Formation of the Town of Leesburg, Virginia in 1758
by Debbie Robison
June 2, 2007
COLONIAL SETTLEMENT

Recorded settlement of the land near the future site of Leesburg began in earnest in 1728 when several men obtained land grants from The Right Honorable Thomas Lord Fairfax, proprietor of the Northern Neck.[1] The Proprietary, originally granted in 1649 by Charles II to seven of his fathers’ loyal supporters, consisted of all of the land north of the Rappahannock River and south of the Potomac River. These initial land grants were for relatively small tracts of land, averaging about 165 acres each, a size typically farmed by a single family.

High-acreage land grants for nearby tracts were issued to wealthy, well-connected gentlemen shortly thereafter. These larger tracts were likely initially planted with tobacco and farmed by slave labor, though were, to a degree, subdivided into tenant farms in the mid-to-late eighteenth century.[2] Frances Awbrey, who obtained many large land grants in the Northern Neck Proprietary, was issued a grant in 1730 for 4,054 acres on land where the town of Leesburg would be established twenty-seven years later.[3] Landon Carter obtained a grant in 1731 for 2,693 acres east of the future site of Leesburg.[4]

The following graphic depicts the locations of land grants in the area surrounding the future site of Leesburg. Only portions of the color-coded grants are shown.

Graphic Depicting Original Grants Around Futrue Leesburg site

Original Land Grants at Future Site of Leesburg
Drawn by Debbie Robison

Neither the Carolina Road (now approximately Route 15), nor the Shenandoah Road (now approximately Route 7) were mentioned in the early grants or surveys of land surrounding the future site of Leesburg. Thomas Scharf, a historian in Western Maryland in the 19th century, settled on 1740 as the date for the inception of the Carolina Road.[5]  It has been suggested that the Shenandoah Road may have been a path used by Europeans as early as 1699, though it likely didn’t become a road until after a tobacco warehouse  was established on Hunting Creek in 1732.[6] The road was certainly in existence by 1754, when Capt. John Dalrymple left for England and updated the 1751 Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson map. Nicholas Minor’s name was written on the map near the future site of Leesburg. Minor may have been operating an ordinary (tavern) in the area, though this is under debate by historians.

Portion of 1755 Fry and Jefferson Map updated by Dalrymple

Portion of the 1755 Fry and Jefferson Map as Updated by John Dalrymple
Image Courtesy Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR

As the French increased their efforts in the Ohio Valley to gain control from the British of the North American continent between Canada and Louisiana, Virginia Governor Dinwiddie appointed George Washington, a major in the Virginia militia, to deliver a message to the French at Fort Le Boeuf demanding they relinquish large areas of land. In the autumn of 1753, Washington traveled to the fort through western Fairfax County , land that would become Loudoun County when the county was formed in 1757. In early April 1754, Washington again traveled from Alexandria with part of a regiment of Virginia frontiersmen to the northwest. After reaching Great Meadows, he learned of a party of French soldiers nearby. Washington successfully fought a skirmish with the French, after which he retreated to Great Meadows and built Fort Necessity . On July 3, 1754, a large force of French and Indians attacked Fort Necessity , resulting in Washington ’s surrender and subsequent march back to Virginia .

Portion of the Survey of the Northern Neck Containing Loudoun County

Portion of A survey of the Northern Neck, being the lands belonging to the Rt. Honorable Thomas Lord Fairfax..., modified after 1757
Image Courtesy Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

Following Washington’s defeat, the French inspired Indian attacks throughout the frontier, terrorizing settlers, many of whom fled eastward over the Blue Ridge into the Piedmont counties.

Fear of attack continued until the British gained control of Fort Duquesne in November 1758. The victory, which coincided with the capture of other forts, motivated many Indians to desert the French cause.

Nicholas Minor, living during the conflict near present day Leesburg, became a captain in the Fairfax militia in 1753. The Town of Leesburg was formed in 1758 prior to the calming of fear of Indian attacks. Local legend maintains that a fort was constructed by the militia at the Leesburg site for protection of area inhabitants.[7] Though not discounting the possibility of a fort, a review of local deeds, George Washington’s letters, and period maps was conducted; however, there was no indication discovered in these written records of a fort in area.

FORMATION OF THE TOWN OF LEESBURG

In 1741, John Awbrey, son of Francis Awbrey, was devised about 326 acres of land in his father’s will. John Awbrey had already been living on the land at the time. Three years later, at John Awbrey’s death, the land was sold by Mary Awbrey, his widow, to pay his debts.[8] John Carlyle, an Alexandria merchant, became the purchaser in 1745.[9] His title to the land was confirmed in May 1757 when a new deed was recorded between Carlyle and Mary Awbrey’s new husband, John Mills.[10]

Just prior to the formation of the town of Leesburg(h), Carlyle sold the land to his cousin-in-law, Nicholas Minor, Jr.[11] The town of Leesburg, originally known as George Town, was laid out in a gridiron plan of one-half acre lots about the time that Loudoun County was formed in 1757.

