Established in 1758, Leesburg is the seat of government for Loudoun County. The town's rich history spans three centuries. The following history provides an overview of the town's development through the beginning of the twenty-first century with interesting historical tidbits of local color.
Early Settlement and Founding: "indifferently built … tho' very advantageously situated" (1722-1813)
In 1757 the Assembly of Virginia selected this settlement for the location of the Loudoun County courthouse. The land was then owned by Nicholas Minor, who hired John Hough to survey and plat his 60 acres into 70 lots to form a town, which he called George Town. The name was changed to Leesburg the following year, in honor of the Lee family. In September 1758, an Act of the Assembly established the Town of Leesburg, although the town was not incorporated until 1813.Following the 1722 Treaty of Albany, in which the Iroquois abandoned all lands east of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the colony of Virginia, colonists and new immigrants of a wide variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds began settling the lands that would become Loudoun County. In 1730, Thomas, the 6th Earl of Fairfax, granted 4,054 acres, including what would become Leesburg, to Francis Awbrey.
Antebellum Leesburg (1814-1860)
By 1850, Leesburg had grown to 1,688 residents. From the earliest settlers, Leesburg's residents had included slaves. Unlike slaves in rural Loudoun County, Leesburg's slaves were often skilled artisans, worked in shops, or worked in their owner's homes. Mixed with the diversity of the religious and political opinions on slavery held by its white residents, Leesburg's relationship with the institution was complicated and sometimes contradictory. Many of Leesburg's Quakers, Methodists and Presbyterians were active in the Loudoun chapter of the American Colonization Society, which sought to send freed slaves to the new colony of Liberia, in Africa.
Leesburg and the Civil War: "A perfect sneering nest of Rebels" (1861-1865)
The next month Leesburg men overwhelming ratified the Ordinance with a vote of 400 to 22. By war's end, Leesburg changed hands about 150 times and suffered not only from the frequent raids and combat in its streets but also the disintegration of civil authority.Leesburg was a prosperous southern town of about 1,700 at the outbreak of the Civil War. It was strategically (or uncomfortably) near the border, located just two miles south of the Potomac River, which then divided the United States from the Confederate States of America. Loudoun County's two delegates to the Virginia Secession Convention in April 1861, Leesburg attorney John Janney (whom the convention elected its president) and John Armistead Carter, voted against secession. The Ordinance of Secession passed nonetheless by a vote of 88 to 55.
Reconstruction through World War II (1866-1945)
Following the Civil War, Leesburg's proximity to Washington speeded its economic recovery. Loudoun's farmers contributed goods to both sides of the war effort, and had endured the scorched earth tactics of both retreating armies. But because these problems were common throughout the south, local farmers could send what little crops and stock they had to markets in Georgetown and Baltimore at lower transportation costs than farmers further away from markets and capitalize on the inflated prices. Leesburg, as the economic hub of Loudoun, facilitated and benefitted from this recovery.
Leesburg became a main stop for the railroad traveling westward through Loudoun, which facilitated Leesburg's growth as the social heart of Loudoun, host to traveling circuses, baseball and Confederate spy Belle Boyd. Leesburgers served their country in many ways during two world wars, and Leesburg was home to Governor Westmoreland Davis.
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Data last updated: Jun 1, 2020 5:19:am.