Stewart Bell Jr. Archives
Handley Regional Library
Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society
P.O. Box 58, Winchester, VA 22604
(540) 662-9041 ext. 17
Revised October 2019
This pathfinder is intended to help researchers locate land records issued through the proprietorship of Lord Thomas Fairfax and information about the Hite-Fairfax Suit.
Thomas Fairfax (1693-1781) and the Northern Neck Proprietary
In 1719, Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, inherited a vast tract of land in Virginia. The Northern Neck Proprietary sat between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers and covered a total area of 5,282,000 acres. It formed the following counties: Northumberland, Lancaster, Westmoreland, Stafford, King George, Prince William, Fairfax, Loudoun, Fauquier, Rappahannock, Culpeper, Madison, Clarke, Warren, Page, Shenandoah, and Frederick Counties in Virginia; and Hardy, Hampshire, Morgan, Berkeley, and Jefferson Counties in West Virginia.
Fairfax at first remained in England and managed land sales and quit rents through an agent. In 1735 he travelled to Virginia for the first time to inspect his land. In 1747 he settled at Belvoir, Virginia, and then in 1752 moved to what is now Clarke County, Virginia, living at a place known as Greenway Court in White Post. He continued to issue land grants through his land office. However, in 1779, during the Revolutionary War, Fairfax’s title to the land was confiscated by the Virginia Act of 1779, He died in 1782.
The Hite-Fairfax Suit
The extent and legality of the Northern Neck Proprietary were called into question numerous times. The original grant of land had been made by Charles II in 1649 to seven of his supporters. The grant became actual only when he was restored to the throne in 1660 but its boundaries remained contentious. When Fairfax came into his inheritance he was determined to uphold his claim to the land. As a result, Virginia’s colonial government faced losing control of a significant portion of land in Virginia. To assure his claims, Fairfax appealed to the Privy Council in London and, after he made some concessions to Virginia authorities, the Council affirmed the boundaries of Fairfax’s grant.
The Hite-Fairfax Suit arose out of this contest over who had authority to issue land grants in the area covered by the proprietary. Hite had obtained land in the Valley of Virginia from John and Isaac VanMeter on August 5, 1731 The VanMeters had originally secured conditional grants by orders of the governor and council on June 17, 1730. The grants totaled 40,000 acres in the Shenandoah Valley and required settlement of a certain number of families, but allowed settlement to be scattered on the most favorably located tracts. This left large areas of waste land ungranted, an arrangement that was not unusual in this period.
Hite and others were aware of Fairfax’s claims to the land but since the boundaries of the proprietary were contested they proceeded with their claims. Fairfax viewed them as trespassers and the large areas of wasteland that had been left ungranted proved a particular point of contention. Fairfax sought to have the tracts of land granted by Hite resurveyed and apportioned more regularly.
Attempts to resolve the dispute between Hite and Fairfax failed, and in 1749 Hite and his associate McKay filed suit against Fairfax. Debate began in 1749, and reached a climax in 1771 when the "cause" was fully argued and recorded at Williamsburg. On the first judgment, Fairfax won the suit, but Hite appealed, and the trial went in his favor in June 1784. In 1786, judgment was returned in favor of the Hites. By the time the final settlement was achieved around 1802, all of the principals to the cause were dead.
Roughly speaking, the Northern Neck Land Grants included all the land between the Rappahannock and the Potomac Rivers.
Individuals purchased warrants for a specified amount of land in a particular location. The warrants were taken to a surveyer and the land surveyed. The plat and any accompanying papers were returned to the proprietor's office, and a grant was issued.
The first title deed is usually called a "grant" or "patent."
"Poles, "rods" or "perches" are all synonyms and equal 16 1/2'.
"Processing" is rewalking metes and bounds to reestablish property lines.
Brown, Stuart E. Virginia Baron; the Story of Thomas, 6th Lord Fairfax. Berryville, Va.: Chesapeake Book Co., 1965.
Call Number: B Fairfax
Dickenson, Josiah Look. The Fairfax Proprietary; The Northern Neck, The Fairfax Manors, and Beginnings of Warren County in Virginia. Front Royal, VA: Warren Press, 1959. Includes map of Fairfax Manors filed in Map Case 2, Drawer 4m Map #031.
Call Number: 975.52 D564 Rare
Ebert, Rebecca A. and Rebecca H. Good. Finding Your People in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and West Virginia. Winchester, VA: The Rebecca Co., 1984.
