The History of Loudoun County, Virginia

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Brief history
Loudoun Settlements
A Storied History
Modern Changes

History of Loudoun County

Loudoun County is located between Washington, DC, and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. To the east, Dulles International Airport and commerce thrive; while the western section still maintains its small farms, towns, and villages.
The Town of Leesburg, the county seat, was once named "George Town" honoring King George II. Leesburg was established in 1758 from land originally held by Lord Fairfax, then renamed for the influential Lee family of Virginia. The town was formed at the crossroads of two Colonial roads, now Routes 7 and 15, and is the seat of government for beautiful Loudoun County. Leesburg is located just 35 miles northwest of Washington DC, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Brief History Top of page

Loudoun County constitutes a part of the five million acre Northern Neck of Virginia Proprietary granted by King Charles II of England to seven noblemen in 1649. This grant, later known as the Fairfax Proprietary, lay between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. Between 1653 and 1730, Westmoreland, Stafford and Prince William Counties were formed within the Proprietary, and in 1742 the remaining land was designated Fairfax County.
In 1757, by act of the Virginia House of Burgesses, Fairfax County was divided. The western portion was named Loudoun for John Campbell, Fourth Earl of Loudoun, a Scottish nobleman who served as Commander-in-Chief for all British armed forces in North America and titular Governor of Virginia from 1756 to 1768.
Leesburg has served continuously as the County Seat since 1757.

Loudoun Settlements Top of page

Settling of the Loudoun area began between 1725 and 1730, while it was still owned by Lord Fairfax. Permanent settlers came from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. During the same period, settlers from eastern Virginia of English Cavalier stock came to lower Loudoun and established large tobacco plantations.

During the 1720s, a number of Quakers, Germans, Irish and Scots-Irish settled west of the Catoctin mountains. Quakers formed the settlements of Waterford, Goose Creek (now Lincoln), Harmony (now Hamilton) and Union (now Unison).

From 1745 to 1760, Germans from Pennsylvania and Maryland formed the settlement at Lovettsville. After General Braddock's defeat by the French at Fort Duquesne in 1755, refugees from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia settled in the western part of Loudoun County, south of Short Hill. Catoctin Church became the center of that settlement.

A Storied History Top of page

In 1774, a meeting a freeholders and other residents was held in the County Courthouse to discuss the protection of rights and liberties in North America. The group adopted the Loudoun Resolves as well as a formal protest of the Stamp Act. Later, a number of Loudoun County men fought in the Revolutionary War.

During the War of 1812, Loudoun County served briefly as a temporary refuge for the President and important state papers. The Constitution and other state papers were brought to Rokeby, near Leesburg, for safekeeping when the British burned Washington. President Madison established headquarters at Belmont, where he was the guest of Ludwell Lee.

In 1861, residents of Loudoun County were split over the issue of secession. The Quakers and most of the Germans in northern and central Loudoun opposed slavery and secession, while the landed gentry in the southern part of the county favored secession.

During the Civil War, Colonel John Mosby and his Rangers were active in Loudoun County, which was also the home of the Laurel Brigade, a famous Confederate Cavalry unit commanded by Elijah V. White of Leesburg. A national cemetery near Leesburg marks the site of the Battle of Balls Bluff, where Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., then a young Union soldier, fought in 1861.

Modern Changes Top of page

For more than two centuries, agriculture was the dominant way of life in Loudoun County, which had a relatively constant population of about 20,000. That began to change in the early 1960s, when Dulles International Airport was built in the southeastern part of the county. The airport attracted new businesses, workers and their families to the area.

At the same time, the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area began a period of rapid growth. Major road improvements made commuting from Loudoun County much easier, attracting more and more people to the eastern part of the county. In the last three decades, the population of Loudoun County nearly quadrupled.

 

 

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