William Fairfax

William Fairfax

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William Fairfax was a political appointee of the English Crown and a politician: he was Collector of Customs in Barbados
Barbados
Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles. It is in length and as much as in width, amounting to . It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 100 kilometres east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, it is about east of the islands of Saint...

, and Chief Justice and governor of the Bahamas; he served as Customs agent in Marblehead, Massachusetts
Marblehead, Massachusetts
Marblehead is a town in Essex County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 19,808 at the 2010 census. It is home to the Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and Devereux Beach...

 before being reassigned to the Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

 colony. There he was elected to the House of Burgesses
House of Burgesses
The House of Burgesses was the first assembly of elected representatives of English colonists in North America. The House was established by the Virginia Company, who created the body as part of an effort to encourage English craftsmen to settle in North America...

 and then as President of the Governor's Council. As a tobacco planter, he commissioned the construction of his plantation
Plantation
A plantation is a long artificially established forest, farm or estate, where crops are grown for sale, often in distant markets rather than for local on-site consumption...

 called Belvoir
Belvoir (plantation)
Belvoir was the historic plantation and estate of colonial Virginia's prominent William Fairfax family. It was situated on the west bank of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia at the present site of Fort Belvoir. The main house — called Belvoir Manor or Belvoir Mansion — burnt in 1783...

 in northern Virginia
Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

. He was the son of Henry Fairfax (d. 1708), a grandson of Henry Fairfax, 4th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Henry Fairfax, 4th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Henry Fairfax, 4th Lord Fairfax of Cameron was the grandson of Thomas Fairfax, 1st Lord Fairfax of Cameron. His father was the Honourable Henry Fairfax, of York, and his mother was Lady Mary Cholmondeley.....

, and first cousin of Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron was the son of Thomas Fairfax, 5th Lord Fairfax of Cameron and of Catherine, daughter of Thomas Culpeper, 2nd Baron Culpeper of Thoresway....

. He acted as land agent for his cousin's vast holdings on the Northern Neck
Northern Neck
The Northern Neck is the northernmost of three peninsulas on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This peninsula is bounded by the Potomac River on the north and the Rappahannock River on the south. It encompasses the following Virginia counties: Lancaster,...

 of Virginia.

Early life and career


William Fairfax was born in London, the son of Henry Fairfax and grandson of Henry Fairfax, 4th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Henry Fairfax, 4th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Henry Fairfax, 4th Lord Fairfax of Cameron was the grandson of Thomas Fairfax, 1st Lord Fairfax of Cameron. His father was the Honourable Henry Fairfax, of York, and his mother was Lady Mary Cholmondeley.....

. As a young man, he went to the English colonies in the Caribbean
Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

, where he served as the Customs agent in Barbados
Barbados
Barbados is an island country in the Lesser Antilles. It is in length and as much as in width, amounting to . It is situated in the western area of the North Atlantic and 100 kilometres east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea; therein, it is about east of the islands of Saint...

 and as Chief Justice of the Bahamas
The Bahamas
The Bahamas , officially the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, is a nation consisting of 29 islands, 661 cays, and 2,387 islets . It is located in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba and Hispaniola , northwest of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and southeast of the United States...

 under Woodes Rogers
Woodes Rogers
Woodes Rogers was an English sea captain, privateer, and, later, the first Royal Governor of the Bahamas. He is known as the captain of the vessel that rescued the marooned Alexander Selkirk, whose plight is generally believed to have inspired Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.Rogers came from an...

. He served as governor of the Bahamas after Rogers' departure.

William was the cousin of Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron was the son of Thomas Fairfax, 5th Lord Fairfax of Cameron and of Catherine, daughter of Thomas Culpeper, 2nd Baron Culpeper of Thoresway....

, proprietor of the extensive grant of land on the Northern Neck
Northern Neck
The Northern Neck is the northernmost of three peninsulas on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This peninsula is bounded by the Potomac River on the north and the Rappahannock River on the south. It encompasses the following Virginia counties: Lancaster,...

 of Virginia. Residing in England in Leeds Castle
Leeds Castle
Leeds Castle, southeast of Maidstone, Kent, England, dates back to 1119, though a Saxon fort stood on the same site from the 9th century. The castle is built on islands in a lake formed by the River Len to the east of the village of Leeds....

