Searching for Hampshire's English Roots

He Left All This for a Hunting Lodge in Virginia:
Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax and Leeds Castle

Part I of a series of articles exploring the connection between our Hampshire County,
Lord Fairfax, and England.
This is the Expanded Web Edition

In the mid-eighteenth century, Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax, was one of the most important men in the Colony of Virginia. He owned approximately five and a half million acres of Virginia located between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers including all of what is now Hampshire, Morgan, Mineral, Frederick and Clarke counties as well as several other counties or parts thereof. He was responsible for naming Hampshire County and for establishing the town of Romney. He also played a part in most all political and military decisions and events in these areas.

This series of articles will present information on the connection between Lord Fairfax and his former homeland, England. Most of Lord Fairfax's early life was spent in York and Kent Counties, England, and he spent time as well at Oxford University and in London. All of this had some impact on his later life in Virginia. However, the connections are not always apparent; in fact, they are often obscure. There is an expression, "Life is not a destination; it is a journey." History is sometimes like that. The search for answers is sometimes the reward while the answers themselves remain a mystery.

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Birth of the Baron

Thomas Fairfax was born on October 22, 1693, at Leeds Castle, Kent County, England, the second child and first son of Thomas, 5th Lord Fairfax, and Catherine Culpepper. Because Leeds Castle was the home of his widowed maternal grandmother, Lady Culpepper, who did not die until Thomas was seventeen, much of his youth was spent at other Fairfax family estates. Among those were "Denton" in Yorkshire, a home in the city of York, and "Greenway Court" not far east of Leeds.

Leeds Castle had come to the Fairfax family by way of marriage. It had been inherited by Lady Catherine Culpepper who married Thomas, Fifth Lord Fairfax. It was built on a site first fortified in the time of William the Conqueror and turned into a stone castle by Edwards I, whose wife, Eleanor of Castile, bought the castle in 1278. It is situated on two island in a lake made by diverting the waters of the River Len. Although leased to private individuals at times including the unfortunate Bartholomew de Badlesmere, it remained mostly a royal property until 1552. It then went through a line of private owners. During 1618-1628 it was owned by Sir Richard Smythe whose brother, Sir Thomas Smythe, was from 1609 to 1619 the treasurer of the Company of Adventurers and Planters of the City of London Trading to Virginia (the Jamestown Company). It is interesting to note that three Culpeppers were members of this Company.

The Culpeppers

In 1632 Leeds Castle was purchased by Sir Thomas Culpepper of Hollingbourne who gave the estate to his son, Sir Cheney Culpepper. At this point the history is somewhat convoluted. Sir Cheney sided with the Parlimentarians in the Civil War while other members of the extended family sided with the royalists. Eventually, when the monarchy was restored Sir Cheney lost everything and finally died bankrupt. His brother-in-law [and first cousin once removed], Thomas Lord Culpeper, 2nd Baron of Thoresway, bought Leeds castle from the estate. He was father of an only daughter, Catherine, who married the Fifth Lord Fairfax. He was also at one time Governor of Virginia.

Unfortunate Owner

Bartholomew de Badlesmere, 1321 - his wife in his absence refused to open the castle to the Queen of King Edward II. In retaliation the King besieged the castle and upon storming it had its keeper, William Culpeper, hanged. Bartholomew was hunted down in Yorkshire and beheaded. The King then confiscated the castle from the de Badlesmere family. We will run across him again.

It was the Culpeppers who eventually accumulated all six shares of the Northern Neck Proprietary, a grant by King Charles II of a vast area of Virginia bounded by the waters and headsprings of the Potomac River and the Rappahannock River. The other holders had little expectation of wealth from the backwoods of Virginia, so it was not hard for Thomas Lord Culpeper, 2nd Baron of Thoresway, to acquire four of those shares besides his own. These five shares were then inherited by Lady Catherine Culpepper (mother of the Sixth Lord Fairfax) and one share was held by Alexander Culpepper who devised it to the Sixth Lord Fairfax. However, various legal problems and the opposition of colonial Virginia called into question the bounds and ownership of this area.

Like plantation owners in the American Colonies many English aristocrats were what was called "land poor" - they owned lots of land but had little hard cash or income. The changing economic times as well as the aristocrat's need to maintain a certain affluent lifestyle even if annual income did not cover all expenses left some families in financial straits. The extravagant lifestyle of Thomas, 5th Lord Fairfax, put his family in this predicament, and the upkeep of Leeds Castle showed signs of neglect. By the time Thomas became 6th Lord Fairfax the problems in America and the family financial situation forced him to make some difficult decisions.

Defending the Grant

Fortunately, his Lordship realized that the vast estate in America, some five and a half million acres, posed a better opportunity for needed income than the Fairfax estates in Yorkshire. Leeds Castle, inherited through his mother's family, would remain the family seat, but Fairfax estates in Yorkshire would be sold, and the American property would have to be defended and managed. It had to be defended because the Colony of Virginia was very interested in getting possession of it, or in seeing that its boundaries were as small as the interpretation of the original grant would allow.

