Role in Ravensworth – owner Parcel 1.2

Anna Maria Sarah Goldsborough was born on November 15, 1796 in Dorchester County, Maryland, one of two children born to Charles W. and Elizabeth Goldsborough of Maryland.1 Her father was a longtime Member of Congress and later Governor of Maryland (1819). After her mother died, her father married his cousin Sarah Goldsborough, with whom he had 15 more children.2 Anna Maria married William Henry Fitzhugh in 1814. They had no children of their own but adopted her young niece Mary Caroline Goldsborough, daughter of her mother’s brother Robert Henry Goldsborough.

At age 38 in May 1830, William Henry died of a suspected stroke while visiting Anna Maria’s family in Maryland. His will bequeathed 8500 acres of his Ravensworth land (Parcel 1.2) to Anna Maria for her life in trust. Having no direct heir, at Anna Maria’s death the land would then go to his niece Mary Custis Lee and her heirs. As it turned out, Anna Maria would outlive Mary by several months and the land would go to Mary’s children.

Living at both Ravensworth Mansion and the Fitzhugh’s Alexandria townhouse, Anna Maria managed the plantation and extensive other properties until her own death in 1874. Silas Burke was for many years her business manager.3 Between 1847 and 1853, she sold four parcels of Ravensworth land (parcels 1.2.4 – 7) totaling about 1150 acres. During this time, she also sold a three-mile long narrow strip of land for right-of-way to the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, which crossed her property from east to west. The railroad built a small, private station to serve her plantation.

Another major property was the 2500-acre Arkendale plantation on the Potomac River in Prince William County. It had two fisheries, which were rented out. Anna Maria sold Arkendale in 1855 for $67,000 to Charles H. Warren. When the Warren family defaulted after paying about one-third of the money, she purchased it back in a court-directed sale in 1869 for about $52,000.4

On July 30 1849, Anna Maria was a passenger in a wagon accident near Oak Hill with two other women and nine-year-old Mary Randolf Dickins, daughter of neighbors Margaret and Francis Dickins.

The horses attached to a spring wagon, in which Mrs. A. M. Fitzhugh, Miss Dickins, and two other ladies were riding, took fright and ran off with great fury. The wagon was dashed against a tree, and broken to pieces. Miss Dickins… was so severely injured that she died in an hour or two after the accident. Mrs. Fitzhugh was very much injured, but it is hoped, from the report of the physicians, that her wounds are not dangerous. Another of the ladies had her arms shattered, and in other respects was much bruised; and the other young lady was slightly injured. 5

Manumission Changes the Labor Force

A provision of William Henry’s will that took affect in 1850 profoundly affected Anna Maria and the plantation workforce. It provided that, in 1850, William Henry’s slaves were to be freed.6 One can imagine the anticipation of both owner and owned as freedom approached in the countdown to 1850. Certainly Anna Maria’s relationship to the workers and the makeup of the plantation workforce changed. Whereas 83 enslaved people were recorded at Ravensworth in 1830, nine were recorded in 1850 – eight males ages 19, 18 (2), 15, 12 (2), 2, and 1; and one female age 8. All had been born after 1830. They must have been Anna Maria’s personal property and not affected by William Henry’s will.7

Starting in the January 1850 Fairfax County Court session, 61 of the newly freed slaves registered as free Blacks. It may be that some of the freed stayed on at Ravensworth as hired workers. At least three did stay with Anna Maria as trusted servants and were acknowledged in her will, when she died in 1874. Jim and Violet Burke received an annual annuity of $150. William Burke received the house and lot he lived in on her Alexandria townhouse property.8

The Civil War

Living in a war zone affected everyone in Northern Virginia. But in Anna Maria’s case Robert E. Lee, a senior Confederate officer and soon commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, was William Henry’s relative by marriage. Lee had a personal history with Ravensworth, and his wife, Mary Custis Lee, and their children were in line to inherit it.The day before leaving for Richmond and Confederate service, Lee and his family visited Anna Maria in Alexandria and attended church with her.9 At the outset of war, Mary and the children sheltered with Anna Maria at Ravensworth for about one month. Lee feared their presence might put Anna Maria in jeopardy, so they moved farther south behind Confederate lines.10

Anna Maria chose to stay at Ravensworth rather than in Union occupied Alexandria. “At the beginning of the war I was living at Ravensworth and I remained there during the whole war with the exception of one night in Alexandria and except that I came down to Alexandria twice for a day.”11 Alone except for a few slaves, perhaps the Burkes and at least one tenant, salvation came in an Union Army protective order from General Winfield Scott. It placed 65 year old Anna Maria and her property under the Army’s protection, out of respect for the Fitzhugh family’s connection to George Washington.12 General Irwin McDowall granted Anna Maria a pass to travel freely.13

