Residents Defend Keeping Burke Name

Residents Defend Keeping Burke Name

Little interest expressed in ‘Fenton Project.’

Historic marker noting the house completed in 1824 as the resident of the Burke’s after their marriage

Historic marker noting the house completed in 1824 as the resident of the Burke’s after their marriage

Burke resident David Martosko explained his historical research, and the motivation behind his desire to change the name of Burke at an open meeting he called on March 27 at Pohick Regional Library. On the rainy evening, 40 Burke residents showed up to listen and view his 45 minute presentation. 

“My independent document research has uncovered some unsettling things about Silas Burke, the town's namesake,” wrote Martosko in an email to the Connection. “The worst of the documentation I found shows that Silas Burke oversaw slave auctions while he was a Fairfax County judge and a school commissioner.”

His professional level slides included representations of the historical documents on which Martosko based his suppositions about Silas Burke’s actions and activities. Martosko said he proposes renaming “Burke to ‘Fenton,’ to honor the first of many children whom Silas Burke bought. He paid $206 for Fenton in 1826, when the boy was likely 6 years old.”

Once audience members had an opportunity to speak, it was clear from their comments that a strong majority did not support Martosko’s name change effort, which he calls the “Fenton Project.” Participants speaking out echoed an abhorrence with slavery, recognizing it was a too common practice in Virginia during the era in which Silas Burke lived. Several, including residents Arthur Benckert and local historian Sally Segal, spoke to cite specific reasons for their objection to the project, including: it’s a waste of time to change the name in a process little used anywhere in the country [request to a U.S. Geological Survey Board]; the name change would require changes to home and business addresses, driver’s licenses, deed recordings, etc. at considerable expense; failure to recognize the current close-knit, racially diverse community; better to face the injustices of history than to erase them; and the effort fails to consider the identity and connection to the Burke name felt by the present community. 

Others objected to the proposed alternate community name: Fenton. Speakers said that the Fenton name was commonly used during the Confederacy period, and may have its own negative associations; there is little known about the enslaved boy of that name found in the record and what became of him; and that it sounds too close to the current drug scourge, fentanyl.

Corazon Foley, a local historian, political activist, and recent candidate for Supervisor, suggests the less sensational means of promoting history is through use of historical markers. She also suggests keeping the community name to honor George Howard Burke, who owned one of three grocery stores in downtown Burke, important in Burke’s development after the Civil War. 

Martosko is a retired reporter who previously worked for conservative media, including Rupert Murdock’s “The Daily Mail” as political editor until 2020; and with Tucker Carlson’s “Daily Caller” in 2011. He seemed undeterred by the negative reception voiced in the meeting regarding his project, indicating he plans to hold another public meeting in May, and to use his media acumen to continue to draw interest to the project from the press, including a planned 300 word letter to editors. Asked what he would do if the majority of Burke’s residents did not support the change, he said he “was not worried about the majority today;” that people would “get it over time.” 

The Burke community takes its name from the prominent 19th century judge, sheriff, businessman, plantation farmer, and school board member, and state militiaman, Lt Colonel Silas Burke. He served as chief justice of Fairfax County’s court and as a director of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, influencing the placement and naming of Burke station on the line. 

Tax records indicate he held up to 14 enslaved people. He died at the age of 57 in 1854, well before the Civil War. Although local historians suggest he is a “bit of an enigma,” the Burkes are listed as one of the nine notable families of the area by the Burke Historical Society ( His home, Woodbury, later called Top O’ the Hill, has been preserved and sits in the center of the Burke community.

Learn more about Martosko’s proposal on his website,