Role in Ravensworth: owner Parcel 1.1.7.3; founder/promoter of Town of Providence and Fairfax Court House relocation

Richard Ratcliffe was born c.1751 to John and Ann Ratcliffe. He married Louisiana “Locian” Boling (1760-1836), a close relative. They had nine children:

  • Samuel Ratcliffe (1775-1836), married Matilda Wilkinson
  • John Ratcliffe (1775-1818), married Lucinda Helm Fitzhugh (1784-1845)
  • Robert Ratcliffe (1779-1851), married Mildred Deneale (1775-1868). Served as Fairfax County’s deputy surveyor from 1801 to 18151
  • Jane Ratcliffe (1784-?), married Thomas Moss (?-1839)
  • Penelope Ratcliffe (1790-1837), married 1. (Unknown) Barker and 2. Spencer Jackson (?-1830)
  • Nancy Ratcliffe (1792-?), married Stephen Daniel (1765-1854)
  • Patsy Ratcliffe (1796-1848), married Richard J. Coleman (1795-?)
  • Charles Ratcliffe (1800-1835), married Ann Maria Coleman (1795-1850)
  • Locian Ratcliffe (1800-1835), married George West Gunnell (1789-1878)2

The son of a Ravensworth leaseholder, Richard would purchase 1000 Ravensworth acres (Parcel 1.1.7.3) in 1798 from doctors Henry Rose and Augustine Smith. Merged with another 2000 acres that he had acquired over 30 years, the combined lands formed his Mount Vineyard plantation.

“He first appears in 1771 being sworn a deputy sheriff. This was the first of an unbroken chain of public service positions which he held for fifty-four years. He served as sheriff, coroner, justice, patroller, Truro Parish overseer of the poor, courthouse lot commissioner, jail inspector, superintendent of elections, poorhouse, road, and tax commissioner, master commissioner of the court, and designer and developer of the town which became the Fairfax County seat.”3

In addition to his land and related agricultural pursuits, Richard served in a number of public positions. He was several times appointed a justice of the Fairfax County Court by the Virginia governor from the 1790s to 1824.4 He was county sheriff in 1811-12.5 He was appointed tax commissioner in 1792 and 1811, and was coroner in 1797 and 1816.6

Richard Ratcliffe is especially remembered for his roles in establishing the Fairfax County courthouse in its present location and creating the Town of Providence, today’s City of Fairfax – both on the Ravensworth part of his Mount Vineyard plantation.

In 1799, Fairfax County accepted his offer of four acres of land for a new courthouse, jail and related offices. The site would grow to 10 acres. The location of the courthouse soon influenced events to Ratcliffe’s benefit. The route of the Little River Turnpike, then under construction, was changed to give good access to the court. And as a byproduct access to his land, thereby increasing its value. In 1805, the Virginia legislature approved Ratcliffe’s proposal to establish the Town of Providence, which would surround and include the courthouse site. He then bought virtually all of the town lots, which he leased to businesses and residents attracted to the growing government and transportation center.


 

  1. Beth Mitchell, Beginning at a White Oak: Patents and Northern Neck Grants of Fairfax County, Virginia (Fairfax County Office of Comprehensive Planning, n.d.), 298.
  2. Edward Coleman Trexler, Jr., Endowed by the Creator: Families of Fairfax Court House, Va. Fairfax, Va: (James River Valley Pub., 2003), 247-250.
  3. Constance K. Ring, “Richard Ratcliffe: The Man, His Courthouse, and His Town,” Yearbook: The Historical Society of Fairfax County, Virginia Volume 25 1995-1996, 85. See pages 85-118 for a detailed biography and account of Ratcliffe’s roles in moving the Fairfax Courthouse and establishing the Town of Providence.
  4. “The Fairfax County Courthouse by Ross De Witt Netherton and Ruby Waldeck – Free Ebook,” 106, accessed July 26, 2013, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/28750.
  5. “Past Fairfax County Sheriffs – Fairfax County, Virginia,” accessed April 4, 2015, http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/sheriff/pastsheriffs.htm.
  6. “Deed Book Index 1742-1797” and “Deed Book Index 1797-1841,” Fairfax Circuit Court Historic Records Center Finding Aids, available online at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/courts/circuit/historical-records-finding-aids.htm.