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Early Jefferson County: The historical fabric of Jefferson County

PHOTO CAP: Happy Retreat - home of Charles Washington, youngest brother of George Washington, and founder of what is today Charles Town, West Virginia

Early Jefferson County
The historical fabric of Jefferson County
By Bob O'Connor
Contributing Writer

Although not founded as a county until 1801, the history and founding of what was then western Virginia goes back to the early days of George Washington who surveyed part of the five million acres of Lord Fairfax's holdings. Fairfax was ready to start settling his land and needed accurate plots to sell.
As a teenager, Washington was among a host of surveyors needed for the task. As early as 1750, at age 18, Washington started purchasing land in what is today called Jefferson County, West Virginia. His land of choice of all the acres he had seen of the Fairfax tracts was at the fertile northern green end of the Shenandoah Valley
From 1750-1752, Washington purchased and acquired grants to over 2,300 acres along the Bullskin Run, naming the land "Rock Hall". From that day forth, he encouraged his three brothers, Samuel, Lawrence and Charles to also purchase land in the same area. His youngest brother Charles set up and founded the town of Charlestown (it wasn't two separate words until 1912). He laid out the streets, naming the main east-west street Washington, and the main north street after the brothers - Charles Street, George Street, Samuel Street and Lawrence Street. Charles also set aside the four corners of the town square to serve the community with the post office, courthouse, town hall and town market located on the corners. The deal from Charles was as long as these buildings were in public use, everything was good. However, if the town were to seek other uses, the land would revert back to the family.
The Washington brothers were instrumental in starting the horse racing industry in Charles Town, which is still one of its largest industries even today, as they raced against each other on horses through the town's streets.
The Washington family built fourteen plantations in Jefferson County. Seven still stand. On the third Saturday in September there is a Washington home tour that opens several of the homes to the public for visitation. Charles Washington's Happy Retreat is under option by a local non-profit for possible use in the future as a public ethic, arts and heritage center. All seven of the houses are currently privately owned.
More Washingtons are buried in the Zion Cemetery in Charles Town than anywhere in the world - with over seventy known graves.
George Washington never lived in Jefferson County as he purchased Mount Vernon from the estate of his brother and moved there. But we know for sure that he thought the land in Jefferson County was some of the best land in the Shenandoah Valley.
For more information on Jefferson County, West Virginia, please visit our website at Or give us a call at 1-866-HELLO-WV.

Mr. O'Connor is a historian and published author. He has written six books since 2006. His website is This article is part one of a historical series, Mr. O'Connor has written for the Picket News tourism issues.

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