, Lord Fairfax used a succession of land agents to manage his vast Virginia property. Upon reading the 1732 obituary of his last resident agent, Robert "King" Carter
Robert Carter I
Robert "King" Carter , of Lancaster County, was a colonist in Virginia and became one of the wealthiest men in the colonies....

, and learning of the vast personal wealth Carter had amassed, Lord Fairfax decided to place a trusted member of the family in charge of his 5 million acres (20,234.3 km²) Northern Neck proprietary.

He arranged for William Fairfax to be transferred from Massachusetts to Virginia, to be assigned as that colony's customs collector for the Potomac River and to act as his land agent.

Marriage and family


In the Bahamas, Fairfax had married Sarah Walker (c. 1700 - January 21, 1731), the daughter of Thomas Walker and his wife Sarah. Walker was a former Justice of the Vice admiralty court
Vice admiralty court
Vice admiralty courts were juryless courts located in British colonies that were granted jurisdiction over local legal matters related to maritime activities, such as disputes between merchants and seamen. Judges were given 5% of confiscated cargo, if they found a smuggling defendant guilty...

 and acting deputy governor of the Bahamas, and served as a fellow Justice with Fairfax in the Bahamas. Sarah was said to be of mixed race and partial African ancestry through her mother. The Fairfaxes had a son George William Fairfax
George William Fairfax
George William Fairfax was a planter and member of the landed gentry of late colonial Virginia. He was a contemporary and good friend of George Washington, and made opportunities for him through his powerful family....

 and two daughters: Anne and Sarah.

After the death of Sarah, Fairfax married Deborah Clarke. Together they had three sons, Thomas, William Henry "Billy," and Bryan
Bryan Fairfax, 8th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Bryan Fairfax , 8th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, boyhood friend of George Washington, became the first American-born member of the house of Lords.-Biography:...

, and a daughter Hannah.

In June 1743, the eldest Fairfax daughter Anne (then aged 15) was hastily married to Lawrence Washington
Lawrence Washington (1718-1752)
Lawrence Washington was a soldier and prominent landowner in colonial Virginia. As a founding member of the Ohio Company of Virginia, and a member of the colonial legislature representing Fairfax County, he was chiefly responsible for securing the establishment of the town of Alexandria, Virginia...

. At age 25, Washington had recently returned to Virginia from two years at war in the Caribbean. He had served with distinction as a senior company officer in the American Regiment, under Admiral Edward Vernon
Edward Vernon
Edward Vernon was an English naval officer. Vernon was born in Westminster, England and went to Westminster School. He joined the Navy in 1700 and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1702 and served on several different ships for the next five years...

, as "Captain of the Soldiers acting as Marines", aboard the admiral's flagship HMS Princess Caroline (80 guns).

Upon his return from war at the end of 1742, Washington was appointed adjutant (commander) of the Virginia militia, at the colonial rank of major. In the spring of 1743, the young Anne disclosed to her parents that she had been sexually molested by Charles Green, the Anglican priest of Truro Parish. Surviving court documents suggest Lawrence Washington may have been staying with the Fairfax family at Belvoir in the spring of 1743, awaiting the completion of his new home at nearby Little Hunting Creek, which he named Mount Vernon. In 1745 Washington took Green to court over his actions with Anne Fairfax; he and the senior Fairfax tried to have the priest deposed for the scandal, but were unsuccessful. Green rallied support in the county and the trial was aborted. Lawrence and Anne Washington had four children together, but all died in infancy.

George Willliam Fairfax married Sally Cary
Sally Fairfax
Sally Cary Fairfax was the wife of George William Fairfax , a prominent member of the landed gentry of late colonial Virginia. As such, she was mistress of the Virginia plantation and estate of Belvoir...

; they had no children. Sarah Fairfax married John Carlyle, and their descendants were prominent in Virginia.

William Fairfax's two younger sons both died in combat while serving the Crown: Thomas was killed in action on 25 June 1746 against the French Navy off the coast of India, aged about 15, while serving as a newly enrolled midshipman in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Harwich (50 guns); and Lieutenant William Henry "Billy" Fairfax died of wounds received during the British Army's capture of Quebec
Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 in fall 1759 during the Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War
The Seven Years' War was a global military war between 1756 and 1763, involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines...

.

