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Early Settlement and Founding: "indifferently built ... tho' very advantageously situated" (1722-1813)

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Founding & Revolution • Pigs in the Streets •  War of 1812 & Lafayette's Visit •  Leesburg, Inc.

Following the 1722 Treaty of Albany, in which the Iroquois abandoned all lands east of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the colony of Virginia, colonists and new immigrants of a wide variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds began settling the lands that would become Loudoun County. In 1730, Thomas, the 6th Earl of Fairfax, granted 4054 acres, including what would become Leesburg, to Francis Awbrey. At the intersection of the major north-south Carolina Road (now U.S. Highway 15) and the east-west oriented Potomac Ridge Road (now Virginia Highway 7), a small settlement emerged.

Founding & Revolution

Hough map of Leesburg, 1757  Original map of Leesburg. James Goode Photograph Collection (VC 0010), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA.

In 1757, the Assembly of Virginia selected this settlement for the location of the Loudoun County courthouse. The town's name was changed to Leesburg, for the Lee family, by an Act of Assembly in September 1758 that officially established the town. Initial town trustees included Nicholas Minor, Philip Ludwell Lee, and Francis Lightfoot Lee, who were responsible for regulating building in the town.

The land was owned by Nicholas Minor, who had hired John Hough to survey and plat his 60 acres into 70 lots to form a town, which he called George Town. The original map from 1757 is no longer in existence; his 1759 revised map shows Leesburg's subdivision into 70 lots divided by three north-south and four east-west streets.

At first, Minor sold lots for a mere £3, but soon increased his price to £10. In order to prevent the shoddy construction he was seeing, Minor also required purchasers to build on the lots, giving most three years to build a brick, stone or wood house twenty feet wide and sixteen feet long. If they failed to build in a timely fashion, the property reverted back to Minor.

William Baker's house at 106 Loudoun St SW  
William Baker's house at 106 Loudoun St SW, one of the original buildings in Leesburg, ca. 1900. Ethel Littlejohn Adams Photograph Collection (VC 0015), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA.
Leesburg was a commercial crossroads for Shenandoah Valley farmers near Winchester seeking to move their goods to merchants in Alexandria and Georgetown. With the opening of the Leesburg Turnpike (Virginia Highway 7) -- in 1820, the relationship was strengthened.

At the start of the American Revolution, Leesburg had fewer than 500 residents. Due in part to its ethnic and religious diversity, which included English, German, and Scotch-Irish belonging to Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, and Quaker (Society of Friends) congregations, many Leesburg residents supported the American Revolution.

In June 1774, Leesburg and Loudoun freeholders, meeting in Leesburg, passed the Loudoun County Resolves, which sent a delegation to a Virginia-wide meeting to consider responses to British taxation and other provocations. Loudoun County's militia, in which every freeman between the ages of 16 and 50 was enrolled, was the largest in Virginia with 1,746 men.

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Pigs in the Streets

Pigs in Leesburg, Camel v. Leesburg 1798Pigs in Leesburg, Camell v. Leesburg 1798. Courtesy of Gary M. Clemens, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Loudoun County, VA.

As the county seat, Leesburg has always been home to the circuit court. The first courthouse was built at the corner of Market and King Streets in 1761. It was replaced by a new one in 1811; a third courthouse, which still stands today, was built at the same location in the 1894

The earliest document in the Loudoun County Circuit Court records the town is a suit filed by J.S. Camell in 1798 over the taking of his hogs by the Town of Leesburg. It was dismissed with costs of $2.57.

 

 

 

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War of 1812 & Lafayette's Visit

Lafayette watercolor
The portrait of Lafayette ... on the occasion of his visit to Leesburg, Loudoun County. Art Collection (VC 0006), Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA.

During the War of 1812, Leesburg served as the temporary national archives of the United States. Faced with British invasion of Washington, D.C., the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, congressional journals, George Washington's correspondence and other official documents were squirreled away in a vacant Leesburg house, with former county sheriff and Methodist pastor John Littlejohn keeping the keys.

A decade later, President James Monroe resided just south of town at Oak Hill, where he wrote the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. In 1825, the Marquis de la Fayette, a personal friend of Monroe, was feted in Leesburg during his farewell tour of the United States. Lafayette had served during the American Revolution under George Washington, and was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine. During his 1824-1825 tour of America, he visited all twenty-four of the United States.

 

 

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Leesburg, Inc.

Act of Incorporation, 1813
Act of Incorporation, 1813. Town of Leesburg Records, Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA.

The Act of Incorporation of the Town of Leesburg by the General Assembly was signed 18 February 1813, providing for elected officials to pass laws governing the town and manage town affairs. Acts and ordinances governing a variety of activities in the town quickly followed.

One act, passed 14 August 1813, held residents of lots fronting on King and Loudoun Streets responsible for paving the footways and providing gutters along the street, using stone or bricks that met the guidelines of the town's plan. If owners failed to comply in a timely fashion, the Street Commission was authorized to do the paving and bill the homeowners.

Discover more about Leesburg during the antebellum years.

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