Family Stories

Traveler’s Rest

from They Called Stafford Home

Traveler’s Rest

Stafford County, Virginia

Around 1700 James Ball acquired part of the huge Sherwood Forest tract which had been granted in 1667 to William Ball and Thomas Chetwood.  James Ball’s grandson, Burgess Ball (1749-1800), inherited the property and was likely the builder of the Traveler’s Rest house.  Burgess was an ardent supporter of the American cause during the Revolution.  In 1776 he served as Captain in the 5th Regiment of Virginia.  That same year he raised, clothed and equipped a regiment of infantry for the Continental Line.  He was commissioned Lieutenant Colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment, Infantry of the Continental Army in 1777.  His grandson later wrote of him, “At the close of the war, shattered in health and fortune, he returned to his old Homestead near Fredericksburg, Virginia, where in the exercise of the unbounded hospitality that had ever characterized the well-known and most appropriately named ‘Traveler’s Rest,’ the remainder of his once princely fortune soon melted away.”  The government steadfastly refused to reimburse Colonel Ball for his economic and personal investment in the Revolution.  Unable to maintain the property, Colonel Ball sold Traveler’s Rest in the late 1780’s and retired to a modest house in Loudoun County where he died.

The original house built by Burgess Ball was two stories high and had attic dormers.  Chimneys were built so that the fireplaces were in the corners of the rooms.

John Gray was born in 1769 at Gartcraig, Scotland, and came to America in 1784, settling at Port Royal.  Both his paternal and maternal grandfathers were substantial merchants in Glasgow and had traded extensively with Virginia before the Revolution.  John was not the eldest son.  His brother, William, inherited all of their father’s estate as was customary at the time.  Coming to Virginia was a sensible choice for John, who hoped to make his fortune there.

Gray purchased Traveler’s Rest from Richard and Margaret Tutt in 1809.  In 1815 he added a rectangular two-story wing on the east side.  The addition had a long cellar, long hall, an entry, and three rooms on the first floor.  The second floor contained a hall and two rooms, and eight “cuddies” or closets.  The addition also had two doors, a porch and a basement entrance.

In 1825 Gray bought a ten-acre mill tract from his Little Falls neighbor, Isaac Newton.  Little Falls Mill soon became known as Gray’s Mill.  Tax records indicate that a replacement mill was built in 1827, suggesting that the old mill either burned or washed away in a flood.  Gray’s Mill was inherited by William Pollock in 1850 and sold to Oliver Watson in 1875.  It is unknown when the mill ceased operation.

In addition to the purchase of Traveler’s Rest in 1809, Gray also bought Wakefield in Westmoreland County, the birthplace of George Washington, from George C. Washington in 1813 and had his son, Atcheson, live there and operate the farm.  Atcheson Gray married Catherine Willis of Fredericksburg.  Atcheson died within a few months of their marriage and was buried at Traveler’s Rest in 1822.  After the death of his son, John Gray sold Wakefield and gave a substantial sum to Catherine who moved to Florida with her parents.  There she met and married Achille Murat, son of the exiled King of Naples, and became Princess Catherine Murat.  She died in Florida in 1867.

In 1854 John B. Gray inherited Traveler’s Rest and began extensive renovations.  He pulled down the old part of the house and built a new brick replacement attached to the wing his father had built.  His new house was much grander than the first, being three stories above a cellar.  Each floor had four rooms and was bisected by a long hall, except the ground floor which had a long parlor on the south side, with a large window overlooking the Rappahannock River.  Gray added square porches to the front and back of his new house.  County tax records of 1861 list the assessed value of Traveler’s Rest at $2,500.

Unfortunately, Traveler’s Rest was built on sand and by the time John Lee Pratt bought the estate in 1930, the house was cracking badly.  There was no way of correcting the problem and Pratt had the house pulled down.  Pratt, a King George and Stafford County native, had worked his way up to the position of vice-president in the General Motors Corporation; he came home to Stafford and bought both Traveler’s Rest and Chatham.  His original intent was to live at Traveler’s Rest but the house was so unsound as to be dangerous and he moved into Chatham instead.

The Gray cemetery, located to the south of the house site, dates from about 1848, and most of those buried there are members of that family.  As of March 1937 there were eighteen graves, all but two with markers.  Today, Fredericksburg Sand and Gravel Company occupies part of the farm.


Leave a Reply