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The Origins of the Revolution: 250th Anniversary of the Fairfax Resolves

Fairfax County, Virginia, Citizens, July 18, 1774, Resolutions and Abstract. Courtesy of Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division.

To mark the 250th anniversary of the Fairfax Resolves, a central document in the coming of the American Revolution co-authored by George Mason and George Washington, join emerging and leading historians for a two-day conference which will examine the origins and causes of the War for American Independence. 

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$50, Includes all Lectures, Meals, and Receptions

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$10

George Mason’s Gunston Hall, the David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society, and the George Washington Presidential Library are co-hosting a conference that explores the origins of the Revolutionary War in a broad perspective with particular attention to the Fairfax Resolves.  

The schedule is subject to change.

Wednesday, July 24 at George Mason's Gunston Hall

6:00 p.m.

Reception, Ann Mason Room, Gunston Hall

7:00 p.m.

Keynote Discussion and Plenary Session, MODERATED BY KATE STEIR, SENIOR CURATOR AND HEAD OF COLLECTIONS, GEORGE MASON’S GUSTON HALL

Fairfax's Final Three: The Resolutions that Forced Ideals into Existence
Catherine Treesh (Independent Scholar; Yale Ph.D. 2021)

Considering that the first half of the Fairfax Resolves posited a theory of colonial governance and the second half strategized how to defeat an imperial conspiracy, the final three logistical resolutions can appear like a deceptively lackluster endnote. These resolves created a county committee, endorsed the Virginia Convention, and tapped into the newspaper network -- and in doing so, decisively enmeshed Fairfax County in a regional and continental political community. Colonists had developed these political and communications institutions over the previous decade of resistance, believing that the only way to defeat conspiracy was through shared understanding and joint action. The Fairfax Resolves were informed by this political worldview and enacted it most poignantly in the critical final three resolutions.

[W]hen they left their native Land, and settled in America': The Fairfax County Resolves and the Revolutionary Debate on the Origins of Colonies and Empire
Steven Sarson (Professor of American Civilization, Jean Moulin University, Lyon 3)

This paper explores the first clause of the Fairfax County Resolves and its articulation of a long-held belief that colonists not only possessed not only natural and English rights but had also acquired and inherited rights as Americans from their settler ancestors who conquered American lands at their own efforts and expense. The paper also explores how the Resolves represented a stage in the development of a radical argument that informed the Declaration of Independence, made by Virginians Richard Bland and Thomas Jefferson, that initial settlement had established the colonies as “states” and founded the empire as a “league and amity” with the crown.

The Sons of Liberty and the Genesis of Revolutionary Protest
Micah Alpaugh (Professor of History, University of Central Missouri)

The Sons of Liberty’s opposition to the Stamp Act in 1765-66 created a fundamentally new kind of protest campaign. Utilizing growing commercial connections, correspondence, and newspaper publicity, the colonists combined their efforts into a political direct-action network of corresponding societies, reaching a scale never before utilized for political reform. In so doing, they created a model with far-flung ramifications both for their recurring standoff with British authorities and subsequent Atlantic movements over the following decades. In this paper, I delve into the Sons of Liberty’s coalition-building in late-1765 and early 1766, as the loose organizations developed amidst the first months of anti-Stamp Act protests gained cohesion and began formally affiliating together. In so doing, they violated British traditions of keeping political clubs ‘independent,’ with the American organizations openly associating to project their power and (if necessary) undertake armed resistance.

Thursday, July 25 at the George Washington Presidential Library

8:00 a.m. Continental Breakfast, Bookout Reception Hall
9:00 a.m. Welcome and Introductions
9:15 a.m.

