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Insiders: Walking Alongside History

The Mount Vernon District includes Mount Vernon, Fort Belvoir, Lorton, Mason Neck and parts of southeast Springfield, representing a population of approximately 117,000 within 60 square miles. It is one of eight magisterial districts in Fairfax County. Bordered by the Potomac River on the east, the district contains some of the county’s most beautiful wetlands and parks, the majority the county’s historic sites, as well as endless venues for biking, hiking, and boating and fishing. Few areas of the county offer as many diverse recreational opportunities.

Fairfax County and the Mount Vernon district were home to the Indians for over 1500 years before Captain John Smith sailed up the Potomac River and began to map the areas along the riverbank. When he arrived in 1608 the Moyumpse or Dogue tribe predominated. Tauxemont, their main village, was located in Mason Neck where they lived in long houses and raised corn, beans, squash and tobacco. The Potomac River provided an ample supply of fish and shellfish.

During the Susquehannock War in 1675, The Moyumpse sided with the Susquehannocks in a losing cause against the colonists. When the war ended they left the area along with the Susquehannocks who were driven out of their villages on the Maryland side of the Potomac. The colonists took over these villages and farmlands where they continued to grow the same crops and fished and hunted just as they had learned from the Indians.

Kings Charles II was exiled to Europe during the English Civil War in 1649, During his exile, King Charles granted all of the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers to seven of his loyal supporters. By 1690 all of this land was controlled by Lord Fairfax. Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax, arrived in Virginia in 1737, installed his cousin William as his land agent, and by 1745 his proprietary extended to 5,282,000 acres.

William Fairfax built the Belvoir mansion in 1741 on the Potomac River which is now the site of the present day Ft. Belvoir. In 1742 he cut a portion of the proprietary away from Prince William County and named it after his cousin, Lord Fairfax.

FAIRFAX COUNTY was primarily an agricultural area where tobacco was farmed by slaves. Plantations were built along the Potomac, the most notable of them, Mount Vernon which was acquired by George Washington in 1735. By the time Washington died in 1799, Mount Vernon had grown to 8,000 acres, and was farmed by over 300 slaves. George Mason, another of America’s founding fathers who fought to add the Bill of Rights to the Constitution and authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights, lived south of Mount Vernon in Gunston Hall overlooking Gunston Cove in Mason Neck. His home is preserved as a historic site today.

In 1790, the first census lists Fairfax County with a combined white and black population of 12,000. Earlier in 1782 41 percent of the population consisted of slaves. The Virginia General Assembly ceded a portion of Fairfax County to the District of Columbia in 1791. A portion of this land was later returned in 1847. This area became Arlington County and a part of the City of Alexandria.

Tobacco farming depleted the soil and the county seat was moved from Alexandria to Fairfax City in 1800. Farming and the economy began to decline. Over 4,000 slaves were sold to plantation owners in the deep South. The 1840s brought the beginning of an economic recovery when northern farmers known as “Yankees of Fairfax” began buying cheap farmland which they largely farmed with white labor or slaves, using such new farming methods as fertilizer and crop rotation. The fields came back, but the recovery was snuffed out by the Civil War which destroyed much of northern Virginia — Bull Run, Ox Hill, St. Mary’s Church, Frying Pan Meetinghouse, Fairfax Courthouse — all are famous sites of bloody battles or skirmishes.

AFTER THE CIVIL WAR many freed slaves and soldiers who fought in the war decided to remain and make this area their home. The economy began to recover and Fairfax began to prosper, particularly in the area of dairy farming.

The 1930s brought the Depression, the New Deal and the beginning of electrification. Roads were built and the county slowly began to climb its way out of another poor economy. This new bedroom community began to prosper once again. The population ballooned from 40,000 in 1940 to over 1,000,000 people today. Fairfax County has become one of the nation’s wealthiest, largest, and best educated counties sitting just at the edge of the nation’s capital.

For more information on the Mount Vernon District go to http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/mountvernon/