Role in Ravensworth – owner Parcel 1.2

William Henry was the only son and principal heir of William Fitzhugh (of Chatham) and Ann Bolling Randolph Fitzhugh. Born at Chatham Plantation, he was an infant when the family moved to new homes in Ravensworth and Alexandria. His early education was at the Grammar School of Alexandria and Reverend William Maffitt’s academy. He went on to college at Princeton, graduated with top honors in 1808 and stayed another two years for postgraduate studies.1

During the War of 1812, William Henry served in the 1st Corps D’Elite Brigade, Virginia Militia.2

In 1814, William married Anna Maria Sarah Goldsborough (1796-1874), daughter of Charles W. and Elizabeth Goldsborough of Maryland. Her father was a longtime Member of Congress and later Governor of Maryland (1818-19).3 William Henry and Anna Maria had no children of their own but adopted her young niece Mary Caroline Goldsborough (1808-1890).

William Henry Fitzhugh inherited the south half of the original Ravensworth tract (Parcel 1.2), less an estimated 800 acres that his father had gifted to his sister Ann (Fitzhugh) Craik. He inherited also the family’s Alexandria townhouse, other properties, and many slaves. With Ravensworth Mansion as his base he managed these extensive holdings.

Political Career

Following in the footsteps of his father and father-in-law, by the 1820s Fitzhugh was a rising figure in both Virginia and national politics. He was elected to the Virginia General Assembly and also a member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-30. His active role in the convention is evident throughout the convention’s final report.4 David S. Turk reports that Fitzhugh had been “named a possible Virginia gubernatorial candidate.”5

Slavery, Emancipation and Manumission

William Henry Fitzhugh gained prominence as a state leader and national Vice President of the American Colonization Society, which sought to relocate free blacks to its Liberia colony in Africa and advocated an eventual end to slavery through emancipation and deportation.6 Here he interacted with such leading figures of his time as Bushrod Washington, Frances Scott Key, James Madison, James Monroe, John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay. Fitzhugh’s writings for the society (under the pen name Opimius) give insight into his character, intellectual abilities and interests as well as the national debate over slavery and states rights 35 years before the Civil War.7

Fitzhugh was also in his private life said to be an activist in seeking a solution to the slavery problem. He experimented in giving slave families small farms within Ravensworth to operate independently as tenants and earn toward buying their freedom.8

Manumission

At age 38 in May 1830, William Henry Fitzhugh died suddenly and unexpectedly of a suspected stroke while visiting his in-law’s in Maryland. His will provided:

“After the year 1850, I leave all my negroes unconditionally free, with the privilege of having the expences of their removal to whatever places of residence they may select defrayed. And as an encouragement to them to emigrate to the American Colony on the Coast of Africa where I believe their happiness will be most permanently secured, I desire not only that the expences of the emigration may be paid, but that the sum of Fifty dollars shall be paid to each one so emigrating on his or her arrival in Africa. And I desire that the charges on account of my negroes be paid out of the following funds especially set apart and vested in my Trustee for that purpose…”

The county court recorded 208 enslaved people in the estate inventory after his death, 83 at Ravensworth and 125 at his 2000-acre Stafford County farm.

Writing as Opimius, Fitzhugh described himself as “A farmer, dependent for his support on the labour of his slaves and his own personal exertions…”9 One of his farming endeavors was the “raising of fine wool sheep on an extensive scale”.10 The estate inventory reported 1300 sheep at Ravensworth and 14,000 pounds of wool valued at $4190.

Division of Property

In 1820 William Henry had sold 410 Ravensworth acres (Parcel 1.2.2) to Presly Barker. His will bequeathed a 1300-acre portion (Parcel 1.2.3), referred to as the Pohick farm, to Mary Caroline Goldsborough. The remainder of his Ravensworth land (Parcel 1.2) went to Anna Maria for her life in trust, and then to his cousin Mary Custis Lee and her heirs.


 

  1. The African Repository and Colonial Journal, Vol 6 (1831) – Google Books, 91-96.
  2. “Database Research By David Whitman, War of 1812 Database,” FCCPA, accessed September 4, 2015, http://www.honorfairfaxcemeteries.org/war-of-1812-database/.
  3. “Gov. Charles W. Goldsborough of Maryland” – Rootsweb.
  4. Proceedings and Debates of the Virginia State Convention of 1829-30 – Google Books.
  5. Turk, A Family’s Path in America, 9.
  6. For information about the society, see Colonization (Library of Congress) and Virginia Emigrants To Liberia (Virginia Center for Digital History (VCDH)).
  7. Controversy Between Caius Gracchus and Opimius – Internet Archive. Fitzhugh responded to a critic of the society in an exchange of several articles published in 1826 by the Richmond Enquirer newspaper and later collected under this title. The authors wrote using the names of rival Roman senators from antiquity – Caias Graccus (proslavery critic Judge John W. Nash) and Opimius (Fitzhugh).
  8. The African Repository and Colonial Journal, Vol 3 (1828) – Google Books, 185.
  9. Controversy Between Caius Gracchus and Opimius – Internet Archive, 108.
  10. The African Repository and Colonial Journal, Vol 6 (1831) – Google Books, 91-96.