Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1693– 1781).
By Ron Maxwell Flint Hill
While discharging his responsibilities as county lieutenant and justice of the peace, Lord Thomas Fairfax and his fellow Virginians were at the center of a momentous global conflict. France and Great Britain were facing each other along the entire length of the Allegheny Mountains, from the Blue Ridge in the south to the Adirondacks in the north. The French, the English and the Indigenous Peoples were armed to the teeth, fighting to the death for the land they claimed as their own.
As the record shows in military reports and in copious correspondence between Lord Fairfax, Gov. Dinwiddie, members of the House of Burgesses, Gen. George Braddock and Maj. George Washington, Thomas Fairfax was completely and desperately engaged with his fellow Virginians in the defense of the colony. He was an essential participant in the foundation and defense of the Old Dominion when confronted by nothing less than an existential crisis.
The French and Indian War, which began with Maj. George Washington on May 28, 1754, at Jumonville Glenn and afterwards at Fort Necessity, would continue for seven long bloody years before England and her colonies emerged triumphant. There is much Virginia blood in the ground we call our own.
On the eve of the revolution in 1775, the 13 colonies were divided between Patriots who wanted independence and Tories who wanted to remain loyal to the Crown. The un-committed third of the population sat on the fence, warily taking this side or that, depending on which way the wind was blowing.
Gen. George Washington and the now aging Lord Thomas Fairfax found themselves on opposite sides of this great conflict. How did they conduct themselves? To his credit, Lord Fairfax kept his opinions to himself, remaining quietly at Greenway, never undermining his old friend. And to his credit, Gen. Washington never insulted, maligned or bothered his old friend and mentor. For George Washington, friendship and personal loyalty was never sacrificed to the expediencies of the moment.
In 1781, less than two months after the Battle of Yorktown, Lord Thomas Fairfax died at the age of 88.
Like almost all large landowners of this time, whether in Virginia, the West Indies, Brazil, Cuba or anywhere else in the New World, Lord Fairfax owned slaves. He bought and sold human beings. One doesn’t have to be woke to understand how vile and abhorrent slavery was.
But in the middle of the 18th century, the whole world practiced slavery. As well as child labor, wars of religion and a host of other horrors no people of compassion countenance today.
It is incumbent on us to see people as they once were, in their full humanity. Imperfect then as now. Striving then as now. Just as it will be incumbent on our descendants 240 years from now to look upon us in the same way. Otherwise, we have no culture, no history, no heritage . . . no shared humanity. We are simply set adrift, floating on an imaginary foundation made up of little more than the thin air our own puritanical rectitude and moral narcissism.
Is this what we want for our children? Is this what we want to teach them? That they too can be erased by a future generation more woke than even this one?
By the standards of the Lord Fairfax Community College board, we will soon embark on a renaming crusade — as cities, counties, towns, parks, roads and institutions of higher learning named after any of the generation who founded this country are removed and replaced, one by one.
No longer shall our children be taught to know and respect the names Jefferson, Madison, Henry, Hamilton, Monroe, Marshall, Mason, Franklin or Washington. Whose names will be propped up to replace them? And which committee of public safety will devise the new approved list?
Is the renaming of this college about education or is it about indoctrination? When we pull the floor out from under our children, how far will they fall?
Our American history belongs to us all, regardless of when our ancestors arrived or from what parts of the earth. The mosaic of stories is our story. We own it, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s so easy to hold ourselves up as the new paragons of virtue. It costs us nothing.
But instead of posing as censorial inquisitors, are we perhaps better off in contemplation of the past and in how our own brief passage is connected to it and to future generations. “Cancel Culture” is a road to nowhere and nothingness. It is the antithesis of life.
The writer is a filmmaker whose work includes “Gettysburg,” “Gods and Generals” and “Copperhead.”