The Revolution Years and the Two Georges
The years leading up to the American Revolution saw steady growth in Fairfax County’s population. In 1768, the population was 6,949. Just five years later in 1773, on the eve of the war, it had increased almost 20 percent to 8,310. The growth from 1773 to 1782 slowed considerably to just over 5 percent. The 1782 census shows the county’s population at 8,763 — 5,154 were white and 3,609 were black.
While we are used to hearing about Civil War skirmishes in the area, no major Revolutionary War military battles were fought in Fairfax County. Certainly residents were inconvenienced by shortages and the extra financial burdens associated with military activities. They also lived in fear that the British army would land in the county since the Potomac River offered easy access for the powerful British fleet, and Mount Vernon, the home of the commander of the Continental Army, George Washington, represented a significant target.
Washington was appointed commander of the Continental Army on June 14, 1775; he would not return to Mount Vernon until six years later. Supervision of Mount Vernon was left to his cousin, Lund Washington. During the summer of 1776, Lord Dunmore’s fleet conducted raids along the Potomac; however, with the exception of burning a few houses along the river, the British did not cause serious damage to Alexandria or any other place in Fairfax County. In April 1781, a British warship, the Savage, anchored off Mount Vernon and took a number of slaves from the plantation. Lund Washington went aboard the ship with food to try, unsuccessfully, to bargain for their release. This resulted in the Marquis de Lafayette, a stalwart ally of the Americans, writing to George Washington about how unhappy he was with Lund’s actions, suggesting that they brought disgrace to Washington who in turn chastised Lund and said he would have preferred “they had burnt my House.”
While Washington’s contributions to independence as commander in chief are well-known, it was the other George from Fairfax County — Mason — who also made significant contributions. Active in politics from an early age, he used his influence and intellect to help develop the framework under which the new democratic republic would operate.
In the early stages of the Revolution, a committee in Fairfax County adopted a set of resolutions known as the Fairfax Resolves on July 18, 1774. Written primarily by Mason, the resolutions rejected the British Parliament’s claim of supreme authority over the American colonies. More than 30 counties in the colony of Virginia passed similar resolutions in 1774, but the Fairfax Resolves were considered the most detailed, influential and radical.
In 1776, Mason was also the primary author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Virginia Constitution. These two documents formed the basis for the government of the newly formed Commonwealth of Virginia. The idea of a written constitution to restrain the government was new to Englishmen, even American Englishmen. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, which defines the relationship between the people and their government, would later form the basis of the U.S. Bill of Rights. It contained provisions relating to freedom of the press and religion, as well as prohibitions against excessive punishment and illegal searches, key protections we may now take for granted but which were very revolutionary at that time.
Source: Fairfax County, Virginia – A History (1978)