Janet), died and attempted to manumit her 93 slaves after making provision both for her daughter and the slaves. Her relatives sued, claiming that after the Dred Scott decision, slaves were legally incapable of choosing whether to remain enslaved or receive their freedom and enough money to establish themselves in another state. While local judges thought the executors should free the slaves per Hannah's intent, a divided Virginia Supreme Court disagreed. Thus, the executors sold Chatham with its slaves to J. Horace Lacy (husband of Hannah's much younger half-sister Betty), although soon one slave was allowed to travel to raise money to buy freedom for herself and her small family, and succeeded.

During the American Civil War, the Lacys abandoned Chatham. Its strategic site overlooking Fredericksburg briefly served as Union headquarters, and later as the major Union hospital during battles for control of the strategic Virginia city and Spotsylvania County en route to the Confederate capital. Due to wartime use and disuse, Chatham fell into great disrepair. The Lacys ultimately sold Chatham to pay taxes (including on their other estate, Ellwood Manor) in 1872. Saved from total destruction as the 20th century began by a series of wealthy American owners, Chatham was refurbished and became a showpiece. The estate was willed to the National Park Service in 1975 and now serves as the headquarters for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

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TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
380 reviews
  • A wonderful place with amazing views to get some exercise in all while taking in the beautiful downtown views of the Rappahannock River and downtown Fredericksburg.  more »
  • Do not miss a visit. Really beautiful and very interesting. We spent the better part of a morning here.  more »
  • So beautiful! A lovely oasis full of history. Peaceful location steeped in Virginia history. Visit and you won't be disappointed for a great view of Fredericksburg, photo opportunities, lovely gardens, and an interesting and engaging history lesson.
  • What can you say about absolute perfection? There are no words that engulf the amazing array of history at your fingertips! From the beautiful gardens to the statutes to the wealth of knowledge of the local volunteers Chatham Manor is a must see when visiting Fredericksburg! My 9/15 visit included a walk of the grounds, a tour of the gardens and a stroll through of the manor itself. A 10 minute film awaited me that provided a quick summary of prior ownership which demonstrated the majesty of the beginnings of Chatham to the heart wrenching plight of the slaves and Civil War. The grounds have been meticulously maintained and are pristine...I was impressed with the renovations! Thank you for maintaining this historical treasure and know that I will be back to visit!

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