Monday, August 8, 2016

Share the News!

This Summer, we're exploring new opportunities at Gunston Hall.  Every weekend we've had something different going on around the grounds.  When you come visit, you can take part in getting some food ready on the hearth, or meet George Mason.  One of our favorite activities this Summer has been exploring how news was made during George Mason's lifetime.

News was often passed by word of mouth, or from person to person.  When someone came to visit Gunston Hall, they might have shared what was happening in other parts of Virginia with George Mason.  Others might have sent letters, sometimes about personal matters, but also to share something big that was happening near them.  Finally, there were newspapers.  One of the biggest newspapers in Virginia was the Virginia Gazette, published in Williamsburg.  It shared news from all over the colony and around the world, from someone losing a horse to when the Revolutionary War ended in 1783.

George Mason sharing news with guests at Gunston Hall.

If you want to become an 18th century newsie, there's still time!  Join us this weekend, August 13, or in two weeks on August 27.

Friday, December 18, 2015

For Christmas

For Christmas This Year…

A jolly old elf from the North Pole came to visit Gunston Hall during Plantation Christmas. While he listened to children’s requests as they whispered in his ear, well, Santa’s hearing and, and, what was I saying—oh, yes, Santa’s hearing and memory aren’t what they used to be. So Santa asked the children to write their requests so that Santa could take the information back north and have the IT elves include it in the 2015 Naughty/Nice Database. Here are those requests, mostly unedited, with the names not included to protect Santa/Client anonymity.


Dear Santa,

For Christmas I would like a book sires [series] called Star darlings




Dear Santa, Video Gams




Dear Santa,

I wan’t a paint set more than everything.

Thank you.




Dear Santa, I wood like a fliying unicorn for chrishmas  and a Shopkins 12 Pak and a Zoomer Puppy I rely hope I can get thes thigs and if you are Thank you



Dear Santa,

This year I would also like a book called trouble on cloud city star wars young jedi knight’s and an R2-D2 Sweater




Dear Santa,

I want peace and good health for my family!


Not all Santa's correspondents have
mastered their letter-writing skills,
but they were able to render amazingly
life-like drawings of their wishes.

Dear Santa,

Mac Keb ‘n zio, Barbie



Dear Santa,

I would like a Switch-and go-Dino Bracheosaurus for Christmas.—please




Dear Santa,

May I have an X-Box1 pleas and I don’t wan’t to over work the elv’s but may I hav a controller or two: p.s. I’m kind of blindid because I just took a barall full of pictus with you’r helper.

Fr: A


Dear Santa,

I would love many things, but the thing I would like the most is a white hoverboard. I will be sending more request’s later on!



Dear Santa,

I would like:

Ty Teenie Beanie Babies 2.0 (McDonalds 30th year Anniversary)

  • Tupper the Giraffe
  • Oasis the Tiger
  • Pops the Gorilla
  • Cargo the Dog
  • Woolsy the Sheep

A textbook containing all American History from Exploration (from 1492) to Globilization (1945-Today)

Inspiration to write more poems.

L. L.


Dear Santa,

I’d like a train set.

Thank you,

J. D.


Dear Santa,

I want a Generation Doll



Dear Santa,

Death Star Lego’s



Dear Santa,




Dear Santa,

Cutie Mark Castlle



Dear Santa,

I would like the Lego Friends Grand Hotel

From A.P.


Dear Santa,

I would like a trampulin, Ducht Blitz, airo be.



Dear Santa,

For chrissmiss I want the new skiLanders game that has Accvere and racing. I also want a new olsins ahetetchdoh gift card Googol gromcard



Dear Santa,

Another Woody (from Toy Story)

From. O. M.


Dear Santa,

I want a toy air Plane for Christmas. I want Jewelry for my mom.

From, S.M.

Santa shouldn't have favorites, but he
especially bonded with this young visitor. It was
almost as though they were related.

Before you ask, all Santa would like for Christmas is for children of all ages to learn how to use apostrophes correctly.

