Old Fort Mayo

The land on which Fort Mayo was built was originally owned and lived on by the family of John Frederick Miller, probably of German origin, who moved here around 1750.  

The threat of Indian raids from the West at about that time prompted the Government at Williamsburg to order a string of forts built from the Potomac River to the North Carolina line. Young George Washington was charged with having the forts built and garrisoned.  

Three of the forts were built in what was Halifax County at that time. One was on the Blackwater River in present Franklin County; one (Fort Trial) was built on the Smith River in present Henry County and one (Fort Mayo) was built on the North Mayo River in present Patrick County on the land of John Frederick Miller.  

George Washington, then 24 years of age, visited the three Forts in October 1756. He spent at least one night at Fort Mayo and wrote several letters from here, which are yet in existence. He was rather critical of what he saw. After his reports were received at Williamsburg, the Colonial Government decided to permanently garrison only one of the forts. Fort Mayo was the one chosen.

Troops were kept at Fort Mayo all during the French and Indian War. They saw considerable action in defending the area against Indian raids.  In the beginning, the fort was under the command of Captain Samuel Harris. Samuel Harris had been quite active in Halifax County affairs. He had served as sheriff of the County, a justice of the County Court, and was active in the affairs of the Church of England, the Established Church. He, however, fell under the influence of the Baptist missionaries who were active at that time and changed his military uniform for one of the clergy. He spent the remainder of his life as a Baptist missionary and is one of those responsible for the rapid rise of the Baptists in this section of Virginia.  

After the War ended, John Frederick Miller wrote a letter to the Colonial Government in which he complained of the damages rendered to him by the fort. He stated that they had destroyed his apple orchard, burned his fences and damaged him in a number of other ways. He was awarded some damages.  

Some years after the War, John F. Miller seems to have moved to present Halifax County, and he sold his land to a land dealer by the name of John Marr, who seems to have lived on the land for a time. John Marr's wife, Susannah, was a sister to Elizabeth Perkins Letcher Hairston, the wife of Col. George Hairston.  

Some time after 1800, the land came into the possession of Marr's nephew. Harden Hairston, the third son of Col. George and Elizabeth Perkins Letcher Hairston. Harden Hairston married Sally Stovall Staples, daughter of John Staples on June 1, 1808. Apparently, they lived on the Old Fort land until they moved to Lowndes County, Mississippi about 1843. All of their nine children appear to have been born at Old Fort.  

Harden Hairston served as Master of Transportation for the Southern Division of the American Army during the War of 1812. He served as "Gentlemen Justice" of the Patrick County Court from 1823 to 1842.  Four children died while they lived at Fort Mayo and are buried in the cemetery enclosed by a rock wall. One son is said to have been killed by lightning.  

The third child, Samuel Harden Hairston, graduated from William and Mary College, where he studied law. He served on the staff of Gen. Jeb Stuart, his cousin, during the Civil War. He was killed in 1870 when the gallery of the House of Delegates in the State Capitol in Richmond fell.  

The fourth child, Peter Constant Hairston, became a physician in Mississippi.

Nicholas Edward Hairston was educated at Harvard, and moved to Mississippi. He married Kiziah Staples, daughter of Col. Samuel Staples of Patrick County.

Robert Andrew Hairston was educated at the University of North Carolina and moved to Alabama.

J.T.W. Hairston born at Old Fort in 1825, graduated at Virginia Military Institute and was a Major in the Confederates States Army.  

Elizabeth Perkins Hairston, oldest daughter, born in 1809, moved to Lowndes County, Mississippi, as did another sister.  

The exact location of the Fort Mayo and of the Harden Hairston home are not known with certainty. One researcher spent some time trying to determine the location of the fort came to the conclusion that it was probably located in the vicinity of the present home there. Some think that it may have been nearer the river.

This page was written by Mr. O. E. Pilson for the 1996 Hairston Reunion - hairston.org