History of Jefferson County
Washington Family History
A little-known fact about Jefferson County is that George Washington,
our first President, was an early settler in this area and was responsible
for many members of the Washington family settling here as well.
As a young man, George Washington was sent with a group of surveyors to survey
the holdings of Thomas Lord Fairfax, then a justice of the peace in Frederick
County, Virginia. George was captivated by the natural beauty and rich agricultural
promise of the Shenandoah Valley, and encouraged his family to purchase land here,
which was part of Virginia at that time. Eventually, many family members followed his
advice, and present-day Jefferson County has at least six Washington family homes still
George himself bought property here and established a plantation along Bullskin Run.
His eldest brother Lawrence, who built Mount Vernon eventually had extensive holdings in
the area, but died before he could build on his property. The land was inherited by his
infant daughter Sarah, who died herself a short time later. The property in this area
went to Lawrence's younger half brothers Samuel, John Augustine and Charles, and George
inherited Mount Vernon.
Samuel built his home, Harewood in 1770, several miles west of present-day Charles Town.
This home is still owned by his descendents, and is opened to the public for special occasions.
John Augustine did not build on his land here, but his sons did at a later time. Charles built
his home, known as Happy Retreat, in 1780.
Charles Washington: Founder of Charles Town. While not as well-known as his famous
brother, Charles led an active life and was involved in civic affairs. He was a magistrate in Stafford
County, Virginia before the Revolutionary War, and he joined brothers Samuel and John Augustine in being
some of the first signers of the "Leetown Resolve" in 1766. This was a response by residents of
Westmoreland County, Virginia in protest to the British Stamp Act. By signing this Resolve, these men
established themselves as serious participants in the resistance to the British Crown, which developed
ten years later into the Revolutionary War. Charles joined the Continental Army and attained the rank
of Colonel in the Revolutionary War.
Charles and his wife Mildred moved to Happy Retreat around 1780. Charles was very interested in starting
a town, and in 1786 he petitioned the Virginia General Assembly to start the town of Charlestowne. The
petition was granted, and Charles set aside 80 acres of his own property to develop the town. He actively
participated in the design and layout, and named several streets after family members. He also donated
the four corner lots in the center of town for buildings of the town and county. He did this with the provision
that Charlestowne was named the county seat of the new county that was anticipated to be formed from Berkeley
County, which had formed in 1772. The new county, Jefferson, was formed in 1801, and the lots at the corners
of George and Washington Streets are still occupied today by buildings of various government entities.
Charles died in 1799, just a few months before his brother George. He and Mildred were buried on the grounds
of the Happy Retreat estate; their graves were rediscovered and confirmed in 1975. Before his death, Charles
deeded Happy Retreat to his son Samuel. Samuel sold the estate in 1801 to Thomas Hammond, his brother-in-law.
In 1837, Judge Isaac Douglas bought the estate from Hammond's son, George Washington Hammond, and renamed the
estate Mordington, after his ancestral home in Scotland. The house has had several owners since then. Today,
Happy Retreat is privately owned and is the focus of a local nonprofit group,
Friends of Happy Retreat, which wants to buy, restore it and develop it for public use. Learn more about touring Charles Washington's home by visiting the Happy Retreat Web site at www.happyretreat.org.