The Brent Town Plat: a clarification


Historians appear to agree on how the Brent Town colony came into existence; few scholars, however, have paid its exact location much attention, leaving this query to be answered by family historians associated with family history societies. A review of their findings, however, shows that their conclusions are based exclusively upon a 1737 survey by John Savage who officially surveyed Brent Town for its four proprietors.

The Brent Town Colony began as a colonial joint speculative development venture initialed by English merchants, Nicolas Haywood, Richard Foot, and Robert Bristow, in concert with George Brent of Stafford County, Virginia, in 1686 ostensibly undertaken to provide a Virginia settlement for French Calvinists, known scornfully as Huguenots by their French Catholics persecutors. To that end, the developers purchased some 30,000 acres from the Fairfax Proprietary, then held by 6th Lord Fairfax whose massive tract of Virginia land – known also as the Northern Neck — comprised over 5 million acres. The patent had descended to him through the Fairfax line, from the original patentee, Lord Culpeper (Thomas Fairfax’s 6th grandfather,) who had received the tract in 1649 as a token of gratitude from King Charles II for Fairfax’s support of the exiled English sovereign.2 In addition to creating the syndicate that acquired the lands, Hayward took the critical step of securing from King James II (then the reigning English monarch,) a dispensation which would allow the new settlers to practice their religion freely.3 This answers the why and how of Brent Town.

For his 1983 article, The Brent Town Survey of 1737, published by the Prince William County Genealogical Society, Donald Wilson4 hoped to answer the where question, offering readers a transcription of a photocopy of the 1737 survey by John Savage, who had been commissioned to establish not merely the legal geographic boundaries of the Brent Town enterprise, but also the limits of the four proprietor’s parcels which comprised it. Apparently, however, Wilson had not viewed the survey itself, or even its next best facsimile, a microfilm. Wilson noted, however, the survey had existed among the University of Virginia library’s manuscript division only since 1955. His remarks are clearly meant to imply that the document wasn’t available to Fairfax Harrison in 1924, when he published his Landmarks of Old Prince William whose chapter, Brent Town, Ravensworth and the Hugenots, [sic] is popular among students of Brent Town because of its apparent authoritative treatment of the subject.

Like Wilson, another family historian, Pamela Myer Sackett,5 published a treatment of Brent Town, enlarging upon the subject with her treatment of how deeply “geographic, economic, social and political factors – and…family connections …” influenced the developers’ in choosing the colony’s locale.

Her From Outpost to Courthouse,6 published in 2003 for the Prince William Reliquary, was clearly informed by Wilson’s transcription according to her citations, yet in her brief mention of the colony’s location, she erroneously conclude that Richard Foot’s parcel “…encompassed Brent Town…”, In truth, Salvage’s annotations on the survey make it clear that the entire survey was itself the plat of Brent Town:

 

The Platt of Brent Town as laid off by the Agreement of Wm. Fairfax Esqr. agent for Thomas Lord Fairfax and the Proprietors of the said Brent Town …with said land containing 30000 acres…

 

Savage’s notes go on to say the land was measured in company with Fairfax’s surveyor, James Thomas, “and was afterwards divided by the consent of the Proprietors…” meaning Haywood, et all.

Its fair to conclude, based on Savage’s survey, that Brent Town clearly existed in Prince William county. However, that changed geographically and politically in 1759 when Fauquier County was created from Prince William. And, as if to complicate matters for historians in the distant future, Stafford county surveyor, Bertram Ewell,7 who drew the line separating Fauquier from Prince William, ran the division through the Brent Town colony, cleaving it neatly between the areas. This can be clearly seen in R. Jackson Radcliffe’s8 This was Prince William,9 published in 1978 wherein a scaled reproduction of Ewell’s survey can be found.

The same survey also shows the intersection of the Stafford, Prince William, and Fauquier county lines; this perspective shows Brent Town at a distinct right angle to the Stafford line, running lengthwise from that line and ending at the Bull Run mountains.

Sources:

1. For an excellent graph of the Fairfax tract laid over modern-day Virginia counties see: University of George Mason professor, Charles Grimes’ Fairfax Grant page at http://www.virginiaplaces.org/settleland/fairfaxgrant.html

 

2. The lands remained in the Fairfax family for generations undergoing various legal boundary disputes, and finally passed out of the family and into Virginia possession in 1816

3. The Brent Town experiment was an abysmal failure, its designers having miscalculated their intended target and the 4 quarters which comprised the 30,000-acre parcel were slowly conveyed through the hereditary lines of their owners. For an excellent primer on the plight of the Huguenots in Virginia see Charles Grimes’ Huguenots in Virginia page at http://www.virginiaplaces.org/religion/huguenots.html His list of links are worth exploring.

4. Wilson, Donald, The Brent Town Survey of 1737, Prince William County Genealogical Society Newsletter, Vol. 2 No. 6 (Dec. 1983) pp3. [On a 2003 Library of Virginia’s LISTSERV posting wherein he announced his article’s availability, Wilson identifies himself as a “Virginiana Librarian” at the Ruth E. Lloyd Information Center for Genealogy and Local History (RELIC). The collection is located at the Bull Run Regional Library, in Manassas, itself a branch of the Prince William Public Library system. Virginiana, is the former name of the collection now named RELIC, according to the RELIC homepage. Further, a search on Goggle produced results verifying his involvement over the years in various Virginia genealogical societies, yet among no academic historical societies; likewise, among the academic databases consulted, no evidence of his published work could be found among peer-reviewed historical or genealogical journals.]

5. Former chair and current board member, Friends of Brentsville Courthouse Historic Center, Inc. <http://www.brentsville.org/officers.htm> November 23, 2007

6. Sackett, Pamela Myers, From Outpost to Courthouse, Prince William Reliquary, Vol. 2 No. 2 (April 2003) pp 25-36. [online version available at: http://www.pwcgov.org/library/relic/reliquary.htm]

<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–>7. Payne’s Ledger, William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, 2nd Ser., Vol. 4, No. 2. (Apr., 1924), pp. 117-119. [In his personal ledger (1759-1761) which was transcribed for the article, Dumfries merchant, Danial Payne identifies Bertram Ewell as “Colo. Bertram Ewell”]

8. The back pouch of This was Prince William contains Radcliffe’s Historical Map of Prince William which he published in 1951. The map, which Radcliffe compiled, “…from local information,” shows Brent Town primarily on the Prince William side of the Fauquier/Prince William divide. This arrangement is contraindicated by Savage’s survey. Radcliffe was the Manassas County surveyor. He also published, This is Manassas in 1973.

9. Radcliffe, R. Jackson, This was Prince William, pp 13, Potomac Press, Virginia, 1978.

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About Alex Colvin

Senior, History, minoring in Anthropology, University of Houston. Charter President, Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society, (Webb UH Main 2014-2015) University of Houston. Additional publishing credits can be found at the link:
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