And world peace.

Merry Christmas to all,

S. Claus





Thursday, August 20, 2015

Bound for Maryland and Virginia, Part 3: Leases

By Barbara Farner

Having left, as William Bernard Sears’s obituary states, “the oppressions of Europe,” what became of some of the free-will, redemptioners, and convicts associated with George Mason? With the exception of William Buckland and William Bernard Sears, there are no extant records of any of the people named as servants of Mason. We know that, freewill indentured servant William Buckland continued to do beautiful work in Virginia and Maryland when he left Gunston Hall. His brilliant career ended with his sudden death in November 1774.

Upon completion of his term of service at Gunston Hall, convict servant William Bernard Sears embellished houses, including Mount Vernon, and beautified churches. According to Fairfax historian, Debbie Robison, Sears, by 1769, held a lease on part of Henry Lee’s eastern Loudoun County. As a member of the Loudoun County Militia, he spent a winter at Valley Forge prior to taking up a second lease on the Henry Lee tract in eastern Loudoun (now Fairfax) County.

Reproduction Tenant House at Claude Moore Farm, 
photo Barbara Farner
Pamela Copeland, a George Mason biographer, noted that, in 1739, rent on Mason’s Virginia properties inherited from his father produced 19,035 pounds of tobacco, while his own plantations produced slightly more than 4,500 pounds. The major income from tobacco sales came from rent paid on the leased lands. When George Mason IV reached the age of legal responsibility in 1746, his Virginia property included land in Prince William County and holdings along Pohick and Accotink Creeks, Difficult Run, Little Hunting Creek, Analostan Island and on the Virginia side of the Potomac opposite Rock Creek in Fairfax County.

In 1765, Mason, in his “Scheme for Replevying Goods and Distress for Rent,” compared leasing land to the use of slave labor and found, “That the custom of leasing Land is more beneficial to the community than that of settling them with slaves . . .” He continued that “no Means seem so natural as securing the Payment of Rents in an easy & effectual Manner: the little Trouble & Risque attending this Species of Property may be considered as an Equivalent to the greater Profit arising from the Labour of Slaves, or any other precarious & troublesome Estate.” Mason leased hundreds of acres of his land, in some degree as speculation, stating that it was not “attended with so much immediate profit to the land holder” but was less trouble than slaves and provided additional income with minimal investment.

Scholar and cartographer Beth Mitchell formulated a map locating all tenants and lease holders on record in Fairfax County for 1760. She noted that Henry Fitzhugh of the Ravensworth tract and George Mason had more tenant/leaseholders on their properties than other Fairfax landowners. Fitzhugh had 40 and Mason 35. The 1760 records, most likely, show six, former convict servants among the 35 tenants or leaseholders on George Mason’s scattered properties.

According to Mitchell, there was a legal difference in 18th century terminology between a tenant and leaseholder. A lease was a legal land arrangement with obligations on the both the land owner and the lease holder. A tenant lived on the property without legal arrangements or rights, could be evicted at the will of the land holder, and was generally expected to pay rent. A tenant could be living on the land of a leaseholder. William Buckland, was such a person who, for a brief time, was a tenant on his father-in-law, William Moore’s, 100 acre Mason Neck leasehold belonging to George Mason. In either case, to confuse things, the house of the leaseholder or tenant on the property was called a tenement.

As John Cantwell noted in his study of Fairfax tenantry, leasing improved the lands, provided a profit for the owner, and protected the land from trespassers. Mason used a printed document with the blanks filled in for the lessee’s name and property. He added specific requirements and restrictions on the reverse side of the document. The transcriptions of the documents became part of the legal record in the Prince William or Fairfax County Deed Books. The standard leases required the lessee to erect a 16 foot x 16 foot house, a 20 x 32 foot tobacco barn, and plant hundreds of apple and peach trees. For newly leased land, Mason stipulated that the lessee would have a number of years free of rent, generally three, so that improvements could be made to the property. To promote stability and improvements, leases were generally for three lives, the man, his wife and third person, usually a son or daughter, with the lease lasting through the longest life. Usual leases were for a minimum of 100 acres with rent of 630 pounds of tobacco due once a year at a designated warehouse. Rent was adjusted by the amount of land leased and the number of workers allowed by Mason to be used by the lessee.

