September 21, 2010

I will be speaking about the Fitzhugh slaves at the Oak Hill Open House, Fairfax County, VA




(Opening ceremony at 12:30 pm)

4716 Wakefield Chapel Road, Annandale, VA 22003


The Fitzhugh Family and 17th & 18th Century Fairfax County

In 1670, William Fitzhugh (a.k.a. “William the Immigrant”) settled in Westmoreland County Virginia. He became a governor of the College of William and Mary and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. He also established one of the largest land grants in the “new world.” He owned land that stretched from present day Stafford County to Arlington County. The Fairfax County portion of this property, the 21,996-acre Ravensworth Tract, was described in 1694 as “upon the runs of Accotinke, Mussel Creek run and on the south side of the run Four Mile Creek.”

In the 1680s and 1690s, the Fairfax County land known at the time as Ravensworth was marketed to French Huguenots who were suffering under religious persecution. In 1686, William Fitzhugh wrote the following to entice the Huguenots to buy or lease this land: “The land I offer to sell or lease is scituate in this county, lyes within a mile and a half of Potomac River, and of two bold navigable creeks, is principal good land and is proper for Frenchmen, because more naturally inclined to vines, than yours or any about our neighborhood; and will engage to naturalize every soul of them at 3 per head without anymore or other matter of charge or trouble to them, whereby the heirs will be capacitated to inherit the fathers purchase.”

In 1730, tobacco warehouses were established at Little Hunting Creek and Occoquan. These helped to make Ravensworth a very prosperous tobacco plantation. By 1782, Ravensworth was the fourth largest plantation in Fairfax County, and had 203 slaves. In 1783, the north section of the Ravensworth tract was divided among the five [great] grandsons of William Fitzhugh. The south section, south of Braddock Road, remained largely intact until Robert E. Lee’s children inherited it. Richard Fitzhugh, one of the five [great] grandsons, built Oak Hill in 1790. In the same year, Ossian Hall and another house named Dover*were all constructed by the [great] grandsons of William Fitzhugh. Today Oak Hill is the only remaining home built by the Fitzhugh family left in Fairfax County.

Built in 1790 by Richard Fitzhugh, Oak Hill was patterned after the rigid symmetry of the late Georgian style which was inspired by Italian Renaissance architecture. In 1830, an extension was added to the west side of the original house. In the 1930s renowned restoration architect Walter M. Macomber restored and remodeled the house in a Colonial Revival style. Other than the sunroom added to the west side of the house in the 1970s, most of Oak Hill stands today as it did after the 1930s restoration. One feature of significance is the Colonial Revival wood paneling in the dining room which is a replica Federal-period mantel that is detailed with a molded shelf, decorative carved medallions, marble facing and a marble hearth.

The grounds of Oak Hill are also remarkable. From Braeburn Drive up to the front doors of Oak Hill is the original lined drive to the house. This drive is lined on both sides by boxwoods that date back to the 1790 construction of Oak Hill. It is unusual to find so much of the original landscaping including oak trees and boxwoods still intact over 200 years later.

The purchase of a historic easement on Oak Hill offers a unique opportunity to preserve an important piece of the history of our area for generations to come.

Written by Paul Gilbert, Director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

*Recent research has clarified the term Dover as “Dower,” which is the widow’s share of property upon her husband’s death. Fontainebleau is the name of the house that Mordecai Cooke Fitzhugh built and bequeathed to his wife, as part of her dower share, in the 1858 division of their property.


Speakers—Maddy McCoy, John Browne, Dennis Howard

Before and after emancipation: African Americans in the Oak Hill community. Maddy McCoy, developer and curator of Fairfax County's Slavery Inventory Database, shares insights from her research of the lives of Ravensworth's slaves, former slaves and free blacks. John Browne maps changes that divided up Oak Hill and Ravensworth land through generations of inheritance and sale. Together the speakers present what is known of a now-lost African American community that developed in the late 1800s on former Oak Hill land on Braddock Road.

Springfield resident and author, Dennis Howard recounts his family's passage from slavery in Culpeper, Virginia, to becoming land owners and proprietors of a blacksmith shop on Little River Turnpike, to their contributions in developing our community.


12:00—12:30 House open for unguided walk-through first floor only

Ticket distribution for Guided-tours begins

12:30 Opening Ceremony

1:00—2:00 Guided House tours (first floor only)

Entry time into house – 10-15 persons at a time: 1:00; 1:20; 1:40

2:00—3:30 House open for unguided walk-through (first floor only)

3:30—5:00 Guided tours of house (first floor only)

Entry time into house – 10-15 persons at a time: 3:30; 3:50; 4:10;


1:00—1:30 Dennis Howard

1:45—2:45 Maddy Mc Coy & John Browne
3:00—3:30 Dennis Howard
3:45—4:45 Maddy Mc Coy & John Browne
Between 1:00 and 4:30 on the lawn—Food, Music and Children's Activities
Fairfax County is committed to a policy of nondiscrimination in all county programs, services and activities and will provide reasonable accommodations upon request. To request special accommodations, call 703-324-2321 or TTY 711. Please allow ten working days in advance of events in order to make the necessary arrangements.

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