Glimpses of life and conditions at Ravensworth early in the war come from several letters Anna Maria penned in 1861-62 to Margaret Dickins of Ossian Hall, three-quarters of a mile distant.14 Other insights come from statements Anna Maria made following the war. Margaret was passionately pro-Confederacy. Though some of Anna Maria’s family members fought for the Confederacy, she said after the war: “…my sympathies were against the war. …I was distressed about it beyond measure. I would have given anything that I could to have prevented secession. …I thought they were going to ruin their country and I could not approve of the act of any fellow countrymen in that movement.”15 Regarding her friendship with Margaret Dickens, she said: “I was shut up at my house in the country and could not go away and didn’t see anybody during the war . . . except a lady who lived half a mile from me. She was the only person I saw, , , It was Mrs. Dickens (sic) of Ocean (sic) Hall. She was the only person I saw during the whole of those four years.”

Recurring themes in Anna Maria’s letters are loneliness and wishing Margaret would visit more often; seeking and sharing news to keep up with events; visits by and encamping of soldiers on her land; supporting the Dickins family with food, help and advice, especially as Francis Dickins is arrested and imprisoned.

The following are quotes from the letters on several topics. Indecipherable words are in brackets [ ]; “?” indicates indecipherable characters.

Military Presence

I trust you will not be further annoyed. I am rejoiced the General & staff paid you the visit. I hope his good instructions will be fully carried out. It is not only more humane & good in tact, but I think decidedly the best policy. Two of the soldiers have been here this morning. They were very civil in the demeanor, and said they had heard of the protective & nothing would be hurt.

There is very heavy firing [?????], but it [?????] so that I can’t tell from which direction the sound comes.

Mr D- met here Major Gracie & Capt Moody of the 11th Alabama . . .

There are soldiers about I think domiciliated at the Lodge, who seem to come every day but they have been inoffensive so far – & tell items of news more of which I’d Like to talk over with you, but cannot undertake to write.

I hope you have not had today the visitors that I have – the Col’s good will does not seem to bring any favorable results.

Yesterday was a troubling time here & I presume it will not be very quiet soon – but then Genl [?????] so desires that I shall not be annoyed that I hope the inconveniences will not be great. There are 3 or 4 regiments camping somewhere about the Lodge, but I have not heard of them coming nearer – the[??????] there are pickets about . . . . So far they have behaved very well . . . . Genl Howard commands here & all the officers speak in the highest terms of him. He called with his aid yesterday & I was much pleased with his gentlemanly & friendly manners.16

Jim was at Oak Hill this morning to get some corn & says Wm told him the soldiers had been there twice and have done a great deal of mischief to the house. I am truly sorry for it. I wonder how it would have been if he had staid[sic] home.17

Possibile shopping trip to Alexandria for clothes

I do not know what the prospects are for an opening to Town, but as their pickets are extended above us it is probable we may have communications which their intended movements prescribe – all have gone from here now except a few about the bridge up the road but how far no one knows.18


I am most desirous of seeing you. I miss you dreadfully.

I have been quite disappointed not to see you either yesterday or today. My dear Mrs. D- I thought you were to come most any time, just for exercise even if you had not long to stay.

Can’t you come for a little while – I wish you to & am so sad as well as lonely. You cheer me very much – & I try to take comfort in your hopefulness . . .

Sharing food

Mary went off so hurriedly this morning that I had not time to have the basket of vegetables prepared, & I fear they will arrive a little too late for your dinner . . . . Tell [???ice] and [B??tie] that those are the last watermelons I can hope to send them…. I have obtained some flour through my Cousin John G- & it arrived here yesterday – I send you over a [?????] . . . . I want to share my good luck with you.

I am so sorry I’d not got these vegetables to you before dinner.

I think I had better vegetables to send you.

Francis Dickins February 1862 imprisonment

When I spoke of a sealed letter I did not think of your putting anything more in it but that a wife in writing to her husband would rather no eye should see what her heart prompted her to say – hence my suggestion. It would not be well perhaps to allude even to F’s position & safety from past perils.

You must not feel disappointed at Mr. D’s non appearance. I did not infer from Mr. White’s letter that he would be likely to come home soon . . . . I think it will be much better for Mr D- to stay where he can be Doctored as well as nursed for here he could have no medical advice however much he may need it & I presume his sister will attend closely to him – If you were only more comfortable it would be better for him to be there awhile. I wish I were able to give you more efficient aid. We are all circumscribed.