After much legal maneuvering and some political favors, on Novenber 29, 1733, the King's Privy Council gave Lord Fairfax an order for the survey of the Northern Neck's boundaries by Commissioners appointed by Fairfax accompanied by Commissioners appointed by the Colony of Virginia. With this order in hand in mid-March, 1735, Lord Fairfax arrived in Virginia on board the Glasgow on his first inspection trip to America. The trip lasted over two years during which time Fairfax reasserted his claim to the Proprietary and made arrangements for the survey of the boundaries. Then in September, 1737, he returned to England to take the survey information to the Privy Council in hopes of having them deny Virginia's complaints and authorize all his claims. The main points of contention were the decision of which branches of the rivers were the main branches and, therefore, which springs were the "headsprings."

Like the wheels of justice that grind exceedingly slowly, the Privy Council took a great deal of time to reach its final conclusion. However, it was worth the wait for Lord Fairfax. On April 6, 1745, the Privy Council denied Virginia's protests and granted Lord Fairfax the extensive boundaries he had proposed. In order to prove his good intentions to the council and help assuage Virginia's fears and settler's complaints, Fairfax offered to allow all grants previously made contrary to his objections and to give all overdue rents to the Crown as long as he would receive all future rents.

Lord Fairfax was a very shrewd and foresighted individual. He was keenly aware that the Proprietary required diligent management if all rents were to be collected and any legal problems that cropped up were to be quickly handled. Although he had arranged for his cousin, William Fairfax, to be his Virginia agent, he knew that the good of the family fortunes required his removal to America. Therefore he signed over Leeds Castle to his younger brother, Robert, who would eventually come to the title of 7th Lord Fairfax, and set sail for the land of opportunity. He would remain in Virginia until his death leaving his heirs a great deal of wealth accumulated by his shrewd but even-handed management. He would also leave a reputation as a fair-minded and humble gentleman, far different from what most frontier settlers expected. He would retain the respect of everyone with whom he dealt, most particularly his young friend, George Washington.

The Manor of Leeds

One might think that the name "Leeds" would be preserved in Lord Fairfax's Virginia, but that is not the case. On his first visit to Virginia he directed that a manor be surveyed for him by William Warner on the east slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was extended to the east bank of the Shenandoah River. It was named the Manor of Leeds. However, Lord Fairfax never used this manor for his own home. Instead he erected a small house at Greenway Court, a manor west of the river a little way south-east of Winchester that he granted to himself. The relatively modest main house was used for guests and daytime activities, but he slept in a small, one room log structure. He died on December 9, 1781, at the age of 81. He was buried behind the Communion rail of the old Christ Church in Winchester. Later, when that church was replaced by the present edifice his remains were interred in a brick mausoleum in the yard to the right of the church where it can be seen today. The Manor of Leeds was sold and the name was lost to history.

Timeline of Leeds Castle and Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax:
  • 1119 Work is begun on the first stone castle on the site by Robert de Crevecoeur.
  • 1278 The castle is bought by Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I
  • 1321 King Edward II storms Leeds Castle and beheads its occupant, Bartholomew de Badlesmere.
  • 1632 Sir Thomas Culpepper of Hollingbourne (1575-1661) buys the castle and gives it to his eldest son, Sir Cheney Culpepper (1601-1663).
  • 1649 Sir Cheney's brother-in-law, John, 1st Lord Culpepper, and his cousin are each granted a one sixth share in the Northern Neck Proprietary in Virginia by the Prince of Wales, later King Charles II.
  • 1663 Sir Cheney dies bankrupt and the 2nd Lord Culpepper buys the castle with the dowry of his wife, Margaret, grandmother of the Sixth Lord Fairfax.
  • 1677-1683 The 2nd Lord Culpepper of Thoresway serves as Governor of Virginia.
  • 1688/89 Lord Culpepper dies leaving much of his estate to his two illegitimate daughters; Lady Margaret sues to regain her rightful estate. His five shares of the Northern Neck Proprietary will pass to his rightful daughter, Catherine.
  • 1693 Thomas Fairfax is born at Leeds Castle the son of the Fifth Lord Faifax and Lady Catherine, daughter of Lady Margaret Culpepper.
  • 1735 Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax, sails to America to inspect the lands of the Northern Neck Proprientary and have it surveyed.
  • April 6, 1745, the Privy Council denys Virginia's claims and grants Lord Fairfax the extensive boundaries he had proposed for the Northern Neck Proprietary.
  • 1747 Thomas signs Leeds Castle over to his youngest brother, Robert, and sails for America never to return to England.
  • 1781 Thomas, Sixth Lord Fairfax, dies in Virginia and is buried in the old Christ Church in Winchester.

   Leeds Castle through Nine Centuries by David H. A. Cleggett; Leeds Castle Foundation, Maidstone, Kent, England, 2001.
   History of Leeds Castle and Its Families by David H. A. Cleggett; Leeds Castle Foundation, Maidstone, Kent, England, 1990. [This work appears to have been later enlarged into the work above.]
   Virginia Baron: The Story of Thomas 6th Lord Fairfax by Stuart E. Brown, Jr.; Chesapeake Book Company, Berryville, Virginia, 1965.
   Information on the Culpepper family may be found online at:

Go to Part 2
What's in a Name: Forts, Towns and a Home on the Frontier

Photo Album of Leeds Castle