A recent PBS show referred to the “Politics of Memory” regarding the Civil War (like the maudlin “Gone with the Wind”) and it reminded me that such may also be the case with local history in Burke. In particular, this may be the reason why the Coffer family, a prominent early settler family whose respectable Burke history that started in 1728 has been ignored by the History Commission for so many years in the face of repeated citizen requests since at least the 1970s.
One has to wonder whether this local history omission resulted from the fact that prominent members of the Coffer family did not support the Confederacy’s policy on slavery and in fact, played key roles in the history of the two black communities in the Burke area. I should note that those two black communities in the Zion Drive area and in the Burke Lake Road area have largely disappeared and it is important to preserve their history for our grandchildren whose lives are inspired by Burke memories.
The Coffer family history started in 1728 with a land grant from Lord Fairfax, and included leadership service in the Truro Parish with George Washington, George Mason, American military service in the War of 1812 and trustee service in the founding of Fairfax city. Some Coffer family members did not support the Confederacy’s policy on slavery and a prominent member died as a captive of the Confederates in Richmond during the civil war. Their history deserves to be remembered as integral to the history of Burke, and of the American society.
I submitted a petition to honor the Coffer Home and the Coffer family’s history in Burke with over 1,000 signatures to Braddock Supervisor John Cook who told me that the History Commission was still studying the issue. So while the History Commission fiddles with an important local history issue in Burke, I have decided to make powerpoint presentations at the Pohick Library, the Burke Centre Library, the Burke 55ers, and the Burke/West Springfield Senior Center Without Walls. I am now working on a library conversation on “The War of 1812 and The Coffer Family of Burke, VA” to share with local residents the civic contributions of the Coffer family that we should honor with a historical marker in front of the Coffer Home in the Burke Conservancy.
I should also note that in the process of researching the Coffer Home and Little Zion Baptist Church, I found that the local history of one-room schoolhouses in Burke/West Springfield area is in error. The last one-room schoolhouse in operation in Fairfax County is not the historic Sydenstricker Schoolhouse that closed in 1939, but a colored school — and in our Burke area, it would be the Pearson Colored School that closed in 1945-46 and for which I am seeking another historical marker, along with the Little Zion Baptist Church. I would like to thank Lisa Becker who has done outstanding work in the research for the historic Sydenstricker Schoolhouse and who has been supportive of the local history research of our Burke/West Springfield Senior Center Without Walls. Ms. Becker has been helping me trace the last one-room schoolhouse in operation in Fairfax County, again without any help from the Fairfax County History Commission.
But I must ask again: why did the History Commission not provide Lisa Becker with support and research about one-room schoolhouses in Fairfax County? Surely, the Commission had the information about the closing dates of one-room schoolhouses in Fairfax County — or perhaps, instead of doing accurate research, the Commission has chosen to play the “Politics of Memory” and ignored the need for accurate local history that includes experiences of all residents of our Burke area.
I join Braddock Supervisor John Cook in waiting most patiently for the Fairfax County History Commission to do its assigned work, do accurate historical research, and honor The Coffer Family of Burke. It is time to honor the Coffer Family and the Coffer Home, the historic treasure of the Burke Conservancy.
Corazon Sandoval Foley, Burke