Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Confederate spy topic of lecture

Confederate Spy Laura Ratcliffe is the topic of a free lecture to be presented at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 20, at the John Barton Payne Building, Warrenton.

Laura Ratcliffe, born in 1836, was the great granddaughter of Richard Ratcliffe, founder of Providence now called Fairfax City, Virginia.

Laura's home, known as Merrybrook, is located in present-day Herndon. It is currently the private residence of David and Win Meiselman. Win Meiselman will present the upcoming lecture.

An earlier home of Laura's was sometimes used as headquarters by Col. John Singleton Mosby during The War Between the States. Mosby praised Ratcliffe for her bravery and credited her with saving his life after she alerted him to a Union plan for his imprisonment. Her warning enabled Mosby to successfully elude his would-be captors.

During the War Between the States Ratcliffe often served as “banker” to Mosby’s Rangers. She held a large cache of federal dollars that Mosby “liberated” from a Union train. She used a large rock outcropping near her home, later known as “Mosby’s Rock,” to conceal messages and money for him.
Ratcliffe also associated with Major General J.E.B. Stuart, who noticed her while she was caring for wounded soldiers. Stuart wrote poems to her, and asked her to marry him, but she declined.
Although it was obvious that her home was the center of Confederate activity, she was never arrested or formally charged for her activities.

Win Meiselman will speak about Laura’s friendships with Stuart and Mosby and how she influenced the course of the war in Northern Virginia.

The Meiselman's efforts to preserve Merrybrook have led to the founding of The Friends of Laura Ratcliffe, a nonprofit public organization actively involved in educating the public about the historic significance of the home and surroundings of this courageous woman.

The Friends of Laura Ratcliffe publishes a monthly newsletter to encourage wide-spread public interest and support and to ensure county involvement in Merrybrook preservation efforts. The Meiselmans often hold open houses at Merrybrook and recently celebrated Ratcliffe’s 172nd birthday by presenting the first Merrybrook Preservation Gala.

The lecture is part of a year-long series on American history sponsored by the library and the Fauquier Heritage Institute.