"A Quixote in imagination might here find...an ideal baronage": Landscapes of Power, Enslavement, Resistance, and Freedom at Sherwood Forest Plantation

Document Type


Journal Title

Northeast Historical Archaeology

Publication Date



In the winter of 1862, two armed forces descended upon Fredericksburg; one blue, one gray. After suffering heavy losses during the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Union Army retreated to the northern banks of the Rappahannock River, making camp in Stafford County. From December 1862 until June 1863, the Union Army overran local plantations and small farm holdings throughout the area, including at Sherwood Forest, the home of the Fitzhugh family. Sherwood Forest was used as field hospital, a signal station, a balloon launch reconnaissance station, and a general encampment during the winter and spring of 1862/1863. Throughout the roughly six-month occupation of Sherwood Forest, many Union soldiers wrote of their time on the property, describing the house, outbuildings, and landscape of the plantation. A lawsuit regarding the Union Army occupation of the property filed by the antebellum owner, Henry Fitzhugh, in the Southern Claims Commission against the federal government also provides unprecedented documentation of life on the plantation before, during, and after the Civil War. These letters and official correspondences, in combination with archaeological evidence, extant landscape features, and oral history are examined to discuss how the landscape was used to convey power and control by the property owners during the antebellum period, with a brief consideration of the postbellum and Jim Crow eras. These same resources also provide evidence of active resistance to and undermining of these structures of power by those who were held in bondage on the property.

Publisher Statement

This article is open access courtesy of the Open Repository at SUNY Binghamton: https://orb.binghamton.edu/.