Lot #232
William Fairfax

Amazing and historically significant Fairfax family ledger involving the slave trade—intimately associated with George Washington and his unrequited love
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Amazing and historically significant Fairfax family ledger involving the slave trade—intimately associated with George Washington and his unrequited love

Important manuscript ledger labeled “Book B” on the front cover, 6.25 x 15.75, containing 90 pages of financial records kept alternately by William Fairfax and his son, George William Fairfax. The first section, dated between 1742 and 1748, contains lists of cargo and imports maintained by William Fairfax, and is signed by him eleven times, "W: Fairfax." The second portion, dated between 1763 and 1772, consists of detailed and descriptive lists of purchases kept George William Fairfax, and is frequently clerically initialed “GWFx” and “SFx,” signifying approval of George and Sally Fairfax. Most of the first section describes imports from Barbados, including rum, sugar, cocoa, and "a Negro Man called Sampick," among numerous other mentions of slaves. Some of the interesting purchases listed in the second section include "an Indian pearl necklace," "3 doz. fine French gun flints," a "political register," silverware from London silversmith Stafford Briscoe, "1 fine black Beaver hatt," and "1 best Hogskin Hunting saddle." Individual pages in fine condition; ledger itself in poor condition with covers separated and pages unbound and detached, with most gatherings intact.

In addition to what it reveals about trade in 18th century Virginia, this ledger offers tremendous insight into into the life and lineage of the Fairfax family—as well as its storied connection to George Washington. The most direct reference to Washington comes in an entry of September 10, 1744, by William Fairfax: "Mr. Aug'n Washington for Cooper, £2." Augustine [Jr.] was George Washington's half-brother who was originally set to inherit Mount Vernon, but opted for a property at Popes Creek instead. It is also most probable that another entry of 1744 pertains to a slavery transaction with George Washington's other half-brother, Lawrence Washington. Under the heading "Cargo, Negro Acc't," is a list of slaves brought from Barbados, including "2 Boys" and "2 Girls" for "Maj. Washington"—Lawrence Washington, who was married to Fairfax's daughter Anne, was a slaveholder and soldier who had been appointed adjutant, at the rank of major, in the spring of 1743. A third especially notable entry dated 1746 comes under the heading, "Acco't Curr't on Rum and Sugar," and reads, "Col. Wilson Cary Nav'l off'r the duty of the Rum being 5223 Gall's, £59.16.11." This entry foreshadows the most important relationship associated with this ledger—Cary's daughter was Sally Cary, who would marry Fairfax's son, George William Fairfax, two years later. Though the fathers of this future couple were doing business in 1746, their children would not meet the until a year later at the Governor's Ball in Williamsburg.

After William Fairfax's section ends, the ledger is picked up years later by George William Fairfax, this time with "shop record" entries rather than logs of imports and exports. George William Fairfax and George Washington were close friends, with historians sometimes describing Fairfax, who was three years older, as a mentor to Washington during his early adolescence. However, Washington's infatuation with Sally Cary Fairfax, George William's wife, is what is remembered today—Washington's letters famously suggest that he fell deeply in love with her prior to his marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759. Nonetheless, George William and Sally Fairfax remained friendly with the Washingtons throughout their lives and were frequent visitors to Mount Vernon. RR Auction COA.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Rare Manuscript, Document & Autograph
  • Dates: #414 - Ended September 18, 2013