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 from 2 years ago 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 south into Orange County. Apparently after reading some accounts of the wealth amassed by Robert Carter as his Land agent Lord Fairfax decided he wanted in on the action that Carter had exploited in buying and selling property derived from this huge land grant. Lord Fairfax determined that his Proprietary lands and the financial windfall which could be had deserved his foremost attention. And to effectuate his plan of action Fairfax decided to start making some changes in surveying and granting patents. More importantly though he first decided to consolidate his position against the Colony’s wish to limit his holdings and forced their hand by bringing the issue up in London. The events as they unfolded I will try to explain below.

However, 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. It appears that William copied and/or drew some pretty fancy plats as well. William managed to write over 200 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 back in those days.

Fortunately for Wm Longmire the process of patenting land required several initiatives by Lord Fairfax in order to carry out the dispersal of millions of acres of land. He needed men to survey and 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.

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 and the next steps I take in researching this topic. Meanwhile 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). I need to look into this more as I think it a bit coincident that Office Hall and the supposed 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.

Update 3: The crystal ball becomes clearer the more I research. And this is where things actually become stranger because I have come to the conclusion that Wm Longmire did actually work for the Proprietary before he worked for Col Thomas Turner. As a matter of fact it appears fairly certain that William worked directly for Lord Fairfax even before he worked for William Fairfax! And so to set about explaining how this came about … On Aug 26, 1733 Wm Fairfax, Customs Collector at Salem, Massachusetts was transferred, at the request of Lord Fairfax, to administer the same position at a location in Virginia known as South Potomac. Geographically this “District” was north of the Rappahannock District which, some years earlier was administered by Adam Cockeburn, the same fellow who as part of his duties advised the authorities in London of the arrival to Virginia in April 1726 of one William Longmire, convicted felon from London. In Feb of 1733/4 Lord Fairfax then executed a Power of Attorney naming William Fairfax to act upon his behalf. After settling his affairs Wm Fairfax left Salem on June 18, 1734 and took up residence in Westmoreland County, Va. Wm Fairfax then took his oath at the county court on Aug 27, 1734. In March of 1735 Lord Fairfax left England and arrived in Virginia in May. He then took up residence with his young cousin in a house on the ridge which separated Westmoreland from King George County, Va. On July 14, 1735 Lord Fairfax wrote to Bryan Fairfax from “South Potomac”. Later he travelled down to Williamsburg to negotiate his land holdings with Governor Gooch and others and by Sept 23, 1736 the Virginia Assembly created a bill affirming the Fairfax lands and his ability to continue granting patents. And two days later several surveyors including John Warner and William Mayo met with Charles Carter, Wm Byrd and others at Fredericksburg to begin respective surveys for the Colony and the Proprietorship. The Warner and Mayo maps both arrived in London for review in 1737. Meanwhile Lord Fairfax had begun surveying his lands with John Warner in the Spring of 1736 and it was the results of these surveys which William Longmire then began copying into the official books of Lord Fairfax, starting with an entry for Mr Kenner on July 21, 1736. William then wrote the multi-page grants that Lord Fairfax set aside for himself with acreages totaling 122,852 acres and another for 26,535 which would be known as the “Manor of Leeds”. Later he wrote an entry for 12,588 acres for “Great Falls Manor” located in Fairfax County. Meanwhile Wm Fairfax began amassing lands in 1736 which would later become known as “Belvoir”.

From the above scenario and earlier research I conducted regarding Wm Longmire’s first court related entries it appears that his documented work history begins with the abovementioned land transactions for Lord Fairfax in the Summer of 1736. By August of 1737 Lord Fairfax closed his Proprietary offices and returned to England. Shortly thereafter William Longmire then began writing his first entries for King George County and had witnessed a bond for Eliza Lomax in Mar 1737/8. As we look to 1739 we find that William has continued writing bonds and estate inventories, etc for the court. However, Wm Fairfax began granting lands and surveys from1739 to 1741 from his Land Office located at Fallmouth, then a part of King George County, not too distant from the presumed area where Wm Longmire lived near the court house. This time frame coincides with Wm Longmire writing them until about 1742 when he began working for Col Thomas Turner as a double entry accountant. Later in 1741 Wm Fairfax moved to “Belvoir” and issued grants from there until 1747 when Lord Fairfax returned from England. By 1748 when William wrote the grant for Hannah Fairfax (signed by Lord Fairfax) a young George Washington began surveying many of Lord Fairfax’s lands towards the west. Lord Fairfax then moved away towards Winchester and relocated his base of operations there. I can not say for sure how much William worked for the two Fairfax’s from 1742 – 1748 as the various handwriting entries appear to be by another whose writing was very similar to William’s and/or can not be differentiated positively. It appears that William may have shared duties with another scribe as he was actively employed at court and the store under Thomas Turner. And with the Fairfax household then located at Belvoir, a considerable distance from the court house, it is likely the workload was taken up by someone probably located closer to them.

One last item to look into is the map sent to London in 1737 which is universally attributed to John Warner. It has been noted by several cartographers that the map was appended with various writing other than from the creator. The fact that John Warner lived in and was the official surveyor for King George County may account for the possibility of this extra writing being done by the hand of Wm Longmire. Thankfully there is a large reproduction of the 1737 Warner (and Mayo) map at the Fairfax County Library Virginia Room holdings which I can study and take documentary evidence to send onward to experts for comment. The writing in question definitely matches that of William Longmire but there may be no way to prove this. Will keep you posted.

p.s. There are a couple of court cases in which William drew maps to settle boundary disputes – Morton vs Donne is one that comes to mind. The similarity of those to the huge renderings which accompany Lord Fairfax’s vast personal land grants from 1736 mentioned above are quite compelling as to who drew them.

And now to lose myself in trying to learn exactly how a felon from London ended up working for English Nobility … something which must horrify historians. I have a feeling that William was somehow introduced to Lord Fairfax by another well-heeled fellow of I have a clue or two to start from.

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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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