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Morgan Breeden, a fourth-generation Brentsville resident and history buff, stands at the cell door where the murder of James Clark occurred.

It was an honor killing. Local attorney James Clark had abandoned his wife and children to run off with 16-year-old Fanny Fewell. Fanny’s family accused Clark of kidnapping their daughter.  

Clark returned to Prince William County to clear his name.  He was arrested immediately upon his return and confined at the Brentsville Jail.  Lucian Fewell, Fanny’s brother, walked into the unguarded cell and fired one shot – mortally wounding Clark.

You will find many more stories at the Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre.  It’s worth your time to head out on Bristow Road, one of Prince William’s designated scenic by-ways, stop there, and look around a bit.  There is much to see and do.  Take a picnic lunch.  The eight-room jail’s renovation was completed earlier this year.  

Warwick Steer, a historic interpreter with the county Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, let me look around a bit.  Steer gave a shout-out to Brentsville District Supervisor Jeanine Lawson for her support of historic places like the Brentsville Courthouse, the jail and other treasures within our community.  To quote Steer: “Jeanine has a serious interest in telling PWC’s story.”

Lawson was kind enough to spend some time talking with me about the jail and other projects.  She wants to protect and promote our environment and historic sites not only for their significance but also for tourism revenue and economic development.  

Lawson pointed out that the Brentsville site is not just about the courthouse and jail.  These two historic buildings sit in a beautiful park, with a unique 1850 farmhouse and garden and a self-guided nature trail that features the plants and animals native to Virginia. The park hosts a number of family-friendly events.  Lawson particularly recommended the Brentsville bluegrass concert series, which is August through October this year.

Each room at the courthouse tells a story.  I was particularly impressed with the room devoted to the 19th century African-American experience in Prince William.  It told an honest and candid accounting of the times.  The courthouse is part of the county’s African-American History Trail, which explores the history, arts, culture and contributions of Blacks to our community.

To learn more, Lawson pointed me to Morgan Breeden, a longtime Brentsville resident.  While the historic places within our county tell the story of what we were and how we came to be that way, the real story is carried in the minds and hearts of the residents who have been around long enough to witness it.  

Breeden is one of those people. He shared the story about the murder while standing in the door to the cell where it occurred. It was just one of the many stories Breeden knows about the jail, Brentsville and Prince William. Breeden has a lot more stories.  If you are lucky enough to run into him, I suggest you ask him to share a few.

I suspect there are a few more folks around like Breeden.  We need to talk to them and document their stories and memories.  Fortunately, for 11 years, Breeden published Brentsville Neighbors, a newsletter that documents the community’s history. His newsletters, other documents, and a wealth of information about our county’s history are available on the Historic Prince William website.  Lawson and Breeden both praised Historic Prince William for its strong support of the renovation of the Brentsville Jail.  

As for the murder charge, Lucian Fewell was tried and quickly acquitted.  It sounded like the action of a reasonable man.  Of course, things were different in 1872.

Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week.  You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net and LinkedIn.

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