In Stafford County on Route 1 (also known as the Jefferson Davis Highway – a quaint reminder of the failed rebellion of 1861-1864) there stands a large crucifix. It sits upon a small parcel of land at the intersection of Telegraph Road. I have driven by it several times over the years but I had no idea why it stood there. With traffic light on a Sunday morning, I decided to brave the wild and woolly roads of Eastern Prince William and Stafford Counties and find out.
A note on the weather is in order. Once again, the sun has passed over the equator and now the Southern Hemisphere is warming up. Sadly, this means my part of the world is cooling off, and so it was on Sunday that I could see my breath in the cool morning air. For the first time this Fall, I grimly put on my leggings, shoe covers and a long-sleeved base layer. I even sported my skull cap for good measure.
The cool weather was perfectly fine and I suppose plenty of cyclists would be enjoying the change from the sweltering heat of summer. Many people enjoy fall and consider it their favorite season. I prefer the heat of summer and view fall as the harbinger of the doom that is winter. So it was with a sense of foreboding that I pedaled along the quiet streets toward my goal. This will get much much worse before it gets better. Sigh.
After almost 13 miles of riding, my target came into view. I dismounted and skulked about the site, eager to take in everything that I was missing when I normally zip past here at 50 mph.
The small setting is in excellent repair, with some fresh flowers and a well-groomed garden immediately around the monument. The grass was neatly trimmed and the small stone wall surrounding the statue is well cared for. Clearly, somebody continues to maintain the site with great care. I learned that the crucifix was erected in 1930 to commemorate the first ever Catholic settlement in Virginia, established in 1647 by a Giles Brent and his sisters, Margaret and Mary. A nearby marker states that the move was due to “political and religious turmoil” in Maryland. Other markers on the site point to the colonial charter (granted by King James II) as being an early example of religious tolerance in America.
Not so fast.
I thought it odd that Maryland, a colony specifically organized as a safe haven for Catholics, would be a site of Catholic persecution, so I did some research. It turns out the Brents were not humble parishioners, simply looking to worship in peace. They were, in fact, members of the aristocracy. Giles was Deputy Governor of Maryland and Margaret was a wealthy land owner. When the Governor died, he named Margaret executor of his estate (an unusual role for a woman at the time). She immediately liquidated all of his assets to pay some Virginia mercenaries who were hired to fend off Protestant raiding parties, sent to Maryland as part of the English Civil War. This greatly upset the governor’s surviving brother, Cecilius Calvert, 2nd Baron Baltimore.
I don’t know a great deal about 17th Century British aristocracy, but it would seem that when you upset a Baron it was prudent to get out of town. The Brents did precisely this and asked King James II for permission to establish a Catholic colony in Virginia. James was happy to oblige the request, and the rest was history, as they say.
I made my way home via Telegraph Road and saw nothing of interest, apart from the fact it is remarkably secluded given its proximity to the main thoroughfare of Route 1. After a couple of miles, I rejoined the main road and made it back in good form. My pace was slower than normal as I was “soft pedaling” in an attempt to nurse some lower leg injuries. The Army 10-Miler is three weeks away and I have increased my running mileage with predictable injuries to my knees, ankles, and calves as a result. I am hoping to get through this year’s event in less pain than last year, which was similar to running with a knife in my calf.
Historical Marker Segment!
I bagged two new markers on this relatively short ride. I find that there are more signs in the busier eastern portions of the region than in the more rural western locations. This is unfortunate as most of these signs cannot possibly be read by anyone in the cars zipping by at 50 mph. The first sign is the one found at the monument I visited and it relates much of the story I mentioned above. I like how the stop sign appears to be peeking out from behind a telephone pole.
The second marker can be found at the boundary for Prince William County. Interestingly, there is no corresponding marker on the other side of the road to inform travelers of the history of Stafford County. I’m not sure what to make of that.