Chapter 2A


Chapter 1
Chapter 2A
Chapter 2B
Chapter 2C
Chapter 3A
Chapter 3B
Chapter 4A
Chapter 4B
Chapter 5A
Chapter 5B
Chapter 6
Chapter 7


Chapter Two (Part A)
Historical Background for Sudley Post Office


Settlement and Agricultural Expansion

In the early eighteenth century, the lands of Prince William County were part of an area known as the Northern Neck.  Robert "King" Carter was very influential in the early settlement of the region; most of Prince William County was under his control.  In the 1720s he set aside close to 100,000 acres for his heirs (WPA 1941:26).  He divided this land mass into tracts that he leased out to individuals for settlement.  The Bull Run Tract, Lower Bull Run Tract (acquired in 1724) and the Middle Bull Run Tract  (acquired in 1729) encompassed the area of Manassas National Battlefield (Joseph 1996b:3.2; McCartney 1992:17).

By 1730, Prince William County was established and encompassed present day Prince William, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudon, and Arlington counties (McCartney 1992:15; Neville et al. 1995:25).  Most settlements concentrated along the banks of rivers and navigable streams, as  the interior portions of the county, such as Manassas, lacked a network of transportation routes (Netherton 1978:30).  Dumfries Road that led from Dumfries to the mountains around Ashby served as the main road leading to the Manassas area during this time period  (McCartney 1992:15-17; Ray 1987:12).  With increasing competition for land in the tidewater, the Piedmont portion of Prince William County began to be settled by the mid eighteenth century.  Compared to the tidewater region however, Prince William County was still a frontier environment (Kulikoff 1986:142).

Gradual settlement of the Northern Neck necessitated that the legislature establish political boundaries to oversee legal disputes, crop inspection, and land development.  Dumfries, the closest settlement to Manassas during this time period,  served as the county seat from 1762 to the end of the eighteenth century (WPA 1941).

Agricultural production in the Manassas area began in earnest during the third quarter of the eighteenth century.  However, large landholders dominated most of the agricultural enterprise during this time period.  The Carter family rent books only list five renters for the Bull Run Tract (McCartney 1992:19).  Robert Carter's grandsons Landon Carter II and John Carter had plantations on Bull Run tracts by the mid eighteenth century; by 1760, each had established a residence for themselves and was working the land (W.P.A 1941:158).  The Carter brothers' estates marked the northernmost extension of the family's landholdings at the time.

Enslaved Africans provided labor for crop production in Prince William County.  By the time settlers moved into Prince William County in the eighteenth century, planters of the tidewater regions of Virginia had established the use of enslaved Africans for labor for more than fifty years (Mullin 1972; Kulikoff 1986:41).  Slaves held a wide variety of labor roles including field laborers, personal servants, artisans, and mechanics (Mullin 1972).

Grains became one of the predominant crops produced in both Virginia and Prince William County by the third quarter of the eighteenth century (Mullin 1972:128; Harrison 1987:403).  In his diary, Landon Carter of Sabine Hall mentions his sons, John Carter of Sudley and Landon Carter of Pittsylvania, producing grains (Green 1987:132, 458).  By the 1760s, John Carter had built a mill complex along Catharpin Run to process the area's grains and lumber (Conner 1975).  These plantations shipped agricultural products to Dumfries during the third quarter of the eighteenth century and later to Alexandria when Dumfies' port became unnavigable due to siltation (Harrison 1987:408; Conner 1975).

The number of mills in Prince William County operating during the late eighteenth century indicates the presence of  grain production in the county.  By the end of the century 50 water- powered grist and saw mills operating in the county (Prince William County Historical Commission 1982:13).  The rise in agricultural production in the late eighteenth century also spurred the development of a network of roads in the area.  One of the most important transportation networks to the Sudley area was the Warrenton-Alexandria Turnpike developed by 1807 (Figure 2.1).  This road provided the Sudley area with a connection to Alexandria, Virginia, a city that was the economic link for national and international trade (Joseph 1996b:3.4; McCartney 1992:18; Harrison 1987:409).

