Written by Heidi Baumstark

Rebellion is not typically what comes to mind when describing Quakers. Instead, they’re characterized by their pacifism, service, as well as their focus on equality. 

However, in 1864, three local Quaker women challenged the status quo by establishing The Waterford News, an anti-slavery, pro-Union newspaper that would run until April 1865. 

Its purpose? To inform readers of the happenings in their village, reveal the harsh conditions caused by Confederate rebels, and “to cheer the weary soldier, and render material aid to the sick and wounded,” as stated in their newspaper. One of their eight, 10-cents-per-copy papers even fell into the hands of President Lincoln, who referred to them as “fair Editresses.”

Who Were They?

The women behind The Waterford News were Sarah Ann Steer, 26, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Dutton, 24, and her sister Emma Eliza “Lida” Dutton, 19. They lived next door to each other on Second Street in Waterford, a tiny village founded in 1733 by Quakers Amos Janney with his wife, Mary. Despite their young age, these patriotic women spoke out against the injustice of slavery in a fashion they described as a “hazardous undertaking.”

Despite personal risk with war literally at their doorsteps and living in Confederate Virginia, Sarah, Lizzie, and Lida were determined to get their newspaper published and reconcile two Quaker sentiments: nonviolence and abolition. The three “Editresses” were at added risk of violence from both sides since Waterford remained in the bull’s eye for partisan raids by Confederate John S. Mosby and the Union’s “Burning Raid” conducted in the Loudoun Valley of Loudoun and Fauquier counties in the fall of 1864.  

Lisa Dutton Dainton is the great-great-granddaughter of Lida, the youngest of the three “Editresses.” “I didn’t even know about the journalist aspect of the Dutton sisters until about ten years ago,” Dainton shares. 

However, Dainton is able to shed light on Quaker beliefs. Girls were educated alongside boys, who were taught that violence and slavery were sinful. Decisions in their religious “Meeting Houses” were made by consensus. “So, the Dutton sisters and Sarah Steer would have been accustomed to women having a say and expressing themselves; this is how they grew up,” Dainton explains. In fact, many of the early suffragists like Susan B. Anthony were raised in Quaker homes with the belief that everyone is equal under God.  

Dainton adds, “I’m always proud of all my Quaker ancestors — the men and the women.” She continues, “The Quaker idea of everyone being equal had a huge contribution in creating our nation’s idea of democracy and the Declaration of Independence.” 

Pen to Paper

It was Lida, the youngest of the three, who decided to go straight to the top, writing a spirited 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.” 

Having received no response from her letter, Lida, Lizzie, and Sarah launched their defiantly pro-Union, four-page newspaper. 

In addition to their stated goals, another hopeful intention was to persuade Federal authorities to lift the blockade for loyal, pro-Union Loudouners who were suffering its effects. They hoped that in publicizing Waterford’s plight they could convince the Union to defend their small village that was under attack.

The Waterford News provided a snapshot of daily life in a Southern town while simultaneously boosting morale for Union soldiers by including patriotic editorials, riddles, poetry, and witty humor, all while criticizing Confederate sympathizers. It also included reports about the Loudoun Rangers – the only pro-Union company in Virginia — which was an independent cavalry unit composed of men from Waterford and Lovettsville. True to the Quakers’ value of service, proceeds from the paper were donated to the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a non-government, civilian-run agency created by federal legislation in 1861 to provide health and medical care to Union troops and their families. After the first issue was published on May 28, 1864, the women donated almost $1,000 to the Commission, an impressive $18,900 in today’s value; at 10 cents per issue that comes to 10,000 copies sold. 

Knowing their beliefs on stewardship and service, “It makes sense that they would give away their proceeds,” Dainton added. “They weren’t going to use that money for themselves but gave the money away. So, it all fits.”

Snippets of The Waterford News 

Their first edition was dated “5th Mo. 28th, 1864” (May 28, 1864), which was their Quaker dating system to avoid pagan titles for months and days of the week. Across the paper’s masthead in uppercase letters, “UNION FOREVER” is printed. The eighth and final issue was published April 3, 1865, less than a week before Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865.

Photo courtesy of waterfordhistory.org.

May 28, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 1.”

The first issue ran a poem for Abraham Lincoln on its front page; one of its stanzas reads: “While war is stalking thro’ our land, / And treason rears its serpent head, / And hearth-stones sad and desolate, / And mothers mourn their patriot dead; … No! and our banner, once the pride / And boast of every true Virginian, / Now trampled under feet that bear / The impress of Old Jeff’s dominion.” 

