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Thomas Fairfax ( 1691 - 1782 )  Category ( Historical_Figures ) [suggest a correction]

Thomas FairfaxThomas Fairfax, who was the sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron, is most noted in history for his presence in the English colony of Virginia. Indeed, he was the only resident peer in late colonial America. Had certain circumstances not been present during his lifetime, he likely never would have ventured, let alone permanently settled, in Virginia. The colony was still something of a wild place, even in the early to mid-eighteenth century, and typically could not provide the sort of lifestyle enjoyed by the titled and wealthy in England. However, Fairfax was on something of a mission, which is discussed later in this biography.

He was born the son of Thomas Fairfax, the fifth Baron Fairfax of Cameron, and Catherine, daughter of Thomas Culpeper of Thoresway. His mother's father, Culpeper, had inherited the largest mass of Virginia land ever granted by the crown. It was known as the Northern Neck Proprietary, and dated back to 1649, when the exiled and without a crown Charles II of England awarded the massive acreage to several noblemen loyal to his cause. However, at the time of the granting, Charles did not technically have the authority to make such gifts, and the recipients, while pleased, did not take the grant entirely seriously until Charles was restored to the throne in 1660.

Back in 1649 there were few indications that a restoration would take place. Over the ensuing years most of the owners of the Proprietary sold their shares to their co-owners, until the entire Northern Neck was inherited by Thomas Culpeper, who was a relation of an earlier Thomas Culpeper, infamous for carrying on an affair with Catherine Howard, King Henry VIII's fifth wife and queen. The earlier Culpeper was beheaded for his mischief.

By the time the later Thomas Culpeper inherited the Proprietary, the family was clearly back in the good graces of the crown. This Thomas married well, and then saw that his daughter was married to a Lord. During Thomas Culpeper's lifetime some of the land had been sold to settlers. This took place during the course of the seventeenth century. One of these landholders was Robert "King" Carter, who used his political savvy and powers of persuasion to convince the young, new inheritor of the Proprietary, Lord Fairfax, to appoint him agent for the Fairfax family's interests in Virginia. This must have seemed reasonable to Fairfax, as Carter had already established himself as Virginia landed gentry, and was suitable for the position.

What Fairfax did not realize was that Carter used his position to secure hundreds of thousands of acres for himself, as well as line his pockets in ways other colonial planters could only dream about. When Carter died in 1732, Lord Fairfax only discovered what his agent had been up to by reading about his enormous estate in Carter's obituary. Outraged, Fairfax immediately appointed Carter's successor, making sure to put in his place someone who would indeed protect the family's interest (his cousin).

But Fairfax was not finished. Quite unlike other noblemen at the time, he prepared for the sea journey to Virginia, in order to inspect his property and secure his holdings. His reaction upon arriving in Virginia and seeing Carter's grand plantation homes and the vast acreage he took for his own, is not recorded, but one can imagine the disgust Fairfax must have experienced. What he and what many Englishmen did not realize was that Virginia, and America generally, was the ultimate location for self-reinvention. Seventeenth-century Virginia law was in a state of flux, and many land deals, as well as servant and slave purchases were successfully enacted in underhanded ways, with no one in England the wiser.

Something Fairfax saw on his visit must have convinced him that permanent settlement was a good idea, and upon his return to England he set about making plans to relocate himself and his family to the colony. Fairfax was a lifelong bachelor, and this might have made such a move more likely, since he did not have to convince an aristocratic wife to travel to the ends of the earth. Indeed, Fairfax did not settle in the gentrified James River area of Virginia. Instead, he moved to the Shenandoah Valley. He was also the man who gave George Washington his first job, as a surveyor.

Fairfax finally settled down in what is now Clarke County, Virginia. He lived with his nephew, Thomas Bryan Martin and served as a county lieutenant and justice of the peace.

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