George K. Fox Saves the County Records
Three courthouses have stood on this site in Leesburg since Loudoun was
formed in 1757. The first was designated in a plat of Leesburg in
1759, and on the 12th of August 1776, the Declaration of Indpendence
was read on the courthouse steps. The second was built in 1811 in
brick in the Federal style, and it was to that structure that the
Marquis de Lafayette visited on the 9th of August 1825 during his
grand tour of the United States. The current building, designed by
William C. West of Richmond in the Classical style, was constructed
in 1894 by the Norris brothers of Leesburg.
General John W. Geary and his troops of the 28th Pennsylvania Regiment came into Lovettsville on February 24, 1862. In anticipation of their occupation of Leesburg, the County seat of Loudoun, all the County records were loaded into a wagon and carried away to safety. It is well that they were removed, as Geary's troops occupied all public buildings and the Bank of the Valley (which sits across the street from the courthouse complex in the center of Leesburg) in March, 1862. Many counties in Virginia suffered severe damage to their records when the court houses and clerk's offices were occupied by federal troops. The records are not merely vital to lawyers and landowners, but also to historians as the documents contain the history of the County.
The story starts with a memorandum written by Fox in the County minute book in use at the time: "Owing to the continuance of the War, no court was held in the county from February 1862 to July 1865." Two former historians have given accounts of what happened. Harrison Williams stated that Mrs. Fannie Fox Mason, Fox's daughter, gave him this information:
The Loudoun Court, headed by Presiding Justice Asa Rogers, ordered County Clerk George K. Fox, Junior, to remove the records to a place of safety and to use his discretion about their preservation. Pursuant to these instructions, Mr. Fox loaded the records into a large wagon and with these drove south to Campbell County. For the next four years, he moved his precious charge about place to place as danger threatened each refuge in turn.
Mr. Harrison described the episode in this way: "The Clerk (of the Court) stated that at the outbreak of the War, all records of Loudoun County were removed to Campbell County pursuant to an order entered to that effect."
The fact of the matter is that no such order is on record. It would seem that Mr. Rogers gave the order verbally. If Rogers gave a written order, it is possible that the urgency of the moment prevented Fox from entering it in the Minute Book.
At one time, considerable discussion went on over where the records were taken. Some local residents, like Mrs. Mason, had always heard they were taken to Campbell County. Others maintained just as stoutly that they went to Albemarle County. Would that Mr. Fox had left a diary! Perhaps some fortunate record searcher may one day be able to trace Fox's travels from March, 1862 to July, 1865.
As soon as the newly-elected officers and justices met in July, 1865, after the necessary oaths were administered, their final order of business was recorded thus:
"That George K. Fox, Junior, as Clerk of this Court, having removed from this County the records of the Court under an order heretofore made, he is now ordered to return the records to the Clerk's Office of this Court as soon as possible at the expense of the County."
It is doubtful that Fox was even paid. The Justices went for at least two years without ever setting a levy.
The Democratic Mirror (published at Leesburg) for August 9 1865 carried this news story:
George K. Fox, Junior, Esquire, late Clerk of the Court, reached home Friday from the Devil's Kitchen with the Records of the County which were removed more than three years ago by Order of the Court. They were returned in good condition without the loss of a single paper, or so much as the rubbing of the bindings of the books. The office is now in good running condition except for a few minor papers which were left behind. The State Highway Department has located the Devil's Kitchen as being close to Goshen Pass in Rockbridge County. The Court ordered Fox to return the records on July 10 and by August 9 he arrived in Leesburg. Doubtless, this was considered very prompt execution of the order, considering the distance and the condition of the roads.
The people of Loudoun seem unaware of their indebtedness to Fox. The County has a complete set of Deed, Will, and Order Books from the formation of the county in 1757, including all the Revolutionary War records. The Minute Books date from 1820 when the Assembly of Virginia provided for the discontinuance of Order Books and provided for Minute Books. The one obvious thing that is missing are early surveyors' books and these may be what was "left behind." For his extraordinary care and diligence in keeping safe Loudoun County's entire history, Fox truly deserves a plaque in the Clerk's Office.