In Our Backyard: Three Young Quaker Women Defiantly Published Pro-Union Newspaper in Waterford During the Civil War

By Waterford Foundation Staff and Volunteers

Thesecond ofaseries of articles celebrating the Waterford Foundation’s 75thanniversary.

By April 1864, after three hard years of war, the women of Waterford were at wit’s end. Most of the men were in self-imposed exile across the Potomac, or fighting, or in prison. The Union had clamped a tight blockade along the river, and once-rich Loudoun, repeatedly plundered by troops from both sides, was destitute. The blockade applied to all, even the loyal majority in Waterford and north Loudoun who had strongly opposed secession. Loudoun was a lawless no-man’s land. The women of Waterford wanted most of all for federal troops to occupy the county, restore order, and permit loyalists to trade with the North. But how could they convey their plight?

Nineteen-year-old Emma Eliza “Lida” Dutton decided to go straight to the top. The young Quaker dashed off an impassioned letter to President Lincoln:

“I just felt that if thee knew the people of Loudoun County generally and Waterford particularly—how true and unwavering they have ever been in their love for their Country and the dear old flag; how cruelly they have been treated by the Rebels because of that devotion, thee would not let them suffer still more by [the blockade]. … We have no military protection. The Rebels have been within a week or two past carrying off every bit of corn, stealing every good, bad or indifferent horse in the neighborhood … the half of their wickedness has not been told.” She concluded that, despite [her fellow Quakers’ peaceable] principles, “the organ of combativeness is pretty strongly developed in us all, particularly in my father’s daughter.”

To prove her point, Lida and her friends had a back-up plan to advertise their town’s difficult situation. In May she, her older sister Lizzie Dutton (24), and neighbor Sarah Steer (26) launched The Waterford News, a defiantly pro-Union newspaper inside Confederate Virginia. They declared their objectives were “to cheer the weary soldier, and render material aid to the sick and wounded.” Risking arrest or worse, they leavened their eyewitness accounts of hardship and horror with youthful wit and unabashed patriotism.

The three editors wrote: “We present to our readers this week the first edition of our little paper, with many hopes and fears. We hope that it may meet the approbation of our friends; that they may uphold us in our hazardous undertaking, and we fear nothing so much as their disapproval. We wish and expect it to meet the condemnation of our enemies, for they are averse to the truth, and that this sheet will contain.”

The little paper’s fame quickly spread beyond Loudoun County. It was praised by Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, and a Maryland resident passed along the first editions to President Lincoln. The accompanying letter to the president reported that the “fair Editresses” had by late June 1864 already raised nearly $1,000 (an impressive $17,000 in today’s value) for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a non-government organization providing medical care to Union troops. Two copies of the Waterford News were found among the Lincoln papers at the Library of Congress. History fails to tell us if the president actually read the newspapers, but we’d like to think he did.

Under their slogan “THE UNION FOREVER,” the articles in the paper were staunchly Unionist, a position reflecting Waterford’s rejection of the 1861 secession by a vote of 221 to 30. “The News” column was often devoted to the incursions and sufferings caused by “Grey Ghost” John Mosby and his partisan Confederate rangers.

The young Quaker women designed their newspaper to appeal to allUnion soldiers, not just the wounded and sick. A tongue-in-cheek section entitled “Marriages,” was blank every issue. The November 1864 edition posed this riddle: “Why are Rebel ranks like our Marriage Column?” Answer: “Because there is little probability of their ever being filled.” The Waterford News editors often complained it was simply impossible to find eligible men of their generation under any circumstances.

It was Lizzie Dutton who delivered the first draft issue of The Waterford News for printing and distribution. With draft in hand at the Virginia shore opposite Point of Rocks, MD, she failed to find a small boat to ferry her across. Unable to get the Union soldiers to cross the Potomac from the Maryland side, she began wading into the river, carrying her precious burden. This bold action did get their attention, and the soldiers finally agreed to deliver the draft to her father, in exile at Point of Rocks, along with instructions for its publication.

It was fortunate Lizzie was no longer carrying the newspaper, because Mosby’s men had been watching her from a vantage point high on Catoctin Mountain. They stopped Lizzie on her way home, found nothing suspicious and apparently believed whatever story she told to explain her actions. In future, delivery of the drafts was entrusted to Sarah’s handicapped cousin, Billy Steer, who was less likely to arouse suspicion.

The newspaper was published eight times during the final grinding year of the war. The last edition appeared in April 1865, less than a week before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. After the war The Waterford News was largely forgotten, but it did have an indelible impact:

Fortunately, over the years, issues long presumed lost came to light. A copy of the eighth and final edition was finally found in 1998. All the issues have been reproduced and compiled

in one booklet available for sale for $8 at the holiday event detailed below, or online for $10 (postage and packaging included) on the Waterford Foundation’s website: waterfordfoundation.org/product-category/books.

All are invited to celebrate the holidays with an old-fashioned singalong and Christmas concert featuring Madeline MacNeil on the hammered dulcimer and Jeff Bean on the pump organ at theJohn Wesley Community Church, 40125 Bond Street, in Waterford, from 4-5 p.m.  Sunday, Dec 9. Children accompanied by their parents are welcome and the admission “price” is a plate of cookies (or another finger food) to share.

(This article draws heavily on two publications: The Introduction by Taylor M. Chamberlin, Bronwen C. Souders, and John M. Souders to the annotated collection—”The Waterford News: An underground Union newspaper published by three Quaker maidens in Confederate Virginia 1864-1865″—published by the Waterford Foundation in 1999, and Chapter 17 of “A Village in Time 1660-1990. Discovering American History in a Small Virginia Quaker Village” by Waterford resident Neil C. Hughes, published by Branden Books in 2017).

Wendy Roseberry coordinated contributions from the Waterford Foundation staff. The source of the photographs is the Waterford Foundation Local History Collection. In Our Backyard is compiled by the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition. For more information about the organization, go to loudouncoalition.org

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