Panel 1: Virginia, moderated by Amanda Moniz, David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution

Measuring Submission in the Tidewater: Virginia Gentry Resistance and the Road to Fairfax, 1765-1774
John Patrick Mullins (Associate Professor of History and Public History Director, Marquette University)

This paper analyzes the Fairfax Resolves of 1774 within two historic contexts. First, it outlines the British doctrine of “the measures of submission.” Second, the paper approaches the Resolves as the culmination of a series of resolutions framed by Virginia gentry since the Stamp Act: the Virginia Resolves of 1765, the Leedstown Resolves of 1766, and the Williamsburg Agreement of 1769. The Fairfax Resolves applied to new circumstances the logic already established by these earlier Virginian resolutions. Moreover, the Resolves fell within 18th century Britain’s consensus on the limits of obedience and the right of resistance to the Crown. Behind this document’s hope for peace through non-violent strategies lay a grim acknowledgment that the failure of these strategies would leave no alternative but armed resistance.

Adaptive Justice: How Virginia Courts Remained Open in 1774
Turk McCleskey (Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Virginia Military Institute)

The Fairfax Resolves included a threat to suspend future debt litigation.  Contemporary merchants complained vociferously that Virginia courts already were closed, and modern historians uncritically have taken them at their word.  County court records tell a different story, however.  Rather than closing, Virginia’s courts turned to alternative common-law procedures for enforcing credit contracts.  The shift ensured that credit contracts would reliably continue their essential contributions to Virginia’s local economies while enhancing the credibility of the Fairfax Resolve to close future courts if the imperial crisis persisted.

Bonds of Charity: Slavery, the Fairfax Resolves, and Aid to Boston
Spencer Wells (Lecturer, Master of Interdisciplinary Studies, Southern Utah University) and Jeremy Snow (independent scholar)

In June of 1774, the Parliament of Great Britain shut down Boston Harbor after the Boston Tea Party. In the months following, colonies chose to support the beleaguered town, sending food to nearby ports, and carting them to Boston. While scholars have noted how such assistance helped unite the colonies in a patriotic cause before the Revolution began in earnest, less attention has been paid to how such charity was made possible through the labor of enslaved individuals. Bonds of Charity examines how aid supplied by Virginia and other southern colonies depended on enslaved labor while also asking how patriots attempted to rhetorically distance themselves from admitting that such efforts were linked, at root, to uncomfortable realities of servitude.

10:30 a.m. Break
11:00 a.m.

Panel 2: The Backcountry, Moderated by Brendan McConville, Professor of History, Boston University

A Western Wall: American Nationalism on the Virginia Frontier Before Independence
Jay Donis (Assistant Professor of History, Thiel College)

This paper’s title deliberately plays upon John Murrin’s classic article “A Roof Without Walls” and argues that Americans along Virginia’s frontiers contributed an understanding of American national identity, even nationalism, in the years leading up to the American Revolution as sovereignty came under reconsideration in the colonies. In so doing, this paper challenges the scholarly consensus that American nationalism could not have existed before July 4, 1776 and urges scholars to seriously consider the ways frontier communities understood and contributed to the ongoing discourses of rights, independence, and the evolving conception of American identity both within and without of the British Empire. Rather than depict frontier communities as prone to anarchy or otherwise powerless, Anglo-American frontier communities actively contributed to the ongoing political reckonings brought about by the crisis of empire.

"this is the border beyond which for the advantage of the whole empire, you shall not extend yourselves": Western Land Policy as a Precondition to Revolution
Brandon Downing (Associate Professor History, Marietta College, OH)

In 1774, Britain fortified its perceived weaknesses along the North American frontier by legislating a new land reform act that deviated from granting land titles through land-owning interests in the colonies to that of the Crown. The Quebec Act, passed later the same year, canceled the sea-to-sea land claims in colonial charters and extended Catholic Canada into the Ohio Valley. These unpopular land policies led to the fusion of traditionally opposing forces in the backcountry. Together, they linked the lower classes of farmers, frontiersmen, and urban workers to the planters, merchants, and urban middle-class professionals of the social elite that served as a precondition to the Revolutionary War.

