Pre-Colonial History and The American Revolution
Chartered in 1749, Culpeper County was named for Lord Thomas Culpeper, Colonial Governor of Virginia, 1680-1683. That year, at the age of 17, George Washington was commissioned to survey and plot the Town and the County of Culpeper. The Town of Culpeper was chartered in 1759 by an Act of the General Assembly as the Town of Fairfax and it was recorded that the Town occupied a "high and pleasant situation." It was named after Lord Culpeper's grandson, Lord Fairfax the sixth. The early 27-acre courthouse village was developed on land included in a 1754 purchase by Robert Coleman. Coleman purchased the land from the eldest son of Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood, who had received the land in a grant from the British Crown.
During the American Revolution, a group of local residents from Culpeper and the surrounding counties of Fauquier and Orange, organized themselves as the Culpeper Minute Men Battalion. Evoking the stirring words of Patrick Henry, the group rallied under a flag which depicts a rattlesnake with 13 rattles and the motto, "Liberty or Death - Don't Tread on Me."
A heroic Culpeper resident named John Jameson was instrumental in exposing one of our country's worst traitors, Benedict Arnold. He served as the Culpeper County court clerk from 1772 - 1810, and was a captain and company commander in the original Culpeper Minute Men Battalion when it was formed in September 1775. Together, he and the Minute Men fought in the first Revolutionary War battle on Virginia soil at Great Bridge.
In 1780, General George Washington placed key commanders in strategic areas around West Point, New York, and Colonel Jameson was placed in Tarrytown under the supervision of General Benedict Arnold. A gentlemen calling himself John Anderson was intercepted and found to be in possession of documents that included information regarding the defenses of West Point and the movements of the American army. Since the papers were found in an odd place, "under the feet of his stockings", Colonel Jameson became alarmed, arrested Anderson, and alerted General Arnold, though he had suspicions about Arnold as well. Anderson was carrying a pass signed by the General, and Arnold was noted to be "very desirous of the Papers and everything being sent with him." Because of the serious nature of the papers and his distrust of Arnold, Jameson wrote to General George Washington, enclosing the papers taken from Anderson. Upon examining the papers, Washington called for Anderson, who then confessed that he was British major John AndrÃ©, envoy to the British commander in chief, Sir Henry Clinton. The investigation further revealed that Benedict Arnold, as commandant of West Point, agreed in 1780 to surrender the fort to the enemy in return for a royal commission in the British army and a large sum of money. Because of Jameson's intuition and cunning, Arnold's treasonous plot was foiled, and the attempt to pass control of West Point and New England to the British was thwarted.
Culpeper's Civil War
Nearly a century later, after years of mounting tension and the outbreak of the Civil War, Culpeper's strategic railroad location made it a significant supply station for Confederate and Union troops. The town witnessed more than one hundred battles and skirmishes during the divisive war. Most houses in town were used for military lodging and hospitals. The Civil War caused great devastation in the Culpeper vicinity with heavy loss of life, firearms, houses, buildings and historical artifacts.
After the War, and years of Reconstruction, the Town of Culpeper grew to become a thriving regional marketing center. Improvements in the railroad and the development of refrigerated cars spurred industrial and economic growth.
Culpeper's Baseball Heroes
In the late 19th century, two famous Culpeper sons were born to play baseball. The first, Preston "Pete" Hill, the son of former slaves, was born in the Rapidan area of Culpeper in the early 1880's, and in May, 1891, Eppa Rixey was born in Culpeper. Visitors can stroll by his boyhood home on East Street.
John Preston "Pete" Hill and his family moved to Pittsburgh, PA where he would begin a long and successful career in the Pre Negro and Negro Baseball Leagues. He began his career at age 17 with the Pittsburgh Keystones in 1899, then signed with the powerhouse Philadelphia Giants in 1904, where he moved to the outfield, and won praise as a heavy hitter, crafty base runner, and great outfielder with a strong arm.
From 1903 to 1912, Hill spent most winters playing baseball in Cuba. His teams twice won the Cuban League pennant, and Hill was the Cuban batting champion for the 1910/11 winter season. In 1909, Pete Hill and teammate Bruce Petway became the first African Americans to appear on baseball cards. After following teammate Rube Foster to the Leland Giants of Chicago in 1908, he captained and played center field for the new Chicago American Giants, and later became the founding player-manager of the Detroit Stars, eventually guiding them to a second-place finish in the Negro National League’s inaugural campaign in 1920. Hill later joined the Baltimore Black Sox, and wrote a baseball column for the Baltimore Afro-American. In 1926 he moved to Buffalo, where he continued to organize semi-professional baseball teams for many years. He died in Buffalo in 1951. In 2006, “Pete” Hill was posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Baseball fans will remember the south paw from Culpeper born in May, 1891, who racked up 266 victories, the most by any south paw in the history of the National League, until his record was surpassed in 1959. Eppa Rixey played for the Philadelphia Phillies and Cincinnati Reds during a career that spanned 21 years. Rixey began playing basketball for the University of Virginia, but was encouraged to try out for the baseball team by their coach, former National League umpire Charlie "Cy" Rigler. He played for three years before joining the major league Phillies, and ended his career with the Reds in 1933 after 692 games. His .515 record earned him his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963.
The 20th Century
The twentieth century brought far-reaching changes to the Town with the growth in popularity of the automobile. Construction of a bypass around the Town in the late 1960s pulled residential, commercial and industrial growth away from the Town center. After years of falling into disrepair, the Town responded to the challenge by establishing a program to revitalize its downtown, and in 1987, became a Virginia Main Street Community. Today, this effort continues, and through hard work and dedication, Culpeper has grown into a vibrant historic town with an international flair - a truly wonderful destination with an unmatched quality of life for the many who call it home!