Flip the page and the editorial section reads: “We wish and expect it [the newspaper] to meet the condemnation of our enemies, for they are averse to truth, and that this sheet will contain.” 

This first edition also reveals their frustration caused by the Union blockade, which meant they could not buy nice clothes, bonnets, dresses, and other fineries: “Great distress is felt by the ladies of this vicinity at not being able to appear at meeting [church services] in new bonnets, dresses and wrappings, owing to the stringent blockade.”

June 11, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 2.”

However, in the June issue, there is great joy, for the Union blockade had been partially lifted: “A Few Stores; with dry goods, molasses candy and other stationery, suited to the tastes of the community. Young and handsome CLERKS not objectionable.”

July 2, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 3.”

A column in the July issue encourages readers to press on in doing good deeds: “Let not kind words, loving tones, and love of good deeds cease to find a place in our hearts. Now, if ever, is the time to ‘cast bread upon the waters,’ when tired and weary ones are all around us, and starvation stares so many in the face; when loved ones are struggling with pain, and joy and happiness are hidden in the distance; when hope leaves us and misery looks at us with hollow eyes.” What makes this especially touching is that it was written almost immediately after Lizzie received news that her fiancé, Lt. David Holmes, had just been killed in the Battle of Petersburg in June 1864.

August 20, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 4.”

In the August issue, witty jokes were included “to cheer the weary soldier,” such as: “What is the most fashionable hood worn in the South?” — “False-hood.” “What kind of rations are dealt out plentifully by the rebel leaders to their soldiers?” — “Exagger-rations.” 

October 15, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 5.”

A note from “J. H. F. Point of Rocks, Oct. 1st, 1864” reads: “Now I feel quite an interest in the little Union town and its loyal inhabitants… The lovely residents bid us welcome; and even now the memory of those words that met me, ‘Oh, we are so glad to see you — are you hungry?’ comes to me like far distant music. … May sweet peace soon hover over ‘Waterford.’ A Union undivided and Lincoln at our mast head.” 

November 26, 1864: “Vol. I, No. 6.”

Some want ads read: “Wanted — A straight-jacket for the Editor, who was bent on having her own way.” “Wanted — A cane to support one of our Editor’s lame Conundrums.” “Wanted — A plaster for the mud-hole, it is breaking out again.”

January 28, 1865: “Vol. I, No. 7.”

In the January 1865 issue an editorial includes: “Whilst we deeply sympathize with our Union friends who have lost so much, we can but think they should attach the blame to the original cause — Rebellion, — and not to our own Soldiers. We do not believe, if our Government had been as well acquainted with us as we are with ourselves, the order for the recent burning would have been issued; but having suffered so much at the hands of the Rebels ever since the commencement of this cruel war, we will cheerfully submit to what we feel assured our Government thought a military necessity.” The Burning Raid had the intended effect since it broke the spirit of rebellion, resulting in Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865.

April 3, 1865: “Vol. I, No. 8.”

On the front page of this last issue published six days before the surrender, a stanza from a poem reads: “In the field of benevolence / The workers are few, / Though the wages are certain, / And much there to do, / And blessed are the wages, / And sweet the reward, / When the spirit receiveth / ‘The smile of the Lord.’”

Post-Civil War

After the war, Sarah Steer appealed to the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Philadelphia Meeting, and local Quaker groups to fund a school to teach local African American children. The school was built in 1867, but Sarah began teaching from her side yard in 1865 and so became the first teacher of Black children in Loudoun County. She remained in the village and eventually married in 1904.

Today, the Second Street School in Waterford is owned by the Waterford Foundation and is the site of a unique living history program. Students come to this one-room school, taking on the identities and responsibilities of the students who attended there in the late 1800s.

Lizzie Dutton’s fiancé was killed in the war in June 1864. She later married Union veteran Joseph Dunlop on January 22, 1882, whom she had met during the war. They moved to Indiana to begin their family. 

Lida Dutton also married a Union veteran — John William Hutchinson — on December 27, 1866. He had met Lida when he was in Waterford earlier, and after the war, returned to the village for her. He joined the Quaker faith and moved his bride north to New York where they raised a family.

Dainton adds, “I have Lida’s wedding ring with ‘JWH to EED Dec. 27, 1866’ [John W. Hutchinson to Emma E. Dutton] engraved inside. These ladies are a great example of early feminists and abolitionists. I’m glad people are being informed about them.” ML

More information on the Waterford Foundation, located in the Waterford Old School, 40222 Fairfax Street, Waterford, Virginia, can be found at waterfordfoundation.org. 

Published in the March 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.