Francis Dickins help in sending Robert E. Lee’s possessions

I send the saddlebags & shall be very glad when I know that the Genl has all his valuables (as they are to him now) in his own possession – though there will be no difficulty in this today I hope.

I fear the size of the package for [????] Lee may have rendered it a burden to those through whose hands it passed.

After the war in May 1872, Anna Maria Fitzhugh filed a claim for $375,000 for timber cut and taken by the Union Army for war uses. It was the largest war claim in Fairfax County and was not settled before she died.19 In a deposition Charles Wood, who worked as her agent, testified: “Before the war it was impossible to see her house from the railroad. But after the war there was not a tree on the whole estate that you could make a fence of.”20

Anna Maria Fitzhugh died on April 17, 1874.1 She and William Henry Fitzhugh are buried in the cemetery of the historic Pohick Church in Lorton, Virginia.


  1. Death of Mrs. A. M. Fitzhugh, Alexandria Gazette, NewsBank/Readex, Database: The Historical Evening Star and Alexandria Gazette, April 16, 1874, Local News section, (, accessed August 1, 2017.
  2. Maryland State Archives (, Charles Goldsborough (1765-1834) (, MSA SC 3520-1447 (accessed June 18, 2017).
  3. N. Netherton and R. Rose, Memories of Beautiful Burke, Virginia (Burke, VA: Burke Historical Society, 2015), 9.
  4. Alexandria Gazette, issues dated 1837/08/21 (SQN: 130B2E1A33C115A0), 1855/07/31 (SQN: 130ADF2B91B1C518) and 1869/09/10 (SQN: 13058F43A139EBA0), NewsBank/Readex, Database: The Historical Evening Star and Alexandria Gazette (,accessed August 1, 2017.
  5. National Intelligencer article quoted in “Obits_Dickins.pdf,” n.d., downloaded from Congressional Cemetery website 11/4/2014. Use obituaries search feature.
  6. Fairfax County Will Book Q1:57.
  7. “United States Census (Slave Schedule), 1850 .” Index and images. FamilySearch. accessed May 12, 2013.
  8. Fairfax County Will C2:180.
  9. “FITZHUGH, ANNA MARIA Cong. #20 RAVENSWORTH,” Beth Mitchell, Abstracts of Claims for Civil War Losses, Fairfax County (publication information unknown), 6.
  10. Robert Edward Lee, Recollections and letters of General Robert E. Lee (Doubleday, Page & company, 1904), 32.
  11. Ibid, 55.
  12. Scott, Winfield. 1861. Letter: to Anna Maria Goldsborough Fitzhugh. Abstract: A safeguard written by General Scott for “Mrs. A.M. Fitzhugh of Ravensworth, a widow lady of great excellence, connected with the family of the father of his country.” This safeguard placed her family and property under army protection.
  13. Mc Dowell, Irwin. n.d. Letter: to Anna Maria Goldsborough Fitzhugh. Abstract: A passport written by McDowell giving Fitzhugh (of Ravensworth) “permission to pass to and from Alexandria, and to and from Washington at her pleasure.” Orders soldiers to give her assistance if needed.
  14. Mrs. Anna Maria Fitzhugh Letters, ca. 1860-1865?, Accession #6834-a, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va. There are 24 pages, including four short notes and 10 letters. Another 22 pages are from Margaret Dickins Diary for 2/3/62 to 3/23/62. Of Anna Maria’s letters, just one is dated (“Wednesday, Aug 28th” 1861) and another can be dated to February 1862, after the 6th, based on ongoing events discussed.
  15. “FITZHUGH, ANNA MARIA Cong. #20 RAVENSWORTH,” Beth Mitchell, Abstracts of Claims for Civil War Losses, Fairfax County (publication information unknown), 3.
  16. Likely Oliver Howard of the 3rd Maine Infantry regiment, promoted to brigadier general effective September 3, 1861, after 1st Bull Run/Manassas (Wikipedia
  17. Refers likely to owner David Fitzhugh, owner of Oak Hill.
  18. Likely the trip to Alexandria did not occur, as Anna Maria claimed to have gone to Alexandria just twice during the war.
  19. “FITZHUGH, ANNA MARIA Cong. #20 RAVENSWORTH,” Beth Mitchell, Abstracts of Claims for Civil War Losses, Fairfax County (publication information unknown), 1.
  20. Ibid, 18.
  21. Death of Mrs. A. M. Fitzhugh, Alexandria Gazette, NewsBank/Readex, Database: The Historical Evening Star and Alexandria Gazette, April 16, 1874, Local News section, (, accessed August 1, 2017.