County Historic Preservation to Hold History Symposium

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Provided by Prince William County

A Prince William County man once saved Daniel Boone’s life. Women were trained as spies alongside the men at Prince William Forest Park during World War II. A federal agent representing the Freedman’s Bureau was all but run out of the county after the Civil War for his attempts to equalize the footing between white and African American citizens.

Authors and experts will be at the Old Manassas Courthouse at 9248 Lee Avenue, Manassas, from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on March 21. They’ll talk about those aspects of county history during the sixth annual Prince William-Manassas History Symposium.

“Prince William County’s Frontiersman: Simon Kenton”

Mark Wilcox will talk at 1:00 p.m. about his book “Prince William County’s Frontiersman: Simon Kenton.” His book tells the story of a 16-year-old Prince William County boy who thought he killed a man in a fistfight over a girl and fled to the frontier. “He was scared to death to hang. He thought he was going to be convicted of homicide and that’s what sent him west,” Wilcox said.

Kenton was born in 1755 in Hopewell Gap, which was then in Prince William County and is now part of Fauquier County. He adopted an alias and lived for years as a hunter, tracker and scout in the frontier before learning that he hadn’t killed the man in the fight, Wilcox said. “For 12 years, his family didn’t know if he was alive. He adopted another name. For eight or nine years, he called himself Simon Butler.”

In 1777, Fort Boonesborough, Kentucky, was attacked by 100 Shawnee. Daniel Boone and some other men, including Kenton, went outside the fort to fight, Wilcox said. During the fight, Boone was shot in the ankle and fell. A Shawnee warrior found Boone down and was standing over him with a tomahawk ready to kill him. Kenton shot the warrior, picked up Boone, slung him over his shoulder and carried him back inside the fort.

Wilcox said Kenton’s “unassuming and quiet” nature prevented him from gaining notoriety afforded to Boone and other frontiersmen. “The interesting thing about Simon Kenton is that he really was one of the founding pioneers of the Kentucky Territory and into Ohio. He fought Indians. He was a soldier. He was spy and a scout. This is a hometown boy who was born right in Prince William County and figured so prominently in our western history.”

“The Brass Compass”

Ellen Butler will talk at 10:30 a.m. about her best-selling 2017 book “The Brass Compass” set during World War II.  Her book is based on the women who trained to be spies for the Office of Strategic Services ()OSS) at Prince William Forest Park.

Butler will talk about her research into the Washington, D.C.-area women who inspired her book. She’ll discuss the training they received, the contributions they made to the war effort and the weapons they used. “I really focus on the women. I talk about some of the things learned like safecracking and steaming letters open.”

Butler said about 1,500 women deployed overseas and worked undercover in clandestine operations. After the war, the OSS became the CIA. Some of the women worked for the agency as well, Butler said. “I do target specific women from this area who went on to become CIA agents following the war.”

The women who served in the OSS have gained little attention over the years, Butler said. “These are kind of hidden figures in the spy world. You’ll hear all about what the men did during World War II. We know the women went to the factories and stuff like that, but at the height of the war, a third of the OSS was women. Many people don’t realize how many women were involved.”

Marcus Hopkins

Bill Backus, of Prince William County’s Historic Preservation Division, will talk at 9:30 a.m. about Marcus Hopkins, an agent with the Freedman’s Bureau. He took some heat in Prince William County when the federal government sent him to rebuild the county after the Civil War.

Backus said that while armed hostilities ended after the war, animosity toward the federal government remained. “Today, in our popular minds, the Civil War ended at Appomattox, then there’s rainbows and everybody goes home and there’s peace and quiet. That’s not the case. After Appomattox, these former Confederate soldiers come back. … [E]ven though they’re not in the military, supporting a rebellious government, they’re still quasi-federalists, and anti-United States. So they’re trying to stymie the United States’s policy through various methods.”

Against all odds, Hopkins, then in his late 20s, managed to restore law and order in Prince William County. He established a modern school system and made sure that contracts between African-Americans and white citizens were fair, Backus said.

Hopkins also established a new county government, Backus said. “He set the groundwork and the foundation for a lot of county services that we use today. He tried to make sure that justice in Prince William County was equitable and fair.”

Through it all, Hopkins stayed and bought land in Manassas, but left the county in the end, Backus said. “There was so much latent hatred for him. Even 10 years after the Civil War, he realizes he can’t live in Prince William and have a decent standard of living, so he eventually moves to Washington, D.C.”

Other Speakers and More Information

Dr. Chris Mackowski will also about Stonewall Jackson at the symposium at 3:00 p.m.

Robert Teagle will speak on “The Life of Robert Carter III, Virginia’s First Emancipator” at 2:00 p.m.

There will be a reception with refreshments and drinks between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. with the Manassas Museum Curator.

Reservations are required. Visit to register. Tickets are $10 for ages 10 and older. For more information call 703-792-4754.


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