The development of a road network in northern Prince William County allowed for the expansion of the area=s population. The establishment of towns such as  Buckland (1796), Haymarket (1799),  and Centreville (1792) provide evidence for this growth (McCartney 1992:18; Harrison 1987:665).  Coinciding with the growth of towns and turnpikes during the antebellum period, patterns of land ownership in the Manassas/Sudley area changed drastically between the colonial and federal eras.  During the eighteenth century and into the early nineteenth century,  large landholders who owned large populations of enslaved laborers, such as the Carters, dominated agriculture in the area (Stevenson 1996:173).  However, by the second quarter of the nineteenth century,  the large landholdings of the Carter family had diminished. Often, this occurred as the result of heirs dividing up previously large landholdings.  The division of Landon Carter's estate of Pittsylvania is a prime example of this process.  By 1810, his two sons, Wormley and John F. Carter, had divided the former estate, and Wormley had sold portions of his estate to pay off debts  (Joseph 1996b:3.6).  The sale or lease of smaller plots of land allowed individuals of lesser means to create homesteads and farms.

With the change in land ownership patterns came a shift in land management as well.  With less land available, many farms contained plots that were not only smaller but also suffered from severe erosion.  Facing limitations on land production, farmers diversified their grain crops and engaged in agricultural improvements such as crop rotation, the use of plows, and fertilization with manures and lime (Little 1995:148; Neville et al. 1995).  Several small landowners in the Manassas/Sudley area, such as the Matthews, Newmans, and Van Pelts, used these approaches to increase agricultural production (Joseph 1996b:3.13).  Along with producing cash crops of corn, rye, oats, and wheat they also produced dairy products, honey, wool, and various fruit from orchards (Joseph 1996b:3.13).  These efforts allowed crop production to continue in areas where poor farming practices of the past century had depleted topsoil.

Owners of smaller farms had an increased need for local craftspeople to perform specialized services.  Previously, larger landholders hired or owned skilled slaves to perform most of the repair and construction on the estate (Kullikoff 1986:413).  Since smaller landowners did not have the resources to own or hire skilled laborers, they sought the services of local artisans.  As a result, millers, craftspeople, and merchants settled along turnpikes to serve the local community and travelers.  Often, these craftspeople offered their services for part of the year and spent the remainder of the year working their own land.  Multiple sources of household income allowed these artisans to survive since their rural clientele did not provide a large source of income (Daniels 1993:753). 

The development of a rural infrastructure to serve the needs of local farmers  led to smaller settlements, such as Sudley and Groveton, dotting the landscape and providing centers for the local community.  In the case of Sudley, a small community grew around the mill.  By 1809, the Sudley community  included a store, a blacksmith shop and a wheelwright shop (Alexandria Gazette 13 October 1809).  In the 1820s, Landon Carter (son of John Carter) donated land for the construction of Sudley Methodist Church (Johnson 1982:31).  The addition of the church helped to make the Sudley area both a commercial and social center.

The development of the railroad in the Manassas area spurred regional economic growth.  The Orange and Alexandria Railroad became the first line to serve the area, and ran from Gordonsville to Tudor Hall (present day Manassas) to Alexandria (Harrison 1987:588).   In 1850, the General Assembly authorized the construction of the Manassas Gap Railroad to connect with the Orange and Alexandria Railroad at Manassas Junction, bringing the railroad closer to the Sudley area (Figure 2.2).  The Manassas Gap line passed though Gainesville to Thoroughfare Gap with a terminus at Strasburg, Virginia (Neville, et al. 1995; Harrison 1987:589).  The line  moved agricultural products from the Shenandoah Valley to Alexandria, Virginia.  The railroad not only provided an economic link for the Manassas area, but it also provided a means for families to move into the region, from both the west and east, the same way that the early turnpikes provided conduits for settlement between various parts of Virginia during the early nineteenth century.  While the railroad brought wider regional development, the turnpikes in the area continued to serve the majority of transportation needs for the local community.

Civil War and its Aftermath

The development of the railroad in the Manassas area was a catalyst for the area being the location for two of the major Civil War land battles.  With the secession of the southern states in 1861, combat between the North and South became unavoidable.  Confederate General Robert E. Lee saw the railroad junction at Manassas as being venerable to attack.  Since Manassas served as the only link to southern supplies, Lee ordered the fortification of the railroad center (McCartney 1992:23).  The threat of being severed from rail support was further intensified in May of 1861, when the Federals occupied Alexandria, Virginia, the terminus of the Orange and Alexandria line.  The Federal occupation forced Confederate forces to withdraw southward to Manassas  (WPA 1941:48).  This concentration of men at Manassas helped set the stage for the First Battle of Manassas.

