[Home - Main Page] [The Dawson Papers] [Email and Feedback]

[General Fitz. Comments] [President Davis's Comments] [Early Life Of Cooper]

THE SEMINARY HILL

What Constance Cary (Mrs. Harrison) wrote about the Coopers has been given.

Some idea of her description of the environment in which the Coopers lived follows: After the death of her father, Archibald Cary, in Cumberland, Maryland, Constance moved with her mother and two brothers to Vaucluse "in Fairfax County near the Theological Seminary," where her grandmother was living. Her grandfather, Thomas Fairfax, who was actually the Ninth Lord Fairfax, Baron of Cameron, may have been at Vaucluse also, but he appears to have died before his daughter and her children moved there.

Thomas Fairfax was a son of the Reverend Brian Fairfax, Rector of Christ Church, Alexandria. His wife was Margaret Herbert of Carlyle House, Alexandria. He assumed his title once when on a visit to England to claim an inheritance. He lived on estates in Virginia, and sometimes took a house in Washington. He left his widow a life interest in Vaucluse, which was only one of several estates he owned in Virginia. After her death, Vaucluse passed to his son, Lieutenant Reginald Fairfax, United States Navy, but at the request of sailor Reginald, the Carys continued to live there "to keep the place in shape for him." Before Reginald took possession, however, there came Union soldiers to Vaucluse.

"Vaucluse, the seat of elegant hospitality, dearly loved home of the Fairfax family, has been leveled to the earth, fortifications thrown up across the lawn, the fine old trees felled, and the whole ground, once so embowered and shut from public gaze, now is open and laid bare. Vaucluse is no more!"

Vaucluse was an old white stucco dwelling, with wings to the rights and left under the great oaks on the lawn. There was no farm attached, but there were gardens, a chicken-yard, orchard, and dairy. In the rooms were assembled the flotsam of family furnishings from other homes in England and Virginia: Towlston, Belvoir, Ashgrove…

The servants at Vaucluse believed that the master, Thomas Fairfax, Ninth Lord, once looked into a mirror in the Long Room there and saw over his shoulder a negro woman, who he recognized as a servant that had been sent to Ashgrove. He turned to ask what she was doing there and found no trace of her. Except for himself, the room was empty. Two days later, he learned that she had died at that very hour.

Thomas Fairfax was a devout Swedenborgian. He had his children baptized in that faith, but some of them were later, at their own desire, rechristened in the Episcopal Church. We, like the other families in the neighborhood, sat on Sundays in the chapel of the Theological Seminary. Everything clerical in the neighborhood was dominated by the Seminary. My grandfather had two pews, front in the left-hand transept for the family and guests, although he did not attend. The females, mothers, aunts, cousins, and children would not have shirked attendance for the world, and the elders thought nothing of two services with two sermons a day. And if Dr. Sparrow was in the pulpit, those sermons were not twenty-minute screeds! Doctors Packard and May were professors, and a little to the left, down the hill, lived dear Bishop Johns. Tea parties for the clergy and senior students were frequent. Among the students were Phillips Brooks and Henry Potter.

In addition to the Coopers, we had the McGuires of Howard for neighbors. He was rector of the Episcopal High School. And near Cameron, the Cooper home, lived Miss Emily Mason with her widowed sister, Mrs. Rowland, and Mrs. Rowland's two sons and two daughters. These ladies were both agreeable and cultivated, and Miss Mason became widely known for her services as an army nurse, and for her literary works. She was a special ray of sunshine on the Hill. (Some member of this family must have written the well-known Life of George Mason).

Commodore French Forrest and his son, Reverend Douglas Forrest, liver at Clermont, an attractive house with wonderful box hedges and calycanthus bushes. I remember well a dance given by the handsome Mrs. Forrest. We danced hard until daybreak. Our cousin, Arthur Herbert, lived near Vaucluse, and farther up the county, at Ravensworth, lived Mrs. Fitzhugh.

Our neighborhood was always interested in the Lees of Arlington, especially Colonel Lee on his visits home. I remember Mary Custis Lee riding up to service at the chapel of the Theological Seminary with her little brother Robbie on his pony, Santa Anna. Mildred Lee was my dear friend. The Augustine Washingtons of Mount Vernon were too far away for us to see much of them, but I had a delightful visit to Mount Vernon in my childhood.

The establishment at Vaucluse consisted of Mrs. Thomas Fairfax and her two widowed daughters, Mrs. Hyde and Mrs. Cary, with their six children. An endless processions of the "Connection," principally aunts and cousins, came and stayed as long as they found it convenient. Nobody ever ventured to think anybody was ever inconvenienced! The servants were hired black people, not slaves. Thomas Fairfax had been the first gentleman in Virginia to manumit his slaves. He had each of them taught a trade and sent the efficient ones to Liberia at his expense. The latter scheme was not a success. Most of those who went to Africa wrote imploring letters to "old Marse" br take them back.

Washington was our chief shopping place. We usually attained it by driving in the family coach, drawn by two chestnuts with long, frizzled tails. None of our elders wanted to talk secession as the war came. They waited to see what Robert E. Lee would do. Sometimes we children would be taken to call on relatives in Washington. At my aunt's (Mrs. Richard Cutts) I saw the radiant Adelaide Cutts, afterward Mrs. Stephen A. Douglas.

Better than our trips to Washington, I loved those to Alexandria. Our first place of rest there was always the home of my uncle in Cameron Street - the "Fairfax House" of modern post cards. There my cousin, the heroic Randolph Fairfax was born; there my brother Falkland died; and there I was, later, a prisoner of war for twenty-four hours.

The house of two maiden aunts in King Street was a less popular resort. It was near the river, and lawns once ran to water's edge. These aunts later came to Vaucluse to live, and when my mother and Mrs. Hyde left to go nearer the armies to nurse, the aunts stayed on. When Union troops took possession, they were ordered to go to Alexandria in an ambulance. The elder one refused to move, and two soldiers bore her, chair and all, out of the house. The Cameron Street house then became their refuge.

Thomas Fairfax went to England in 1777 and made good his claim to the title before the House of Lords, being passed through the American lines by personal order of George Washington. Later, he went again to England to take possession of an inheritance coming to him from his aunt, Mrs. George William Fairfax, who was born Sally Cary and had gone to England to live with her Tory husband. Sally Cary was the belle of Revolutionary times: many a story of the youthful George Washington clusters around her and her sisters, Mary (Mrs. Ambler) and Elizabeth (Mrs. Brian Fairfax).

A silver service played a part in the second trip to England by Thomas Fairfax. Originally a full service was brought to Belvoir by Colonel William Fairfax. Mr. And Mrs. George William Fairfax took it to England with them: Thomas Fairfax, receiving title to it at her death, again transported it to Virginia. It was part of the table furniture at Vaucluse for years, and it was buried there when the Union soldiers took possession. The silver lay buried in the Vaucluse ruins during the four war years, and was finally exhumed intact. It was distributed among the Fairfax heirs, and some of it is now in daily use in my home.


The father of Constance Cary was Archibald Cary of Carysbrooke. He was a son of Wilson Jefferson Cary, grand-nephew of Thomas Jefferson, and a sister of Mrs. Gouveneur Morris of Marrisania, Harlem.

Archibald Cary married Monimia Fairfax, youngest daughter of Thomas Fairfax and made his home on Decature Street, Cumberland. He was editor of the Cumberland Civilian. After his death, his widow and three children moved to Vaucluse.