5b. Leeds Castle
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The Proprietors of the Northern Neck

Chapter 5b - Leeds Castle

Thomas, Sixth Lord FairfaxXVI. Thomas Fairfax (Catherine Culpeper15, wife of Thomas, fifth Lord Fairfax), 1693-1781, sixth Lord Fairfax was born at Leeds Castle, as appears from the following entry of his baptism in the Bromfield register:

Thomas son of Thomas Lord Fairfax and the Lady Catherine his wife was born 22 October and bapt. 31 October 1693.

The only surviving references to him in his childhood are in two letters addressed to his father by Brian Fairfax, the elder, in October and November, 1700 (The Fairfax Correspondence, iv, 258, 262): 'I hope my pretty nephew is well' and 'My service to my little nephew.'

On January 21, 1709/10; a few days after his father's death, and when he was just past his sixteenth birthday, he matriculated at Oriel College, Oxford (Registrum Orielense, ed. Shadwell, ii, 25). That he remained in residence at least three years appears from a childish letter addressed to him at Oxford in January, 1712/13, by his sister Catherine (Fairfax MSS. Bodleian Library). If he was, as Burnaby records, the contributor of one of the still anonymous numbers of The Spectator, it must thus have been while he was in college, for the last number of that periodical is dated December 6, 1712; but, considering his age and the fact that his name has not come to light in all the profuse literature of memoirs and published letters of the reign of Queen Anne, it seems necessary to abandon this picturesque tradition.

The record of him at his coming of age is all of sordid and distressing business, leading up to the final alienation in 1716 of Denton and Bilborough, the estates in Yorkshire, which the first Lord Fairfax had entailed for the support of his peerage; a transaction which has been distorted by uncritical family tradition (See Appendix).

When his mother died in 1719, and he became the actual head of the family, he was in his twenty-sixth year. A Whig by inheritance, he then seemed to have every political opportunity to retrieve his shattered fortune in a career at the court of George I; and he duly made a beginning in that direction. In August, 1721, we find him enrolled, in the tradition of his father's military service, as a 'coronet' in the Horse Guards, Blue (Dalton, George I's Army, 1912, ii, 196) and holding a post at Court as Treasurer of the Household under the Lord Chamberlain (Cal. Treasury Papers, 1720-28, p. 78). To this period belongs also his negotiation for an ambitious marriage. Burnaby records that he was jilted, that the lady who had contracted herself to him 'preferred the higher honour of being a duchess.' In this mortification Fairfax saw to it that the lady's name should be forgotten so far as concerned him: although he preserved a counterpart of the intended marriage settlement and took it to America with him, when at last it came to light in the garret at Greenway Court nearly a century after his death, it was found that he had carefully cut out of the parchment all that identified the lady to whom it referred.54

Whether it was the failure of this marriage, or the fact that he lost his post at court on the accession of Sir Robert Walpole to power, Fairfax now abandoned his plan to make a public career, and retired to Leeds Castle; where, until 1733, he led the life of a private country gentleman.

In 1730 Virginia launched her final attack upon the Northern Neck proprietary by demanding of the Crown a limitation of the bounds which had been claimed by the resident agent and lessee, Robert Carter (Journals H. B., 1727-40, p. 92). When this demand reached England there came with it also the news of Col. Carter's death. Until then Fairfax had taken little interest in the proprietary. Although he had been since 1710 the owner of Alexander Culpeper's undivided sixth under his grandmother's will and, since 1719, the life tenant of the remaining five-sixths under his mother's will, he had left the management of the entire business to Col. Cage, his mother's trustee; but the double necessity of protecting his inheritance and of establishing a new resident agent now roused him to individual action. Following his father's example in a similar situation forty years before, he countered on Virginia by filing with the Crown a memorial of his own, praying that the bounds of the proprietary be established; and so precipitated the notable cause of Fairfax v. Virginia, which was to depend before the Privy Council for fifteen years and result in a brilliant victory for the proprietor (Acts P. C., Colonial, iii, 385 ff.; Hening, vi, 198)

