Pioneers

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Colonel Henry "Harry" WILLIS

By Richard Pickett

Founder of Fredericksburg, VA Was Burgess from Gloucester Co. in 1718 ; 1723 In 1726 he obtained a patent of land in Spotsylvania County All his sons from his first two marriages died without male heir. Prominent in church affairs, (donated the land where St. George stands). He was a man of much means, liberal and hospitable, public spirited and charitable. Col. Byrd, when he visited Fredericksburg in 1732 spoke of him as the "Top man of the place" his home was Willis Hill now famous and historic "Mary's Height" which commanded and overlooked the ancient city of Fredericksburg, Virginia. "He was a stout coarse man, perhaps I should say a blunt man, more likely to succeed with the latter than the former."

My Grandfather was a careless and extravagant man. (Col. Byrd C. Willis) He was married three times. Among the attractive belles of the period were two cousins, Mildred Howell, Mildred Washington and their friend Ann Alexander. They were gay and social and very popular with the beaux. One of the beaux was Henry Willis, a youth of impetuous character and determined will. He courted all three belles and was so impartial that they declared that he did not know his own mind. Therupon he vowed he would marry all three, which he did. He courted them as maids and married them as widows.

(Col. Byrd C. Willis) Colonel Willis walked me about his new town of Fredericksburg. It is pleasantly situated on the south slope of the Rappahannock river, about a mile below the falls. Sloops may come and lie close to the wharf, within thirty yards of the public warehouse which is built in the figure of a cross. Just by the wharf is a quarry of white stone that is very soft in the ground, and hardens in the air, appearing to be as fair and fine grained as that of Portland. Besides that, there are several other quarries in the river bank, within the limits of the town sufficient to build a large city. The only edifice of stone yet built is the prison, the walls of which are strong enough to hold Jack Sheppard, if he had been transported thither. Though this be a commodious and peautiful situation for a town, with the advantages of a navigable river, and wholesom air, yet the inhabitants are very few. Besides Colonel Willis, who is the top man of the place, there are only one merchant, a tailor, a smith, an ordinary-keeper, and a lady, Mrs. Livingston, who acts here in the double capacity of a doctress and a coddee-woman. It is said the courthouse and the church are going to be built here, and then both religion and justice will help enlarge the place-- Col. William Byrd, 1732.

The church spoken of was built soon after Col. Byrd's visit. It was located on the spot where St. George's church building now stands. It was a wooden structure, about thirty by forty feet, to which two additions were made as the town increased in population. The first addition was made to the side of the church, which gave the building the shape of a capital T, and the second one was made a few years afterwards on the opposite side, giving the building the form of a cross. The first rector of the new church was Rev. Patrick Henry, uncle of the great Virginia orator, Patrick Henry. In March, 1739, the trustees of the town found it necessary to have another survey and plat of Fredericksburg made.

This work was done by William Waller, Surveyor of Spotsylvania county. By this new survey it appears that the lots and buildings of the town had not only occupied the original fifty acres, but had also encroached upon the lands of Henry Willis and John Lewis; and as this gave rise to controversies and threatened law suits, the Lieutenant- Governor, Council and Burgesses of the General Assembly passed an act in May, 1742, which was declared to be for removing "all doubts and controversies" and which declared that these lands belonging to the estate of Henry Willis and John Lewis, should be held and taken to be part of Fredericksburg and vested in the trustees, and purchasers claiming under them; provided, that the trustees should pay to the executors of Henry Willis five pounds, and to John Lewis fifteen pounds. The area of the town, as ascertained by this survey, was not quite fifty-three acres.

 

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