Ben Lomond Manor House
Nov 20, 2005
Where It All Began....Click on images for larger versions, (requires JavaScrip enabled browser)
In order to appreciate the history of the Ben Lomond Manor House in western Prince William County, one must go back to the early Virginia colonists who settled in the Northern Neck of Virginia along the rivers in the middle 1600's.
Some of the early colonists, who first settled this Tidewater area, were of such rank and influence that they could obtain extensive land grants and naturally, they located their homes along the waterways, the easiest, safest, and most independent means of transportation. These waterways were not only a highway to and from the English and Scottish markets, but it was also the social highway between friends, family and neighbors. There were few, if any, home markets, nor were there many towns in which a market might be located. Each plantation was a community unto itself and totally self-sufficient.
By the mid to late 1700's, after the Tidewater area had reached its highest expression of civilization, its densest population and greatest prosperity, it degenerated into a sparsely populated, rejected and meagerly productive region. New settlers, and even the sons of many of the old families, found their way to newer regions.
The mid 1700 colonial countryside was a wilderness of vast forests dotted with new settlements, some growing so swiftly, faster than the local county governments could handle. New county lines were being carved out of the vast wilderness. Old Prince William County, established on March 25, 1731, from Stafford and King George counties, named for William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, second son of King George II. It was formed due "to the great inconveniences to the inhabitants of the former counties by reason of their great distance from their respective courthouses and other places usually appointed for public meetings".
Prince William County was mainly a maritime community; developments grew up along the eastern half of the county along the Occoquan River, which fed into the Potomac River, which led to the Atlantic Ocean. This made selling one's cash crops, mainly tobacco, to the European agents via the waterways, easier since the alternative was to "roll" their hogshead of tobacco overland, pulled by a team of oxen, over questionable "roads".,
In 1731, Prince William County Courthouse, the county seat, was first located at the modern day Woodbridge area, on the south side of the Occoquan River, at a ferry landing near present day Colchester, owned by George Mason III. Besides the courthouse, a jail, pillory and stocks were built. The town of Colchester was eventually incorporated in 1753 to promote trade and navigation. This area, the center of the settled portion of the county, was a thriving shipping center on the Occoquan River near where it empties into the Potomac River.
The courthouse was moved around the county four more times dictated by population growth and trade interests. The cutting of 967 square miles from old Prince William County occurred in 1742, again shifting the population center. Three other counties were made from Old Prince William. They were Loudoun, Fairfax and Alexandria, now Arlington county.
The second court house move, in 1742, was to the village of Orlando on Cedar Run. Orlando was located within the current boundaries of the Quantico Marine base. Colchester and Orlando, early towns, found growth difficult and finally, both were given up as seats of government.
Another 666 square miles was cut from Old Prince William County in 1759 forming Fauquier County. In 1762, the county seat moved for the third time to Dumfires, a tobacco shipping port which prospered owing to its advantageous position as a center of trade in the western section of the Northern Neck. This was the first and oldest of seven towns chartered in the county during Prince William's first century.
Dumfries was named for landowner John Graham's old home in Scotland. A group of Glasgow merchants established Dumfries in 1749 when they realized the large returns they received in handling tobacco. Hogshead of tobacco, that came by wagon and by boat, were loaded onto vessels bound for Glasgow, there to be exchanged for merchandise, the best the Scottish markets had to offer. But Dumfries was slated for early decay; it had but one trade, tobacco. When the American Revolution came, tobacco exportation dropped from 55,000,000lbs to 14,500,000lbs in the first years and averaged 14,000,000lbs per year for the duration of the war. Most of the tobacco went, not to Great Britain, but to the West Indies and some to France. The interests of the Scottish merchants turned to West India sugar and those who had been the great factors of the tobacco trade abandoned the town. About the same time Quantico Creek began to clog with silt preventing ships from reaching the Dumfries wharf, causing trade to dwindle as well as the social and political life of the town.
In 1788, Dumfries saw a small resurgence when it was selected as the seat of the judicial district made up of four surrounding counties and continued as such until 1807 when Haymarket became the seat of the district court.
Discouraged by the fate of towns dependent upon water for their prosperity, and pushed by the need for new fertile land, the inland town of Buckland was established in 1796, and then Haymarket in 1799. A new courthouse was authorized on a part of the Robert Bristow portion of the Brent Town grant and the General Assembly directed that 50 acres of land be laid out for a town by the name of Brentsville. In 1822, the transfer of records was made to Brentsville, the new county seat. A pretty and supposedly central location, the public square was built on a three-acre tract on the main street, which included the courthouse, a jail and the clerk's office. It served its turn until 1892. Now the inconvenience of the distance of Brentsville from the railroad led to another change.
Typically one would have expected the village of Manassas (eariler known as Tudor Hall) to have developed as a town rather quickly after it became the junction of two railroads. But that growth was destroyed by the Civil War. By the end of the war, little remained. There is a story that when the newly reconstructed railroad tracks were laid, the first train to run from Alexandria brought Mr. and Mrs. Sumner Fitts to the area. What they saw when they disembarked were two or three small shanties and one substantial brick house, "Liberia", owned by the Weirs, the only dwellings in sight. Staying with the Weir's that night, they returned to Alexandria the next day and Mr. Fitt ordered lumber to be shipped to a site in Manassas, which, by the way, did not belong to him, where he built "Eureka House". This building of "Eureka House" may have marked the first step in the development of the town of Manassas for it was soon followed by other commercial and residential construction. Manassas grew quite rapidly in the late 1860's.
Beginning in 1872 and later in 1888, Manassas Junction began its long campaign for the acquisition of the county seat. Promising to donate the land, erect new buildings and pay for all the expenses of the move, but Brentsville won all the referendum elections.
On April 2, 1873, the village of Manassas was incorporated by an act of the General Assembly as the "town of Manassas", one of the few towns in Virginia that were incorporated without first being formally laid out. In 1892 Manassas renewed its efforts to be made the county seat, this time the referendum went against Brentsville. The county courthouse moved for the last and final time to Manassas, an important trading center, on a rail line, a productive and populous area. The first court was held January 1, 1893. As each new courthouse location continued to move into the interior of the county, old Prince William County also moved from a maritime to a farming economy. To learn about the society of western Prince William County, with its roots beginning in the mid 1700's, one must go back to the Northern Neck of Virginia, a one time empire of stirring economic, social, and political life and the emergence of the Carter family.
The Northern Neck, 100 miles long and approximately 20 miles wide lies between the Potomac and the Rappahannock Rivers, highways of the colonial period and one of the four peninsulas or "necks" of the Tidewater.