Leesburg Town Plat

Leesburg Town Plat
Courtesy the Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA

In November 1757, representing the Inhabitants of George Town, Nicholas Minor petitioned the Loudoun County Court to open the roads leading from Alexandria and Noland’s Ferry (north of Leesburg on the Potomac River) so that the roads passed through the town.[12]

The first lot was sold in February 1758. In addition to the lots within the town, Minor sold irregularly-shaped lots surrounding the town south of Market Street. The town was likely formally created by the Virginia General Assembly circa October 1758.[13]

The land surrounding the town north of Market Street, comprising 258 ½ acres, was sold to John Patterson in 1767.[14] John Patterson gave one-half interest in the parcel to his brother and business partner, Fleming Patterson. They carried on the business of trade and merchandising in Leesburg under the firm of John and Fleming Patterson Merchant. In the course of operating their business, they became considerably indebted to Henry McCabe. After John Fleming’s death, the Loudoun County Court, in a chancery case in November 1771, ordered the real estate to be sold to pay debts. Henry McCabe was the highest bidder.[15]

ENDNOTES


[1] Northern Neck Grant Book B, p. 151 (NN B:151), Jacob Binks, 145 acres, 17 October 1728; NN B:157, Isaac Lasswell, 198 acres, 21 October 1728; NN B:159, Midleton Shaw, 188 acres, 22 October 1728; NN B:218, Jacob Lasswell, 140 acres, 15 March 1728/1729; NN B:153, William Matthews, 150 acres, 18 October 1728

[2] In 1738 Ann Mason purchased Francis Awbrey’s 4,054 acre grant, less about 236 acres retained by John Awbrey.  (Prince William Deed Book B, p. 9 (PWDB B:9). She purchased a portion of this land, i.e. 645 acres, from Thomas Johns in 1747. (Fairfax Deed Book B, p. 250 (FXDB B(logical book number 2):250). In the 1750s, prior to the formation of the Town of Leesburg, Mason divided a portion of the land into leaseholds of between 100 and 150 acres each.  FXDB C(3):591 lease to John Thomas, 150 acres, 18 Apr 1753;  FXDB C(3):597 lease to Mary Jennings, 110 acres (ten acres for flaxland), 18 Apr 1753; FXDB C(3):603 lease to Samuel Mobbily, 100 acres, 18 Apr 1753; FXDB C(3):609 lease to Hugh Foutch, 150 acres, 18 Apl 1753; FXDB C(3):615, lease to Christopher Winsor, 100 acres, 18 Apl 1753; FXDB D(4):266, lease to Christopher Perfect, 150 acres, 2 Jun 1756. George Carter, who inherited the Landon Carter grant, leased parcels near Leesburg. Loudoun Deed Book T, p. 182 (LNDB T:182) Carter lease to Patrick Cavans, 47 ¾ acres, in 1792; LNDB R:202 Carter lease to Samuel Love, 45 acres, in 1788; LNDB R:198 Carter lease to Samuel Love, 130 acres, in 1788.

[3] NN C:102, Francis Awbrey grant of 4,054 acres, 11 Feb 1730.

[4] NN C:172, Landon Carter grant of 2,693 acres, 29 Jun 1731.

[5] Eugene Scheel, “The Carolina Road,” http://www.loudounhistory.org/history/carolina-road.htm, April 11, 2007.

[6] Fairfax Harrison, Landmarks of Old Prince William, Volumes I & II, 2nd Reprint ed., Gateway Press, Baltimore, 1987, p.480.

[7] Harrison Williams, Legends of Loudoun, Garrett & Massie, Inc., Richmond, 1938, p.107; Quoting from Messrs. Patrick A. Deck and Henry Heaton’s 1926 book titled Economic and Social Survey of Loudoun County.

[8] Fairfax County Will Book (FX WB) A1(650):60, 17 May 1744.

[9] Fairfax County Deed Book (FX DB) A(1):400, 17 Jun 1745.

[10] FX DB D1(4):417, 17 May 1757.

[11] Loudoun County Deed Book (LN DB) A:113, 08 Sep 1757.

[12] Loudoun County Order Book (LN OB) A:52; 09 Nov 1757.

[13] John T. Phillips, II, The Historian’s Guide to Loudoun County, Vol. 1, Colonial Laws of Virginia and County Court Orders 1757-1766, Goose Creek Productions, Leesburg & Middleburg Virginia, 1996, p. 337.

[14] LN DB F:275, 18 Sep 1767.

[15] LN DB L:114, 21 Feb 1775.