Friday, March 2, 2012

Fairfax Line

Fairfax Line Marker A-36 in Shenandoah County, VAMarker No. A-36
Shenandoah County, VA

Marker Text: Here ran the southwestern boundary of Lord Fairfax's vast land grant, the Northern Neck. It was surveyed by Peter Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's father, and others in 1746.

Location: On U.S. Route 11 (Old Valley Pike), south of New Market at the Shenandoah/ Rockingham County Line. Grouped with two other markers, A-34 (Sevier's Birthplace) and Z- (Shenandoah/Rockingham County). Erected by the Conservation & Development Commission in 1927.

  When I lived in West Virginia, there was a church member who was a surveyor and I use to have some interesting discussions about his survey work. I don't claim to understand a great deal about the work of surveying. In one of our discussions he spoke about the Fairfax Line and I only understood a little of what he said. I remember his talking about the Fairfax Stone which is located at the headwaters of the Potomac River where Maryland's border dips down into West Virginia where it forms a point.

Fairfax Line Marker A-36 in Shenandoah County, VA

Photo taken looking north toward the town of New Market, Virginia.  Route 11 is on the right.  Click any photo to enlarge.

  What I came to understand is that in the world of surveying, the “Fairfax Line” is one of the more interesting surveys in history. The survey was conducted in order to establish the limits of the Northern Neck land grant in Virginia, which was inherited by Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax who eventually lived in Greenway Court in Clarke County, VA.

  Today's marker indicates where the Fairfax Line crosses U.S. Route 11 in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. As a general point of reference for orientation, the Fairfax line runs from this point southeast about 3/4 of the way up the East slope of the Blue Ridge Mountain approximately 30 miles north of Charlottesville, Virginia. Then from this point travels northwest into West Virginia near where the western panhandle of Maryland dips down into West Virginia and forms a point. If you are familiar with the terrain in this region, you can realize how challenging it would have been to plot a straight survey line between these two points, even today, let alone in the 1700's.

Fairfax Line Marker A-36 is middle marker in photo  The reason for the Fairfax Line began with the granting of what was called the Fairfax Grant. In the year 1649, the King of England, Charles II, who was in exile in France wanted to reward several of his loyal followers. The grant was loosely defined as bounded by and within the head waters of the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. Once Charles II was restored to the throne of England the grant was recorded in 1660 only about 50 years after the settlement of Virginia at Jamestown, when the territory described by the grant was still unexplored and real size unknown.

  Ultimately the seven original shares ended up being held by the 2nd Lord Culpeper and his only child, a daughter named Catherine, who married Thomas 5th Lord Fairfax and then the property was inherited by their son, Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax. Thus the Northern Neck Grant is commonly referred to as the "Fairfax Grant" and therefore resulted in the need for the “Fairfax Line".

  Around 1733, people began to settle in the Shenandoah Valley and court challenges regarding Lord Fairfax's land grant were made, since the exact scope of Northern Neck Grant was unknown. Lord Fairfax was wise enough to know that he did not want a decision made by the Colonial Government where he would most likely lose much of his grant. He managed to get the case transferred to the Privy Council in London and waited until he thought he had a sympathetic Council. Lord Fairfax then got a favorable ruling when the Council ruled that his grant would go from the headspring of the Conway River (on the Rapidan, on the Rappahannock) to the headspring of the Potomac River. This decision gave Lord Fairfax maximum land area that he could develop and prosper from until after the American Revolution. After the completion of the Fairfax Line this land grant consisted of approximately 5,000,000 acres.

  I won't attempt to go into great detail about the surveying of the Fairfax Line, but if you are interested there is a good web link that gives details, you might find interesting. The History of the Fairfax Line.

  In 1746 a survey crew was formed consisting of four surveyors, Col. Peter Jefferson (father of Thomas Jefferson) and Robert Brooke (son of Robert Brooke who was one of the 1736 surveyors exploring the Potomac) represented the Colony and Benjamin Winslow along with Thomas Lewis represented Lord Fairfax. The survey party included a number of individuals representing the particular interests in settling the land boundaries along with helpers and other workers. Altogether, the party ultimately consisted of approximately 40 men along with their pack animals, supplies, etc.

  I currently serve two churches in West Virginia located near where the Fairfax Line would have dissected. Traveling this area in a car or hiking on modern trails is challenging today. I could only begin to appreciate how challenging it would have been for a party of surveyors to travel this area in 1746 while plotting a straight line at the same time which was probably about 200 miles long (that is my guess, probably not even close).

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