The Journey Through Hallowed Ground

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Waterford Historic District

Slavery and freedom rubbed shoulders in Waterford. The settlement was founded by Quakers who witnessed against slavery, but slaveholders also lived in the vicinity and traded in the village. In the early nineteenth century, free blacks migrated to Waterford for work in the mill or tannery, to ply other trades such as blacksmithing and coopering, or to work on Quaker farms. Black women performed domestic work and practiced as midwives, delivering babies black and white. Some free blacks bought homes themselves in the village. At the same time, slaveholders bought and sold enslaved people at auctions on Main Street.

During the Civil War, Waterford sympathized with the Union and organized a federal cavalry unit, the Loudoun Rangers. At least one free black man of Waterford, Daniel Webster Minor, joined as an auxiliary, and several other Waterford men of color fought in other Union regiments. In 1866, just after the war, African Americans, with the help of Quakers, bought a lot and erected a building they used as a church and school. The Freedmen’s Bureau assisted in its early operation. From the 1870s until 1957, it was a Loudoun County Public School. In 1885, black men organized an Odd Fellows Lodge and built a hall on Big Hill. In 1891, after years of meeting in the school, black Methodists built John Wesley Church on Main Street overlooking the mill. In the first half of the twentieth century, African Americans made up a large part of the village’s population, but gradually they moved away, as did most of the white residents from the same era.

The Waterford Foundation has extensively researched the village’s African American history.  It shares the information through publications, including a walking tour, and a living history program at the Second Street School for fourth-grade students.


  • Souders, Bronwen C. and John M. A Rock in a Weary Land, A Shelter in a Time of Storm: African-American Experience in Waterford, Virginia . Waterford, Va.: Waterford Foundation, 2003.
  • ________. “Waterford’s African American Experience.” In the History of Waterford.  Waterford Foundation. Share With Us: Waterford, Virginia’s African-American Heritage:An Interpretive Guide to Your National Historic Landmark . Waterford Foundation, 2002.

Joseph R. Winters (1830-1907)

Joseph R. Winters invented and patented an improved fire escape ladder in 1878, and for that he is still known today. But his early life is also noteworthy. According to family tradition, Winters was the great-great-grandson (on his father’s side) of Powhatan chief Opechancanough. Joseph began his life in Leesburg, but in 1834 his parents left Joseph with his maternal grandmother, Betsy Cross, in Waterford, where she had been born in 1767. Of Shawnee ancestry, Cross was known as the “Indian Doctor woman” and she passed on some of her knowledge to her grandson. Joseph’s father James made bricks at Harpers Ferry for the expansion of the federal gun factory and arsenal there, which began in 1845. He went to visit his parents, but they would not allow his return and put him to work sanding brick molds. The family later moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and grandmother Cross joined them there. In 1859, Joseph Winters arranged the meeting between Frederick Douglass and John Brown at the quarry in Chambersburg. A machinist for the Cumberland Valley Railroad, Winters also wrote poetry and an autobiography. Black and white residents long remembered him for his great nature knowledge and skills, especially in fishing and fly making. He received much praise but little money from his innovative fire escape design.


  • Edna Christian Knapper. “Outstanding Colored Citizens of Chambersburg—Past and Present: Joe Winters.” In John Brown Mysteries: Allies for Freedom , ed. Jean Libby. Missoula, Mont.: Pictorial Histories, 1999. First published in [Chambersburg, Penn.] Public Opinion , 1954.


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