One man could produce about 1000 pounds of tobacco per acre and generally work two acres of land, leaving him with a large quantity of tobacco after his rent of 630 pounds was paid. In the Northern Neck, all landholders paid 2 shillings per 100 acre quit rent to Lord Fairfax. With tobacco averaging 14 shillings per 600 pounds, this left a profit for the landholder of about 12 shillings. [Note: 20 shillings equaled 1 pound £.] Of course, the amount of tobacco actually produced was influenced by weather, insects, and the lessee’s ability to produce the crop.

Protected Trees at Claude Moore Farm, photo Barbara Farner
George Washington wrote that although some people were “weak handed” in not being able to purchase land, he invited and encouraged a “number of useful Husbandmen and Mechanicks [sic] to settle among us.” He also saw leasing as a way of improving his land.

In a letter to Robert Carter, Mason recommended a person for a lease, noting that Carter should be cautious about renting lands to a stranger.  These remarks to Carter may imply that Mason knew his tenants or leaseholders. Several names listed as tenants on or lease holders of Mason’s property are recorded as King’s Passengers to Maryland and Virginia.

After resurveying his properties on Little Hunting Creek and Difficult/Accotink Run, it appears that Mason extended leases to some men already living on the sites and to others who appeared to be newly placed leaseholders. Some appear to be freed convict servants. While Mason already owned property on Little Hunting Creek, in 1757 he purchased an additional 200 acres. Several former convicts were either tenants or lease holders on this tract in 1760. William Cotton, of Surry, England, was a fellow King’s Passenger with William Bernard Sears on board the Tryal for Maryland in1752. His servitude apparently ended in 1759 and he was listed as a tenant on the Little Hunting Creek property in 1760.

Joseph Gardner, another King’s Passenger came to Virginia in 1727 on the Susanna. In 1760 he was a tenant who owned four slaves on the Little Hunting Creek tract. Another possible lease holder was John Ward, also aboard the Susanna in 1727, having been convicted of stealing two pieces of clothing. Samuel Brasington came in 1749 on the Litchfield, to serve seven years. By 1760 he held a 100 acre lease on the Little Hunting Creek tract. Brassington’s name sets him apart as an easily identifiable King’s Passenger, since he was the only person with that name in both the lists of passengers and on Mason’s property.

Leaseholder William Scott was transported on the Speedwell for stealing tools in 1741. William Stone was another convict on the 1741 sailing of the Speedwell. On October 1, 1757 George Mason leased 100 adjoining acres to each man on the Accotink and Difficult Run tract. Stone’s lease was for three lives, himself, his wife Grace and his son William. Stone’s three lives lease named his wife Jemina and their eldest son John. In both leases Mason noted that the acreage assigned was already “occupied” or “run” by each man.

The leases that Mason drafted cited that the property could be entered by him or his heirs only if rents were in arrears. Leases could not be sold without Mason’s approval, and with the death of one of the three named lives, an additional life could be added to the lease with the payment of fees. Mason’s leases stated that the premises were to be “peaceably and quietly, have, hold, use, occupy, possess, and enjoy the said [land] . . . during the term of three lives, without any Trouble, Molestation, or Interruption, from Him the said George Mason” or his heirs or other person claiming rights under him.

As holders of legitimate life leases, leaseholders, even former convicts, were qualified as voters. Mason, at the Federal Convention in 1787, defended voter qualifications by stating that “every man having evidence of attachment to & permanent common interest with the Society ought to share in all its rights and privileges.” While his intent was to increase suffrage to non-property owners, he was upholding the rights of leaseholders as well as freeholders to vote.

