Society and Government in Loudoun County, Virginia, 1790-1800

Bradford, James Chapin, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

Loudoun County is the geographically diverse area which forms the apex of the Piedmont region of Virginia. Within its borders mountains, limestone valleys, and the piedmont plain have a variety of soils. During the mid-eighteenth century the region was settled by successive waves of Germans and Quakers from Pennsylvania and Maryland, by small farmers from the south, by great landowners and their slaves from Tidewater, and by a sprinkling of Scots-Irish from the Shenandoah Valley to the west. These people followed half dozen different faiths and tended to live in communities isolated from one another. All gained their livings either directly or indirectly from the soil and as farmers and planters were largely independent if not self-sufficient.

Descriptions of the physical setting, both natural (geographic and climatic) and man-made (the transportation network and towns), and of the development of Loudoun society form the backdrop against which Loudoun's county court is examined. The understanding of the court is central to an understanding of Loudoun's society because the court was the one institution which gave the community unity. The functioning of that court touched the lives of Loudoun's citizens daily, and an examination of its workings forms the heart of this study.

Its members were the leading men of the community both socially and economically. When sitting as members of the court they had jurisdiction over a broad range of executive and legislative as well as judicial activities including the laying of the annual levy, the appropriation of funds, the passage of rules and regulations for the everyday ordering of society, the enforcement of laws, the administration of public welfare, the licensing of attorneys, ministers, ordinaries, mills, and retail stores, and the dispensing of justice in almost all civil and criminal cases. All of these functions are described and their execution analyzed. Only a small number of justices regularly attended meetings of the court and the bulk of work involved in operating local government fell on them and on the half dozen executive officers who administered the county between court sessions. These officers were drawn from the same group which made up the county court although they tended to be a bit less wealthy than their colleagues on the court.

This county court system met the basic governmental needs and provided a necessary element of social cohesion for a people of such diverse religious, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. In short, this is a study of the daily operation of society and government in one locale, Loudoun County, Virginia, during one specific period, the 1790s.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Virginia -- County Court (Loudoun County) -- History, Loudoun County (Va.) -- History

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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