History – Overview

Clermont Farm, with a human time scale running back 10,000 years, includes buildings and archaeological elements which represent a Chesapeake middling planter’s homestead, surveyed by an 18-year old George Washington in 1750.  Uner the direction of three successive white families, African Americans enslaved by them developed and built the site for 110 years, and made possible the activities of the owner families, who continued to play a role in the life of the nation through the 20th century.  The farm became a property of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2004 and is on the State and National Registers since 2005.

The periods of ownership are as follows:

1649-1750     Culpepper and Fairfax families, the Northern Neck Proprietary of Virginia (roughly 5 million acres)                                                                                                                                                                

The decision by the last private owner, Elizabeth Williams, whose McCormick/Williams family had owned the farm for 185 years, to bequeath her assets to two parties (the land to the State, everything else to the Foundation) meant that in addition to the endowment, the Foundation inherited the family archives and personal property.  These archives, and some of the material culture, have helped illuminate the history of the site.

C,ommissioned research has to date taken three forms: an academic Forum in 2011 for which nine papers were commissioned on seven topics expected to provide light on key issues, a five-year detailed Historic Structure Report project completed in 2013, and the planning of an Archaeological Survey of the entire 360-acre property, including a preliminary survey of an 18th century family cemetery.

The nine commissioned papers were on the following topics: Architecture (Dennis Pogue, Maral Kalbian), African American Life (Melvin Ely, Karen Hughes White), Agriculture (Kenneth Koons), Women at Clermont (Deborah Lee), Legal and Medical Practice (Peter Wallenstein), Military Witness (Joseph Whitehorne), and Public History (Kym Rice).  Summaries of them are attached, and the documents are available for download on the site.

The Historic Structure Report team was led by Maral Kalbian and two other principal authors, Dennis Pogue and Kenneth Livingston of Main Street Architecture, along with Margaret Peters, research historian, Daniel Miles for dendrochronology and Susan Buck for paint analysis, plus other specialists.  It is summarized in the Historic Preservation section, and is also available for download on the site.,

The Archaeological Survey Plan, developed with VDHR, and the report on the preliminary excavation of the 18th century cemetery are also available for download.  An agreement has been reached with James Madison University for a systematic long-term whole-site archaeology program, planned to begin in 2014.

A second Clermont Forum is planned for Saturday, April 12 – Saturday, May 31, 2014.  This edition willl take a different interpretive tack; instead of academic papers, a dozen contemporary artists have been commissioned to interpret the site’s past, through the various kinds of history now available about it, through a variety of different media.  The events section has a page related to this.