From Indians to Speculators

by Ruth S. Bentley
This article appeared in the Waterford Foundation's 1983 publication, Wateford Perspectives. Reprinted with the permission of the Waterford Foundation

See also: Indians of Virginia
Indian named places »

Long before the white man arrived in what is now Loudoun County and settled on the banks of Catoctin Creek to form the settlement later known as Waterford, the area was occupied by Indians. The entire Piedmont was used largely as an Indian hunting ground. The first settlers at Waterford probably were Indians who used the spot for a temporary camping site rather than as a permanent home.

The earliest men who lived and roamed this region, perhaps as long as 10,000 years ago, were people of what are known archeologically as the Paleo-Indian group. While their remains are not overly plentiful, they do occur in stone points, etc., in sufficient number to show that these men were hunters of what are now extinct game forms such as the mammoth and the earliest bison.

About 6,000 B.C., changes in climate gradually caused these larger animals to disappear. The people of this era, called the Archaic Period, hunted any small game they could get their hands on, including deer, the modern bison or buffalo, and rabbits. Since even this game was not as plentiful as formerly they supplemented their diet by gathering nuts, berries, tubers and grass seeds. For hunting these early men used the dart and throwing stick but were totally unacquainted with the bow and arrow.

With the introduction of the bow and arrow, at about the same time as the coming of pottery-making, generally assumed to be about 2,500 B.C., the life of the Indian became much easier. The bow and arrow enabled him to bring down his game from a greater distance and with less risk to himself since he no longer had to creep within throwing distance of his prey.

In the very early days the land was covered by dense forest broken only by great clearings. These areas, in ever greater numbers, were cleared by Indians, who burned them out to create grazing grounds in which native grasses grew that were particularly attractive to buffalo. Buffalo were one of the staples of the Indians and until as late as 1730 buffalo were found in abundance in this area.

Archeologists estimate that in 1600 the Indian population in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Loudoun County, Virginia numbered only about 1,500 - certainly a scanty habitation.

Several different Indian groups were scattered over the whole region. Historically, the Indians occupying the "coastal" area-below the falls and to the south and east of the Potomac River - have been attributed to the Algonquin group. But the "upland" area, north and west of the falls is believed to have been peopled by groups of the Siouan elements, although this is not supported by modem archeological evidence.

The Susquehannocks and tribes of the powerful Iroquois nation made use of the Shenandoah Valley as a prime war path between themselves and groups to the South. Iroquoian battling over hunting rights in the area caused the other Indians present to migrate eastward, which accounts for some of the Indian settlements in the Piedmont area by Sioux and Dakotas. After the defeat of the Tuscaroras in 171 1 by the English and their subsequent withdrawal to the Iroquois " Long House" in central New York state, these groups drifted westward again, leaving only a smattering of Indian groups in this region.

Characteristically, both the Iroquois and the Algonquin may be classed as highly developed savage groups. They were farmers who lived in permanent settlements surrounded by their agricultural lands. Hunting was more of a pastime to them than a means of livelihood.

In contrast, the Siouan tribes who roamed the Piedmont area of which Waterford is a part were nomadic peoples who relied on constant hunting, fishing and gathering for their food. Consequently, little evidence is found of permanent Indian villages in this area.

One of the most interesting and well known accounts of encounters with upland Indians is found in Capt. John Smith's diary of an exploratory expedition in 1608 to the upper regions of the Rappahannock River. Through the services of an Indian guide the Englishmen finally made friends with a group of about I 00 Indians who had been taking pot shots at them all the way up the river. They discovered that these red men were of the Mannahoack Confederacy, a loosely joined group of eight or more Siouan tribes probably brought together for the purpose of common protection against the more powerful and sophisticated warring groups from the north and cast. But during later exploration of the territory, around 1670, no trace of the Mannahoacks was found, indicating that they were either driven out by the Iroquois and Susquehannocks or drawn westward in their pursuit of game.

A fascinating sidelight is the story of a group of Piscataways who were tired of being pushed and pulled between the constantly warring tribes. After much roaming, they finally settled on an island in the Potomac at nearby Point of Rocks. No persuasion by the English could bring them to budge from the village and fort they had constructed on the island and there they remained until 1722, after the Treaty of Albany, which had such a broad effect on Indians throughout the region and so greatly influenced the settlement of Loudoun.