Having first dispatched his kinsman, William Fairfax, then royal Collector of Customs at Salem in Massachusetts, to succeed Robert Carter as the resident agent for the Northern Neck, Fairfax himself went out to Virginia in May, 1735, and there remained - until September, 1737, while the surveys ordered by the Privy CoutIcil were in progress (the dates appear in Gooch's dispatches of January 8, 1735/6, and November 6, 1737). During this visit he resided with William Fairfax, at first in Westmoreland and later at Falmouth on the Rappahannock; and, having procured the Virginia Assembly to pass the act of 1736 (Hening, iv, 514) which recognised him as the inheritor of Lord Culpeper's charter of 1688, himself executed a number of land grants, including the reservation of his own Leeds Manor in what have since become Fauquier, Warren and Clarke counties (N.N., E: 1-45). The excursions he then made beyond the Blue Ridge determined him to establish his residence in the colony (See William Beverley's letter, W. & M. Quar., iii, 227). The final decree determining, in his favor, the litigation with the Virginia government, was entered April II, 1745, and in the summer of 1747 (Cf. Maryland Gazette, November 17, 1747), being then fifty-four years of age, he duly returned to Virginia, where henceforth for 44 years he lived out his long life.

For several years he resided at Belvoir on the Potomac, the residence William Fairfax had built in 1741 on the neck below Mount Vernon, and it was there that he met George Washington; but in the summer of 1751 he sent to England for another young man in whom also he was interested, his nephew Thomas Bryan Martin; and in the autumn of that year went to live with him at the 'quarter' he had laid out in 1747 (it is mentioned in Washington's diary of 1748) in the new county of Frederick (now Clarke), beyond the Shenandoah, adjoining the western boundary of Leeds Manor. That this was, however, intended to be only a temporary arrangement appears from his grant of the Frederick 'quarter' to Martin on May 21, 1752, as he came of age, with 8,840 acres of surrounding land; stipulating (N.N., H: 179) that this tract was 'to be known and called by the name of the Manor of Greenway Court,' after the Culpeper manor in Kent.

The popular accounts of Fairfax for the remaining thirty years of his life usually put the emphasis on his solitude. Despite a characteristic reserve of manner, he seems, however, to have been no anchorite but to have enjoyed such few associates of the breeding to which he was accustomed as were available to him on the frontier; and somewhat shyly, to have sought them out. He had duly taken up the traditional English duty of local magistracy. On October 30, 1749, during the presidency of Lewis Burwell, the Virginia Council

Ordered that a special Commission issue to empower the Right Honourable the Lord Fairfax to act as a justice of the Peace in all the Counties of the Northern Neck,

and, at Dinwiddie's request (Dinwiddie Papers, i, 48, 82, 312), he assumed, in 1754, the active duty of County Lieutenant of Frederick: but as the membership of the Frederick bench over which he presided was then hardly that of a select club, it may be assumed that his diligent attendance also at the courts of the tidewater counties (as shown by the records of those counties), in the commissions of which he was also included, was a search for congenial society. There are records, too, of periodical visits to Belvoir and, less frequently, to Williamsburg, as on the occasion in 1759 when Burnaby met him at a reception by Governor Fauquier at the Palace.

Looking back at him across the gulf of the American Revolution, there has been also an effort to see in Fairfax the arch tory, the personification of the hated government. There is no justification for this in, anything he himself did or said, and it is significant that when confiscations were the order of the day the Assembly treated him with marked consideration. The only resident peer in America, he was accorded all the privileges of a Virginia citizen and was never molested even by the mob. This could only be because it was recognised that his political sentiments were essentially liberal and practically inoffensive to the revolution. Indeed, Fairfax had never been a tory. On the contrary, he was brought up in the principles of the 'glorious' revolution of 1688, in which his father actively participated; and had, himself, lost his post at George I's Court by expressing such sentiments too logically. If, then, he was distressed by the march of events in the colonies, it was not because he agreed with George III and Lord North. There were other gentlemen in Virginia who shared his views in that respect and did not consider themselves the less good Virginians because they did so.

