Thursday, June 20, 2013

George Mason's Children

By Lacey Villiva
Education Manager

During much of George Mason’s life, Gunston Hall must have rung with activity and childhood antics.  He and his first wife, Ann Eilbeck, had 12 children.  Though by turns there was also a fair amount of tragedy in the family.  Of the 12 only nine survived to adulthood.  Their third child William did not make it out of infancy.  The last two, a set of twins named Richard and James, and their mother all died in a very close time frame.  The two boys only lived for a day, and Ann Eilbeck Mason died in March of 1773.  Most of the rest of the children lived fairly long lives, married and had children of their own, producing a total of 59 grandchildren, 24 of whom George Mason saw before his death in 1792.

George Mason V of Lexington c.1780-1790.
Property of Gunston Hall.
The eldest of those was George Mason V.  George, as eldest son, inherited the bulk of George Mason IV’s estate upon his death in 1792, including his “Mansion house and Seat at Gunston Hall.”  At the time, George was living at Lexington, the plantation Mason had given him in 1774.  Like his father, he was a patriot, and commanded a militia company to Hampton in 1776.  Thereafter he went to France, working with his father’s business, and stayed there from 1779 to 1783.  He had married Elizabeth Mary Ann Barnes Hooe in 1784 and continued the family line in the person of George Mason VI.  They almost certainly continued to live at Lexington until George Mason V’s death in 1796, only four years after his father.

Mason’s second child, Ann (Nancy) Eilbeck Mason, took up the mantle of hostess after the death of her mother in 1773, at age 18.  She married late in life, after all her sisters, at age 34 to Rinaldo Johnson.  Johnson, by signing as guarantor for a Prince George’s County tax collector, was in massive debt to the state of Maryland at their marriage.  Mason developed a marriage contract for their union to protect his daughter’s livelihood.  They lived near Baltimore, MD, and had three children.  She died in 1814.
 As was common in the 18th century when a child died, their name was reused and given to the next child of the same gender.  The Masons’ fourth child was named William following the death of his brother in 1757. He, like his older brother, fought in the American Revolution.  In 1780, Mason recalled him, writing to Light Horse Harry Lee that he had “ever intended him for civil and private life; his lot must be that of a farmer and gentleman.”  William inherited Mattawoman, a property in Charles County, MD from his maternal grandmother.  In 1793, he married Ann Stuart, with whom he had five children.  He lived to age 61 and died in 1818.

The fifth child was Thomson Mason, who like his brothers participated in the American Revolution, though by 1783 he had returned to a private life.  He was manager of his brother George’s estates during his time in France, and resided at Gunston Hall until the completion of his home, Hollin Hall on Little Hunting Creek in 1787.  He married Sarah McCarty Chichester, and their first two children, Thomson Francis and George William, were born at Gunston Hall.

In 1760, the Mason’s welcomed their second daughter, Sarah Eilbeck.  She was the first of the Mason children to marry, in 1778 at the age of 18 to Daniel McCarty, Jr.  They had a number of children together, one of whom was John Mason McCarty.  The younger McCarty had the misfortune to become involved in a philosophical disagreement over his eligibility to vote in 1817.  The argument happened between himself and his second cousin, General Armistead Thomson Mason.  After multiple escalations and discussions that both men needed to no longer be of this earth, the gentlemen finally agreed to a duel at 12 feet with muskets.  The duel took place in February, and McCarty braved the cold without his coat.  Mason, however, kept his on, which proved to be his downfall as his firearm got tangled in his coat.  McCarty’s ball split into three pieces and killed Mason instantly, though not before he got off a shot.  Mason’s round went into McCarty’s wrist and traveled up his arm to his shoulder.  McCarty was described thereafter as being a changed man until his death in 1852.

Mary Thomson, the Mason’s third daughter and seventh child, was born in 1762.  She appears to have made the biggest impression on the children’s stepmother, Sarah Brent, as she was willed a mourning ring for George Mason IV.  She married John Travers Cooke in 1784.  It is possible they came together through family connections, as Cooke’s stepfather was George Mason IV’s cousin.

John Mason, c. 1830. Property of Gunston Hall.
The Masons’ eighth child was John Mason, important to us today because of a significant document he left behind.  At the end of his life, John Mason penned his Recollections, which is the best surviving description of the house and grounds at Gunston Hall.  It also gives the reader a peek into the character and demeanor of George Mason IV.  Too young to participate in the Revolution as had his older brothers, John Mason was sent to school in Calvert County, MD.  In 1788, John Mason entered a partnership with merchants James and Joseph Fenwick, which also resulted in his operating the business in France through the French Revolution.  Upon his return, John Mason established a branch of the firm in Georgetown.  After his marriage in 1797, he settled in that area, as well as constructing a summer residence on Analoston Island, now Theodore Roosevelt Island.  John Mason was the longest surviving Mason child; he passed away in 1849.

Elizabeth, the Masons’ ninth child, was born in 1768, and it is unclear when she died.  At age 21 she married William Thornton, who served as a representative to the Virginia House of Delegates, and in the 1788 Ratifying Convention.  According to her older brother John, they lived in a house called The Cottage in King George County, VA.

The youngest surviving Mason child was Thomas.  He was born in 1770.  Like John Mason, he was too young to fight in the Revolution, and was both tutored at home, as well as sent off to the Fredericksburg Academy.  George Mason IV obtained an apprenticeship with a merchant in Richmond, but worried about his “Fickleness of Disposition,” and considered sending him to work with John in France.  In 1793, Thomas married Sarah Barnes Hooe, the sister of George Mason V’s wife.  By 1795 he was residing on a plantation called Woodbridge, named after the toll bridge he had undertaken to construct over the Occoquan River.  The area still carries that name today.  Thomas Mason died in 1800 while serving on the Virginia House of Delegates.

For more information on the Mason Family, please visit our website.

Copeland, Pamela C. and Richard K. MacMaster, The Five George Masons: Patriots and Planters of Virginia and Maryland. University of Virginia Press: Charlottesville, VA, 1975.
McCarty, Clara S. Duels in Virginia and Nearby Bladensburg. Dietz Press: Richmond, VA, 1975.
Rutland, Robert A. The Papers of George Mason, 1725-1778. University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC, 1970. 

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