This Treaty of Albany  opened the way for intensive settlement of the western uplands. Governor Alexander Spotswood, who assumed office in 1710, realized that development of the Virginia colony would be impossible without the pacification of the hostile Indian tribes. After prolonged preliminary discussions, Spotswood succeeded, over a period of five years, in completing an agreement with the Iroquois and the Virginia tributary Indians on the one hand and the governors of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. This agreement was the famed Treaty of Albany and by its terms the Indians were prohibited from ever again crossing the Potomac or. the Blue Ridge.

Although there had been previous treaties with the Indians, the Treaty of Albany was the first to provide effective protection against the Indians over a sustained period. Slowly and cautiously for the next ten years the colonists moved westward.

The western movement and land settlement between 1719 and 1745 aroused the enthusiastic interest of what today would be called "land speculators." Not the least of these speculators were the agents of Thomas, the sixth Lord Fairfax, who, through his mother, had inherited Lord Culpeper's vast proprietary in the Northern Neck. Lord Fairfax, although born in England, made his home in Virginia and lived until his death in 1781 at his estate, Greenery Court, in what is now Clarke County, but what, in his day, was a deep wilderness.

Thomas Lee and Robert Carter, as agents of Lord Fairfax, acquired for themselves as grants from Fairfax, tremendous tracts of land in the southern and southeastern part of Loudoun. These great tracts were administered as "manors" and settlers were allowed to lease the lands only for a period of three lives within two generations but were not permitted to purchase the lands or hold title to them. This delayed the settlement of the southern part of the county by small freeholders, who pushed on to the newer frontiers beyond the mountains.

In the northern part of the county several land speculators operated off and on during this period. Such men as Benjamin Grayson, Catesby Cocke, John Mercer, William Fairfax (a cousin of Lord Fairfax, and his "rental agent") and John Colville secured land by grant or by buying up the grants of others.

Among the first grants of land in the Waterford area were those made to Catesby Cocke and John Mercer. Pioneers from Pennsylvania, moving into the valley between the Short Hills and the Catoctin Mountain, bought or leased land from Cocke and Mercer. These Pennsylvanians were composed of two separate groups, the Germans who settled in the Lovettsville area and the Quakers who made their home in the Waterford neighborhood. Except for their love of the land there was little in common between these two groups, and the two communities remained separate and distinct.

About 1740 most of the land grants in this area were bought up by William Fairfax and John Colville, who then divided their holdings between them. Fairfax retained 46,000 acres which included all of the territory on the Potomac River lying between Catoctin Creek and the Shenandoah River. Colville held 16,000 acres along the other side of Catoctin Creek.

Colville and Fairfax then subdivided these large holdings into smaller tracts ranging in size from 150 to 300 acres. A steady flow of settlers followed, attracted by the fertile land and low quitrents.

Upon Colville's death in 1755, his holdings were conveyed to a distant relative, the Earl of Tankerville, and George William Fairfax inherited the Catoctin lands upon the death of his father in 1757. This change of ownership did not deter settlement and during the 1760's great numbers of people, particularly Quakers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, took up land here under the lease system.

Thus, in less than one generation, the valley was transformed from a bloody Indian hunting ground to a peaceful agricultural community.


Miller, Carl F.

  • Reevaluation of the Eastern Siouan problem with particular emphasis on the Virginia branches.
  • Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 164, Anthropological Paper No, 52, 1957.
  • Archeology of the John H. Kerr Reservoir Basin Roanoke River, Virginia-North Carolina Bureau of
  • American Ethnology, Bulletin 182. River Basin Surveys Paper No, 25, 1%2.

Piggott Steuart, EcL

  • The Dawn of Civilizatiot4 MeGmw-HilL.

Harrison, Fairfax

  • Landmarks of Old Prince Williams

Williams, Harrison

  • Legends of Loudoun

In addition to the articles listed above, Mr. Carl Miller of the Smithsonian Institution supplied a wealth of invaluable information dealing with the prehistoric periods covered.

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