The earliest immigrants to North America, the Native American peoples, whether by land bridge from Eurasia or an early land-water crossing of Clovis-like people from Europe, while still visible, particularly in passage, had largely disappeared from the Shenandoah Valley and the area around Clermont by the time George Washington divided off what was later to be called “Clermont” from the Fairfax Northern Neck Proprietary in 1750.
They left sites and artifacts in the area dating as early as 16,000 years ago, and at Clermont two Early Archaic points suggest use of the land by native peoples at least 10,000 years ago.
In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, the use of the Great Warrior Path connecting the Northern and Southern tribes, whether for trade, seasonal hunting and fishing, access to quarry and tool manufacturing sites, or warfare, was active. The Path was subsequently taken over by early settlers and developed for their own transportation needs as the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road. Much of it corresponds in the Shenandoah Valley to what we know as north/south Rt. 11, now next to Interstate 81, the Path’s most recent incarnation. That Path/Road/Highway/Interstate is ten miles from Clermont and has always been a crucial economic and social artery for the farm, as well as the roads to Baltimore and Alexandria, which pass by the farm’s front gate.
The 18th century flows of European migrants and the forced transportation of enslaved Africans to the Shenandoah Valley came from two directions. From the east, primarily Tidewater Virginia, came the English, some of whom also brought Africans as slaves.
From the north, from Pennsylvania which was already becoming crowded and land more expensive, came German immigrants. Many Scots- Irish immigrants also came through the port of Philadelphia and down from Pennsylvania, though others came through Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas.
Clermont had owners and workers from the English, African, and Scots-Irish immigrant streams. And the area it was located in at the northern and eastern tip of the Valley (the “LowerValley” as the ShenandoahRiver runs north), because of early land grants was in fact an oasis of English heritage settlement. It was surrounded, however, in old FrederickCounty, Virginia, by German heritage immigrants coming from Pennsylvania. And since Clermont was a producing economic entity, it was transactionally-connected to many individuals and businesses in the Pennsylvania and German immigrant stream. Its wheat, for example, was milled by Quakers who had immigrated from Pennsylvania.
Immigrants were after opportunity, including economic opportunity, and that most often meant land ownership, and in these newly organizing frontier areas, it also meant a sphere of activity in which a lot of individual autonomy existed. And even as the frontier in the Shenandoah Valley organized from the 1730’s to the 1780’s, people were already passing right through to organize new areas in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio, while others, who had initially settled in the Valley, got up and left for these new areas for what they felt might be even greater opportunities, more and cheaper land, etc.
There were two principal land-granting systems in frontier Virginia: one operated by the Royal Governor (Governor Gooch at this time) and one operated by an English nobleman, Lord Fairfax, to whose family King Charles II had given 5 million acres stretching from the Chesapeake Bay all the way into what is now West Virginia, including the northern part of Virginia. Governor Gooch got the ball rolling, in order to populate the Virginia frontier and defend it against French expansion, by appointing a Pennsylvania German, Jost Hite, as his agent to recruit other German heritage migrants to come down to the Shenandoah Valley. Lord Fairfax pushed his claims over the northern parts of the Valley, where as of 1757 he also made his headquarters a few miles from Clermont in his hunting lodge at Greenway Court, and began aggressively making grants and collecting his quitrents.
Clermont’s immigrant owners over two and a half centuries show both the types who moved on with the expanding frontier, and those who stayed and developed what they had. Clermont’s enslaved African workers, of whom very few ever had the chance to become freed men or to own property, also included individuals who took their opportunities in flights to freedom. The WANTED posters for James Lee of Clermont in 1855 were unsuccessful; he found freedom, but nobody ever found him.Learn More the First Clermont Owner Family: Vance
First Clermont Owner Family: Vance. The first of four owner families of Clermont was a prosperous cooper (barrel-maker) from Winchester named John Vance, who secured the Clermont grant of 353 acres, surveyed out on Lord Fairfax’s instructions by George Washington on October 19, 1750. He may have been born in Virginia, or in County Tyrone, Ireland, in 1699. In 1753 he sold the granted property, without building on the site or living there – a frontier land speculation.
Second Clermont Owner Family: Wadlington. Thomas Wadlington, from the English migrant stream, was a planter, mill owner and entrepreneur from Fairfax County, Virginia (just over the Blue Ridge to the east) who bought Clermont from Vance in 1753, built the house in 1755-56 for his wife and seven children (ages 6-20), and opened a general store. In 1770, he sold up and moved to South Carolina, investing his profits in an even larger plantation there. He was a slave owner who had slaves in FairfaxCounty, and would have used enslaved labor to help build the house and operate the farm and store. Without choice and under onerous conditions, enslaved Africans joined the migrant stream to Clermont.
Third Clermont Owner Family: Snickers. Edward Snickers, from an English family, grew up in FrederickCounty, Virginia and settled his father’s modest estate in Winchester. He was respected in the community and obtained the state license to operate the ferry over the ShenandoahRiver on the FairfaxCounty to Winchester Road (roughly today’s Rt. 7). He added a tavern, rooms, a blacksmithy, and a commercial wagon-hauling business carrying grain and flour to the port of Alexandria. He befriended George Washington among others and speculated in land, sometimes serving as Washington’s agent. By 1770 he had made a lot of money and bought Clermont from his friend Thomas Wadlington. During the Revolution, Snickers turned down the Washington’s offer of the Wagon-Master Generalship of the Continental Army, but instead served as a commisary agent for Virginia troops. In 1779 his wife Elizabeth died, and in 1n 1783 when one of his daughters was widowed, the two of them moved to another of his now many farms across the road and gave Clermont to his son William, returning from the Revolutionary War. Edward died in 1790, owning 4,000 acres and 60 people he enslaved.
William Snickers was high-living, but not as good a businessman as his father. In 1784 he built a stable for thoroughbreds and in 1788 built a dining room addition capable of handling large and elegant social events. In 1793 he married into the premiere family in the region, the Washingtons, and in 1794 the beautiful Frances Washington Snickers re-structured and redecorated the house in the latest fashion. She died in 1810 (age 35) and her husband sold the farm in 1819. During his time at Clermont, William owned as many as 36 enslaved African Americans.
Fourth and final Owner Family: McCormick/Williams. Dawson McCormick bought Clermont in 1819, and when his great-great-granddaughter Elizabeth Williams died in 2004, the family had owned it for 185 years. Dawson himself was the great-grandson of a pioneer in the Shenandoah Valley, a Scots-Irish physician who immigrated from Ireland through Philadelphia about 1730 and was in what is now Summit Point , West Virginia (nine miles from Clermont) before 1740, when he built the still extant “White House Farm”. Dr. John McCormick (no relation to Cyrus “Reaper” McCormick) obtained grants from both the Royal and Fairfax land systems to build family landholdings across Jefferson and Clarke Counties, to which Dawson added in 1819 with Clermont. His son Edward brought Clermont to its peak wheat production in 1860, based on the work of 28 slaves he owned and others he rented.
The nine miles between Dr. John’s White House Farm and his descendents’ Clermont Farm are a mini-history of Scots-Irish immigration and acculturation in the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as one of African American enslavement, emancipation and powerful contribution to America’s position on the world stage and its extraordinarily diverse, immigrant-based culture.