Mason’s leases appear to have been long term arrangements. As a legal life leaseholder, in good standing, even former convicts could describe their situation in the same Old Testament imagery, used by George Mason, George Washington, Landon Carter and William Bernard Sears to describe his place in this new country where he could “sit under his own vine and fig tree and can say there is none to hurt us.”

This study would not have been complete without the work of:

Sherry F. Solow’s graduate school theses presented to George Mason University in 1977: “Tenantry in Virginia: Fairfax County, 1742-1776.” (Available in the Virginia Room of the Fairfax Library.)

John Cantwell’s Master Thesis for George Mason University, 1986: “Imported Indentured White Servitude in Fairfax and Prince William Counties, 1750-1800.” (Available in the Virginia Room of the Fairfax Library.)

Beth Mitchell’s extraordinary map and documentation in Fairfax County, Virginia in 1760 an Interpretive Historical Map. (Available in the Gunston Hall Museum Shop.)

Resources Used:
Fairfax County, VA Deed Books: B, C1, D1, E1, K1.

Prince William County, VA Deed Book: B,

File: Business transactions of George Mason, IV. Gunston Hall Library and Archives.

Coldham, Peter Wilson. Emigrants in Chains... Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992.

------------ King’s Passengers to Maryland and Virginia. Westminster, MD: Family Line Publishers, 1997.

Copeland, Pamela duPont and Richard K. McMaster, The Five George Masons Patriots and Planters of Maryland and Virginia. Lorton: VA Board of Regents of Gunston Hall, 1975.

Robison, Debbie. “William Bernard Sears.” Unpublished paper, February 19, 1999. File: Sears, William Bernard, Gunston Hall Library and Archives.

Rutland, Robert. The Papers of George Mason 1725-1792. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1970.

An example of a leasehold farm: Claude Moore Colonial Farm, 6310 Georgetown Pike, McLean, Virginia.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Bound for Maryland or Virginia, Part 2: Convicts

By Barbara Farner
Gunston Hall Docent's Association

Convicts or “King’s Passengers” were the third group of white indentured servants who came to the colonies with time to serve. As punishment for crimes committed in England, more convicted transported felons were sent to Maryland and Virginia than other American or Carribean colonies. The primary purpose of transportation was to free Britain, Scotland and Ireland of non-capital felons rather than to bolster the labor force in British colonies. Exiling the convicts from Britain for their time to serve also enforced the power of judges to intimidate through penal transportation. Approximately 50,000 felons were transported to the Chesapeake between 1718 and 1775.

Maryland Gazette, June 16, 1767
Their crimes were varied and although women and children were convicted and transported, the majority were minimally skilled young men. Only about 27% of the convicts were skilled craftsmen and tradesmen. Felons served a term of seven years for non-capital offenses while those convicted of capital offenses served 14 years. Purchasers did not pay freedom dues when terms expired. This group of servants, when not running away, proved to be useful workers in a diversifying economy. In his study of the felon trade, Kenneth Morgan states that “by the late 1760s, male convicts sold for about a third of the price of young male slaves in the Chesapeake, and were employed in plantation work, in the craft and construction trades and at iron works. Some convicts were unskilled laborers but others had, or acquired, occupational skills as they served their sentences."

Lightly loaded ships sailing to Maryland and Virginia to pick up tobacco could be filled with convicts. The chain of ownership for the servant-convict was jailer - merchant - ship captain - local dealer - and finally the buyer. British jurisdictions paid a flat fee to the merchant to take all prisoners, regardless of their physical condition, the jailer received a kickback for choosing a particular merchant, and thereafter each on the chain received a cut of the final sale price. Henry Piper, Robert Adam, and John Fitzgerald of Alexandria, and John Graham of Dumfries, among many other Northern Virginian merchants, dealt in convict servants. On Mason Neck, the agents were Barnes & Ridgate at Colchester. The local dealer could be assured that he would receive 7.5% of the selling price, or about 10 to 20 shillings per convict. [note: 20 shillingsÆ’ equaled pound £]. Generally, men sold for about £10, women for £6-8, and skilled craftsmen about £15.
This could be a profitable enterprise.

