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Located on the Rappahannock River near the head of navigation at the fall line, Fredericksburg developed as the frontier of colonial Virginia shifted west from the coastal plain into the Piedmont.The land on which the city was founded was part of a tract patented in 1671. Alexander Spotswood sponsored a German settlement called Germanna on the Rapidan River, a tributary of the Rappahannock upstream from the future site of the city.It received its charter as an independent city in 1879, and under Virginia law was separated from Spotsylvania County.
Washington's mother Mary later moved to the city, and his sister Betty lived at Kenmore, a plantation house then outside the city. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in Fredericksburg. During the 19th century, mills continued to be developed along the Rapahannock River, which provided water power.
At the time of European encounter, the indigenous inhabitants of the area that became Fredericksburg were a Siouan-speaking tribe called the Manahoac.
English colonists recorded the name of the Manahoac village there as Mahaskahod.
Tourism is a major part of the economy, with approximately 1.5 million people visiting the Fredericksburg area annually, including the battlefield park, the downtown visitor center, events, museums and historic sites.
Fredericksburg is home to several major retail and commercial centers including Central Park (as of 2004, the second-largest mall on the East Coast) and Spotsylvania Towne Centre, located in Spotsylvania County adjacent to the city line.