In this situation it remained for the fertile imagination of Parson Weems to paint in doggerel (in his immortal History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington, first published in 1800) what has come to be the accepted portrait of Fairfax in the character of one whose heart was broken by a disaster to that heavy material society which, as it happened, was precisely what he had come to Virginia to escape.

Little did the old gentleman expect that be was educating a youth who should one day dismember the British Empire and break his own heart, which truly came to pass. For on hearing that Washington had captured Cornwallis and all his army, he called out to his black waiter, 'Come Joe! carry me to my bed! for I'm sure 'tis high time for me to die!

Then up rose Joe, all at the word
    And took his master's arm
And to his bed he softly led
    The lord of Greenway farm.

There he call'd on Britain's name
    And oft he wept full sore
And sigh'd-thy will, O Lord, be done
    And word spake never more.

This is an excellent example of an argument from the principle post hoc propter hoc, but as it happens, it was not Washington's own appreciation of the end of his early patron. In the midst of the distresses of the winter camp at Valley Forge, Washington wrote a cheerful gossiping letter to his friend of more than thirty years, George William Fairfax, then in England. The date was 'Head-Quarters, Pennsylvania, 11 March, 1778' (Writings of Washington, ed. Ford, vi, 413) and among other things he said, 'Lord Fairfax, as I have been told, after having bowed down to the grave, is perfectly restored and enjoys his usual good health and as much vigor as fall to the lot of ninety.' That is hardly the picture of a desponding loyalist, but of an old man who has lived sanely and at the end was enjoying the reward of peace of mind and a modicum of physical comfort.

Washington was, however, mistaken in one detail. Fairfax was not ninety in 1778, nor did he ever attain that age, though he lived on for more than three years. It is truly recorded in the same Bromfield register in which his baptism had been entered, that

Thomas, Lord Fairfax, died at his Proprietary in Virginia, 9 December, 1781, in the eighty-ninth year of his age.

Fairfax had always lived in Virginia with the utmost simplicity. His personal bearing was what would now be called democratic, though he never had the remotest appreciation of what that term has come to mean. His residence remained to the end a mere wilderness lodge which was not even his own property; for he never acted upon his original intention to build a house, although he had selected for that purpose a noble site upon a summit of a western spur on the Blue Ridge overlooking the lower valley of the Shenandoah, within the limits of Leeds Manor. The colour of the picture painted in Burke's Peerage, of his 'baronial hospitality' is mere mythology. There was many a contemporary tidewater planter who would have been ashamed of the rude plenty of his table, bereft of luxuries: at which, indeed, his younger brother sneered in 1768 (MS. letter penes me). He had no such cellar of Madeira wine as was in his time to be f ound in most, even moderately well to do, Virginia plantation houses. His London agent and devoted friend, Samuel Athawes, sent him out every year new clothes of the latest fashion, but, unlike George Washington, he did not wear them. His plate was like his library, sufficient for decent comfort but inadequate for show; such as one could find today in east Africa in the hunting lodges of Englishmen, who, like Fairfax, have sought in vast open spaces a surcease of the pains engendered by civilization.

In these habits Fairfax escaped his family failing of extravagance. Although never an exacting landlord, and grossly imposed upon after William Fairfax's death, he lived to see the whole five million acres of his principality covered by a population, most of whom yielded him a nominal, but in the aggregate necessarily important, annual quit rent. There was found in his house when he died, cash amounting to more than 47,000 in Virginia currency (See his inventory in Va. Mag., viii, 1), despite the fact that he had steadily given of his substance to all his kin, particularly to his spendthrift brother, Robert, who had married two fortunes and run through them both.