When Barnes and Ridgate went bankrupt in 1771, they transferred all of their debt at their Colchester store to George Mason and Martin Cockburn, acknowledging their indebtedness to Mason and Cockburn in the deed. As well as being in the tobacco trade as consignment merchants the company also dealt in African slaves and British convicts.

Of course there were circumstances that interfered with the profits, such as loss of the ships at sea, on board deaths of some of the King’s passengers, or inability to sell old or infirm convicts. While on some ships the mortality rate was as high as 50%, the average was about 10%. Ships were quarantined for a short time before the servants were sold. Most often the sales took place on board the ship. Some servants were purchased by so called “soul drivers” who came on board, bought a quantity of prisoners, shackled them together, and marched them towards the Valley of Virginia where, in the words of free-will indentured servant John Harrower, they were “drivin [sic] through the country like a parcell [sic] of Sheep until they can sell them to advantage . . .”5 A way station on the road to the valley for both convicts and slaves was what is now Centreville, then called Newgate.

While many on both sides of the Atlantic thought buying convict servants was profitable, many including the Virginia legislature did not. The legislature tried unsuccessfully several times to tax and thereby limit both the convict and slave trade and each time they were defeated by the British government. Benjamin Franklin observed that the returning convict ships should be filled
with rattlesnakes to make the trade equitable. The Maryland and Virginia Gazettes alerted colonists of the arrival in the Chesapeake of ships carrying convict or seven year servants. The trade stopped during the war, although the British attempted to send convict ships to Virginia after the Revolution, they were turned back.

Virginia Gazette, Rind, June 15, 1769
There are many advertisements for return of individual runaway convict servants. William Buckland, while living and working in Richmond County, Virginia in 1769, placed a runaway add in the Virginia Gazette for his convict servant, a house joiner by trade, Samuel Bailey. Another advertisement appeared in 1771 for John Ewig. When servants were returned, additional time was
added to the indenture to compensate for time lost and cost of recovery. Samuel Bailey appears in Buckland’s 1774 probate inventory with a value of £16. As a indentured servant of Buckland’s, Bailey was considered valuable property.

Because there is no surviving probate inventory, if indeed one was even taken, for George Mason, of Gunston Hall, it is unknown if at his death, in 1792, he had any type of indentured servants. By the time of Mason’s death, Irish redemptioner servants, Hanly and Conner’s time of service was complete. However, indentured servants, with time to serve, are listed in the 1735
inventory of his father, George Mason III. It is interesting to note that Pamela duPont Copeland in her study, The Five George Masons, notes that George Mason III’s principal income was derived from leases and the tobacco produced on leased land rather than his own worked plantations.

By looking at the names of some of the servants, with time to serve, in the accounts of George Mason III’s 1735 inventory, we are able to identify two men whose names are recorded as King’s Passengers. The inventory lists John Webb (John S. Webb) who was most likely transported in 1731 on the Forward to Maryland or Virginia and John Davis who was transported in 1728 on the Elizabeth to the Potomac. In the inventory, Davis is listed with three months to serve, making him a seven year servant.

There are several “King’s Passengers” who are associated with George Mason, although we do not know if he purchased them individually, or if they were contracted to him by another purchaser, or how he came to know them during their servitude to someone else. The outstanding one is William Bernard (sometimes Barney or Barnabe) Sears, a twenty year old carver from Middlesex
England who was found guilty of grand larceny for stealing several items of clothing and trying to pawn them. He and his accomplice, also a carver were sentenced to transportation for 7 years, leaving London on the ship Tryal bound for Maryland in August 1752. We do not know if Sears was purchased by Mason or by another person. We do know that Sears was responsible for the intricate wood carvings at Gunston Hall and that he and William Buckland worked together in 1759 when both of their indentures were completed. In 1772, with newly acquired gilding tools, he was working on two churches, one of which was Pohick Church, the other most likely Payne’s Church. Payne’s Church, on the Ox Road, was destroyed during the Civil War.8 Sears was doing the wood carvings and painting George Washington’s little dining room at Mount Vernon in 1775. Sears’ 1818 obituary states that “Mr. Sears lived for a considerable time in the family of Col. George Mason of Gunston, who ever spoke of him in terms of highest respect, and his good name is yet upheld by a large family of children.”

