Fairfax, Thomas (1692-1782) (DNB00)

From Wikisource
 
Jump to: navigation, search

FAIRFAX, THOMAS, sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1692–1782), born at Denton in Yorkshire in 1692, was the eldest son of Thomas, fifth lord Fairfax, by Catherine, heiress of the great estates of Lord Culpepper, including Leeds Castle in Kent and the Northern Neck in Virginia. His father died while he was still at Oriel College, Oxford, and under age, and all the Yorkshire estates were sold to pay his debts. The final sale took place in 1716, and the young lord's connection with Yorkshire was thus finally severed. He is said to have been a man of ability, and to have been ambitious of distinction. He was intimate with Bolingbroke, Addison, and Steele, and had a commission in the blues. He was engaged to be married to a lady of rank, and the contract was actually drawn up, when the lady jilted him, and soon afterwards he visited his American estates. Recently the marriage contract, with the lady's name carefully erased, was found among some old family papers. Fairfax finally retired to America in 1746 or 1747. The Northern Neck of Virginia, which Fairfax had inherited, comprised the whole region between the Potomac and the Rappahannock, including the Shenandoah valley. Fairfax found, settled in Virginia, his cousin William Fairfax, who became his agent, and whose son eventually succeeded as the eighth lord. For some time his lordship lived at Belvoir, the house of his cousin, on the banks of the Potomac. Here he made the acquaintance of the Washington family, and he was at Belvoir when Lawrence Washington, the elder brother of George, married Anne Fairfax, and went to live with her on the neighbouring estate of Mount Vernon. Fairfax was interested in young George Washington, and from the time when the future general was a lad of fifteen occasionally visiting at Belvoir, his lordship never failed in friendship for him, and in efforts to advance his fortunes. When George was little over sixteen Fairfax entrusted to him the important and difficult duty of surveying and mapping his property in the Shenandoah valley. Eventually Fairfax settled in the valley, building himself a house near the town of Winchester (Virginia), called Greenway Court. Here he led an active life in promoting the settlement of an extensive district, and in discharging various important public duties. But his passion was fox-hunting, and he had a fine pack of hounds. His wants were few, his habits almost ascetic, and he was famed for his liberality. So the old bachelor lived on until the war of independence broke out. He was a staunch loyalist. News of the surrender of Cornwallis reached Greenway Court, and the aged nobleman took to his bed. The downfall of the British cause, wrought by the man he had trained and moulded, was his death-blow. He died on 12 March 1782, aged 90, and was buried in the chancel of the parish church of Winchester, which he had endowed, and where there is a monument to his memory. The present Lord Fairfax, who is a citizen of the United States, is descended from the old bachelor's cousin and agent, William Fairfax of Belvoir in Virginia.

[Fairfax Correspondence, i. cxxx–cxxxiii; Dr. Burnaby's Travels in North America; The Fairfaxes of England and America (Albany, 1868); Clements R. Markham's Life of Admiral Robert Fairfax, 1885.]

C. R. M.