Fredericksburg is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia located south of Washington, D.C., and north of Richmond. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 24,286. The city had grown to 25,691 in 2011, a gain of 5.8%, making it the fastest-growing locality in Virginia. The Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the city of Fredericksburg with neighboring Spotsylvania County for statistical purposes. Fredericksburg is part of the Washington Metropolitan Area.
Located near where the Rappahannock River crosses the Fall Line, Fredericksburg was a prominent port in Virginia during the colonial era. During the Civil War, the town, located halfway between the capitals of the opposing forces, was the site of the Battle of Fredericksburg and Second Battle of Fredericksburg, preserved in part as the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Tourism is a major part of the economy, with approximately 1.5 million people visiting the Fredericksburg area annually, including the battlefield park, the downtown visitor center, events, museums and historic sites.
Fredericksburg is home to several major commercial centers including Central Park (as of 2004, the second-largest mall on the East Coast) and Spotsylvania Towne Centre, located in Spotsylvania County adjacent to the city line. Major employers include the University of Mary Washington, Mary Washington Healthcare, and GEICO. Many Fredericksburg-area residents commute to work by car, bus, and rail to Washington DC, Fairfax, Prince William County, and Arlington, as well as Richmond. This has led to Fredericksburg becoming more culturally synonymous with the rest of Northern Virginia.
At the time of European encounter, the inhabitants of the area that became Fredericksburg were a Siouan-speaking tribe called the Manahoac. English colonists recorded the name of the Manahoac village there as Mahaskahod.
Located on the Rappahannock River near the head of navigation at the fall line, Fredericksburg developed as the frontier of colonial Virginia shifted west out of the coastal plain. The land on which the city was founded was part of a tract patented in 1671. The Virginia General Assembly established a fort on the Rappahannock in 1676, just below the present-day city. In 1714, Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood sponsored a German settlement called Germanna on the Rapidan River, a tributary of the Rappahannock upstream from the future site of the city, and led an expedition westward over the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1716.
As interest in the frontier grew, the colonial assembly responded by forming a new county named Spotsylvania (after the governor) in 1720 and establishing Fredericksburg in 1728 as a port for the county, of which it was then a part. Named for Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of King George II, the colonial town's streets bore the names of members of the royal family. The county court was moved to Fredericksburg in 1732, and the town served as county seat until 1780, when the courthouse was moved closer to the county center. Fredericksburg was incorporated as a town, with its own court, council, and mayor, in 1781. It received its charter as an independent city in 1879. The city adopted its present city manager/council form of government in 1911.
The city has close associations with George Washington, whose family moved to Ferry Farm in Stafford County just off the Rappahannock River opposite Fredericksburg in 1738. Washington's mother Mary later moved to the city, and his sister Betty lived at Kenmore, a plantation house then outside the city. Other significant early residents include the Revolutionary War generals Hugh Mercer and George Weedon, naval war hero John Paul Jones, and future U.S. president James Monroe. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in Fredericksburg.
The city's development and success was based on other significant residents, enslaved Africans with varied skills, who were critical to its growth. "Slaves worked on plantations, on the docks, in iron industries, mining and quarries, mercantile businesses, construction, domestic services, and others were skilled blacksmiths, coopers, cobblers, and draymen. African Americans were vital in the development of the area."
During the 19th century, Fredericksburg sought to maintain its sphere of trade but with limited success. It promoted the development of a canal on the Rappahannock and construction of a turnpike and plank road to bind the interior country to the market town. By 1837, a north-south railroad, which became the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad, linked the town to Richmond, the state capital. A much-needed railroad joining the town to the farming region to the west was not finished until after the Civil War.
During the Civil War, Fredericksburg gained strategic importance due to its location midway between Washington and Richmond, the opposing capitals of the Union and the Confederacy. During the Battle of Fredericksburg, December 11–15, 1862, the town sustained significant damage from bombardment and looting by the Union forces. A Second Battle of Fredericksburg was fought in and around the town on May 3, 1863, in connection with the Chancellorsville campaign (April 27, 1863 – May 6, 1863). The battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House were fought nearby in May 1864.
After the war, Fredericksburg recovered its former position as a center of local trade and slowly grew beyond its prewar boundaries. The University of Mary Washington was founded there in 1908 as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women. Adopting the name of Mary Washington College in 1938, the college was for many years associated with the University of Virginia as a women's liberal arts college. The college became independent of UVA and began to accept men in 1970. Recently, the college changed names from Mary Washington College to the University of Mary Washington. Two separate campuses for graduate and professional studies and education and research are located in suburban Stafford County and in rural King George County near the Dahlgren naval base, respectively.
The power chord of modern guitar was first developed by Link Wray in Fredericksburg in 1958 during his first improvisation of the instrumental piece "Rumble", a single released by Wray & His Ray Men. The local music scene includes a wide variety of genres.