Committees, Conventions, and Court Closings in Revolutionary Massachusetts
Tristan New (PhD Candidate, Boston University)

This paper examines the role that Massachusetts’ committees of correspondence, county conventions, and radical crowds played in suspending the colony’s courts in the late summer of 1774. This revolutionary mobilization was, as many scholars have noted, part of a program of resistance against the Coercive Acts. But this was not the full extent of its significance: it was also part of a movement for popular control of the judicial branch and the courts of law. This paper considers the court closings in this context, viewing them not simply as a moment of imperial fracture, but also as an expression of popular authority with wide-ranging implications for the course of the Revolution in Massachusetts.

12:15 p.m. Lunch, Founders' Terrace
1:30 p.m.

Panel 3: Commerce, moderated by Alexandra Montgomery, Manager, Center for Digital History

Arming the Revolution: The Trusted Dutch Trade Channels, 1774-1776
Pauline Wittebol (PhD Candidate, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

This presentation focuses on the role the Dutch played in arming the American Revolution during the unsettling years 1774-1776. Existing trade routes between the Dutch Republic and North America continued as usual but were adapted to the new situation. To supply the patriots with arms, gun powder and ordinance, American merchants like John and Nicholas Brown, Aaron Lopez, Robert Morris, Alexander Gillon and Thomas Mumford relied on their established and trusted Dutch contacts for this booming trade. However, the blockades of the northern ports did cause a hitch and resulted in more trade via St. Eustatius. To continue this trade, new routes and tricks were sought to fool the British, Dutch and Loyalist administrators.

Sibling Rivalry: British and American Mercantile Competition on the Eve of Revolution
Jeremy Land (Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Gothenburg, Sweden)

Following the end of the Seven Years’ War in 1763, British-based merchants began to pressure the British government, with dozens of petitions, to place more controls and limits on what they perceived as the encroaching competition from American merchants, complaining of losing profits thanks to both legal and illegal trade passing through American ships and merchants. In response to British efforts to enforce restrictions on American trade, the Fairfax Resolves provides evidence of a growing self-confidence in the American economy and its importance to the British Empire. This paper will examine the growing rivalry between American and British merchants for preeminence within the Atlantic basin and, using the Fairfax Resolves and other similar documents, explore how American resistance against mercantilism transitioned from nonchalant avoidance of trade rules and restrictions into an existential war for independence.

Founding Debt: Merchants, the Continental Association, and the Slave Trade
James R. Fichter (Associate Professor of European and American Studies, University of Hong Kong)

The Farifax Resolves and the Continental Association banned the slave trade beginning December 1, 1774. That trade involved, among other things, debt. This paper examines how debt affected, and was affected by, the slave trade ban. Using slave traders’ papers from Rhode Island, South Carolina, and New York, it examines how the Association’s continued permission to export crops to Britain (until September 1775 for most goods and even after that for rice) allowed slave traders to collect debt in the form of colonial cargoes, offering slavers a way to get paid for their past human cargoes if they ceased importing goods from Britain or people from Africa.

2:45 p.m. Break
3:15 p.m.

Panel 4: Self-Fashioning, moderated by Michelle McDonald, Director of the Library & Museum at the American Philosophical Society

True Merit: Horatio Gates as a Case Study of Radicalization
Kieran O’Keefe (Assistant Professor of History, Lyon College)

This presentation will explore how and why Horatio Gates went from a dutiful subject of the crown to a committed revolutionary. Although he is best known as the general who oversaw the American victory at Saratoga in 1777, for much of his life, Gates was a loyal British Army officer. He is also one of several prominent Revolutionaries who did not move to America until late in the Imperial Crisis, settling in Virginia in 1772, long after the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts crises. Thus, Gates serves as a case study for why some recent immigrants became so radicalized against British rule in a seemingly short period. Gates’ drift to revolution stemmed from personal grievances with the British ministry, political ideology, resentment against class hierarchy, and shifting geographic context.

