Boy Meets Girl/north Meets South: The Story Of Antonia Ford (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:41:14
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir. And as we continue our exploration of rebels and rabble-rousers, we return to that conflict that tore our nation in two, starting 150 years ago, the Civil War or the War of the Rebellion, as many Northerners referred to it.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:41:30
Many Southerners preferred the War for Southern Independence. But whatever you call it, the Civil War is the bloodiest war in U.S. history. Casualties exceeded the nation's loss in all its other wars, from the Revolution through Vietnam.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:41:45
But in the midst of all the turmoil, the tears, a young Confederate woman and a dashing Union officer met and fell in love, leading to a story that I'm telling you could pull even the tightest of heartstrings.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:41:58
The only catch, well, the officer was married at the time and the young woman, well, she might've been a Confederate spy. To get the full scoop, I headed to Old Town Fairfax where I met up with Susan Inskeep Gray, the curator for historic sites in the city of Fairfax.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:42:16
And, Susan, can you tell us where we're standing right now?

MS. SUSAN INSKEEP GRAY

13:42:19
Yes, Rebecca. We are standing in front of what today is known as the Ford Building. Originally, it was the Ford House, built in the mid-19th century, was the home of Edward Rudolph Ford and his wife, Julia Ford and their children, including Antonia Ford.

SHEIR

13:42:35
Let's talk about Antonia. Who was she?

GRAY

13:42:38
Antonia Ford was a young woman at the time of the Civil War. She was born in 1838 and she is thought to have been a spy, alleged to have been a spy, for the Confederacy. And she, along with her father, were arrested in March of 1863 and that followed one of the most talked about events of the Civil War, here in Fairfax, the capture of Union General Edwin Stoughton by Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby on March the 9th, 1863. What Mosby was able to do was come into this area, which was controlled by the Union Army at that point, slip past the pickets and capture General Stoughton, who was asleep in his bed.

GRAY

13:43:28
And the Union Army, of course, was sure -- how could he do this without having somebody basically on the grounds? And it was after that that the Union Army found and talked to Antonia Ford and she showed them a document called an honorary aide-de-camp that General Stuart had presented her with, as basically being a friend and a loyal Southerner.

GRAY

13:43:53
But they used that to arrest her and take her to Old Capitol Prison and then she signed the oath of allegiance to the United States. And at that time, she had become acquainted with Major Joseph Clapp Willard, a Union Major, who then escorted her back home here to this house. And it's from that time period in the fall of 1863 that a long correspondence between the two of them begins and still exists. We have 40-some of her original letters in our collection with the city of Fairfax and the Library of Congress has almost an equal number.

SHEIR

13:44:35
What do we know about the relationship between her and Joseph Willard?

GRAY

13:44:40
I think we know that when they first set eyes upon each other, they were both very smitten so I guess we could say it was love at first sight. But I think it was very controversial because not only he is a Northerner and she's a Southerner, but he's already married and he was able to obtain a divorce. And then he resigned his commission from the Army.

GRAY

13:45:05
So those two things really paved the way for them to marry, which they did on March the 10th, 1864. And in February of 1871, she gave birth to a son, Archie, who's either stillborn or died shortly after and then she herself died a week later.

SHEIR

13:45:25
One of her sons, he had a role in building a town hall in Fairfax, in creating a public space for the community. Can you tell us more about that?

GRAY

13:45:32
Yes, certainly. The Willards had one son who survived to adulthood. And I also look at this story, Rebecca, not just as a love story set amidst the great upheaval of the Civil War. I think it's also very much a story of the legacy that comes from that personal love story and the legacy rests with their son, Joseph Edward Willard. His mother is a Southerner. His father has been a Union officer, so he has that dual part of his heritage from the beginning.

GRAY

13:46:07
And I don't know whether we've mentioned it, but people listening may be familiar with the Willard name. The Major Willard that we're talking about was a co-owner of the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. So when Major Willard dies in 1897, the one son, Joseph, of course, inherits that wealth. And young Joseph builds what is today the Old Town Hall here in Fairfax as a social center because there wasn't any public place where people could hold meetings, could hold dances.

GRAY

13:46:40
And when he opened the hall in 1900, he held a big dance as the opening event and he invited the grandsons of both General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses Grant and both of those grandsons came. So I think it's also a way of reconciling what was a very divided community here after the Civil War.

SHEIR

13:47:03
Sounds like he would've made his mother proud.

GRAY

13:47:05
I think he would've made his mother very proud, yes. His father, Major Willard, often wrote in his diary after Antonia's death. He remembered his happy times together with Antonia and the visits from his son and he often would close by saying, how she'd love that dear boy.

SHEIR

13:47:28
Susan Inskeep Gray is curator of historic sites in the city of Fairfax. To see portraits of Antonia Ford, Major Joseph Willard and their darling son and to read that aide-de-camp that landed Antonia in jail, check out our website, metroconnection.org.
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