Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Lord Fairfax and The Strange Odyssey of the Lost American Peers

Thomas 6th Lord Fairfax

Thomas Fairfax was created Lord Fairfax of Cameron in the Peerage of Scotland on 4 May 1627.  Another Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax succeeded to the title in 1709, at which time he came into the family estates in Virginia, some 5 million acres.  The 6th Lord Fairfax moved to Virginia to oversee the source of his wealth.  Fairfax was the only British peer to take up permanent residence in North America.

In 1748 Lord Fairfax employed the sixteen year old George Washington, a distant relative, to survey his lands in western Virginia.  During the American Revolution, Lord Fairfax remained loyal to the crown, but did not leave America.  His lands were confiscated, and the eighty eight year old peer died less than two months after Washington’s victory at Yorktown in 1781.

Lord Fairfax's title descended to his only surviving brother, Robert, who received cash compensation from the British Parliament for the loss of property during the Revolution.  The settlement was a small fraction of the value of the confiscated land.

Robert died in 1793.  An American cousin, Bryan Fairfax claimed and was granted the title.  Bryan Fairfax became the first American-born holder of a British peerage, although he did not actually use the title, choosing to become an Episcopal priest.

In 1802 Thomas Fairfax inherited the title 9th Lord Fairfax of Cameron after his father’s death.  He lived the life of a country squire overseeing his 40,000 acres. His grandson Charles succeeded to the title.  Charles’ brother, John, succeeded his childless brother, becoming the 11th Lord Fairfax of Cameron. 

By the late 19th century the family had largely forgotten about the title.  This all soon changed.  In 1900, Albert Kirby Fairfax succeeded his father.  In 1901, he was summoned to attend the funeral of Victoria, the Queen-Empress of the British Empire.  The Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords confirmed Albert Fairfax as the rightful 12th Lord Fairfax of Cameron.  The newly recognized Lord Fairfax became a naturalized British subject on 17 November, 1908.  The family resettled in Britain after an interlude of some 150 years.

Nicholas John Albert Fairfax, is now the 14th Lord Fairfax of Cameron.

These are the often overlooked stories of early America. Stories such as the roots of racism in America, famous murders that rocked the colonies, the scandalous doings of some of the most famous of the Founding Fathers, the first Emancipation Proclamation that got revoked, and stories of several notorious generals who have been swept under history’s rug.

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