George Washington: Fashion Icon
Chloe Chapin (Assistant Director of Course Development, Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning, Harvard University; Harvard PhD 2023)

After the Fairfax Resolves determined to defend the American Colonies, George Washington chose buff and blue for the Fairfax County Independent Company uniforms because they were Whig colors, the opposition British political party. When later chosen as Commander in Chief for the United States Army, his assigned aides-de-camp also dressed in buff and blue to visually align themselves with the General, helping to shift the symbolic reference of buff and blue from the Whigs to Washington. I read this adoption of buff and blue—in military dress and later in men’s civilian fashion in both America and England—as a form of sartorial citational practice, in which men staked political claims, claimed allegiances, formed alliances, and invented American identity. These non-written, non-verbal political declarations suggests that there is a whole language of American democracy that remains to be translated.

Sovereignty, Constitutionalism, and Self-Government: Thomas Burke and the Coming of the Revolution in North Carolina
Aaron N. Coleman (Professor of History, University of the Cumberlands)

This paper examines Thomas Burke’s career between his arrival in North Carolina and his selection to serve in Congress. In particular, the paper examines the “Attachment Controversy” in North Carolina that consumed much political energy during Burke’s early years in the colony. The bitterness of the controversy mingled with other issues to create a strong whig movement in the colony, a movement in which Burke participated. His activity soon turned into a leading role in the colony’s provincial congresses in 1775, a topic that will also be discussed in detail.  The Attachment Controversy and the issues discussed during the provincial congresses in 1775 illuminate the context surrounding Burke’s thinking regarding the most important provision of the Articles of Confederation, Article II. 

4:30 p.m. Final Wrap-up Discussion with Denver Brunsman (Chair, Department of History, George Washington University), Rosemarie Zagarri (Distinguished University Professor, George Mason University), and Lindsay Chervinsky  (Executive Director, George Washington Presidential Library)
5:00 p.m. Symposium Concludes

Speaker Biographies

Micah Alpaugh

Micah Alpaugh is Professor of History at the University of Central Missouri and author of several books on the eighteenth century's Atlantic Revolutions, including Friends of Freedom: The Rise of Social Movements in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions (Cambridge 2022, Winner of the Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies Book Award) and The People’s Revolution of 1789 (Cornell 2024). He is currently writing a book about the Sons of Liberty and another on the history of protest and democracy.

Denver Brunsman

Denver Brunsman is Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at George Washington University, where his courses include “George Washington and His World,” taught annually at the Mount Vernon estate. He is the author of the award-winning book The Evil Necessity: British Naval Impressment in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World (2013), as well as Leading Change: George Washington and Establishing the Presidency (2017) and George Washington and the Establishment of the Federal Government (2020), among other publications.

Chloe Chapin

Chloe Chapin trained as a costume designer and her credits include five Broadway shows. She is currently turning her dissertation into a book manuscript: “Suits: the Founding Fathers, the Industries of America, and the Making of Modern Men.” She earned her PhD in American Studies from Harvard; her AM in History from Harvard); her MA  in fashion & textile studies from FIT; and an MFA in costume design from the Yale School of Drama. She was a member of the Washington Library's 2022-23 class of Research Fellows.

Lindsay M. Chervinsky

Lindsay M. Chervinsky is the Executive Director of the George Washington Presidential Library, and a historian of the presidency, political culture, and the government. 

She is a historian of the presidency, political culture, and the government. She produces history that speaks to fellow scholars as well as a larger public audience. Dr. Chervinsky believes history can be exhilarating and she works to share her passion with as many people as possible. Her research can be found in publications from op-eds to books, speaking on podcasts and other media, and teaching for every kind of audience.

Dr. Chervinsky’s book, The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution, was published on April 7, 2020 (paperback February 2022). She also co-edited Mourning the Presidents: Loss and Legacy in American Culture (February 20, 2023). She is a regular guest on podcasts and appears frequently on Listening to America podcast. She is the creator of the Audible course: The Best and Worst Presidential Cabinets in U.S. History.

