“As though the New Jersey suburbs were grafted onto South Carolina” is how Robert Lang of Virginia Tech’s Metropolitan Institute described Northern Virginia. Of course that’s a bit of a hyperbole. Even at the time of the Civil War, Virginia was one of the least “Southern” members of the Confederacy. Today, the entire state bears the marks of a massive post-1960’s influx of migrants from other parts of the country, while other regions have also developed their own character. But Northern Virginia continues to be one of the most unique (and economically important) areas of the Commonwealth.Mapping a region is difficult and controversial. Recently Aaron Renn posted about 12 ways to map the Midwest. FiveThirtyEight took a look at which states are in the South. Working in the same vein, I’d like to look at several ways to map “Northern Virginia.”1. Lord Fairfax’s land grantNorthern Virginia as a distinct region actually predates the founding of Washington, DC. In 1649, Charles II (then in exile) gave all the land between the Rappahannock and the Potomac to seven Englishmen who had supported him faithfully during the English Civil War.
Lord Culpeper eventually gained 5/6th of the shares of the grant, which he passed to his daughter, who married Lord Fairfax in 1690. Lord Fairfax bought out the final share from Baron Arlington (lots of familiar names here) and the grant was consolidated under his name. Throughout the colonial era, the grant caused problems between Lord Fairfax and the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg. The ability to grant property and collect fees was a significant source of revenue and authority at the time. Lord Fairfax successfully preserved his claim over the grant against the claims of the House of Burgesses. Land ownership records for northern Virginia were maintained in a separate land office up until the Civil War, when they were finally consolidated in Richmond. Fairfax’s control meant that a very different group of settlers were able to get pieces of Northern Virginia than those who went through the colony government further south.Read Full Article →