Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron

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For other people of the same name, see Thomas Fairfax (disambiguation).
The Lord Fairfax of Cameron
Born October 22, 1693
Leeds Castle, Kent, England
Died December 9, 1781(1781-12-09) (aged 88)
Greenway Court, Virginia, USA
Nationality British
Occupation Estate Lord
Known for Peer of Scotland
Northern Neck Proprietary

Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron (October 22, 1693 – December 9, 1781) was the son of Thomas Fairfax, 5th Lord Fairfax of Cameron and of Catherine, daughter of Thomas Colepeper, 2nd Baron Colepeper.

The only resident peer in late colonial America, Fairfax administered his vast Northern Neck Proprietary — a Virginia land grant dating back to 1649 — from his wilderness estate at Greenway Court, Virginia. Various place names in Northern Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia are named for him—most notably Fairfax County, Virginia.


Youth and early adulthood

Born at Leeds Castle in Kent, England — owned by his maternal Culpeper ancestors since the 1630s[1] — Lord Fairfax succeeded to his title in 1709. He was educated at Oriel College, Oxford between 1710 and 1713 and afterward held a commission in the Royal Horse Guards (1721–1733). He was a contributor to the early newspaper The Spectator.

In 1719, Fairfax came into possession of the vast Culpeper family estates in Virginia's Northern Neck Proprietary between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. These lands included a great portion of the Shenandoah and South Branch Potomac valleys, in all consisting of some 5,282,000 acres (21,380 km²). Struggling to keep up an expensive lifestyle and maintain Leeds Castle, Fairfax relied on the income from his Virginia tract, both from the sale of land and the annual quit rents, paid by planters who settled in the Northern Neck.[2] These rents were collected by his resident land agent, Robert "King" Carter (1662–1732). In the fall of 1732, Fairfax read Carter's obituary in the London monthly The Gentleman's Magazine and was astonished to read of the vast personal wealth Carter had accumulated, which included £10,000 in cash: this at a time when the Governor of Virginia was paid an annual salary of £200. Rather than appoint another Virginian to the position, Lord Fairfax arranged to have his cousin Colonel William Fairfax move in 1734 from Massachusetts to Virginia to serve as his resident land agent.

In North America

Lord Fairfax travelled to Virginia for the first time between 1735 and 1737 to inspect and protect his lands. In 1738, about thirty farms were established as part of his 9,000-acre (36 km2) Patterson Creek Manor near present-day Burlington, Mineral County, West Virginia. The northwestern boundary of his Northern Neck Proprietary, which had been contested by the English Privy Council, was marked in 1746 by the "Fairfax Stone" at the headwaters of the North Branch Potomac River. Returning to America in 1747, he first settled at Belvoir (present-day Fort Belvoir), an estate which had been completed by Col. Fairfax six years earlier. That year he also set aside land for his personal use at Swan Pond Manor (located near present day Martinsburg, Berkeley County, West Virginia). He then became active in developing his lands and collecting ground rents.

Fairfax was the only resident peer in North AmericaWilliam Alexander's claim to be the Earl of Stirling was never fully successful and other peers held offices in the Colonies, but returned to Britain afterwards. In 1748, he made the acquaintance of George Washington, a distant relative of the Yorkshire Fairfax family who was then a youth of 16. Impressed with Washington's energy and talents, Lord Fairfax employed him (Washington's first employment) to survey his lands lying west of the Blue Ridge.[3]

Fairfax, a lifelong bachelor, moved out to the Shenandoah Valley in 1752. At the suggestion of his nephew Thomas Bryan Martin, he fixed his residence at a hunting lodge at Greenway Court, near White Post, Clarke County.[4] Here he and Martin lived together in a style of liberal hospitality, frequently indulging in the diversion of the chase. He served as county lieutenant and as justice of the peace for Frederick County which then included Clarke.

The Revolution

Though a frank and avowed Loyalist, Fairfax was never insulted or molested by the Whigs. His domain, however, was confiscated during the hostilities by the Virginia Act of 1779. Less than two months after the 1781 defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown, the 88-year-old Fairfax died at his seat at Greenway Court. He was buried on the east side of Christ Church (Episcopal) in Winchester, Virginia.


Coat of arms of Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, which was adapted into the official Seal of the County of Fairfax, Virginia


  1. Seventeenth-century Political and Financial Papers, Nicholas Ferrar, Cheney Culpeper, David R. Ransome, Mark Greengrass, J. T. Cliffe (1996), Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-57395-5, ISBN 978-0-521-57395-5.
  2. Cleggett, David A.H. (1992), History of Leeds Castle and Its Families, Leeds Castle Foundation, Chapter 6, pp. 100-102; ISBN 0-9518827-1-6
  3. George Washington's elder half brother Lawrence Washington (1718-1752) was married to Anne (1728-1761) a daughter of Col. William Fairfax of Belvoir — a land agent and cousin of Lord Thomas Fairfax. Anne's brother, George William Fairfax, was married to Sally Fairfax (nee Cary).
  4. Cartmell, Thomas Kemp (1909). Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants. Eddy Press Corp. p. 587. 
  5. Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 123. 
  6. unknown (n.d.). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: Swan Pond Manor Historic District" (PDF). State of West Virginia, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-06-02. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Col. F.W.T. Attree R.E./F.S.A. & Rev. J.H.L. Booker M.A., "The Sussex Colepepers, Part I", Sussex Archaeological Collections, XLVII, 47-81, (1904)
  • Dictionary of American Biography
  • Men of the Time by Francis S. Drake; Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1872
  • Concise Dictionary of American Biography; ed. Joseph G.E. Hopkins; Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1964
  • Brown, Stewart (1965). "Virginia Baron: The Story of Thomas 6th Lord Fairfax". Berryville, Virginia: Chesapeake Book Company. 

External links

Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
Thomas Fairfax
Lord Fairfax of Cameron
1709 - 1781
Succeeded by
Robert Fairfax