Bryan Martin wrote to Bryan Fairfax from Greenway Court, February 3, 1782, 'His Lordship died December the 9th and is interred in the church in Winchester' (MS. penes me). Following Parson Weems and Kercheval, it is usual to record that the Proprietor died at Greenway Court. The persistent local tradition is, however, that the demise occurred in Winchester; that the old man, feeling ill, had ridden over to that town to consult his physician, Dr. Cornelius Baldwin, and died in his house. In support of this tradition is the fact that Lord Fairfax's great jack boots (the same which were presented by the late Governor F. W. M. Holliday to the Virginia Historical Society and are now included in its collection at Richmond) stood for many years in the hall of Dr. Baldwin's residence at Winchester. There is no doubt, however, of the place of burial. Supplementing the statement of Bryan Martin already quoted, another nearly contemporary letter (MS. penes me) to Bryan Fairfax (from his brother George William, then in England, and dated April 15, 1782) gives further detail:

Upon receiving several very pressing letters from Mr, now Lord, Fairfax urging much to see me at Leeds Castle in Kent, as he had received Letters from Officers particular Friends of his at New York, informing him that his Brother, the good old Lord, was no more; as soon as I was really able I set off, was at the Castle eight or ten days, satisfied his Lordship how I had disposed of his Power of Attorney and yesterday I returned from thence. I must own at first I had my doubts, as neither He nor myself had received even a Scrip of such information from Mr Martin or any other Friend, untill the Letters above mentioned were put into my hands, one of which says -- Lord Fairfax is dead and was interred the 27th of December last at Winchester -- the other confirms it by saying that he actually saw him interred on the same day and place.

The first resting place was the original parish church of Frederick, a large stone building erected at Fairfax's own cost in 1762. This building stood on the corner of Loudoun (Main) and Boscawen (Water) streets in the town of Winchester (Cartmel, Shenandoah Valley Pioneers, 1909, pp. 183, 138), where a stone today displays an inscription recording that 'Lord Fairfax was first buried on this spot, and afterwards removed and buried under Christ Church in this town.'55 The Christ Church so referred to was built on the corner of Washington and Water Streets in 1829 (Bishop Meade, ii, 287, says 1827) and thereafter the vestry erected therein a marble tablet, which, the tradition is, was removed from the original church. On this was an MI., as follows:

[Arms, apparently those of the Viscounts Fairfax of Embly, with a motto, 'Je le feray durant ma vie.']

In Memory of Thomas, Lord Fairfax, who died 1782, and whose ashes repose underneath this church, which he endowed.

It will be noted that the date here cited, apparently following Burnaby, is erroneous. For this consideration, as well as others, a new bronze tablet was, in the autumn of 1925, set up in Christ Church on the occasion of the re-interment there of Lord Fairfax's dust; on which is an MI. as follows:

[Arms, Fairfax of Cameron quartering Culpeper, with the motto, 'Fare Fac' being the achievement which Lord Fairfax himself preferred to use in relation to Virginia, as identifying the origin of his proprietary title; and which he had displayed, e.g., on the third (1745) state of John Warner's map of the Northern Neck.]

Under this Spot repose the Remains of Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron, Son of Thomas, fifth Lord Fairfax, and Catherine Culpeper, his wife. Born at Leeds Castle, County Kent, England, October 22, 1693. Died at his proprietary of the Northern Neck in Virginia, December 9, 1781, in the eighty-ninth year of his age. He was buried in the original Frederick Parish Church at the comer of Loudoun (Main) and Boscawen (Water) Streets, whence his remains were removed to this church in 1828; where they were reinterred in 1925, when this tablet was erected by the Vestry of Christ Church.

His will (first printed by Cartmel, p. 134, but noted in Va. Mag., xviii, 206), which gave occupation to the Virginia courts for many years to come,56 was as follows:

Frederick W. B. 4: 583
Will dated November 8, 1777
Codicil dated November 27, 1779
Proved May 5, 1782.

