Fayette County History & Genealogy

History of Fayette County

From R. S. Dills' History of Fayette County


The territory of Virginia, granted by the charters of King James I., was very extensive. The first charter authorized a company to plant a colony in America, anywhere between 34° and 41° north latitude, embracing about 100 miles of coast line, and extending back from the coast 100 miles, embracing also the islands opposite to the coast, and within 100 miles of it. The second charter granted to the Virginia Company a much larger territory, extending from Old Point Comfort (a point of land extending into Chesapeake Bay, a little to the north of the mouth of James River), 200 miles north and 200 miles south, along the coast, and thence with a breadth of 400 miles, to the west and northwest, through the continent to the Pacific Ocean. The third charter added to this immense territory all the islands in both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, within 300 leagues of either coast. By the treaty of peace between France and Great Britain, in 1763, the Mississippi River was made the western boundary of the British provinces. Thus restricted, the territory of Virginia included all that territory now occupied by Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, Kentucky, and all the land northwest of the River Ohio.

On the 29th day of June, 1776, just five days before the Declaration of Independence by the United States in congress assembled, Virginia adopted her constitution or form of government, in Article XXI, of which she ceded the territories contained within the charters creating the colonies of Maryland, Pennsylvania, North and South Carolina, to those respective colonies, relinquishing all her rights to the same, except the right to the navigation of certain rivers, and all improvements that had been or might be made along their shores. But this article affirms that "the western and northern extent of Virginia shall in other respects stand as fixed by the charter of King James I., in the year 1609, and by the published treaty of peace between the court of Great Britain and France, in the year 1763, unless, by act of legislature, one or more territories shall be laid otf, and governments established west of the Allegheny Mountains." The charter of King James I., referred to in this article, was the second charter, so that now, on the sea coast, Virginia was restricted to her present limits, but her western boundaries were unchanged. She claimed Kentucky, and all the northwestern territory.

Concerning this northwestern territory there were conflicting claims. New York claimed a portion of it. Massachusetts also asserted a separate claim, and Connecticut, by her grant from the council of Plymouth, in 1630, was to extend westward from the Atlantic Ocean to "the South Sea," or Pacific Ocean. This would take a large portion of the territory included under the Virginia charter. These conflicting claims were never adjusted between the states, but were finally settled, as will soon appear, by cession to the United States in congress assembled.

In 1779 Virginia opened an office for the sale of her western lands. This attracted the attention of the other states, several of which regarded the vacant region in the west as a common fund for the future payment of the expenses of the war for independence, in which the colonies had been engaged. This claim in behalf of the United States was asserted on the ground that the western lands had been the property of the crown. By the treaty of 1763, France had ceded to Great Britain all her possessions in North America, east of the Mississippi, and naturally these lands would fall, on the declaration of independence, to the opponent of the crown, that is, to the United States in congress assembled, and not to individual states. It was contended, therefore, that it was manifestly unjust that a vast tract of unoccupied country, acquired by the common efforts and the common expenses of the whole union, should be appropriated for the exclusive benefit of particular states, while others would be left to bear the unmitigated burdens of debt, contracted in securing that independence by which this immense accpiisition was wrasted from Great Britain. These separate claims by the several states were opposed by those states that made no pretentions to claims, and they served, in a great measure, for a time, to prevent the union under the articles of confederation. On the 25th day of June, 1778, nearly one year before the opening of the Virginia land office, New Jersey made objection to the confederation, on the ground that the public lands now claimed by Virginia and other states, under ancient charters, should belong to the United States in common, that each separate state might derive a proportionate benefit therefrom.

Maryland instructed her delegates in congress not to sign the articles of confederation, unless an article or articles were added thereto, looking to a cession of the public lands.

The council of the State of Delaware, on the 23d day of January, 1779, before passing a law instructing their delegates in congress to sign the articles of confederation, resolved, that the state was justly entitled to a right in common with the other members of the union to that extensive tract of country westward of the frontier of the United States, which was acquired by the blood and treasure of all, and that it ought to be a common estate, to be granted out on terms beneficial to the United States.

Such were the vigorous protests against the union under the articles of confederation, while Virginia was left a vast empire within the confederacy, a power, as many supposed, dangerous to the liberties of the smaller states; and when Virginia opened her land office for the sale of her western lands, the excitement became more intense: Congress, in opposition to the pretensions of all the states claiming lands, as the common head of the United States, maintained its title to the western lands upon the solid ground that a vacant territory, wrested from the common enemy by the united arms, and at the joint expense of all the states, ought of right to belong to congress, in trust for the common use and benefit of the whole union; hence she earnestly recommended to Virginia, and to all the states claiming vacant lands, to adopt no measures that would obstruct the final cession of such lands to congress. New York was the first to listen to the appeals of the complaining states and to congress. On the 29th of February, 1780, she authorized her delegates in congress to restrict her western border by such lines as they should deem expedient, and on the 20th day of December, 1783, Virginia passed an act authorizing her delegates in congress to convey to the United States in congress assembled, "all the right of this commonwealth to the territory northwest of the River Ohio." In this act of cession she made the following reservation:


Other Counties