Life in the Virginia colony


From 1738 to 1741, William Fairfax and his second wife Deborah Clarke lived along the lower Potomac. He picked out a site for a home overlooking the river adjacent to the Washington family's estate, which was later known as Mount Vernon. Fairfax commissioned a two-story brick home, which was completed in 1741 and named Belvoir Manor
Belvoir (plantation)
Belvoir was the historic plantation and estate of colonial Virginia's prominent William Fairfax family. It was situated on the west bank of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia at the present site of Fort Belvoir. The main house — called Belvoir Manor or Belvoir Mansion — burnt in 1783...

. He and his descendants lived there for the next 32 years.

In 1757 after William's death, George William Fairfax inherited Belvoir and lived there for years with his wife Sally Cary. They had no children. In 1773, they sailed to England on business and never returned. Fairfax wrote his good friend and neighbor George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 to look after the estate and put it up for rent. Historic documents and archeological artifacts found at Belvoir Manor attest to the elegant lifestyle enjoyed by the Fairfax family. The mansion, described in a 1774 rental notice, was spacious and well-appointed. Its furnishings consisted of "tables, chairs, and every other necessary article ... very elegant." The Fairfaxes had imported ceramics from Europe and the Orient to grace its tables. Unoccupied after the Revolution, the manor home was destroyed by fire in 1783.

Prominent citizens of the colony, including Washington, had visited frequently. Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron was the son of Thomas Fairfax, 5th Lord Fairfax of Cameron and of Catherine, daughter of Thomas Culpeper, 2nd Baron Culpeper of Thoresway....

, the first member of the British nobility to reside in the colonies, lived at Belvoir briefly, in 1747, before he moved to the Shenandoah Valley and took up residence at Greenway Court. Despite the grandeur of their surroundings and the refinement of their furnishings, planters such as the Fairfaxes, Masons, McCartys, and Washingtons did not lead indolent lives. Conscious of their civic duty and of the elite class, they were the political, social, economic, and religious leaders of their immediate neighborhood and of the colony at large.

In 1741, Fairfax was elected a member of the House of Burgesses. He introduced the bill that created Fairfax County as a separate political jurisdiction in 1742 (carved out of the northern portion of Prince William County). He subsequently served as presiding Justice of the County Court, and as County Lieutenant, the county's chief law-enforcement officer.

At the same time, he managed his own large properties throughout Fairfax County and served as the land agent for his cousin, Lord Fairfax. The senior Fairfax managed the Northern Neck estate until his death in 1757.

Fairfax was elected President of the Governor's Council in Williamsburg, a position equivalent to today's Lieutenant Governor. In this position, he represented the colony at an important conference with the Iroquois Confederacy in 1753. As the senior colonial official in Fairfax County, William Fairfax was, nominally, in command of the county's militia contingent and, as such, was entitled to be called a Virginia colonel. This county rank was largely honorary and carried no pay or benefits, and did not extend to a higher echelon. Formally, the entire Virginia colonial militia fell under command of the resident governor, as colonel, while day-to-day command of the militia was exercised by the adjutant (at the rank of major). But, at the county-level, all of the local militia officers adopted a separate "colonel-major-captain-lieutenant" rank structure for use at the local level.

In his will of 1757, Fairfax left Belvoir and his plantation of Springfield
Springfield, Virginia
Springfield is a census-designated place in Fairfax County, Virginia, United States and a suburb of Washington, D.C. The Springfield CDP is recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau with a population of 30,484 as of the 2010 census. Homes and businesses in bordering CDPs including North Springfield,...

, containing 1400 acres (5.7 km²), to his eldest son George William Fairfax
George William Fairfax
George William Fairfax was a planter and member of the landed gentry of late colonial Virginia. He was a contemporary and good friend of George Washington, and made opportunities for him through his powerful family....

. He left his plantation Towlston Grange
Towlston Grange
Towlston Grange is an 18th century plantation in Great Falls in Fairfax County, Virginia, United States. The estate served as a residence for several prominent members of the Fairfax family...

, with 5500 acres (22.3 km²), to his youngest son Bryan Fairfax
Bryan Fairfax, 8th Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Bryan Fairfax , 8th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, boyhood friend of George Washington, became the first American-born member of the house of Lords.-Biography:...

; he left land in Culpeper County of 3250 acres (13.2 km²) and 1100 acres (4.5 km²) to his daughter Hannah.