In conclusion, from the scant evidence available, it appears that George Mason had contact with some convict servants, either through the property acquired with the bankruptcy of Barnes and Ridgate or the association with William Bernard Sears. At least six other former convict servants appear to have been leaseholders on Mason’s scattered Northern Virginia properties. Part 3 will examine that aspect of his business arrangements. In keeping with George Mason’s advice to Robert Carter, he most likely did not rent his lands to strangers. As an astute businessman, he placed known men on his land, not only to improve it but also for the extra rent income. By looking at some of the lease holders on Mason’s land, the words of former convict servant William Bernard Sears’s obituary sheds light on a few of those, who bound for Maryland or Virginia “left the oppressions of Europe.”

This study would not have been complete without the work of:
Sherry F. Solow’s graduate school theses presented to George Mason University in 1977:
“Tenantry in Virginia: Fairfax County, 1742-1776.” (available in the Virginia Room of the Fairfax Library)

John Cantwell’s Master Thesis for George Mason University, 1986: “Imported Indentured White Servitude in
Fairfax and Prince William Counties, 1750-1800.” (available in the Virginia Room of the Fairfax Library).

Beth Mitchell’s extraordinary map and documentation in Fairfax County, Virginia in 1760 an interpretive Historical
Map. (available in the Gunston Hall Gift Shop)

Read More:
Defoe, Daniel. Captain Jack or Moll Flanders
Riley, Edward Miles, ed. The Journal of John Harrower, an indentured servant in the Colony of Virginia 1773-
1776. Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg, 1963.

Resources Used:
Coldham, Peter Wilson. Emigrants in Chains . . . . Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992.
--------- King’s Passengers to Maryland and Virginia. Westminster, MD: Family Line Publishers, 1997.
Copeland, Pamela duPont and Richard K. McMaster, The Five George Masons Patriots and Planters of Maryland
and Virginia. Lorton, VA: Board of Regents of Gunston Hall, 1975.
Ekrich, A. Roger. Bound for America: a Profile of British Convicts Transported to the colonies, 1718-1775.
London: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Morgan, Kenneth. Bristol and the Atlantic trade in the eighteenth century. London: Cambridge University, 1993.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bound For Maryland or Virginia: Indentured and Convict Servants

By Barbara Farner
Gunston Hall Docents' Association

Labor was always in short supply in Virginia from the earliest days of the Jamestown settlement through and after the Revolution. Various schemes were used to encourage or send people from England to Virginia, glowing advertisements described the land and opportunities, sometimes adults and children were kidnapped, and a reward system, known as head-rights, for those already in the colony was used to entice additional people to cross the ocean. Many would-be Virginians, by their own choice, signed indentures, or contracts, in England, exchanging their freedom for a number of years of servitude. An indenture is a contract binding one person to another, be it an apprentice to a craftsman, a servant to a master, or a paid worker to an employer for a specific amount of time or purpose. In the context of this study, the indenture is between a servant and a master.

In the seventeenth-century, indentured servitude was an unregulated system of labor favoring master, who often found ways to retain the servant in extended bondage. The supply of white indentured servants was restricted by 1698 when the emphasis was placed on importing slaves to provide unskilled labor. After 1718, forced white indentured servitude resumed as a means of emptying British prisons, dealing with political prisoners and depopulating countries such as Scotland and Ireland. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, the trade indentured servants was regulated by the British government. Laws ensuring servants agreeability were enacted for those who chose of their own free will to go to the colonies. The length of service for those convicted of crimes and transported, primarily to Maryland and Virginia, was decreed by the court. Between 1700 and 1775, almost half of the emigrants to America were unencumbered by indentures, while 33% were indentured servants and 17% were transported convicts.

