This article, initiated by User:Persisto was planned to be a history of the Northern Neck Proprietary of Virginia, its Proprietors, and a discussion of the land grants made in the counties here given. Hopefully, it will also include maps and illustrations. User:Persisto has set aside this work for now and others are encouraged to make it more complete. Please add what you can to this article.
Origins of the Royal Charter
The 30th day of January, 1649 was not the happiest day the House of Stuart had ever seen. On that date, King Charles I of England was beheaded in front of the Banqueting House at the Palace of Whitehall in London. Thus ended the English Civil War and began the era of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector. At least in England.
The heir to throne was King Charles II, then a young man of 19 years, who attempted to regroup the family fortunes from Scotland, but in this he was not successful. He found it much safer to seek refuge in France in October of 1651.
This did not mean the young King in exile had no loyal supporters. On 18 September 1649, Charles II bestowed upon seven of his favorites a patent for all the lands in Virginia lying between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers, from the Chesapeake Bay to "their headwaters" which were then uncharted and undefined. This converted to well over 5,250,000 acres of land eventually comprising 22 Virginia Counties, three of them in what is now West Virginia.
These seven men were Lord John Culpeper, his brother Thomas Culpeper, Lord Ralph Horton, Lord Henry Jermyn, Sir John Berkeley, Sir William Morton, and Sir Dudley Wyatt. All of these men were fellow exiles and all of whom were of no importance to the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell.
The Restoration of Charles II
Considering the political situation, such magnanimity was not worth the paper it was written upon. If Cromwell was even aware of this grant, it was never recognized. If the King was without a Kingdom, the Proprietors were without a Proprietary. At least, that is, for the next eleven years.
A much happier day for the House of Stuart dawned in 1660 when, on 29 May, he made a triumphant return to London. He was officially coronated at Westminster Palace on 23 April 1661.
Suddenly, the worthless Northern Neck Proprietary had became very valuable indeed.
Devolution to the Fairfax Family
To move this story along, through a series of maneuvers, machinations, re-charters and inheritances--and much opposition in Virginia to the entire scheme-- the ultimate ownership of the Proprietary devolved to Lord Thomas Culpeper (son of Thomas Culpeper, one of the original proprietors) in 1688. In that year, King James II issued a new charter to him as sole proprietor. This charter greatly enlarged the original territory and defined it to the headwaters of the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. This was still not a very clear definition, but it laid the groundwork for a series of legal disputes that were not finally settled until 1745.
Lord Culpeper died soon after this royal charter. The Proprietorship descended to his widow Margaret Lady Culpeper, Thomas Lord Fairfax by his marriage to Katherine Culpeper, and Alexander Culpeper. Eventually, all of the shares became the property of Thomas Lord Fairfax and remained in that family until after the Revolution.
The Proprietor Asserts His Authority
By 1690, the Proprietary had settled a number of difficult issues, both internal and external, and was finally in a position to assert its rights under its Royal Charter. In the meantime, the Virginia Colony had issued thousands of acres of Royal patents for lands in this territory, which were recognized by both parties. This still left vast territory of yet unsettled land in the possession of the Proprietary.
Yet as people moved ever westwards, so did arguments about its boundaries. These disputes were not settled until 1745.
Baronial Manors and Small Farmers: A Blend of Old and New
The Northern Neck Proprietary added a simpler and new method for obtaining land in the Virginia Colony. Unlike the Virginia Land Office in Williamsburg, there was no limit to the size of a grant, and the Headright System was not recognized (though headrights could still be used for land in other parts of Virginia.) Instead, one purchased land directly from the proprietary for a nominal sum of money called the composition money. This was the cost of the survey and other fees associated with drafting the grant. The income to the proprietor came in the form of annual rents. A 1747 grant in Orange County is typical: one shilling sterling payable on the Feast of St. Michael.
Another important distinction from the Colonial Land office was that "seating" the land was not a requirement. In other words, one did not have to live on the property, or even improve it. This opened the door for large scale speculation, and had a detrimental effect of settling this new territory. In this, the Proprietary was attempting to transplant the old customs of Manors to Virginia. There were many takers, most notably Robert "King" Carter who also served as the Fairfax agent for the Northern Neck at various times. The Proprietary (by this time the Fairfax family) did not care. They collected the same amount of rent regardless.
Under the old manorial system, leases were commonplace, and often lasted for centuries. A typical land lease in England (and used in Virginia at times) would be to a husband and wife and one of the their children (usually the youngest) for the "longest liver" of the three. But why bother with a lease when one could purchase land outright and own it for a nominal quit-rent every year? This was the exactly the problem. The large manors did not develop and were simply passed over for other land further away.
Despite this one obstacle, the ability to buy land without using headrights (which had favored the monied classes) was so popular that the Virginia Colony adopted the same option via Treasury Warrants in 1699. The headright system was not repealed, and remained in use, but the "new improved" method of simply buying land directly for very little money soon became the norm.
