Fairfax County, Virginia, was established in 1742 by Thomas Fairfax, Sixth Lord Fairfax, Baron of Cameron.


In 1649, Charles the II, the exiled King of England, granted a huge area of land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers, Northern Neck, to eight of his most loyal supporters.


By 1681 Thomas Lord Culpepper, who was Governor of Virginia, had acquired the interest of the others.   When he died in 1689, his holdings of about 5 million acres passed to his only daughter, Catherine.  She married Thomas, Fifth Lord Fairfax.   Upon their deaths the lands passed to their son, Thomas Sixth Lord Fairfax.


Before It Was Fairfax: 


In 1732 Robert “King” Carter died.  He was the land agent for Lord Fairfax.  Carter owned 300,000 acres and 1,000 slaves.  Fairfax arranged for his own Cousin William, to become his land agent and got him appointed collector of customs of South Potomac, Virginia.


At the time the land was known as proprietaries  and the Virginia Government at Jamestown was hostile to both proprietaries and proprietors, so in 1735, Lord Fairfax, himself, came to settle feuds.  Meanwhile,  William Fairfax began to acquire land near Mount Vernon, build a mansion, and establish an estate called Belvoir, into which he moved in 1741.


Fairfax County was originally called Truro Parish, after the vestry of the English Church.  Much of the labor was provided by white indentured servants and black slaves.


The Land, 1742:


When the initial settlers of Jamestown realized there was no gold in The New World, they went after the land through land patents, “seat and plant” within three years.  Therefore, the more slaves you owned the more land you could acquire.  The other method was “the absentee landlord”, renting the land to tenants, the forerunner of sharecropping.  


When Alexandria Was Part of  Fairfax County:


In 1654, Margaret Brent took a patent on 700 acres on The Potomac in the Great Hunting Creek Basin which encompassed what is now downtown Alexandria.

In 1669, the colonial government granted a patent of 6,000 acres to Robert Howsing which included Brent’s 700 acres.



*The Fairfaxes were The First Family of Virginia.


How U.S. Route 1 Got its Name:


One of the oldest roads in northern Virginia was the Potomac Path.  Originally an Indian path running through the natural ridge of the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers beginning at the ferry crossing on the Occoquan, it ran to Great Hunting Creek, the present site of Alexandria.  The original Truro Parish Church of 1733 was located on this road.


Between Pohick Creek and Accotink, a road branches off which runs closer to the Potomac.  This road, not the original Indian trail, became the Potomac Path, later U.S. Route 1, Great Neck Road, Jefferson Davis Highway, Richmond Highway, and again Jefferson Davis Highway in southern Virginia.  Before Interstate 95, U.S. Route 1 was the country’s longest highway, running from Maine to Florida.   The western road running parallel to Route 1 was known as the “back road”, now Telegraph Road.


Lee  Highway and Braddock Road:


There is also a road intersecting the ridge road just below the Falls Church and running to the river.  This was the origin of Lee Highway, named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  At the river the road from the church joins the one from  Hunting Creek near the Key Bridge, named after Francis Scott Key, composer of “The Star Spangled Banner.” 


In 1748, there was a ferry there.  The road from Hunting Creek to the juncture below Pope’s Head follows the present day pattern of Braddock Road, named after General Edward Braddock of The French and Indian War fame.   




Mount Vernon, Gum Springs, Spring Bank, and Alexandria, Virginia


Mount Vernon, Gum Springs, Spring Bank, and Alexandria, Virginia’s history is America’s history.  Much has been written about historic Virginia:  Mount Vernon, Gunston Hall, Monticello, Jamestown, and Colonial Williamsburg.  However, very little is known about the African-American communities of Gum Springs and Spring Bank that helped to make Fairfax County the wealthiest county in the nation and Alexandria, Virginia the famous and historic city that it is.


