Dumfries history began as early as 1690 when Richard Gibson erected a gristmill on Quantico Creek. The Town of Dumfries was formally established on 60 acres of land at the head of the harbor of Quantico Creek, provided by John Graham. He named the town after his birthplace, Dumfriesshire, Scotland.
The General Assembly established Dumfries as the first of seven townships in Prince William County. The Town received its charter on May 11, 1749, making it the oldest continuously chartered town in Virginia. By 1749, many second and third generation Virginians settled in Prince William County. Although many continued to identify as British, few North American born Virginians travelled to Europe, and so began to view themselves unique among the British Empire.
Virginia’s economy ran on labor-intensive tobacco farming. Enslaved people were used to plant, tend, harvest, and package the labor-intensive crop. While indentured servants continued to work in Virginia, by the turn of the 16th century, farmers developed a dependence on slave labor.
Black Virginians also settled in Dumfries. Many Black Virginians continued to be enslaved, but some had the opportunity to gain their freedom. Some Free Black Virginians were mixed race and freed by their biological parents.
Dumfries was the second leading port in Colonial America receiving tobacco from the upland. It rivaled New York, Philadelphia, and Boston and was a thriving port for more than 15 years. Due to numerous factors, Dumfries peaked in size and importance in 1763.
Declining tobacco farming hurt Dumfries, who had based their economy on the leaf. Decreasing princes combine with the crop tending to exhaust farming fields compelled Virginia farmers to diversify their crops. Unlike Dumfries where products had to be shipped to Quantico Creek before being exported, cities like Alexandria had their merchants and docks concentrated in one place.
The American Revolution transformed Dumfries into an important crossroads. Dumfries became an important waystation for Virginia recruits traveling north to join the Continental Army. During the American Revolution both sides recruited Black Virginians. In 1777, George Washington ordered that all arriving troops needed to be inoculated with smallpox before joining the army. Authorities established the main inoculation center for Virginia soldiers at Dumfries. *
Today, Dumfries is 1.54 square miles in size, is home to 5,679 residents (according to the most recent Census) and is governed by a Town Council elected at- large, which is composed of a mayor and six other members. The Town of Dumfries is located on Route 1, just off Interstate 95. Dumfries is approximately 28 miles south of our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. and approximately 78 miles north of our state’s capital, Richmond, Virginia. The Town is minutes away from the Quantico Marine Corp Base, Prince William Forest Park and approximately 10 miles from Fort Belvoir Army Post.
* This information on the Town of Dumfries regarding the colonial economy, slavery, and the American Revolutionary War was provided by the Prince William County Historical Society.