Thursday, July 25, 2013

Did George Mason and His Family Ever Go on Vacation?

By Frank N. Barker
Assistant Education Coordinator
An interesting question, as one conjures up images of a carriage loaded with nine children, two adults, their luggage, assorted servants, drivers, horses, picnic baskets, beach towels, umbrellas, sand toys...all headed down the King’s Highway for Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks.

But, alas, it does not seem to be. The Mason family was not destined to be tourists. There was work to be done. There were political endeavors to think about. Most recreation and visitation was kept to smaller groups rather than the family as a whole.

Besides, was a vacation really necessary? According to the Mason family biography The Five George Masons, life itself seemed to be a vacation, at least in George Mason’s earlier years as a country gentleman and squire of Gunston Hall. “George Mason was something of an outdoorsman—proud of his hunting guns, his horses, his hounds; enjoying riding out with his friends after deer or fox; shooting on the Great Marsh; or visiting his fishing stage on the Occoquan.” Do you need a vacation to get away from all this?

Another biographer and Mason relation, Kate Mason Rowland, wrote of visits to other houses and other families, and gatherings at church, at court, or even for elections.
It was a pleasant, easy, hospitable life, friends meeting first at one house then at another for long visits of several days at a time. They rode to the hunt with the hounds on one day; on the next, perhaps, they met at a vestry meeting or at court; they had the occasional excitement of an election and its attendant festivities….
Rather than extended vacations to exotic locales, the families of 18th century Tidewater Virginia plantations seemed content with “mini-vacations” and lodging with friend and relatives.
Vacation and leisure activities might have included a hunt, followed by a
picnic.  Picnic After the Hunt, Nicolas Lancret, 1735/40.  Courtesy of the 
National Gallery of Art.

In John Mason’s Recollections, he wrote that during his childhood at Gunston Hall,
Great hospitality reigned everywhere, and besides the social and friendly intercourse of the immediate neighborhood, the habit was for families who were connected or on friendly terms to visit each other and spend several days or weeks at the respective mansions, in a circuit of fifty or a hundred miles.

The whole family probably did not go visiting at once, but one daughter may have visited the Brents while another was staying with the Blackburns at Rippon Lodge in Dumfries. At home or away, there were dances, barbecues, fish feasts, horse races, and boat races to attend—sometimes all combined into one event that may have lasted days.

At various times in his life, George Mason left home to go to Virginia’s capital, first in Williamsburg, later in Richmond. Sometimes he went as a private citizen on business; at other times he was going as an elected official. His letters from these places to family, friends, neighbors and political allies were filled with news, advice, instructions, the state of his health…seldom did they include postcard-like inscriptions to indicate he was doing anything “touristy.”

With one noted exception. Though he wasn’t on vacation during the summer of 1787, he was visiting Philadelphia for the first time. George Mason, son John, and assorted servants were in town for a Convention of some great import that would eventually hammer out a Constitution for the United States.

Mason and his son John stayed at the Indian
Queen Hotel in Philadelphia.  Courtesy of the 
Library Company of Philadelphia.
Col. Mason wrote to his son George back home in Virginia and described his travels to Philadelphia as “very expensive, from eight to nine Dollars Per Day” but that in Philadelphia “the Living is cheap. We are at the old Indian Queen in 4th. Street where we are very well accommodated, have a good room to ourselves, and are charged only 25s Pennsylva. Curry [currency] per day, including our servants and horses….”

In the same letter, Mason talked about the Virginia Delegation’s attendance at that Sunday’s service at a Catholic chapel “more out of Compliment than Religion, & more out of Curiosity than compliment.” Mason reviews the service, from the “indifferent” preacher that he believed to be “a foreigner,” to the “Solemnity of the Apparatus,” to the “exceeding fine” music. But he was “somewhat disgusted by the Tinckling of a little bell,” which reminded Mason of raising the curtain for a “Puppet-Shew.”

Following this letter, following the instructions given to the delegates, he remained mute on activities of the Convention, did not report to family any recreational matters, but he did write one long description telling George the younger exactly what was needed to plaster walls.

And what of Mrs. Mason during her husband’s summer tour of Philadelphia? She was on one of those typical 18th century family “vacations”…visiting her sister in Dumfries.


Copeland, Pamela C., and Richard K. MacMaster. The Five George Masons: Patriots and Planters of Virginia and Maryland. Charlottesville: Published for the Board of Regents of Gunston Hall by the UP of Virginia, 1975. Print.

Mason, John. The Recollections of John Mason: George Mason's Son Remembers His Father and Life at Gunston Hall. Ed. Terry K. Dunn. Marshall, VA: EPM Publications, 2004. Print.