There are very few existing records about George Mason’s indentured servants. By examining Robert Rutland’s Papers of George Mason, we know of, perhaps, seven people who fit into that category. By using the research found in Historian Beth Mitchell’s study of land ownership in Fairfax County in 1760, as well as, county probate and land records we are able to identify, most likely, others who were formerly indentured servants. [See: “Fairfax County, Virginia in 1760: an interpretive Historical Map” prepared by Beth Mitchell, Office of Comprehensive Planning, Fairfax County, VA, 1987] Some who were tenants or leaseholders on Mason property may have arrived in Virginia as indentured servants or convicts. John Mason, in his Recollections, lists the work of slaves on his father’s plantation, mentioning only two white employees when during the Revolution it was necessary to produce cloth. John notes that his father “had in his service a white man, a weaver of the finer stuffs, to weave himself and superintend the black weavers and a white woman to superintend the Negroe spinning women.” Who these two people were and what their status on the plantation was remains a mystery.

By mid-eighteenth century, there were three principal types of indentured servants in the colony of Virginia. Each type is represented in the named group of servants owned by or tenants working for George Mason.

The most prevalent class of servants were the Free-Willers, those men and women who stepped onto the ship in England of their own free well, after signing a contract individually or with a merchant/captain as venture cargo. For those coming as venture cargo, their indenture was first paid for by a merchant/contractor in England. When they landed in America, it was incumbent upon the ship’s captain to make the best price for his cargo of servants, sending money to the merchant and keeping a tidy sum for his expenses and himself. Hundreds of advertisements in the Virginia and Maryland Gazettes of the time announce the arrival of ships carrying servants. Free-Willers generally faced a term of four years, a term computed by skill, cost of maintenance and passage, freedom dues and profit. For particularly skilled servants, a yearly salary was added.

Figure 1 Virginia Gazette, 18 March
1775Dixon & Hunter

George Mason had at least 4 men who came to Virginia of their own free will. The most notable was William Buckland, who signed a contract in England with Thomson Mason in 1755 to serve four years with a yearly salary of £20 per annum. Buckland, a carpenter/joiner by trade used his considerable skills to complete the interior of Gunston Hall.

Two of the Mason family tutors were apparently free-willers. John Davidson, then in Edinburgh, was recommended by Thomas Gordon in England who responded to Mason’s 1770 request for a tutor. Although no records exist, his term was most likely for three to four years. The second tutor, David Constable, a graduate of the College of Aberdeen, lived with the Mason family from 1774-1781. His beginning date, 1774, suggests that Davidson’s term was over. By the time Constable’s term expired, the country was at war. When Constable left Gunston Hall to assume his ill brother’s business in St. Kitts in 1781, Mason wrote to Governor Nelson, asking for passport for him. Mason mentioned the tutor’s expiration of engagement with the family.

The fourth Free-Willer was Thomas Spalding who was bound to serve four years. Arriving in 1754 he listed his occupation as brick maker and bricklayer. As part of his contract he was to receive a salary of £12 sterling. However, he was unable to fulfill these tasks and the Fairfax County Court awarded Mason his service for the full term without pay.

Redemptioners: Generally Germans or other Europeans, came, sometimes in whole families, and paid part of their passage. Upon arrival at American ports, the outstanding balance of their passage, was reflected in the length of their term of indenture. Usually, these passengers were given two weeks to “redeem their passage,” and if unable to make the payment, were sold to the highest bidder. Families were often separated, with children going to one master and parents to others. The majority of Redemptioners passed through the port of Philadelphia, although many entered the country through Alexandria. British servants did not generally arrive as redemptioners after the early colonial period because British law offered them protection from rogue merchants, captains and masters by being sure their term was set before sailing.