Another important feature of the Northern Neck grants was the conveyance of mineral rights. "Royal Mines" were excepted, but property owners were granted the rights to one-third of any minerals found on the property. These were explicity identified: lead, copper, tin, coal, iron and iron ore. The reader will note that precious metals like gold and silver were not included. Those commodities remained reserved for the monarch.
A good example of a "manor" is the Octonia Grant in Orange County in 1722. Another good example is the Beverley Manor in Augusta County. These were, in effect, subdivions of the Northern Neck Proprietary. They, too were private land companies. As such, not all deeds were recorded at the county level. However, many of the survey books still exist.
Other than Land...
Despite the proprietary ownership of land, and how it was sold, the Virginia Colony retained all the same governmental powers as in any other part of the Commonwealth. Other than the vexing problem of annual quit-rents, local tithes for the support of the local county and the local parish, election of members to the House of Burgesses, organization of the local militia, and appointment of justices of the county courts, and every other manner of governmental administration remained uniform throughout the colony.
The Method of Obtaining a Grant: Warrants, Surveys and Final Grant
Despite the differences between a Crown Patent and a Northern Neck Grant, some things remained very similar. The process for obtaining the deed was nearly identical. A person staked (or claimed) the land he wanted. (1) a person staked out his claim for the land he wanted and purchase a warrant for survey--this was called the "composition money" (2) The warrant for survey was issued; (3) the land was surveyed and (4) the final patent or grant was issued. Copies were retained by either the Proprietary or the Land Office of the Colony, depending on the jurisdiction. In some cases, the owner recorded his grant/patent at the county level.
At any point in the process after the warrant for survey was issued, a person could sell or assign his right to the property. And it could be years or even decades before a final deed of ownership was issued.
Records at the Library of Virginia
Another distinction between the Northern Grants versus the Colonial Land Office is that the records of the Proprietary are remarkably intact. Unlike the Land Office, the records of warrants and surveys were not annually destroyed. These are available on microfilm at the Library of Virginia. Final grants have been digitized and are searchable (along with the Land Office patents) on the LVA web site. Abstracts of the Northern Neck warrants, surveys and grants have also been published. See under Sources below.
Disputes with the Virginia Colony
The Fairfax Line
The Last Proprietor, the End of the Proprietary and the Virginia Land Office
1. Weisiger, Minor T., compiler. "Northern Neck Land Proprietary Records." Research Notes Number 23. (Richmond: Library of Virginia, November 2002.)
2. Blankenbaker, John V. "The Northern Neck" Beyond Germanna. Vol. 3, No. 5 (Chadd's Ford, PA: John V. Blankenbaker, September 1991)
3. McClinton, Arthur T., John W. Coleman & Francis F. Wayland. The Fairfax Line: A Historic Landmark. (1925, Reprint; Edinburg VA: Shenandoah County Historical Society, 1990)
4. Morrison, Charles. The Fairfax Line, a Profile in History and Geography. (1970).] Repository:Library of Virginia
7. There are of course wikipedia article links, and other web sites found on a google search. Also search under "Fairfax Grant".
8. Gray, Gertrude. Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants 1694-1742. Vol. I (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1987) For footnote; introduction, ix
9. Gray, Gertrude. Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants 1742-1775. Vol. II (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1988) For footnote; introduction, vii
10. Gray, Gertrude. Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants 1775-1800. Vol. III (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1993) For footnote; introduction, vii
11. Gray, Gertrude. Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants 1800-1862. Vol. IV (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1993) For footnote; introduction, vii
12. Joyner, Peggy Shomo. Abstracts of the Northern Neck Warrants & Surveys." Vol. I . (Portsmouth, VA: Peggy Shomo Joyner, 1985.) For footnote; introduction, v-vi
13. Joyner, Peggy Shomo. Abstracts of the Northern Neck Warrants & Surveys. Vol. II. (Portsmouth, VA: Peggy Shomo Joyner, 1985.) For footnote; Preface, v-vi
14. Joyner, Peggy Shomo. Abstracts of the Northern Neck Warrants & Surveys. Vol. III. (Portsmouth, VA: Peggy Shomo Joyner, 1986.)
For footnote; introduction, iii-iv
15. Joyner, Peggy Shomo. Abstracts of the Northern Neck Warrants & Surveys. Vol. IV. (Portsmouth, VA: Peggy Shomo Joyner, 1987.)
For footnote; introduction, v-vi
16. Joyner, Peggy Shomo. Abstracts of the Northern Neck Warrants & Surveys. Vol. V. (Portsmouth, VA: Peggy Shomo Joyner, 1995.)
For footnote; introduction, v-vi
17. Robinson, W. Stitt Jr., Mother Earth: Land Grants in Virginia 1607-1699 (Williamsburg, VA: Virginia 350th Anniversary Celebration Corporation, 1957)
Footnote: W. Stitt Robinson, Jr., pages 66-74
18. Flemer, Carl F., Jr., Birthplace of the Nation: A Story Worth Telling. (Oak Grove, VA: The Author, 2008)
Footnote: Carl F. Flemer, Jr., pages 28-31
19. "The Northern Neck of Virginia," William & Mary Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Williamsburg, VA: Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture, 1898), 222-226.