18th-century plat for land along Bull Run in Virginia’s Northern Neck

Elias Davis , [Plat for a large parcel in Fairfax County, Virginia belonging to Captain Willoughby Newton], Fairfax County, Virginia; January 17, 1748.
Manuscript in ink on 4 joined sheets laid paper, 21 3/8"h x 23"w at sheet edge. Docketed in ink on verso.

A rare 18th-century plat depicting a large area of Fairfax County, Virginia at a far larger scale and in greater detail than on any published map published of the 18th century. The area shown includes the setting for the skirmishes that presaged the First Battle of Bull Run.

The plat describes a 6420-acre parcel in the vicinity of the present-day town of Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia. Owner Captain Willoughby Newton had assembled it in the 1740s by combining a large grant of 3600 acres with the purchase of adjacent land, including parcels owned by his brothers in law Samuel and Thomas Eskridge.

The plat depicts the parcel bounded by Bull Run Creek to the south, Cub Run to the west, and Little Rocky Run to the east. In addition to showing the geographic features and boundary measurements common to such surveys, the plat identifies the road to the warehouse on the Occaquan River, more than a dozen residences (presumably occupied by tenants of Newton), neighboring land owners, a mill along Rocky Cedar Run, and the “new church.” The extensive accompanying text lists the sources of the various parcels assembled by Newton and describes the boundaries of Willoughby’s holdings using the traditional “metes and bounds” method. This involved selecting a starting point (in this case “a marked gum tree”) and measuring the boundary as a continuous sequence of bearings and distances connecting known landmarks around the perimeter until returning to the starting point.

The verso is docketed “Captn. Willoby. Newton’s including Deed for 6421 Acres of Lnd in the County of Fairfax Deed drawn.” The plat originally may have accompanied a deed, but the latter is no longer present.

On July 18, 1861 the property once owned by Newton was the site of Union General McDowell’s failed attempt to cross Bull Run Creek and flank Beauregard’s Confederate army. Just a few days later, of course, the Union Army experienced a shocking defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run just a few miles to the west.

Willoughby Newton and Elias Davis
Willoughby Newton (1702-1767) was born the eldest son of Captain Thomas Newton of Westmoreland County. When the elder Newton passed in 1727/28 his son’s substantial inheritance included the family plantation in Cople Parish, several pieces of land totaling perhaps one thousand acres, a mill at Totaskey in Richmond County, and at least seven slaves. Records show that Newton continued to acquire property throughout his life, and at his death he left a very substantial estate, with the contents of his homes alone valued at over 2000 pounds.

I find almost nothing on surveyor Elias Davis of Westmoreland County. He is mentioned in connection with a couple of Northern Neck property surveys in the early 1740s. An article in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (vol. 10 no. 3) mentions an Elias Davis in Westmoreland owning 3 slaves in 1782.

Charles F. Cochran, “Early Generations of the Newton Family of Westmoreland County, Virginia (Continued),” in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 37, no. 3 (July, 1929). Gertrude Grey’s Virginia Northern Neck Land Grants lists various land acquisitions by Newton. Henry Taliaferro provided some biographical background on Newton. The will of Willoughby Newton’s father Thomas may be found here, and the probate inventory of Willoughby’s estate is at the web site of Gunston Hall.


Numerous separations and small losses along old folds, obscuring several words of the text and crudely repaired on the verso with cellophane tape. Rectilinear pattern of circular stains from red, waxy substance used to join sheets.