The Northern Neck of Virginia

Genealogy Tips by Jeannette Holland Austin

Not to be overlooked by genealogists are the records of the Northern Neck of Virginia, known as the Northern Neck Proprietary. For more than a century these records were archived in a private land office owned and operated by the Fairfax family and spanned an area bounded by the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers and stretched from the Chesapeake Bay to what is now West Virginia. It embraced all or part of the current Virginia counties and cities of Alexandria, Arlington, Augusta, Clarke, Culpeper, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, Greene, King George, Lancaster, Loudoun, Madison, Northumberland, Orange, Page, Prince William, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, Stafford, Warren, Westmoreland, and Winchester (Virginia Pioneers has online images of wills and these counties), and the current West Virginia counties of Berkeley, Hampshire, Hardy, Jefferson, and Morgan. Luckily, many papers of the proprietary are still extant and contain data concerning individual land grants, land tenure, family relationships, geographical names, and migration. This region was mostly settled by Germans and the Scotch-Irish. When King Charles II of England was forced into exile in 1649 after the execution of his father, he granted more than five million acres of land between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers (to their headwaters) to seven of his supporters, including John Culpeper. In 1669 a new charter was issued, and in 1681, Thomas, Lord Culpeper, acquired all rights to the land. Upon his death in 1689 his interest passed to his daughter, Catherine, who married Thomas, fifth Lord Fairfax. The Council confirmed their rights in 1694, and the proprietary remained in the hands of the Fairfax family for another ninety years. Sources: Almost all extant Northern Neck Proprietary papers, as well as other related documents, may be found at the Library of Virginia. Most important of these are the grant books. Prior to 1690, grants in the Northern Neck Proprietary are found in the regular Land Office patent books. Cavaliers and Pioneers (volumes 1 and 2) by Nell Nugent contains abstracts of these and other patents. It is the preferred record of Virginia immigrants. A full listing of Northern Neck proprietary records held by the Library may be found in the published Virginia Land Office Inventory (3rd ed., 1981).

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