I, the Right Honourable Thomas Lord Fairfax, Baron of Cameron in that part of Great Britain called Scotland and Proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia.

I give and devise all that my undivided sixth part or share of my lands and Plantations in the colony of Virginia, commonly called or known by the name of the Northern Neck of Virginia, with the several advowsons, and the right of presentations thereto belonging or appertaining, I have therein, with the messuages and tenements, buildings, hereditaments. and all other appurtenances thereto belonging; all or any part whereof being formerly the estate of the Honourable Alexander Culpeper, Esquire, deceased; Together with all other lands and tenements I have, am possessed of, or have a right to in the said colony of Virginia, to the Reverend Mr. Denny Martin, my nephew, now of the County of Kent in Great Britain, to him, his heirs and assigns forever, if he the said Denny Martin should be alive at the time of my death:

But in case he should not, then I give and devise the same and every part and parcel thereof to Thomas Bryan Martin, Esquire, his next brother now living with me, to him, his heirs and assigns forever; and in case of his death before me,

Then I give and devise the same and every part and parcel thereof to my other nephew, Philip Martin, Esquire, brother to the aforementioned Denny and Thomas, and to his heirs and assigns forever,

Provided Always that the said Denny Martin if alive at the time of my decease, or in case of his death, the said Thomas Bryan Martin, if he should be alive at the time of my decease; or in case of both their deaths the said Philip Martin, if he should be alive at the time of my decease, shall pay or cause to be paid to my nieces, Frances Martin, Sybilla Martin and Anna Susanna Martin, and to each and every of them that shall be living at the time of my decease, an Annuity of one hundred pounds sterling during their and each of their natural lives and

[Provided] further that the said Denny or he to whom the said sixth part of the said Northern Neck shall pass by this my will shall procure an Act of Parliament to pass to take upon him the name of Fairfax and coat of arms.

To Thomas Bryan Martin 600 acres purchased of John Borden, and all stock of cattle, sheep, horses, implements of husbandry, household goods and furniture on 'the Farm or plantation whereon I now live called Greenway Court.' To nephews Denny, Thomas Bryan and Philip, all negro slaves. To brother 'the honourable Robert Fairfax, Esq.' 500; reciting previous advance of 'a considerable pecuniary legacy' bequeathed to him by will now cancelled. To sister Frances Martin 500. Remainder to 'my elder nephew the aforesaid Rev'd Denny Martin.'

Executors: Thomas, Bryan Martin, Peter Hog, Gabriel Jones. To last two 500 pounds 'current money of Virginia, apiece.' Estate to be inventoried but not appraised.

Witnesses: John Hite, Angus McDonald, Richard Rigg, John Legarde, Thomas Smythers.

Republished October 5, 1778, in presence of Isaac Zane, Daniel Field.

Codicil: To Bryan Fairfax [later eighth Lord Fairfax] one fourth of negro slaves. To 'the second child of the aforesaid Bryan Fairfax during his or her natural life' annuity of 100 effective after death of Frances Martin. To the 'third' and 'fourth' children of Bryan Fairfax like annuities after the deaths of Sibylla and Anna Susanna Martin respectively. To Peter Hog and Gabriel Jones 500 sterling in lieu of previous legacy of 'current money'

Witnesses: Robert Mackey, Peter Catlett, John Sherman Woodcock, John Hite.

Proved by Thomas Bryan Martin and Gabriel Jones, surviving executors.

(Continued in Chapter 5c)

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54 This marriage settlement was one of the Fairfax papers which came into the hands of Thomas Bryan Martin when Lord Fairfax died in 1781; were stored in the garret at Greenway Court at the time of his death in 1798; and subsequently were casually examined by the Kennerleys before they were burned in 1875. See Scribner's Monthly 0879), xviii, 715; note 49 ante. (Return)

55 Major Robert T. Barton of Winchester has graciously permitted the editor of these notes to include here the following interesting quotation from a personal letter dated June 12, 1925, viz:

The present Christ Church was designed by John Bruce, whose surviving account book contains the following entry:

1829, May first, Digging the foundation of church and re-intering the body of Lord Fairfax, $36.

