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The Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley
provided by A Heritage Enterprise-Your History Connection

Ashby Gap to Chester Gap

The following is an historic reprint from the April 1934 Edition of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Bulletin, precursor the PATC's current newsletter, the Potomac Appalachian.

By Jean Stephenson

The crest of the Blue Ridge from Chester Gap to Ashby Gap has associations with many people famous in our history, not only in colonial times, but of more recent days. All this land was part of the Northern Neck grant which ultimately came to the Barons Fairfax of Cameron. The roll of agents for the Fairfax family includes some of the most noted names in Virginia - Colonel Nicholas Spencer, Colonel Philip Ludwell, George Brent, William Fitzhugh, Colonel Robert Carter (known from his vast possessions and power as "King" Carter), and lastly, William Fairfax and his son, of "Belvoir", the friends of Washington.

Much of the Northern Neck land was sold outright, but a few "Manors" were erected, over which Lord Fairfax, as "Lord of the Manor", retained seignorial rights and privileges. One of the first of these was the "Manors of Leeds", named for Leeds Castle, Co. Kent England, the seat of the Fairfax family. Thomas, Lord Fairfax came to Virginia in 1736, laid out the Manor of Leeds, had it surveyed by John Warner, and then went back to England. When he returned in 1745, he stayed first with his cousin, William Fairfax, who was his agent at Belvoir, in what vies then Fairfax County. However, he felt that the country was too civilized and as the foxes were getting scarce, he built a new home, "Greenway Court", across the mountains in what was then Frederick County, now Clarke County. Here buffalo, elk, deer, bear, foxes, etc., abounded, and here he lived until his death. He had previously granted Greenway Court Manor to his nephew, Thomas Bryan Martin, for a rental, to be paid each Michaelmas, of one buck and one doe, a quaint survival of an old English custom. Now the best fox-hunting country in Virginia is on and to the east of the Manor of Leeds.

The Manor of Leeds contained 119,927 acres between Hedgeman River on the upper side of Carters Run, on the branches of Goose Creek, on the lower side of the Shenandoah River below Happy Creek, including the Blue Ridge between Happy Creek Gap (now Chester Gap) and Ashby's Gap. In this tract he leased most of the land usually for the life of the lessee and any other two persons, with the privilege of renewal indefinitely; but some lots were leased for twenty-one years at a yearly rental of one shilling, the lessee to have the land surveyed, to build a house twenty feet long, sixteen feet wide, with a stone or brick chimney, and to plant an orchard of a hundred apple trees thirty feet apart.

Later other manors were established nearby, one unnamed covering the land from Ashby's Gap to Williams' Gap (now Snickers Gap), and another, "Gooney Run Manor", between Gooney Run and Happy Creek. After the Stamp Act agitation, Fairfax evidently foresaw trouble, for in 1767 he conveyed these manors and the South Branch Manor to his nephew, Thomas Bryan Martin, who reconveyed them to him, thus giving him a private title as well as a seignorial title to them. The seignorial title ceased with the success of the Revolution, but the private title remained good.

After Fairfax's death in 1781, the title of the lands vested in Denny Martin, although there was much controversy over them. One of decisions that established the jurisdiction of the United States Supreme Court over State Supreme Courts arose out of the Fairfax land cases.

But meanwhile, after the Revolution, land speculation was rife Everyone was going to make a fortune in lands. Some did, but more lost all they had. Among the most active speculators was Robert Morris, "the financier of the Revolution", whose daughter married James Markham Marshall. The Marshalls lived near Little Cobbler Mountain, and so were familiar with "Leeds". About 1793 John Marshall, later Chief Justice, his brother James Markham Marshall, their brother-in-law Raleigh Colston, and General Henry Lee (Light Horse Harry) formed a syndicate to purchase from Denny Martin and the other Fairfax heirs the Manor of Leeds, Gooney Run Manor, the unnamed Manor reaching to Williams' Gap, and certain other lands. The speculation was almost disastrous, as the title was clouded so they could not sell the land, and it was not until 1806 that it was cleared.

Meanwhile, the Marshalls had become heavily involved, and finally, against his inclination, John Marshall was forced to accept an appointment in 1797 as one of the envoys from the United States to France. Writing of this, Thomas Jefferson states, "Had he not been appointed minister to France, he was desperate in his affairs and must have sold his estate". He received about $20,000 for his services (an ambassador's services were evidently valued more highly then than now), and with this and other sums he and James raised, he was able to complete the purchase.

When the syndicate divided the property, Raleigh Colston received the unnamed Manor and "Gooney Run Manor", James the Winchester lots and certain non-manorial land, while John Marshall kept the Manor of Leeds. The two peaks of North and South Marshall below Chester Gap commemorate the Marshall association and ownership.

The old name of Chester Gap was Happy Creek Gap, while Manassas was "Calmese Gap", called after Marquis Calmes who married the daughter of William Waller. Ashby's was first called "the Upper Thoroughfare of the Blue Ridge", but after Thomas Ashby received land on Goose Creek at its junction with Crooked Run (the present site of Delaplane), and later settled near what is now Paris, it became known as Ashby's Bent, and still later as Ashby's Gap. This Thomas Ashby was a prominent citizen both there and in Frederick County where he subsequently lived. His son John Ashby was a noted Indian fighter and bore to the Governor at Williamsburg the dispatches telling of Braddock's defeat and death.

The most distinguished member of the family, however, was Col. Turner Ashby, of Civil War fame, who is so graphically described in John Esten Cooke's "Surry of Eagle's Nest", which, although a novel gives one of the best accounts of the Valley Campaign, and the first two years of the Civil War in the Upper Virginia section. Many of the scenes are laid in the country around the Manor of Leeds and elsewhere in Fauquier County.

And speaking of names, it is interesting to realize that Francis Fauquier, for whom the County was named, received his appointment as Governor of Virginia after coming to the attention of the public and government officials as author of a pamphlet, "An Essay on Ways and Means for raising Money for the Support of the Present War without increasing the Public Debts", in which he advocated a graduated income tax, as any tax on wages or on necessaries is always shifted from the laborer to the employer and will ultimately be paid by the consumer. Thus, it is evident that the problems of income tax versus sales tax and tariffs were worrying the government leaders two hundred years ago and that bright young men were suitably rewarded then as now when their views met with the approval of those in high places. But little did he dream that he would be remembered chiefly because of the country named for him and its fame as the fox hunting country of Virginia.


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