Dr. Chervinsky is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University.

Aaron N. Coleman

Aaron N. Coleman is Professor of History and Chair of the History and Political Science Department at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, KY. He has published The American Revolution, State Sovereignty, and the American Revolution (Lexington, 2016) and co-edited a document reader on federalism in American history. He is currently working on a work (with Adam Tate) on Thomas Burke.

Jay Donis

Jay Donis, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of History at Thiel College in Greenville, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in the Journal of Early American History, Pennsylvania History, and the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Brandon C. Downing

Brandon C. Downing is an Associate Professor of History at Marietta College in Ohio where he specializes in early American history. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled, "Barbarous Tribes of Savages”: Violence and Conflict on the Periphery of Empire in the Colonial Mid-Atlantic, 1737-1784. He also gives talks on the early history of Ohio for the Humanities Council Speaker’s Bureau and serves as a public historian in his community. 

James R. Fichter

James R. Fichter is an economic historian of early America. His book, TEA, (2023) examines consumption and boycotts between the Boston Tea Party and independence. His began exploring debt in the Virginia tobacco trade in the article, “Collecting Debts,” (VMHB) 2022. He is an associate professor in Global and Area Studies at the University of Hong Kong.


 

Jeremy Land

Jeremy Land, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher in economic history at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, a visiting scholar at the University of Helsinki, and meetings coordinator of the Economic History Association. He is the author of the recent book, Colonial Ports, Global Trade, and the Roots of the American Revolution, published by Brill in 2023.

Turk McCleskey

Professor Emeritus Turk McCleskey taught in the Virginia Military Institute’s Department of History from 1994 to 2023.  His publications focus on eighteenth-century western Virginia; his 2014 book, The Road to Black Ned's Forge: A Story of Race, Sex, and Trade on the Colonial Frontier, won the Virginia Historical Society's Richard Slatten Award for excellence in Virginia biography.  He is writing a book about the Revolutionary-era struggle between Virginia and Pennsylvania for control of Pittsburgh.

Brendan McConville

Brendan McConville is a professor of history at Boston University and is head of The David Center for the American Revolution at the American Philosophical Society, as well as a trustee of the David Library of the American Revolution.  He is the author of The Brethren: A Story of Faith and Conspiracy in Revolutionary America; The King’s Three Faces: The Rise and Fall of Royal America; and These Daring Disturbers of the Public Peace: The Struggle for Property and Power in Early New Jersey, as well as being the co-creator and co-host of the radio program The Historians, which airs on 1550 AM Boston.  

Michelle McDonald

Michelle Craig McDonald is the Director of the Library & Museum at the American Philosophical Society. She has worked for nearly three decades as a museum educator, faculty member, and university administrator, is the co-editor of Public Drinking in the Early Modern World: Voices from the Tavern (2011), and has contributed to anthologies published by Oxford University Press, Cornell University Press, Rowman & Littlefield, and Berg Publishers. Her next book, Caffeine Dependence: How Coffee became the All-American Drink, is forthcoming with the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Amanda B. Moniz

Amanda B. Moniz, Ph.D., is the David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Her book, From Empire to Humanity: The American Revolution and the Origins of Humanitarianism (OUP, 2016), was awarded ARNOVA’S inaugural Peter Dobkin Hall History of Philanthropy Book Prize. She is currently writing a biography of Isabella Graham, the Scottish immigrant widow who transformed philanthropy in early-national New York City.

Alexandra L. Montgomery

Dr. Alexandra L. Montgomery is the Manager of the Center for Digital History at the Washington Presidential Library at George Washington's Mount Vernon and one of the leads for the ARGO project.

She holds a PhD in early American history from the Universy of Pennsylvania. When she is not wrangling digital projects about George Washington, her work focuses on land speculation, settler expansion, and mapping in 18th century North America.

