Great Falls Historical Society, VA website
GREAT FALLS AND BRYAN FAIRFAX
(From the Introduction to the Great Falls 1999 Calendar)
GEORGE WASHINGTON KNEW GREAT FALLS WELL
eorgeWashington knew Great Falls wellthe trails and rutted roads, the woods and fields, the places to ford the steams with his travel-hardened horse. He came for the pleasure of the hunt and the company of his friends, the Fairfaxes. He traveled through the area on the way to the western frontier, studied the Potomac River and envisioned a route by water to connect the seaboard of Virginia and Maryland with the western lands in Ohio territory and beyond. Later in life, he traveled to his land holdings in the west and came to Great Falls to check on the progress of the Patowmack Canal, which embodied his plan of the all-essential trade passage to the interior.
LORD FAIRFAX GAVE GEORGE WASHINGTON
eorgeWashington met Thomas, Lord Fairfax through a family connection with his half-brother, Lawrence. Lawrence had married fifteen-year-old Anne Fairfax, the daughter of Lord Fairfax's cousin William. Young George Washington was a frequent visitor at Mount Vernon, a very modest dwelling when Lawrence inherited it from their father, Augustine Washington. George wanted to go to sea. His widowed mother forbade it. George found his father's surveying instruments in a closet and turned to the idea of learning the practical art of surveying. At sixteen, in 1748, he came to live at Mount Vernon. Lord Fairfax immediately hired him to go on a surveying trip to determine the western limits of the proprietary, which were described as being at the headsprings of the Potomac River. Young George accompanied an experienced surveyor and Lord Fairfax's young cousin, George William Fairfax. (George Washington became a skilled surveyor, passing an examination at William and Mary that enabled him to take the position of surveyor of Culpepper County.)
The Fairfaxes were very close to George, mentoring him in his formation as a gentleman and future statesman. He learned how to conduct himself at the highest level of society, which included learning manners and dancing, which was a favorite pastime of George's. The Fairfaxes were like family to him. He remembered his time spent with them as the happiest time of his life.
WASHINGTON IN THE
he experience George Washington gained surveying and exploring in what is now West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania made him an excellent candidate for an important mission that just preceded the outbreak of the French and Indian War. In October, 1753, Gov. Dinwiddie of Virginia sent him to the French forces at Fort LeBoeuf, twenty miles south of Lake Eire, to warn the French away from the Ohio Valley and bring back intelligence on the French positions and intent. After many hardships and hair-raising adventures, he returned to Williamsburg in 1754. Shortly thereafter, the French and Indian War started, and on March 15, 1754, he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel of the Virginia regiment that was to march to the fort of the Ohio Company where the Monongahela and Allegheny meet to form the Ohio River. In 1755 he was commissioned colonel and commander in chief of the forces raised for the defense of Virginia. He spent two frustrating years at Winchester, trying to protect the settlers from Indian raids with inadequate men and supplies. After a campaign to Fort DuQuesne, now Pittsburgh, in late 1758, Washington's service was over until the Revolutionary War.
We will not attempt to recapitulate Washington's life here, but we will list some areas where the stage of activity by Washington would be our Great Falls scene.
ryanFairfax, from youth to the end of his life, a close friend of George Washington. Bryan lived in Great Falls with his young family from 1767 to 1789. He inherited 5,568 acres in a tract called Towlston Manor from his father, William Fairfax of Belvoir, Thomas Lord Fairfax's cousin. Lord Fairfax gave Bryan 12,588 acres comprising Great Falls Manor in 1765. Bryan built a home, Towlston Grange, on his Towlston Manor property about 1767. The house believed to be the original still stands on Towlston Road. Many Great Falls residents live on the land that made up these extensive manors.
Bryan Fairfax entertained George Washington frequently at Towlston Grange. As a family friend, Washington often stopped at the warm hearth of this Fairfax family on trips to his canal project. He was invited to Towlston for foxhunting and exchanged hunting dogs with Bryan. Little Sally Fairfax was said to be a special favorite of Washington. When she was a very young lady, Sally Fairfax was chosen by General Washington to lead the first dance at his annual birthright ball, an honor for the lovely girl.
Bryan Fairfax had a special place in Washington's heart as a member of a family that Washington had been very close to in his youth. Bryan's father, William Fairfax, took a fatherly interest in Washington, who was a frequent guest at his home, Belvoir. Washington's father died when he was 11. Thomas, Lord Fairfax, Bryan's uncle, was a mentor and close friend of the young Washington, and others of the young Fairfaxes were companions. When these good friends had died or moved away, Bryan, his wife, and children were all the more dear to George Washington as a link to his youth.
Bryan was a complex man who had a very different personality from George Washington. He was introspective, and spent his lifetime trying to, as we would say, "find himself." An acute religious sensibility led him to consider the shades of doctrine of several different religious movements. He remained in the Anglican Church tradition, however, and was ordained an Episcopalian minister in 1789. He served as Vicar of Christ Church in Alexandria from 1790 to 1792. By that time, Bryan had left Towlston Grange, and built a larger, finer home called Mount Eagle near Alexandria.
Bryan served as justice of Fairfax County Court with George Washington, as men of his station did in colonial Virginia. He also kept busy leasing and selling his land as well as paying some attention to managing his farm.
Bryan did not join George in advocating the defiance of England and eventual revolt. He argued earnestly against it in letters to George. When war broke out, he traveled to New York City to try to be a conciliator. He was threatened with imprisonment by the rebels and the British alike. After visiting George Washington at Valley Forge, he came home to sit out the Revolution at Towlston Grange quietly
Bryan's great difference in outlook on independence did not mar his friendship with Washington. The two men continued their correspondence and Bryan's home, Mount Eagle, was the last place that George Washington visited before his death, dining there on December 7, 1799. Bryan and his son Thomas returned the visit, dining at Mt. Vernon on December 11.
George Washington died on December 14, 1799. Bryan Fairfax was one of the principal mourners at the funeral, and received a historic bible from George Washington by the bequest of his will.
Great Falls Historical Society, VA website