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History of Leesburg, Virginia

February 17, 2021

The history of Leesburg, Virginia begins with the presence of the Native American Doeg tribe. The Doeg were an Algonquian tribe that lived in villages around what is now Loudoun County in Northern Virginia.

By the early 1600s, English settlers (such as John Smith) had interacted favorably with the Doeg. However, relations later soured and the Doeg were forced out of the area by the early 1700s.

Other Native American tribes used a north-south trail (what was later Old Carolina Road. and is now U.S. Route 15) to travel from what is now Western New York to the Carolinas. The Catawba and Lenape tribes likely clashed near what is now Leesburg in the 1720s and 30s.

Virginian Tidewater planters established large plantations in Northern Virginia starting in the late 1730s. The "First Families of Virginia" (like the Carters, Jeffersons, Lees, Washingtons, and Masons), grew in wealth from both indentured servant and slavery-based tobacco farming.

In 1755, Nicholas Minor established a tavern at the crossroads of Old Carolina Road and Potomac Ridge Road (now Virginia State Route 7). This intersection (and nearby buildings) were originally dubbed "George Town" to honor King George II.

However, this would not last long. In 1757 the British Colonial Council established the first Loudoun County Courthouse at the crossroads location. In 1758, the Virginia General Assembly renamed the 60-acre village area Leesburg, after local colonist and politician Thomas Lee (1690 -1750).

In August 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read on the steps of the county courthouse, the first such public reading of the document in Virginia. During the War of 1812, Leesburg served as a temporary home for the U.S. Government and archives as the British briefly forced it to abandon Washington D.C.

In 1825, 10,000 people gathered around the county courthouse to honor a visit from French general and American Revolutionary commander Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834).

During the American Civil War, the courthouse and village were the sites of several battles -- with Leesburg alternating between Union and Confederate control several times. The post-war era saw development in Leesburg's agrarian and building sectors.

In 1894, a third Loudoun County Courthouse was built (the first fell into disrepair in 1811, the second lasted from 1811 to its demolition in 1894) and began use from 1895 to the present day.

Leesburg saw advancement in civil rights, owing to the work of lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston (1895 - 1950), who in 1933 argued against biased jury selection practices. Leesburg was the home of World War II-era statesman George C. Marshall (1880 - 1959), and what is now Leesburg Executive Airport was dedicated in 1964.

By 1970, Leesburg restaurants, lunch counters, and public schools were fully integrated. In 2003, the National Park Service designated the courthouse as a historical site of the Underground Railroad.

In 2015, a memorial to the Revolutionary War was constructed on the Loudoun County Circuit Court grounds. The courthouse remains an enduring landmark of Leesburg's history, and the community it serves.

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