Rappahannock resident and historian Maureen Harris has written the definitive history of the Town of Washington.

Author confronts ‘legend’ that a young George Washington surveyed town named in his honor

Talk about a historical find. 

Little did author Maureen Harris ever dream while doing research for the Rappahannock Historical Society that her family’s own intriguing — and previously unknown — Rappahannock County history would come to life.

Harris, after all, was born in Anniston, Alabama, her Georgia-born father residing in the military strategic home to Fort McClellan since World War II. The family moved to Fairfax County “before I could speak,” she now recalls in an interview. She attended George Washington University on a scholarship, went on to Yale graduate school, earning a PhD in biochemistry, and from there Johns Hopkins University for her masters of public health in epidemiology.

Her entire career span of 33 years was spent at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, where she conducted medical epidemiology research. During this time she barely knew Rappahannock from Rockingham County.

But Harris would retire to “rural Rappahannock” and in doing so fall “in love with Virginia history. I found that the skills honed as an epidemiology researcher were easily translatable to historical research,” she says..

Her most amazing historical find wasn’t expected.

As Harris reveals in the preface of her just-released book, “Washington, Virginia, History: 1735-2018,” her fourth great-grandfather, George Harris, “purchased 120 acres of land along South Poughs (Poes) Road at Hungry Run in 1799 and… his nephew Richard settled along the Rush River in what became known as Harris Hollow.”

“I did not know I had Virginia roots,” the Woodville author stresses. “My father was from Georgia!”

Harris’ research for the Rappahannock Historical Society, its small museum on Gay Street in Washington, consisted at first “of researching little topics for them… It was a project for Washington Mayor John Fox Sullivan,” she says, “that got me into the Town of Washington studies… and the offshoot of that was investigating the history of the town.”

Thus Harris’ detailed new book, available through, which starts out thanking a virtual “Who’s Who” of Rappahannock residents who helped her in this “endeavor.”

Endeavor being an understatement

She takes readers back in time well before the town of Washington was officially established in 1796 by an act of the General Assembly. English settlers, after all, had been here for some time already, not to mention the long-established Indian tribes like the Manahoac, part of the Siouan confederacy. By the middle of the 1600s, she writes, most of the Indian settlements had been abandoned.

“The first recorded official document relating to the land that became the town of Washington was a royal land grant in the year 1735 for 1,750 acres from King George II of England to Thomas, James, and Elizabeth Kennerly,” the author points out. “This land was called Delameres Forest and it included the land that was to become the town in 1796-1797.”

The beginning of the king’s land transfer to the Kennerlys declares:

George the Second by the Grace of God of Great Britain France and Ireland King Defender of the Faith TO all whom these presents shall come Greetings. Know ye that for divers goods… in consideration of the sum of Seven Pounds Five Shilling of good and Lawful money for our aide paid to our Receiver General of our Revenues in this our said Colony and Dominion… known by the name of Delameres Forest Lying and being in the Parish of Saint Mark in the County of Orange between the mountains and the fork of the Rushy River… 

There are 310 pages of such fascinating discoveries by Harris, all the way through the present 21st century. 

And as for that “legend” firmly ensconced in publications, historical highway markers, and even a monument on Gay Street that young George Washington on July 24, 1749 surveyed and drew a plan for the town that would later be named in his honor?

Well, you’ll have to read the book and find out for yourself.

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