Historian Donald Sweig’s examination of a list of “Servants & Redemptions that has [sic] been Free’d and Redeemed” shows that in 1784 Mason, his son George, and George Washington, among others, purchased Irish servants who arrived in Alexandria. Mason purchased the two sawyers on the list. It was about this time that Hollin Hall, the home of Mason’s son Thomson was being build. Was this the reason Mason wanted skilled sawyers who could optimize timber to provide the boards for the house, as well as repairs for his son George’s house, Lexington? Or did he produce sawn logs on his plantation and needed skilled workers?

Both of Mason’s purchases, Tim[oth]y Hanly and Jerry Connor were sawyers. Conner’s wife was included in his term and cost. Hanly’s indenture for 18 month cost 10 Guineas while Conner and his wife, with a term of 3 years service, were redeemed for 20 Guineas, eight shillings and six pence. At the same sale, George Mason, Jr. purchased Tho[ma]s Tray a labourer for 3 years for ten Guineas. Sawyers were highly specialized wood cutters. They could examine a log and cut it to ensure there would be little waste. Using a pit saw, with one man standing on the top of the log to push the saw, and the other in the pit aiding gravity by pulling the saw down through the wood, boards could be cut straight and as thin as an inch and a half. This skilled work was highly regarded in England as well as the colonies.

Figure 2: Pit saw, Diderot Pictorial
Encyclopedia of Trades and Industry.
 Plate 292.
Figure 3:   photo: B. Farner; example of
pit sawn log, Canal Visitor Center,
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio.

It is interesting to note that Spalding, the brick maker, Buckland the carpenter/joiner and the sawyers, Hanly and Conner were all indentured during times of building - Spalding when Gunston Hall was being built, Buckland working on the interior of Gunston Hall, and the sawyers when construction of Hollin Hall began. Evidently Mason sought out indentured servants to provide skills that were need at specific times

Mason acquired the remaining two years of service on a redemptioner, originally owned by Col. Fitzhugh of Maryland. This person was an unnamed German coachman. The coachman stayed with Mason on a yearly basis after his indenture expired in 1787, a fairly common arrangement with released servants. However, based on a recommendation that Mason wrote for him, it appears that neither he nor Mason were pleased with each other. The Coachman was paid £15 per year plus clothing. Since he worked as both a coachman and waiter at table, he likely would have been wearing livery or a uniform identifying him as Mason’s servant.

With one exception, we know nothing of what happened to Mason’s named free-will indentured and redemptioned servants once their terms expired. The exception is William Buckland who went on to become an independent contractor building houses and public buildings on the Northern Neck of Virginia and in Annapolis. Historians have noted that when servants were released from their indenture many went on to provide a source of competent labor while developing a class of free men [and women] who proved to be the backbone of the country. Historian John Cantwell posited that “the growth of the economy benefited from a steady supply of imported indentured white servitude.”

Part II will discuss the role of some convict servants and their part in George Mason’s land holdings.

Read More:
Indentured Servants:
Riley, Edward Miles, ed., The Journal of John Harrower, and indentured servant in the Colony of Virginia 1773-1776 (Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg, 1963).


Cantwell, John, “Imported Indentured White Servitude in Fairfax and Prince William Counties, 1750-1800" Master Thesis, George Mason University, 1986.
Dunn, Terry K. The Recollections of John Mason. (Marshall, VA: EPM Publications, Inc., 2004)
Foner, Eric and John A. Garraty. Indentured Servitude, The Reader’s Companion to American History
Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery and Servitude in colonial North America, a short history.(New York: New York University Press, 2000).
Rutland, Robert, ed. The Papers of George Mason 1725-1792.(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970).
Sweig, Donald. “White Indentured Servitude in Fairfax County: New Evidence is Discovered” in Fairfax Chronicles, Spring 1978; “A list of Servants & Redemptions that has been Free’s &; Redeemed, 1784. Gunston Hall Library and Archives. Research File, Indentured Servants.