The first to do so was Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who inherited vast estates in Virginia through his mother, the daughter of Thomas Colepeper, 2nd Baron Colepeper and Governor of Virginia, in 1719. Settling permanently in Virginia in 1747, the 6th Lord even employed a 16-year-old distant relation by the name of George Washington to survey his lands. By the time of the American Revolution, he was the only peer resident in the colonies.
Although his lands were confiscated by the revolutionaries in 1779, he remained a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia until his death in 1781, less than two months after the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown and two years before the Treaty of Paris formally ended the war. The title was then inherited by his brother, Thomas, who remained in Great Britain and was awarded £13,758 under the American Loyalists’ Act a year before his death in 1793.
The title then passed to his first cousin once removed, Bryan Fairfax, a Virginia resident who had to wait until 1800 before his succession as 8th Lord was confirmed by the House of Lords. Luckily for his son Thomas, the 9th Lord, a Constitutional amendment passed by Congress in 1810 which would have stripped citizenship from any American who “accepted, claimed, received or retained any title of nobility from a foreign government” was never ratified by the required number of states. Completing the circle started by his ancestor, the 6th Lord, he was one of the last guests received by George Washington at Mount Vernon before the first president’s death in 1799.
By the time Albert Kirby Fairfax succeeded as 12th Lord in 1900, aged 30, the family had essentially forgotten about the title. However, in a fairytale twist, Albert was later found to be the rightful heir and confirmed in the title by the Committee for Privileges of the House of Lords in 1908. Wasting no time, he was naturalised as a British subject the same year and in 1917 elected one of 16 Scottish Representative Peers in the House of Lords, where he remained until his death in 1939.
He was succeeded by his eldest son Thomas, who took the family’s parliamentary career a step further after being elected a Representative Peer in 1945, serving as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Lord President of the Council (Lord Woolton and Lord Salisbury, respectively) from 1951 to 1953 and to the Minister of Materials (Lord Woolton) between 1953 and 1954, as well as serving as Lord-in-Waiting (government whip) between 1954 and 1957. He died in 1964 at the age of 40.
His son Nicholas, the 14th Lord, is a barrister and director of British-Georgian Soc. Ltd and Russian shipping company Sovcomflot, as well as a Freeman of the City of London and a Liveryman of the Shipwrights’ Company. His heir, the Hon. Edward Nicholas Thomas Fairfax, was born in 1984.
In another fairytale twist, though with not quite so happy an ending, Maine construction worker Rick Wortley was in 1987 named 5th Earl of Wharncliffe as a distant relation of the 4th Earl, Alan James Montagu-Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie. By that time, however, death duties had significantly eroded the family estate and Wortley Hall, the family seat, had become a trade union holiday home in 1951 after being used by the Army during the war. The 5th Earl, then, while nominally a member of the nobility remains a construction worker in Maine.
Californian William Jennings Capell is currently heir to the Earldom of Essex, being a distant relation of the childless 11th Earl, Frederick Paul de Vere Capell, a 70-year-old retired teacher who lives in a bungalow near Lancaster. His own father was a distant cousin of the 9th Earl, Reginald George de Vere Capell, who also died childless. Both the 9th and 10th Earls had taken their seats in the House of Lords.