STAFFORD’S CROWS NEST: AN ECOLOGICAL AND HISTORICAL CROWN JEWEL
Stafford, Virginia is blessed with a number of distinguishing attractions such as George Washington’s Ferry Farm, Chatham, Gari Melcher’s Belmont Estate, the 18th Century Aquia Episcopal Church and Government Island. The County, among the fastest growing in America, is also home to Crow’s Nest, one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land in the region. Named after a black sailing ship that once docked in the Potomac Creek during the 1700s, the 4,000 plus acre Peninsula is home to a number of rare, threatened and endangered species of plant, fish and animals, as well as significant migratory bird populations. A seventy-acre heron rookery, one of the largest in the Chesapeake Bay Area, serves as a nesting ground for hundreds of these majestic birds. Wetlands and over ten miles of undisturbed shoreline constantly regenerate this wildlife habitat. In fact, sixty-percent of Stafford’s remaining marshes are located at the waterways surrounding Crow’s Nest.
The area is also rich in historical value. Long before Stafford became home to English colonists, a number of Indian tribes settled along the banks of the Accokeek and Potomac Creeks. While most children have heard the story of Pocahantas’ kidnapping, few know its roots are based at Crow’s Nest. It was here that the daughter of Powhatan, chief of the Potomacs, was lured onto Captain Argall’s ship by chief Japazaws and held at Jamestown. Additionally, prominent Virginia families such as the Daniels, Travers and Moncures resided at Crow’s Nest. During the Civil War, the Peninsula was used by both Union and Confederate troops, and a number of archeological sites can still be found. While Crow’s Nest Plantation, once home to a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, was destroyed by fire, bricks from the old home site still remain.
At one point, the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service considered designating this pristine landscape as a National Wildlife Refuge. However, a backlog of operations and maintenance at existing refuges, as well as limited acquisition funding, imperiled this designation. Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis and Senator John Warner also spearheaded congressional legislation to establish the Accokeek National Wildlife Refuge at Crow’s Nest, but the measures did not reach final passage.
Over the years, a number of individuals and groups have rallied to preserve Crow’s Nest, fearing that the area, which is heavily forested, would be harvested and its greenways would eventually become the site of cookie-cutter homes, apartments and condos. At one point, the tract was slated to become Crow’s Nest Harbour, a mega-development that would have brought a golf course, convention center and thousands of new residents to two-lane Brooke Road in rural Stafford. This real estate has changed hands a number of times and been subject to rezoning. Most recently, a mega-developer had an option to purchase Crow’s Nest from its principal owner K&M Properties of McClean, Virginia.
Crow’s Nest is a valuable commodity that will either one day become overrun by a thousand or more new families, or as many hope, conserved for future generations in its current state as a nature preserve. It is clear that if this ecological and historical peninsula is developed, Stafford will forever lose a significant natural treasure and that all County residents will incur the increased taxes associated with the new schools, costly infrastructure and additional public services needed for this new residential community. Working together, we can and must save Stafford County’s Crown Jewel from sprawl.
Where is The Crow’s Nest?
Visit the Top 10 things that you should know about the Crow’s Nest (and should tell other people).
For a more detailed look at the environmental aspects of the Crow’s Nest, click Environmental Assessment.
History of Crow’s Nest
Crow’s Nest was occupied by Native Americans long before Col. Garrard Fowke patented the 3,650-acre tract on Nov. 28, 1662. A year later, Gerard conveyed 3,350 acres to Rawleigh Travers of Lancaster County, Virginia, and by 1723, the area was known as Travers’ Neck. In 1696, Rawleigh Travers married Hannah Ball, the widow of Simon Pearson. Crow’s Nest passed by inheritance to their daughter, Sarah (Travers) Daniel, wife of Peter Daniel. Peter, formerly of Middlesex County, Virginia, was very involved in Stafford County affairs, serving as senior presiding justice of the county and, during the American Revolution, as a member of the Committee of Safety. Long an advocate for freedom from England, he was the first Staffordian to sign a protest against the hated Stamp Act.
Crow’s Nest was inherited by Peter Daniel’s son, Travers Daniel, Sr. Travers was Stafford’s official County Surveyor from 1763-1794. He was also a justice for Stafford and succeeded his father as presiding justice. In 1762, Travers married Frances Moncure, the daughter of the Reverend Mr. John Moncure, rector of Overwharton Parish and minister of Aquia and Potomac churches in Stafford.
The old Crow’s Nest house was modest, but was typical of 18th century Virginia plantation homes. The single-story frame building measured 32 feet by 26 feet and stood upon a brick-walled cellar. Three wings and two porches were added at some unknown time. The house stood upon the high ground overlooking Potomac Creek, but far enough back to not be bothered by the malaria-bearing mosquitoes that plagued early colonists. As the marauding Union soldiers streamed onto the tract in 1862, the family loaded a wagon with what they could carry and fled towards Fredericksburg. While crossing the Rappahannock, the wagon overturned and all their belongings were lost.
Back at Crow’s Nest, the Union soldiers ransacked the house, carrying off whatever they wished. Because it offered such a fine vantage point of the creek, the soldiers set fire to the house, thus preventing its use by Confederates. When the family finally returned to Crow’s Nest, all that remained was a small table out in the yard. Some soldier had carried it out of the house, perhaps decided it was too large to take with him and dropped it in the yard. It was the family’s only household possession that survived the war. By the 1920s, another house had been built on the tract, this one standing in the approximate center of the peninsula.
Crow’s Nest acquired its unusual name during the 18th century. The plantation boasted one of the few commercial ship landings in Stafford, and the Daniel family owned their own three-masted schooner. This large black ship was called The Crow and was no doubt used for trans-Atlantic shipping. Its license, on file at the National Archives, describes it as capable of carrying a burden of 24 tons. During the War Between the States, The Crow was used for blockade running, much to the dismay of the Union. Northern gunboats finally cornered The Crow and her crew in Potomac Creek. Had they captured the ship, The Crow would have been confiscated for use by the invading forces. Realizing that the situation was hopeless, the captain of The Crow ordered the crew to raise all sails and attain maximum speed. Rather than lose his ship to the Union cause, the captain ran her aground on the sand bar off Marlborough Point, crushing the hull. The crew then waded ashore and disappeared into the safety of the Stafford forest. The ribs of the ship remained near the shoreline well into the 20th century.