GATEWAY TO FREEDOM: Aquia Landing
Aquia Landing (pronounced /uh kwhy' yuh/) is located at the confluence of Aquia Creek and the Potomac River in Stafford County, Virginia. As early as 1815, Aquia Landing served as a steamboat wharf. In 1842, the Richmond Fredericksburg & Potomac (RF&P) Railroad was extended north to Aquia Landing, completing the line from Richmond,VA to the Potomac River. A pivotal transportation point between southern states and northern ports, Aquia Landing initially served as a domestic slave trade portal, as witnessed first-hand by slave Solomon Northup (1841). However, the site was later transformed into a gateway to freedom through which thousands of fugitive slaves passed en route to liberty. Among those slaves are believed to be William and Ellen Craft (1848) and Henry “Box” Brown (1849).
Shortly after the start of the Civil War, this important transportation hub became a site of interest to both sides. Union steamships and Confederate artillery exchanged fire for three days over the landing during the Battle of Aquia Creek (May 31-Jun 2, 1861). A year later in April 1862, the Union arrived en masse to Stafford, rebuilding the landing, and using it for an operations center for approximately five months. During that period, an estimated 10,000 freedom seekers who sought refuge behind Union lines passed through Stafford - many of whom are believed to have been shipped north from Stafford to Alexandria, Va. and Washington, D.C., including a slave named John Washington (1862). This is why the site has been named a "Gateway to Freedom."
During the Union evacuation in early September 1862, the troops moved via the railroad and steamboats at Aquia Landing. Thousands of freedom seekers flooded the rail stations and crowded the roads to Aquia, hoping to escape with them. Among them was former slave John Washington, who walked to Aquia Landing in Union footsteps. At the landing, his Union paperwork was declined, and he was denied permission to board a ship. When the sentry turned to assist others, John snuck aboard the steamer Keyport and remained hidden until his safe arrival to the whart in Washington, D.C.
AQUIA LANDING TODAY
Today, the rustic Aquia Landing Park appears very much as it did 150 years ago (without the historic wharf and rail line). The view of Brent's Point, Aquia Creek and the Potomac River have changed little (other than a few visible residential houses). The adjacent marsh and inlet are still present on the northwest side of the peninsula. This site offers a wonderful location to observe native and migratory birds, to fish, picnic, kayak and sunbathe on a hot summer day. Visit Aquia Landing for passive recreation, and learn about the untold African American history of this site. The "Gateway to Freedom" exhibit will be located in front of the parking lot at the point of Aquia Landing. The exhibit, which consists of 3 signs, was dedicated on February 1, 2011 in honor of Black History Month.
PARK INFORMATION & HOURS
2846 Brooke Road
Stafford, VA 22554
HOURS: Mid-Mar. to Oct., daily 8:00am - 8:00pm. Nov. to Mid-Mar., daily 8:00am - 5:30pm.
--Maintained by Stafford County Parks, Recreation & Community Facilities, (540) 658-4871.
NOTE: This riverside park may be closed during inclement weather or due to conditions considered hazardous to public safety. Please check with the Parks & Recreation office for the most current park regulations regarding visitation.
HONORS & TRAILS
Aquia Landing is listed on the NPS National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, the Civil War Trails, and the NPS Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (PHNST).
To learn more about the history of this site, you can read a number of books that reference travel to and through Aquia Landing from slaves, soldiers, and general travelers.
- 150 Years Along the RF&P Railroad, by William E. Griffin, Jr.
- Adams Express Company History, by The Adams Express Company
- A Different Story, by Ruth Coder Fitzgerald
- Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, by Henry Brown
- Pictorial Field Book of the Revolution, Volume II, by Benson J. Lossing
- Running a Thousand Miles to Freedom (The escape of William & Ellen Craft), by William Craft
- A Slave No More, by David W. Blight (story of John Washington)
- Slavery and the Domestic Slave-Trade in the United States, by Prof. E.A. Andrews
- Stafford County in the Civil War, by Homer D. Musselman
- They Called Stafford Home, by Jerrilyn Eby
- Things as They Are in America, by William Chambers
- The Unboxing of Henry Brown, by Jeffrey Ruggles
- Twelve Years a Slave, Narrative of Solomon Northup
*Historic images above are courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.*
The Gateway to Freedom exhibit was made possible in part by a grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Also, special thanks to the members of the Gateway to Freedom exhibit committee for their leadership, commitment, and dedication to the development of these three markers. This important interpretive exhibit would not have been possible without their leadership and guidance.