Lord Fairfax

For the last 2 or 3 years I had merely entertained the thought that William Longmire may have freelanced or possibly found work elsewhere than what I have documented to date. Perhaps I could find something related to writing deeds or wills privately, even entering ledgers for another merchant. I have and still do continue to look for private collections and in places such as the Executive Journals of the Council of Virginia in hopes of finding more evidence of William’s handiwork. One such avenue I have been pursuing as of late centers on my earlier forays into the Northern Neck Proprietary and one Thomas Lord Fairfax. Lord Fairfax owned over 5 million acres of land stretching from the southern most tip of Lancaster County all the way up the Northern Neck counties of Richmond, Westmoreland, Rappahannock, Northumberland, and King George. However the limits to this land grant actually encompassed all land in Virginia between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers north to Leesburg and west to the North branch of the Potomac River in what is now West Virginia. This included Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and others up past Winchester. And did I mention a few counties west of the Rappahannock? Orange for one comes to mind … Anyways, to make a long, and fascinating, story short Thomas decided he wanted in on the action that Robert “King” Carter” had exploited in buying and selling property derived from this huge land grant. And since Carter was, in this case, but a land agent for Lord Fairfax the financial possibilities drew his interest and foremost attention. To effectuate his plan of action Fairfax decided to start making some changes in granting patents to the land hungry colonists ever fervent in their desire to move west to claim good land.

For Lord Fairfax the process of patenting land required several initiatives in order to carry out the dispersal of millions of acres of land. He needed men to survey, write deeds and patents. He needed land offices to transact the grants, and a system to convey the same in legal and documentable fashion. And he needed a trustworthy associate, in this case his nephew, William Fairfax, to go all in with the zest and zeal he was later known for in carrying out this endeavor.

I’m sure by now that some are thinking, as they read this, what the heck does this have to do with one William Longmire? Well, I am happy to report that I have discovered yet another way to horrify historians and scholars by pointing out that as early as 1736/7 up until the 1740’s William Longmire recorded land patents and/or surveys for several different county Northern Neck Proprietary Land Office locations: King George, Westmoreland, Lancaster, and Prince William Counties. And to top if off it appears he copied/drew some pretty fancy plats as well. Even more fascinating, and yes, I do find this whole sordid affair fascinating, William managed to write probably over 300 entries for Lord Fairfax – many of which while simultaneously working for the county court and managing store and ledger accounts for Col Thomas Turner’s merchant/dry goods enterprise in the 1740’s. That’s a fair amount of work considering that you also tended animals and raised much of your own food. Unless you were of the gentry class.

As a side note I must apologize in advance for upsetting the historical apple cart. But hey, don’t shoot the messenger. In all seriousness though I do look forward to adding more flavor to this narrative as a result of these findings. The research possibilities promise a plethora of alleys and avenues to navigate. The laborious task of chronologically documenting William’s timeline against what I have so far now documented awaits more additions. Ah, and the correspondence I look forward to engaging in as I want to know the little facets of interaction in such cases. Questions arise such as did William travel to the land offices or did his work orders come to him? Did he then carry these papers over to one of Lord Fairfax’s Land Offices or keep in his possession at his own house or at Col Turner’s store property until they were disposed of? Either way I now have at least 200 more pages of microfilm to go over, in addition to the hundreds I have yet to fully scour in Richmond and the Library of Congress from my ealier research. Add to that at least 2 -3 books on the Proprietary to read – if I plan on giving this a good go round. Guess I better get going …

p.s. For those who may be interested in viewing actual copies of Northern Neck Proprietary patents and surveys simply visit http://www.virginiamemory.com . From there go to Digital Collections, select Collections A to Z, then scroll down to Virginia Land Office Patents and Grants. William’s entries can be found in the links for 1736 – 1742 Grants E and 1742 – 1754 Grants F. Meanwhile I will be contacting LVA staff to find out how to properly download their digital files so that William’s work can be viewed here and handwriting compared, etc.

Update: It does appear that William actually began writing the surveys and grants in 1736/7. Some may wonder how William landed this position working for William Fairfax. Well, it turns out that after William Fairfax was appointed to be Lord Fairfax’s land agent he moved to Stafford and/or King George County and set up a Land Office. More importantly though he was appointed a Justice for King George County which meant that by 1736/7, if not earlier, William Longmire crossed paths with him on many occasions. It will be interesting to discover if my ancestor worked for Fairfax first or for Thomas Turner, Clerk and Justice for the same court. I still harbor a hunch that William may have worked for Capt Nicholas Smith who was Clerk and Burgess of King George County before Thomas Turner was appointed. However, as evidenced by the handwriting of earlier records, William did not work as a court scribe for Smith. At least not for King George County prior to working for T. Turner. But not to worry. Now that the Library of Virginia has re-opened to the public I will be traipsing down to Richmond to follow some more leads. Meanwhile I will update as I go along.

Update 2: So, in looking around several sources and books I have discovered that one of my favorite Virginia historical research compilers/authors, George H.S. King, had designated the home of Miss Sarah D. Ca(y)wood as the likely location for Lord Fairfax’s Land Office in King George County. Nancy Harris in her book elaborates more and/or paraphrases King’s description stating that the site was situated equally between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers near the ancient road leading up the Northern Neck of Virginia. This “ancient road” would be Route 3 otherwise known as the King’s Highway. For those not privy to such things I will point out that William Longmire was convicted of “assaulting a gentleman” along the King’s Highway in London. A stark reminder for poor William I’m sure as he obviously could hop on his horse and trot from the court house located adjacent Millbank and Belle Grove (Port Conway) along what is now Rte 301 to where it intersects with modern day Rte 3. Interestingly this is also the site of Office Hall, birthplace of William “Extra Billy” Smith who was a U.S. Congressman, Governor of Virginia twice, and a General of the Confederate Army. Ah, the lore …

I will continue to track down more info on this topic as I think it a bit coincident the Office Hall and Land Office proximities and if they were one and the same or relevant to each other somehow. Interestingly (a word that often signifies digression here at the hat thief blog) Thomas Lee, through his uncle, Thomas Corbin – a Virginia merchant from London, gained the Land Agent designation and began his Proprietary career in 1711 at the not too distant Machodoc Plantation in Westmoreland County. He was but 21 years of age. This certainly wrankled Robert “King” Carter who had held the Fairfax Proprietary Office previously. Through the death of Lady Catherine Fairfax, Robert Carter regained the Fairfax Proprietary and by 1722 Thomas Lee was relieved of this title. However, Thomas was later to prove his diligence in the same sphere of political and land speculation that Robert Carter had mastered. By 1732 Robert Carter had died and the mantle of Land Agent for the Proprietary eventually fell upon one William Fairfax who by 1734 or so began his foray into expanding the empire of Thomas Lord Fairfax. And it was not so long afterwards that one William Longmire began his grant and survey scribal career, thus adding his own little chapter to the story of the great expansion of lands westward under the auspices of the Fairfax Proprietary.

Categories: Uncategorized

2 replies »

  1. This is great! Thank you again for sharing your findings! My imagination runs wild with ideas of the what’s and how’s and who’s for our William Longmire. I imagine that he must have been The Most Educated Hat-Thief!


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