Rowland, Kate Mason., and Fitzhugh Lee. The Life of George Mason 1725-1792 ... including His Speeches, Public Papers, and Correspondence; with an Introduction by General F. Lee. 2 Vol. G.P. Putnam's Sons: New York; London, 1892. Print.

Rutland, Robert A., ed. The Papers of George Mason, 1725-1792. Vol. III 1787-1792. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1970. Print.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

John Mason and the French Revolution

By Mark Whatford 
Deputy Director

John was the second youngest son of George and Ann Mason, born at his grandmother’s home [which still stands] in Charles County, Maryland in April 1766.  After growing up at Gunston Hall, in 1785/86 he was apprenticed by his father to the Alexandrian merchant firm of Harper and Hartshorne, commission merchants dealing in flour, bread, pork, rum, etc…  John then accompanied his father to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. George Mason saw an opportunity to introduce John to the businessmen of Philadelphia and the possibility of a partnership for him with one of the firms there. No partnerships were made in this journey.  However, a new partnership was formed, under the guidance of his father, with the brothers James and Joseph Fenwick forming the firm of Fenwick Mason & Co in Georgetown. John’s initial capital in the new firm was £1,000. They conducted an export business between Bordeaux, France and Georgetown dealing in wheat and tobacco.  They operated under the sound business advice of George Mason of “giving no credit.”  George also advised his son that “Mr. Franklin’s intimacy’s have been more with the literati than the with the merchants, he[John]  should cultivate a Correspondence with the American minister, Mr. Jefferson; which I think will be serviceable to you & give Credit to the house.’

John sailed for Bordeaux in June 1788 with a letter from his father to Thomas Jefferson, American Minister at the Court of Versailles, with an introduction saying “I flatter myself you will find him a modest, chearful, sensible young man…”  While many of John Mason’s letters are missing, his father often mentioned the letters and the contents in his correspondence, particularly to Thomas Jefferson who would become a lifelong acquaintance to John.  George Washington thought highly of John Mason and asked, in October 1789, that the firm, Fenwick Mason & Co., conduct business for him.

Shipping Contract with James Fenwick
in September 1789.

With the convocation of the Estates-General in May 1789 and on August 26, 1789, the new National Assembly published the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was influenced by both the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. This early period of the revolution was filled with intrigues and radicalism with building resentment against the church and dominated by struggles between various liberal assemblies and supporters of the monarchy. John was a witness in Bordeaux of many events, which likely reminded him of the early years of the American Revolution, and undoubtedly had his support as well as his father’s.  John wrote to his father, who approved, of his taking the oath under the new French Constitution, which allowed him to continue business in Bordeaux. A local British merchant refused to take the oath and was expelled from France.

In May of 1790 John wrote of “The Members of Nobility who were hung [in effigy, for supporting conservative measures in the Assembly] here were distinguished by their parliamentary robes the Clergy by a Cross on their breast & something similar the usual dress of the abbess.”  John also wrote of first rumors, then confirmation of the Counter Revolution in Mountauban, about 80 miles South East of Bordeaux, by the local aristocracy and clergy in the spring of 1790. This was soon suppressed by the arrival of militiamen formed up by a local Bordeaux “Patriot Club.”  John himself belonged to one of these patriotic organizations.

In October 1790 he wrote of the threat of war with England and Spain
The Club of this City of the friends of the Constitution (to which I told you in my last I belonged) recommended last week to the national assembly to take immediately the most energetic Steps to prepare for Such an Event- & recommended the arming in the Course of the winter completely the 45 Ships of the line before decreed, that 60,000 regular troops be held in readiness to embark & that 400,000 Volunteers of the national guard be put directly into training to garrison all the frontier towns on the borders of Germany, Italy & Spain.
            I felicitate myself very much of having been admitted a member of this Club-it is a Society formed…

Both John and his father followed the revolution with interest and hope for positive change for the French people, but also with an eye on business. John informed his father on trade issues, the French issuance of paper currency, and the sale of seized land from the clergy and aristocracy. With Joseph Fenwick appointed American consul in Bordeaux, with the assistance of George Mason and Thomas Jefferson in 1790 [Fenwick served until 1798] the business interests of Fenwick Mason & Co. would have a representative in France.  Fenwick’s appointment, the fall in business caused by the disorder of the revolution, and ill health was reason enough for John to return home in June 1791on the ship Louise XVI, arriving in Norfolk August 14. John went on to Richmond and Petersburg to build business for the firm and to conduct other business dealings for his father.

John missed the news of the Royal family’s flight to Varennes in June, marking the beginning of the end for the King and the coming wars and counter revolutions followed by the reign of terror.  Business for John continued for a short while but the threat of war and a declining exchange rate was reason to liquidate the firm of Fenwick Mason & Co. in May 1792.   

