Fairfax County has come a long way since it was founded circa June 19, 1742.
Once occupied by an uneasy mix of Native American tribes and European colonizers, the primarily agrarian community has transformed over the past two centuries into a bustling, increasingly developed suburb boasting a more diverse population of more than 1 million people.
A hub for activity in both the private and public sectors, Fairfax County is among the wealthiest jurisdictions in the U.S. and prides itself on low crime rates and high-performing schools.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova, and other county officials celebrated these accomplishments at the Historically Fairfax Fair, held on July 17 around the historic Fairfax County Courthouse in the City of Fairfax 275 years almost to the day after the county’s founding.
“It’s one thing to have a county named after you…but it isn’t just any old county,” Lord Nicholas Fairfax, the 14th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, said during the fair’s opening ceremony. “It’s not a bit of mud out in the sticks. It is the greatest county in America…By any measure, it’s obviously a massive success story, so we are particularly proud.”
A direct descendant of Thomas Fairfax, who once owned the land that became Fairfax County, Nicholas Fairfax traveled to the county with his wife, Lady Annabel Fairfax, from their home in London, England, to celebrate the 275th anniversary.
In addition to presiding over some of the more notable events at the Historically Fairfax Fair, including the annual Lord and Lady Fairfax Awards presentation, Lord Fairfax gave two separate talks at the historic Fairfax County Courthouse about current British politics during the day. He also hosted a sold-out lecture on June 15 at the Sherwood Community Center.
Among the festival’s highlights was the ceremonial unveiling of a monument plaque dedicated to the soldiers who were killed in Fairfax County during the American Revolutionary War.
A bronze sign fixed to a slab of rock shaped like a tombstone and planted on the grounds of the historic courthouse, the new plaque joined already existing memorials to local soldiers who fell in World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
The monument was first dedicated to World War I casualties in 1926, and other wars have subsequently been added, according to Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) George Washington Chapter president Paul Walden.
The Revolutionary War memorial is the result of research started by the Fairfax Genealogical Society and continued by George Washington SAR webmaster Jamie Callender, who spent years confirming the service records of the men whose names are engraved on the plaque.
“The soldiers who fought and died in the American Revolution are the reasons why we are here today,” Bulova said at the unveiling ceremony. “We should never take our freedoms or our circumstances for granted, and we must always remember with gratitude those who came before us.”
The Historically Fairfax Fair featured booths from about 85 different museums, patriotic societies, and other history-related organizations as well as public safety agencies and county groups like the Fairfax County Parks Authority.
Festival visitors were also treated to numerous musical and speaking performances.
The Class Act Players Theater Company previewed its original The Complete History of Fairfax (The Musical), which will be performed in full on various dates in July at the James Lee Center Community Theatre in Falls Church and the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton.
Other performers demonstrated 18th century-style dancing and Victorian-era fashion, while re-enactors dressed up as Revolutionary War or Civil War soldiers for living history demonstrations or exhibits.
Kelly Washington volunteers for a Maryland-based organization called Company B that is dedicated to preserving the history of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiments that fought for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Though African American soldiers were not involved in any of the fighting that took place in Fairfax County, they trained in the area and sometimes served in medical, supply, or support roles during battles like the ones in Manassas, according to Washington.
Decked out in a full wool uniform with historically accurate weapons on hand, Washington regularly participates in reenactments and living history demonstrations, and he says that people are often surprised by how involved black soldiers were in fighting the Civil War.
For instance, according to Washington, the Emancipation Proclamation was less about freeing slaves in the Confederacy than about authorizing the enlistment of African Americans into the military. While Army troops were kept segregated, the Navy was integrated, with black people making up 25 percent of its forces.
“It’s like when you get a story. You don’t get one thing. You try to get multiple things to write a good story,” Washington said. “It’s the same thing in history. We give you the start…and it’s up to you if you want to learn more.”