A duel fought over one of the Triplett girls, a stone that could cure the bite of a mad dog, a mysterious will . . . ." They're all part of the lore of the Tripletts, friends and neighbors of George Washington and one of Fairfax County's first families.
In the early 1700s, the Tripletts made their home in a grand estate along the King's Highway on land bordering Washington's Hayfield Farm.
The estate was known as Round Hill, named for the knoll rising 40 feet above the land on which the Tripletts built their home, according to Fairfax County historian Edith Sprouse.
The King's Highway is now Telegraph Road, Round Hill has been replaced by the Kingman Complex at Fort Belvoir and all that remains of the Tripplett estate are three family gravestones: those of Lt. William Triplett of the Continental Army (1730-1803), William W. Triplett--believed to be his grandson--who died in 1858 at the age of 43, and Mary A. Triplett--who may or may not have been William W. Triplett's wife--who died in 1850 at the age of 40.
For the past several months, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been clearing and restoring the site, six miles south of Alexandria. At 2 p.m. tomorrow, the Corps will celebrate the restoration in public ceremonies to be attended by a number of Triplett family members, many of whom will be seeing the site for the first time.
The restoration was spearheaded by William Murden, a civilian who is chief of the dredging division of the Corps Engineers' Water Resource Support Center. The Corps has agreed to maintain the property, which will be open to the public.
Although the Triplett name has not won the fame of other fellow Virginians', county historians say the family was among the most prominent in early Fairfax history. For one thing, the Tripletts were close friends of Washington and frequent guests at his Mount Vernon estate.
In fact, much of what is known about the early Tripletts comes from Washington's diaries.
Washington frequently visited the nearby Triplett estate, one entry states, to go riding with the "well known horsemen, William and Thomas Triplett," sons of Thomas Triplett and his wife, the former Sarah Massey.
And Washington apparently was grateful to the Tripletts for taking visiting relatives off his hands--especially those who liked hunting, a sport Washington disliked.
Even the Tripletts did not escape the general's well-known thriftiness. In one entry, a disgruntled Washington noted that he bought pork from a friend of the Tripletts even though the man charged more for the hogs after he and Washington had agreed on a price.
The diaries also reveal that William Triplett was hired to build an addition to Mount Vernon and received 18 for the project, which involved raising the roof of the house and laying new foundations.
Thomas Triplett Russell of Miami, in a 1968 account of the Triplett family, cites a handbill, dated 1803, offering the Triplett home for sale. It describes a one-story brick house, 18 by 54 feet, with a kitchen below and three rooms in the "attic storey above," a standard floor plan of the times.
Another story was added later, along with outbuildings and 170 acres of land. William Triplett's youngest son George lived there until his death in 1822.
According to the family account, the house was burned to the ground "on a bleak winter night" in 1836. It was rebuilt in a more "modern" style. Later, the house was abandoned and by 1927 it had been demolished. The property remained in the Triplett family until 1941, when it became part of Fort Belvoir.
According to Sprouse's research, the Triplett family originally came from the London area and was descended from the Rev. Dr. Thomas Triplett, a sub-dean of Westminster Abbey. Three of his sons--one of them Thomas Triplett--came to America in 1666.
Sprouse says Lt. William Triplett was a vestryman of Truro Parish and also owned pews in the Pohick Church and Christ Church in Alexandria. He married Sarah Massey, had five children and is credited with adding 350 acres to the Round Hill estate.
In 1802, when William Triplett Sr. drew up his will, he specified that unless his children returned property previously given to them "they would be excluded from any other part of the estate." He further specified that if they "cannot divide the estate peaceable nor do meet together with that love and affection which brother and sisters ought to do" that the trustees were to sell the whole estate.
"Apparently the Triplett children were not 'peaceable,' " writes Sprouse, for the whole estate was sold, "everything from the coaches and harness to 100 pounds of old bacon."
And the Triplett family "madstone," a 19th century "remedy for rabies," considered to be very valuable and good for a thousand uses, is now missing, although Sprouse suggests it might be at Mount Air, a Virginia plantation "just down Telegraph Road" from the Triplett home.
As for the other family legend, it seems that during the Victorian era two of the suitors of Mary Triplett--described as "a great belle"--fought a duel over her. One of the men was killed and the other jailed, whereupon the object of their affection promptly married someone else.