The Colonial Period
What we now refer to as Fairlawn, historically was part of the Nacochtank Native American settlement. Along the banks of the Anacostia River European explorers like John Smith interacted with the Native Americans and observed the rich and fertile land which was later used for producing crops that were traded around the world. By the mid-
1600s, tobacco plantations were established in colonial Maryland
1888 U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey Topographical Map, Sheet 39 (NOAA).
area along the Anacostia River, which was then known as the Eastern Branch of the Potomac. With the early development of tobacco plantations, the growing importation of slaves and with the help of largely German tenant farmers and sharecroppers, increasing amounts of tobacco were shipped down the Potomac River and off to European markets. Many wharfs were built at this time along the banks of the Eastern Branch, which was then a deep body of water where large vessels were able to navigate as far inland as Bladensburg. But by the early 1800s a failed canal system intended to connect the Anacostia and Potomac rivers dashed the hopes of many Eastern Branch farmers for a very prosperous future.
Over the ensuing years tobacco cultivation exhausted the soil and land erosion washed silt from the hills into the river. The Anacostia River eventually became too shallow to attract ocean-going commercial vessels, and it became a kind of barrier separating the Anacostia village from the economic life of the rest of the developing city. By the early 1800s the descendants of Eastern Branch landholders like Colonel John Addison, Notley Young, and George Thompson still owned massive plantations and, living in their manor homes, had adopted the lifestyle of the landed aristocracy.
Little by little, however, these families sold their land and slaves to others who sought to make their fortunes along the Anacostia River. As the century progressed, these speculators discarded their expectation that the city would expand across the Anacostia River. They began to sell their massive holdings, subdividing their tracks into smaller plantations and farms of 200 to 500 acres.
1 FAIRLAWN: From the Flats to the Heights