Marlborough E-75

Historical Marker Text
Strategically situated at the tip of a peninsula jutting into the Potomac River at Potomac Creek, Marlborough was established under the Town Act of 1691 as a river port town. It served as the county seat of Stafford County from 1691 until about 1718. Marlborough never fully developed. In 1726, noted lawyer John Mercer (1705-1768) moved there and built Marlborough plantation and attempted to revive the town. Mercer had one of the largest private libraries in Virginia, in which the young George Mason received much of his education. Mercer’s attempt to revive the town was unsuccessful and it ceased to exist by the end of the 18th century. [2001]

Extended Research
Seventeenth century Virginia depended almost solely on tobacco. This single crop dependence worried the Virginia colonial government, and the royal government strove to create some stability for the infant colony. Starting in the 1660s, the colonial government began to pass legislation that established a port town for each of the major river valleys in Virginia. In 1691, the Act for Ports established a town on the Potomac Neck, a site of convergence of Accokeek Creek and Potomac Creek on the Potomac River. Plans included wharves for ships and a courthouse for Stafford County. The royal governors hoped the port town in Stafford County would become a center for business and manufacture and diversify Virginia’s economy. The tiny town consisted of just fifteen families. The only early businesses in Stafford’s port town were two ordinaries, or taverns, and a ferry (Watkins 5-8).

Hard Beginnings
In 1705, attempts were made to revive the struggling town. The 1705 Act for Ports included several provisions intended to spur settlement. These included tax and military service exemptions for residents and directions to form a town council. It was also in this year that the town was given the name Marlborough, after the Duke of Marlborough, who had recently defeated the French in the Battle of Blanheim, ending French desires for dominance of Europe (Eby 178). Despite the governors’ attempts, Marlborough never did fully develop. It lasted until 1718, when a fire swept through the town and destroyed the courthouse and several homes (Watkins, 8-9).

A Second Chance
Eight years later, in 1726, John Mercer, a budding young lawyer, arrived in Stafford County. He decided to restore Marlborough. He had married Catherine Mason, aunt to George Mason, in June 1725. From his new bride’s family he purchased 885 acres on Potomac Run soon after the marriage (Watkins 18). In 1731, Mercer petitioned the Assembly to take over the town. During the next few years, Mercer continued to purchase property and added to his estate as well as the town. The town expanded to include Mercer’s wharf, a tavern, cider mill, water mill, windmill, brewery, tobacco barns, glass factory, fishing store, malt house, two granaries, three corn houses, a cooper’s shop, racetrack and stables. Mercer had successfully revamped the struggling town and it thrived for over forty years (Eby 182).

By the late 1740s, Mercer had begun building his Marlborough mansion. He hired only the most skilled craftsmen in Virginia, including David Minitree, who would later complete the brickwork for Carter’s Grove. He ordered the finest furniture from England and bought large amounts of silver (183). He also began amassing his library, which at the time of his death numbered almost 1,800 volumes, making it the second largest library in Virginia (186). In fact, Mercer’s nephew, George Mason, received much of his education from him (Broadwater 3).

George Mason


The Town Fades from Existence
John Mercer died on October 27, 1768, heavily in debt. The Marlborough estate went to his eldest son, George, who soon turned the estate’s operation over to his brother, James. James worked for years to pay off the family debt. By 1819, though, he gave up and the Marlborough Plantation was bought by John Cooke, a relative of Catherine Mercer. The grand mansion no longer stands; most likely it burned to the ground while unoccupied (Eby 187). The town of Marlborough had become a major shipping port under Mercer’s direction. It continued to thrive during the American Revolution, but it seemed to decline after the death of John Mercer and never recovered (186).

Photo Credit
“George Mason,” Virginia Declaration of Rights, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, (accessed April 12, 2008).

For Further Reference
Broadwater, Jeff. George Mason: Forgotten Founder. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Eby, Jerrilynn. They Called Stafford Home: The Development of Stafford County, Virginia, from 1600 until 1865. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 1997.

Miller, Helen Hill. George Mason: Gentleman Revolutionary. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1975.

Watkins, C. Malcom. The Cultural History of Marlborough, Virginia. Washington, DC:
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1968.

Department of Historic Resources map and directions


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