Confederate spy Antonia Ford
Antonia Ford

Following up on my last post when I attended the 150th anniversary of Mosby’s famous Fairfax Raid, I also wanted to share information on another house I had the opportunity to visit — the home of Antonia Ford.

Widely reported to have been a volunteer Confederate spy, Antonia Ford was the daughter of prominent Fairfax, Virginia merchant and dedicated secessionist Edward R. Ford.

Ford is alleged to have gathered information on troop strength and movements from Union officers staying around the Fairfax region in mid-1861, which she then may have passed on to her brother’s commander Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart.

In fact, Gen. Stuart gave her a written honorary commission as an aide-de-camp. On the basis of this paper, she was arrested as a Confederate spy and imprisoned in Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C.

Author Jessica James visits the Ford House in Fairfax
The Ford House in Fairfax

The arresting officer was Major Joseph Willard, the Union Provost Marshal in Fairfax. Due to additional information from a Union spy, Ford was charged with aiding and abetting John Mosby’s capture of Union General Edwin H. Stoughton, although no evidence could be found to support her accusers’ claims.

In a twist of fate, Ford fell in love with her captor, Major Willard, and married him on March 10, 1864. Willard, a Vermont native who was part owner of the famous Washington, D.C., hotel that bears his family’s name, resigned from the army — and Ford took an oath of allegiance to the United States.

If you understand the sentiments of the time, you know what a huge ordeal this would have been. Indeed, Antonia was scorned by some for not being a loyal Virginian, and Willard, having resigned from the military in order to marry a Southerner, was scorned by his northern counterparts as well.

The two settled in the capital and had three children, only one of whom survived infancy. Ford died on February 14, 1871. Her son, Joseph Edward Willard, served on the staff of Fitzhugh Lee, a nephew of  Confederate general Robert E . Lee, during the Spanish-American War (1898). He also served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, lieutenant governor of Virginia, and United States ambassador to Spain.

It’s so interesting to be able to go into these old houses. If only the walls could talk!

 

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