The Northern Neck Proprietary

In 1660 Charles Stuart II was restored to the throne of England. To the loyal seven friends who endured exile with him, Charles gave the Northern Neck Proprietary. The gift was some six million acres, “all that entire Tract of Land, portion, and Territory lying in America and bounded by and within the heads of … Rappahanocke and Patawmoeck Rivers, the Courses of said Rivers and Chesapayoake Bay.”
Within a twenty-year period, Lord Culpeper (one of the “loyal seven”) had bought out the interest of the six other Proprietors, becoming the sole Proprietor of the Northern Neck. In 1710, his widowed daughter Catherine, Lady Fairfax, inherited the Proprietorship of the Northern Neck. During the time she was Proprietor, Lady Fairfax received 425 pounds sterling annually in quitrents from Virginia. After the death of Catherine, Lady Fairfax, in 1719, the Proprietorship of the Northern Neck passed on to her son Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax.

At the time of the establishment of the Propriety, the Northern Neck of Virginia extended from the Chesapeake Bay to the headwaters of the Potomac and the Rappahannock rivers, a land mass area of about one million acres. Patents (grants of land) were issued by the Proprietors’ agent in the colony and were approved on a kind of “lease-hold” basis (tenants). The leaseholder was required to pay the Proprietors a fee (quitrent) in money or a commodity, as stated in the Patent Grant. Quitrents were paid to the agent of the Proprietors’ annually on St. Michaelmas Day, the 29th of September.
In 1746 at the age of fifty-three, Thomas Lord Fairfax established his primary residence, Greenway Court Manor, in the Shenandoah Valley. From here he managed his vast, feudal Northern Neck holdings until his death in 1781.

Lord Fairfax was not after quick wealth. He wanted guaranteed annual incomes that would go on benefiting Fairfaxes forever. For this reason he leased his land under two types of Patents. The first type was for 21 years at one shilling a year per each hundred acres. The second type was a “three lives” lease (the lifetime of usually the husband, wife and youngest son). No quitrents were due the first year and thereafter the annual fee was minimal. The Patent required the leaseholder to build a cabin with a masonry chimney, fence and cultivate land and plant fruit trees.
After the death of Thomas Lord Fairfax in 1781, his vast Virginia holdings were inherited by his nephew, the Rev. Denny Martin, who lived in England. The Virginia government seized this opportunity to end the one hundred and twenty-one year feudal system of the Northern Neck Proprietary and started selling Fairfax-Martin lands to the leaseholders. Rev. Martin filed suit against Virginia to stop the selling of his land. This general confusion caused the leaseholders to stop paying quitrents and to form a “Free State,” refusing to deal with Martin, Virginia, or any authority whatsoever. The suits went on for years. The end result was the private ownership of the great Fairfax domain.

Excerpt from The New Hottel History – George Line, researched by Gae Grinnan Ward, with additional information by Nelson S. Kibler.

In his will, proved on 5 November 1760, John divided his estate between his son George and son-in-law, George Keller at the death of his wife Margaret. This indicated that John had a Twenty-one Year Lease. As assignees of John Huddle’s land, the quitrents would have been paid until the formation of the “Free State.”

George Huddell was named in the suit, Hite vs. Lord Fairfax, dated 2 August 1750 as he had claimed land under Hite[1]. George received his first grant from Thomas Lord Fairfax for 400 acres “whereon he lives” adjacent to John Huddle on Toms Brook and Funk’s Mill Run. Until 1772, George received grants from Fairfax for a total of 1,853 acres. His will was proved on 26 April 1787. His estate was divided between the three sons of his deceased eldest son John and his other children. George paid his quitrents until the formation of the “Free State.”

George Keller received his first grant from Thomas Lord Fairfax in 1750 for 400 acres “whereon he lives.” Until 1772, George received grants from Fairfax for a total of 608 acres. His will was proved on 28 March 1783 and indicates that his grants were the Three Lives Lease. George paid his quitrents probably until his death as the “Free State” was formed about that time.

The agrarian background of the Germanic settlers on Lord Fairfax’s land would not allow them to become in arrears in their yearly quitrents. If the rents were not paid, they were evicted from the land, loosing everything they worked so hard to gain.

In addition to the dispute between Hite and Lord Fairfax, there was a dispute between the King and Virginia. Lieutenant Governor Gooche reckoned the sources of the Rappahannoc and the Potomac much narrower than Lord Fairfax, some five million acres less. To settle this dispute, the King ordered the appointment of commissioners for his lordship and the colony to select surveyors to run the lines and trace the disputed Shenandoah Valley boundaries on the ground. The survey started on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge and ran a line across the Shenandoah Valley through the mountains to the source of the Potomac. Colonel Peter Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s father, was among the surveyors.

Lord Fairfax’s claim amounted to twelve percent of the Colony of Viriginia. He appointed land agents and county surveyors to mark out the Fairfax holdings in the Shenandoah Valley. George Washington joined the ranks of men doing the survey. It was Washington’s first frontier experience and he recorded his impressions in a journal. The Valley settlers were not cooperative. They did not want to pay Lord Fairfax for land they had already bought from Virginia. They pulled up stakes, snagged survey chains and did what they could to disrupt the work. Washington wrote, “I really think they seemed to be as Ignorant a Set of People as the Indians, they would never speak English but when spoken to they speak all Dutch…”

[1] Governor Gooch of Virginia in 1730 granted forty thousand acres to John and Isaac Van Meter of Pennsylvania. Later, this land was sold to Joist Hite. Hite, a German, established his own estate just north of Strasburg and began to bring in German and Scotch-Irish families to settle in the Valley. This was, of course, land already claimed by Thomas Lord Fairfax. This resulted in great confusion regarding title to land in the Valley. The lawsuit was finally settled in favor of Hite in 1786, some thirty-six years after it began.

John Huddle received a grant for 341 acres in Frederick County (now Shenandoah), Virginia “whereon he lives” from Thomas Lord Fairfax in 1750. A portion of this document is shown above.