In First Manassas, the Confederates defeated the Union Army and dashed their hopes for a quick invasion of the Confederate capital.  Following the battle, the Union forces tried to take the capital once more during the Peninsular Campaign of 1862.  McClellan's failure to capture Richmond during this campaign led Federal officials to reorganize their forces under General John Pope, who led the Union forces during the Second Battle of Manassas.  Despite the consolidation of the Union forces, Pope and his men were defeated at Second Manassas through a combined effort of Jackson's hard fighting during August 28 and 29 and Lee and Longstreet's smashing the Union lines on the 30th (WPA 1941:51; McCartney 1992:29; Henessey 1996).

After the Civil War, agricultural production recovered slowly in the Manassas area.  Many farms, such as Brownsville, had been occupied by both Union and Confederate and both crops and the existing agricultural infrastructure had been destroyed (Parker and Hernigle 1990; Trowbridge 1866; Joseph 1996b).  In addition, large landholders who had formerly relied on enslaved labor had no means to rebuild their farms or begin crop production.  Because of these factors, farmers did not pursue the production of large scale crops for several years and scrub vegetation covered much of the region's farm land (Trowbridge 1866:86).  In place of large-scale crop production, local residents reverted to subsistence crop production and the raising of livestock (McCartney 1992:36). 

From 1865 to 1870, Virginia was under military rule commanded by General John M. Schofield (WPA 1941:54).  The Constitutional Convention of 1867 reorganized the state government.  This convention created the Underwood Constitution that mandated the use of boards of supervisors for county administration and the establishment of a school system whose state support and attendance was mandatory (WPA 1941:54; McCartney 1992:36).  The Underwood Constitution also stipulated that African Americans had the right to vote.  With a potential voting population that nearly equaled the white population, 27 of the 120 delegates elected to the Virginia General Assembly in 1869 were African Americans (Buni 1967:1)

By 1870, Reconstruction had ended in Virginia and agricultural production resumed.  In the Manassas area there were drastic changes in the land tenure system, since many parcels of land were divided among family members or sold as lots (Joseph 1996b:3.28).  Many individuals worked the land on a tenant basis (Joseph 1996b:3.26).  One African-American family, the Robinsons, took advantage of the sale of local lands in Manassas and acquired a sizeable plot of land (Parsons et al., in prep.).  Most farms of the time period averaged around 150 acres and were modest operations (Joseph 1996b:3.28).

The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw a dramatic increase in the population of Prince William County from approximately 7,000 in 1880 to 11,000 by 1900 (WPA 1941:55).  Several factors contributed to this growth.  First, the rail system in the county expanded as previously separate railroad companies were consolidated into larger rail lines (Eleventh Annual Report of the Railroad Commissioner of the State of Virginia 1887).  This increased the network of the rail lines and brought more rail traffic to Manassas.  Second, the incorporation of Manassas in 1873 helped create infrastructure such as a town council and schools.  In 1893, Jennie Dean chartered the Manassas Industrial School for African-Americans (Simmons 1986:42).  Manassas grew into an economic hub and the County moved the seat from Brentsville to Manassas in 1893 (WPA 1941:55).  The growth of Manassas brought employment opportunities to an area previously dominated by agricultural pursuits.

By the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century, the General Assembly had effectively removed African-Americans' right to vote.  Democrats, who represented the white status-quo in Virginia, regained control of the political machine by threatening African Americans at voting polls, segregating polling stations, and fraud (Buni 1967:11).  By the early twentieth century, African Americans also felt racial exclusion in segregation of mass transit, public facilities, and schools (WPA 1940:268). This racial exclusion climaxed during the period from 1890 to 1910 (Jones 1985:147).  During this period the Jim Crow laws legally mandated a segregated society (Gilmore 1996).  Lynchings of black men and sexual violence against black women occurred in greater frequency (Jones 1987:150).  These activities were a response by portions of the white community to circumvent the economic advances made by African Americans since the Civil War.  The legalization of discriminatory practices served as a formal replacement for enforced servitude thrust upon African Americans during slavery (Jones 1987:151).

In the 1920s, the Sons of Confederate Veterans purchased some lands associated with the First Battle of Manassas.  They established the land of Henry Hill as the Manassas National Battlefield Confederate Park.  In the 1930s, the National Park Service acquired land in the Manassas area, and by 1935 it had more than 1400 acres known as the Bull Run Recreational Area.  Later, in 1935, the National Park Service created Manassas National Battlefield Park out of these two landmasses (Zenzen 1995:43-47).  In the late 1950s and 60s, the National Park Service prioritized the purchase of lands associated with the Second Battle of Manassas (Zenzen 1935: 106).  The Park Service acquired the land associated with Sudley Post Office in 1966.

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