Mount Vernon


George Washington’s first ancestor in the colonies was John Washington, known as “the emigrant.”  Having fled the English Civil War,  he came to Virginia in 1657, and with a partner, Nicholas Spencer, received a land grant of 5,000 acres from Lord Thomas Culpeper.  The land passed to John’s son, Lawrence Washington, and the heirs of Nicholas Spencer.   Mildred, Lawrence’s daughter, inherited Little Hunting Creek Plantation.  Augustine Washington, Lawrence’s son, who was also  Mildred’s brother, bought Little Hunting Creek from her.


Augustine Washington had two sons, Lawrence and George.  When Lawrence turned twenty-one, Augustine gave him Little Hunting Creek, which Lawrence renamed Mount Vernon, after Admiral Edward Vernon, his commanding officer,  of the Royal Navy.


When Augustine died in 1743, Lawrence Washington had already married Anne Fairfax of the Belvoir Plantation.  Becoming a mentor to young George, Lawrence tutored him in his studies and social graces, gaining him entry into Virginia’s upper class society. 


Lord George William Fairfax introduced young George Washington to surveying, which would eventually launch his career as surveyor and gentleman farmer.  When Lawrence Washington died after a long illness, George initially rented Mount Vernon from his widow Anne.  Upon her death he inherited the estate outright and made tremendous changes to enhance its splendor and beauty.




Gum Springs


Gum Springs was founded by West  Ford, the foreman of the slaves at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Plantation.   Purchased in 1833, West Ford’s property bordered Washington’s “Muddy Hole Farm” and was named after a gum tree near a spring where George Washington watered his horse during his daily ride. 


West Ford was a freed slave twenty-seven years before The Civil War and thirty years before The Emancipation Proclamation by the will of Bushrod Washington, George Washington’s nephew.  Therefore, Gum Springs became an assimilating place for freed slaves and runaways enroute to Alexandria, VA, thus becoming a very important stop on The Underground Railroad.


Spring Bank


Spring Bank is on land that was originally owned by George Mason VI as part of Gunston Hall.  George Mason VI was the grandson of George Mason, the architect of The Virginia Declaration of Rights and The Virginia Constitution, which became a model for The U.S. Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States.

Actually, George Mason helped to write the first ten amendments to the Constitution, but after helping to draft it, he, Edmund Randolph, and Eldridge Gerry refused to sign it because it did not contain a Bill of Rights and they did not like the compromise made over slavery with the three-fifths law, or The Great Compromise.  The land was eventually sold to Fitzhugh Lee, a descendant of Robert E. Lee, as the younger Lee was then Governor of Virginia.  In time it was sold to Mr. Johnson Downey of Maryland.  After his death his widow, Mrs. Rose E. Downey sold eighty-eight acres of Spring Bank Farm to Charles Henry Quander, a freed slave, who had been held in slavery two years beyond The Emancipation Proclamation. 


The Quanders are one of the oldest documented Black families in America, dating back to 1684.  Some were slaves at Mount Vernon, and they have traced their roots back to the Amkwandoh family in Ghana, West Africa. 


Spring Bank was also another important stop on The Underground Railroad because of its proximity to Alexandria, VA. 



Alexandria, Virginia


Alexandria, Virginia, was originally known as Belle Haven.  In 1749 it was incorporated by John Alexander, a Scottish trader and merchant.  As a thriving seaport town with many restaurants, taverns, and tobacco merchants, it was very accessible by boats on the Potomac River and has at various times belonged to both Fairfax  County and The District of Columbia.  At the time Alexandria, VA, was only sixty acres proper as a city.  The boundaries were Pendleton Street on the north, Duke Street on the south, the Potomac River on the east, and  an imaginary line on the west side near West Street.


The major commerce was tobacco.  Although some merchants were slave owners, many were involved in other enterprises besides farming.  For instance, at one point there were 375 merchants, 42 attorneys, 46 bakers, and 50 tavern keepers.  Some main streets like Alfred Street were named after King Alfred, the Great (849-899) of England, Columbus Street, after Christopher Columbus and Washington Street after George Washington.



Previous Page | Intro | Home | Next Page

(c) American Heritage Legacy Tour, 2006