J. Patrick Mullins

J. Patrick Mullins is Associate Professor of History and Public History Director at Marquette University. He is author of Father of Liberty: Jonathan Mayhew and the Principles of the American Revolution (Kansas, 2017). He has also published articles on John Adams, Charles Willson Peale, Mercy Otis Warren, and the Stamp Act Crisis and serves as a consultant for museums and historic sites, such as Stratford Hall. He is currently writing a book about the cultural origins of the American Revolution, focusing on American memory of British revolutions.

Tristan New

Tristan New is a Ph.D. Candidate in American History at Boston University. His research centers around law, politics, and society in Revolutionary America. He is currently writing his dissertation, entitled, “The Courts, the People, and the Contested Revolution in Massachusetts,” which examines the struggle to define and control the law in Massachusetts during the Revolutionary period.

Kieran J. O'Keefe

Kieran J. O’Keefe is an Assistant Professor of History at Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas. He earned his Ph.D. at The George Washington University in 2021. Kieran is currently working on two book projects. The first is a study of violence and loyalism in the Hudson Valley during the Revolutionary War and the second is a biography of Horatio Gates.

Steve Sarson

Steve Sarson is Professor of American Civilisation at Jean Moulin University in Lyon, France. He is a former Jack Greene student from Johns Hopkins, the author of three books, numerous articles, and an 8-volume documents collection on early American and British Atlantic history. His current book project is entitled The Course of Human Events: History and Historical Consciousness in the US Declaration of Independence, to be published by University of Virginia Press in 2025.   

Jeremy Snow

Jeremy Snow has been an historical researcher for nearly 30 years, with a focus on telling the stories of unknown figures from the Colonial period through the mid-1800s. Educated at Utah State University and Harvard Law School, he recently retired from a twenty year career as a trial attorney to focus exclusively on historical research and writing.

Kate Steir

Kate Steir is the Senior Curator and Head of Collections at George Mason's Gunston Hall. She received her Ph.D. in History from Georgetown University in 2023. Her dissertation, entitled "Provisions of Power: Food and Scarcity in Jamaica, 1730-1790" explored how cultural differences in the ways that Jamaicans of different races and backgrounds thought about food, health, and the body impacted their perceptions of hunger and the stability of Jamaica's political system in the eighteenth century.

Catherine Treesh

Catherine Treesh earned her Ph.D. in history from Yale University. Her dissertation is entitled “Writing Union into Resistance: How Committees of Correspondence Forged a Continental Community” (2021). She is now a strategy and innovation consultant based out of Boston, and in her free time continues to contribute to the academic discourse on the origins of the American Revolution. 

Spencer Wells

Spencer Wells is a Lecturer in the Masters of Interdisciplinary Studies program at Southern Utah University. He received his Ph.D. in American history from William & Mary. He is the author of “As the Oracles of God”: Policing the Word in Colonial Quakerism.

Pauline Wittebol

Pauline Wittebol studied Atlantic and global history at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (2014). She is working on her Ph.D. thesis, “North American-Dutch political and economic relations in the eighteenth century.” In 2023 she organized the symposium “1673, The Finances of a Naval War” at the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam. Her latest publication “Buskruit in de vroegmoderne tijd. Een zoektocht naar de juiste receptuur en ingrediënten”, De Boekenwereld (2024) is in print.

Rosemarie Zagarri

Rosemarie Zagarri is Distinguished University Professor and Professor of History at George Mason University. A specialist in early American political history and women's history, she is the author of four books, the most recent of which is Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic. She has received fellowships from the American Philosophical Society, the American Antiquarian Society, the Fulbright Foundation, George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2009, she was elected President of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR). In 2023, she was elected to the Society of American Historians.  

Parking

Guests should park in Mount Vernon visitor parking lots, and enter the Library via the pedestrian gate near the four-way traffic intersection (across from the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant).

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