Call Number: 929.1 Goo
Fairfax, Hugh. Fairfax of Virginia: The Forgotten Story of America’s Only Peerage. London: The Fairfax Family, 2017.
Call Number: 975.52 Fai
Gentry, Daphne Sue. Virginia Land Office Inventory. Richmond: Archives and Records Division, 1981.
Call Number: 016.9755 Vir
Gray, Gertrude Entz. Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants (4 vol.). Baltimore, MD: Genealogical
Publishing Co., 1988.
Call Number: 929.3512 Gra
Groome, Harry Connelly. Fauquier During the Proprietorship: A Chronicle of the Colonization and Organization of a Northern Neck County. Richmond, VA: Old Dominion Press, 1927.
Call Number: 975.58 G89
Joyner, Peggy Shomo. Abstracts of Virginia's Northern Neck Warrants and Surveys. 5 vols., Portsmouth, VA: 1985.
Call Number: 929.351 Joy
Lewis, Thomas. The Fairfax Line: Thomas Lewis's Journal of 1746. New Market, VA: The Henkel Press, 1925.
Call Number: 975.56 L588
McKay, Hunter Branson. Fairfax Land Suit: Transcript of a Copy in the British Museum. Belmont, MA: self-published, 1951. Includes transcript of proceedings held in England.
Call Number: 975.59 M19
Morrison, Charles. The Fairfax Line, A Profile in History and Geography. Parsons, WV: McClain
Printing Co., 1970. Reprint of above.
Call Number: 917.552 M835
Smith, Annie Laurie Wright, comp. The Quit Rents of Virginia, 1704. Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Co., 1980.
Call Number: 929.35 Smi
Land records of the Northern Neck are to be found on microfilm in the blue cabinet: they cover records from 1690 to 1862. They include grants, surveys, and an index.
Virginia Misc. Papers 1748-1942, Section 4, Land Grant Records 1750-1828. See Misc. Microfilm
Materials from manuscript collections must be requested using a green sheet, available in the Reading Room. The letters MMF, THL, and WFCHS are part of each collection’s accession number and should be used to identify the collection on the green sheet.
Fairfax land grants may be found in other collections. Please ask Archives Staff for assistance in locating these records.
Barton, Robert T. Family Papers, 1268 WFCHS
Box 1 contains “Thomas, Lord Fairfax: An Address by R.T. Barton Jr. before the Maryland Society of Colonial Wars.” Self-publication. March 1929.
Fairfax, Thomas, Lord. Collection, 57 WFCHS/THL
The bulk of this collection is grants and indentures to land from Thomas, Lord Fairfax as proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia. Also included are transcripts of the suit Joist Hite et al. v. Fairfax, et al. began in 1749
Frederick County Proprietor's Office: Fairfax Rental Rolls (copied from Huntington Library), MMF
Leeds Castle: A Brief History of the Castle of the Queens of Medieval England and a Guide to the Rooms. Leeds Castle Foundation, Maidstone, Kent. The home of Thomas 6th Lord Fairfax before he came to America. See pp. 7, 8, 32-41, 43-45. MMF
Tisinger, Catherine. Collection, 1798 THL
Deeds, including Fairfax grants.
Doran, Michael F. Atlas of County Boundary Changes in Virginia: 1634-1895. Athens GA: The Iberian Publishing Company, 1987.
Call Number: 911.755 Dor
Hale, John S. A Historical Atlas of Colonial Virginia. Plate 11: "The Fairfax Proprietary, Originally known as The Northern Neck of Virginia." Verona, VA: McClure Press 1978.
Call Number: 917.55 H13
Stephenson, Richard W., ed. The Cartography of Northern Virginia: Facsimile Reproductions of Maps Dating From 1608 To 1915. Plate 7: "John Warner's map of Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax's land situated between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers...fourth and final edition, issued sometime after 1747." Fairfax County, VA: Office of Comprehensive Planning, History and Archaeology Section, 1981.
Call Number: 911.755 C24
Virginia Land Office Patents and Grants/Northern Neck Grants and Surveys—database including patents and grants from the crown and commonwealth from 1623 to 1992 and database of grants in the Northern Neck Proprietary from 1692 to 1862. Available online at http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/guides/opac/lonnabout.htm
Hammond: Edition of the 1885 Atlas of Frederick County, VA, includes Fairfax Proprietary of the Northern Neck and 11 other maps
Call Number: 975.5 Ham (oversized maps)