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"A Fairfax Friendship: The Complete Correspondence Between George Washington and Bryan Fairfax, 1754-1799"

Editors: Donald M. Sweig and Elizabeth S. David

Publisher: Fairfax County History Commission (1982)


Fairfax County History Commission member C. J. S. "Jack" Durham first suggested to the staff of the History Section of the Office of Comprehensive Planning that the correspondence between George Washington and his close lifelong friend Bryan Fairfax either be published as a collection of letters or used in the preparation of an interpretive historical study of their friendship.  In the summer of 1980, the Commission officially requested Theodore J. Wesse, Director of the Office of Comprehensive Planning, to have his history staff undertake publication of the letters in time for the celebration of the two-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of Washington's birth in 1982.


Subsequently, several members of the Commission became aware that Jack Durham had already prepared a historical study based on and including excerpts from this same correspondence.  A copy of the Durham manuscript was forwarded by the Commission to the History Section for consideration for publication with the letters.  It was agreed that publication of the letters would best serve the purpose of making available to interested citizens and students the character of this unique friendship between two members of Fairfax County's eighteenth-century ruling elite, and also in conveying the general flavor of those times.  Jack Durham prepared a shorter version of his study to be published along with the coorespondence as a "personal view" and is published here, without substantive editing, as the Prologue.


Collection, transcription, and preparation of the letters for publication was begun in June 1981.  As all of the letters in this present collection were eventually published in their proper chronological sequence, and with full scholarly apparatus and annotation, in The Papers of George Washington, prepared at the University of Virginia and it was decided not to attempt a scholarly, definitive edition here.  The present edition is primarily intended to make all of the correspondence between Washington and Bryan Fairfax available in one volume both as a convienience to the interested public and to specifically elucidate the friendship between the two men.  For these reasons, printed sources of these documents have been used whenever possible, and editorial annotation has been kept to a minimum.


There are sixty-nine extant letters between the two men.  The forty-five from Fairfax to Washington is nearly twice the twenty-four from George to Bryan.  Many letters are clearly lost.  The disparity in the number of survivng letters between the two is primarily attributable to the lifestyle and subsequent importance of the receiver.  Washington was both a careful record keeper and became an increasingly important man while Fairfax was far less careful with his papers.


In many ways the men were, especially in the early years, social equals in local affairs.  Both were literate members of the local governing elite.  Bryan and George served together as gentlemen justices on the Fairfax court.  They hunted the fox together and traded hunting dogs; they were guests in each others homes, discussed local real estate issues of interest and exchanged agricultural information and cuttings.  They were solicitous of each other's interests at all times.  Even at his busiest, during the war or as president, Washington found time to write to Fairfax or to extend favors to him.  In his last days, George seemed especially close to Bryan.  On 7 December 1799, Washington dined with Fairfax at Mount Eagle, Bryan's home near Alexandria.  Four days later, 11 December, Bryan was a guest at Mount Vernon.  On 14 December 1799, Washington died.  The sincerity of their friendship and their deep regard for each other is ever apparent in their letters.  In later years, Bryan's solicitude for their friendship almost approaches fawning.  Washington's replies, while more resserved, express a similar feeling for his relationship with Fairfax.  Theirs was a long and personal correspondence.



A Fairfax Friendship

SKU: FCH0298
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