Subsequently the church was enlarged and the chancel removed about fifty feet to the rear or north. Recently when other improvements were being discussed, I secured the permission of the vestry to attempt to locate Lord Fairfax's remains that they might be made secure from future disturbance and uncertainty. This permission granted, excavations were begun south of the original church rear wall where the chancel must have been located. We had about given up the search, having concluded that bones and coffin had disappeared with time, when one of the negroes who was doing the excavations (this sounds like a fairy story) and who ministers to his people for a Sunday occupation, said he had dreamed that he would find Lord Fairfax's remains at a certain spot close to a large center wall which split the basement of the church. This spot was some distance beyond where we thought the original chancel had been located, though only about ten feet from the rear wall. The negro dug there and about eighteen inches under the dirt cellar floor found the remains of a skeleton and coffin. We carefully exhumed the remains which were buried directly under the center wall, the skull on one side and the lower bones on the other, having evidently been placed there before the wall was erected. Only a line in the earth showed the location of the top and sides of the coffin, but the bottom was partly preserved. The top of the skull was well preserved as were some of the larger bones, but as the jaw bone was found near the middle of the coffin, it would appear that the skeleton was broken when originally exhumed. We found three rusty wrought iron handles and several wrought iron nails but no coffin plate, although a careful search was made.

I recall that either Kerchival or Norris states that many silver ornaments were found in the original grave. The Pennsylvania Historical Society has in its possession a silver coffin plate reputed to be that of Thomas Lord Fairfax. This may explain the absence of any plate with the remains recently exhumed.

Only two other persons are known to have been buried under the church, a former rector and his wife, but their remains were placed in a different part of the church according to the memory of persons now living, so I think there is no question that the remains discovered were those of the Proprietor of the Northern Neck. Their location beneath the original center wall renders their identification certain.

It is proposed to re-inter the remains in the spot at which they were found, in a casket sheathed in lead, and to mark this spot for all time with a tablet showing the name and title of Lord Fairfax, and the dates and places of his birth, death, burial and several interments.

Regarding the coffin plate, Mr. Ernest Spofford, Assistant Librarian of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, advises:

The Society has in one of its show cases an oval plate (4 3/8 x 3 5/8 inches), which has been labeled as the 'Plate from the Coffin of Lord Thomas Fairfax who died in Frederick County, Va., December 12, 1781.' The plate itself bears no inscription but simply contains a coat of arms. If it were not for the supporters (two lions), the motto (Je le feray durant ma vie), and the jewels on the coronet (seven, and not four), I would assume that the armorial bearings were those of the Lord Fairfax who was buried in Virginia in 1781.

Unfortunately, I never have succeeded in finding any record to indicate the history of the plate, but one of the Society's older members, Dr. Charles Harrod Vinton, recalls that he was told many years ago that it was acquired by purchase for the Society by the late Charles R. HiIdeburn. (Return)

56 The relation of this will to the devolution of title to the Northern Neck proprietary is discussed in the following cases, viz:

1786, Hite v. Fairfax, 4 Call, 42; 1805, Marshall v. Conrad, 5 Call, 364; 1810 -1816, Hunter v. Fairfax's devisees, 1 Munford, 218; 7 Cranch, 603; 4 Munford, 3; 1 Wheaton, 304. The vicissitudes of this litigation have been graphically elaborated, with local colour, by Beveridge, Life of John Marshall, and H. C. Groome, Northern Neck Lands (F. H. S. Bulletin).

There is also an interpretation of the codicil in Catlett v. Marshall (1839), 10 Leigh, 79. (Return)

Last Revised: 02 Jan 2015


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