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William Fairfax, George William Fairfax, and Sally Fairfax. 207 Prince Street

Posted on Apr 22,2008
Filed Under News , Community,

Colonel William Fairfax (1691-1757) of Belvoir plantation purchased the quarter block on which this house stands at the first sale of town lots in 1749, and he probably had a building here within four years of his purchase.  His son and heir, George William Fairfax (1725-1787), sold it before he moved permanently to England in 1771.
William Fairfax was the business agent of his cousin, Thomas the sixth Lord Fairfax, who controlled 5,282,000 acres of Virginia (one-fifth of Virginia).  Both William Fairfax and his son George William were members of the Virginia House of Burgesses, members of the Governor’s Council (William was president of the Council, a position second only to that of governor), and co-founders and trustees of the City of Alexandria.  One of William Fairfax’s daughters was the wife of Lawrence Washington (1718-1752), George Washington’s older half-brother through whom he inherited Mount Vernon, and another daughter married John Carlyle.  George Washington was a frequent visitor to Belvoir and, in 1748 at the age of sixteen, went on a surveying expedition to the Blue Ridge Mountains with George William Fairfax, one of his closest friends. 

George William Fairfax’s wife, Sally Fairfax (1730-1811), may have been the great love of George Washington’s youth.  When Washington became engaged to Martha, he responded to teasing from Sally Fairfax by telling her that she (Sally) was the only woman he really loved.  Although his marriage to Martha Washington was a strong one, his feelings for Sally perhaps remained.  At the age of 66, after twenty-five years of separation from her, after he had won the Revolutionary War, and after he had been twice President of the United States, Washington said in a letter to Sally Fairfax that:  “None of which events, however, nor all of them together, have been able to eradicate from my mind the recollection of those happy moments, the happiest in my life, which I have enjoyed in your company.”  However, it should be noted that Martha Washington wrote a note to Sally on this same letter.  Thus, it is obvious that Martha saw George’s oft-quoted comments.  Perhaps they were nothing more than nostalgia for his happy youth at Belvoir.

Robert Adam (1731-1784), a good friend of George Washington, next owned the property, and Washington witnessed the deed transferring it to him.  The property passed through several hands; and Captain John Harper, who dined at Mount Vernon and participated with Washington in laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol building, then purchased it in 1773.  He probably built the current house between 1774 and 1780.

William Hodgson (1765-1820), a merchant and vestryman of Christ Church who purchased the house in 1790, participated with Washington in laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol building and walked in George Washington’s funeral procession.  Hodgson came from England, where he had spent two years in Newgate prison for referring to King George III as a “German Hogbutcher,” and he conducted a dry goods business on the first floor, using the upper floors for family quarters.  Both William Hodgson and his wife, Portia Lee Hodgson (1777-1840), visited Mount Vernon a number of times before their marriage.  Married in May 1799, they last dined at Mount Vernon a month after their wedding.  Among the guests on that occasion was Oliver Ellsworth (1745-1807), whom George Washington had appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1796.  The Hodgsons owned the house for twenty-five years.  However, William Bartleman, a grocer who walked in Washington’s funeral procession, lived here in 1805.  Tax records show that John (c1757-1827) and Cornelia Lee (1780-1815) (Portia Lee Hodgson’s sister) Hopkins were living here in 1810.  Both had dined on separate occasions at Mount Vernon before they were married.  President Washington had appointed Hopkins Commissioner of Loans at Richmond in 1789.  Hodgson sold the house in 1816 to John Gardner Ladd (d.1819), who had dined at Mount Vernon in 1798.

According to tradition, this house had perhaps the first bathtub in Alexandria, which drained onto Prince Street from an upper story hole in the wall.  There was no warning for the pedestrians below. 

In 1929, Gay Montague Moore and her husband purchased the house.  At the time, the area was a slum.  The Moores restored the house; and Mrs. Moore was a major leader in convincing others to restore the area.  Mrs. Moore’s 1949 book, Seaport in Virginia: George Washington’s Alexandria is an important early history of Alexandria.

(Adapted from Robert Madison’s Walking with Washington, available in Alexandria museum gift shops.)

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