The Recollections of John Mason ed. by Terry Dunn
The Five George Masons by Copeland & McMasters
The Papers of Geroge Mason ed by Robert Rutland

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Conversation with Eve Watters

Musician, Vocalist, Traditional Storyteller
Interview by Susan Blankenship 

Performing artist Eve Watters.
Multi-talented artist Eve Watters will be performing at Gunston Hall on Sunday, July 14, 2013 from 6 – 8 p.m.  Her repertoire includes Celtic harp, dulcimer, banjo, vocals and “tales for your heart’s delight”.  While focusing primarily on early Virginia, she promises to also share a few international stories and songs that encourage audience participation and teach a few simple lessons about life. Bring a picnic and enjoy a family friendly evening of fun.

Who is Eve Watters?  Currently residing in Charlottesville, Virginia, she is a well-travelled, free-spirited renaissance woman who creates a timeless journey through tales and tunes from long ago.  How did she come to this place?  Read on –

S.B. – What piqued your interest in performing traditional stories and songs? 
E.W. – The fact that beautifully basic songs and stories have been handed down and changed with each generation. Great grandma shares a story, and tellers memorize the basic storyline. However, the details of the story are free-flowing; I personally find that audience interaction, children in particular, influence the way I tell a story at each performance.
S.B. – You mention children, but adult audiences also enjoy your concerts – do you sense why?

E.W. – Polar ends: simply put, adults need to be a little silly every once in a while! They may enter expecting mild amusement, but soon find that mystical connection with the past. Oral tradition has a way of relaxing and engaging all ages and walks of life.

All storytellers, Gunston Hall’s included, are fighting the good fight to keep traditional tales and music in motion; it doesn’t do it by itself.  Museums in particular are rethinking how programs are presented and offering more of this special kind of learning. In the age of new technology, sometimes the world doesn’t realize it needs an occasional step back.

S.B. – Which early Virginian has most influenced your music and stories?

E.W. – Jefferson, definitely. I have spent several years researching federal era amusements and culture. Three boxes of Jefferson music are housed at U.VA and I have found some not listed in the published index. Just fascinating. Letters describing Martha Jefferson Randolph’s sharing stories with her children, teaching the wisdom of how to save your life through simple solutions (rabbit tricks the fox from the briar patch – sound familiar?) and evidence of oral culture passing between residents and visitors at Monticello, including the enslaved.

S.B. – How and at what age did you become interested in the performing arts?

E.W. – I didn’t really fit in at school. I was more interested in the arts - design, color, sound forms - than formally structured learning.  I was “forced” to take clarinet in my pre-teens, and at 13 convinced my father to purchase a guitar.  Folk music was quite popular at the time. I taught myself to play that guitar, and discovered that I could learn under my own terms. This was when the world opened and I found my place.

S.B. – So obviously the working world of 9 to 5 is not appealing –

E.W. – Ha! Sometimes I am my own worst boss. Even without traditional office walls, I am always striving to be better. There is a lack of income and difficulties with being a freelancer, but I have probably had far more fun than any office worker. Every time I am sharing music I find a pure-hearted place.

Come join us at Gunston Hall on Sunday, July 14, 6-8 p.m. for an unplugged evening outdoors featuring artist extraordinaire Eve Watters.

Active Military Personnel and Families and Friends of Gunston Hall are FREE; $25 Family Admission; $10 Adults; $8 Seniors; $5 Students 6-18; 5 and Under Free.
This program is partially supported by a grant from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Celebrating July 4th, 18th Century Style

By Frank Barker
Assistant Education Coordinator 

1776, The First Independence Day—July 2, 4, 12, 8, 19, 26…?

You know the document. It begins “In Congress, July 4, 1776…”

Independence was declared with signatures and sacred oaths on that day. The date is boldly emblazoned at the top of the Declaration of Independence. Yet in a July 3 letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams wrote, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival…It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Adams was right about the celebration part, but missed the date. July 2 was the date Congress approved the Declaration, but July 4 was the date on the document itself, and perhaps the date many of the signatures were affixed.

But that first celebration of the first fourth (or even the first second) was destined to be delayed.
In a world where news traveled only at the speed of a good horse, it took time for the news to travel to Virginia and the other 12 former colonies.

Here is some information from Williamsburg’s Virginia Gazette of that revolutionary summer of 1776.

The postmaster in Fredericksburg writes, of last Wednesday, that, by a gentleman just arrived from Philadelphia, he had seen an Evening Post of the 2d instant, which mentions that the Hon. the Continental Congress had that day declared the United Colonies free and independent states.

From Philadelphia to Fredericksburg to Williamsburg to print in only 10 days. And there is that July 2 date again. This breaking news was so important that the Gazette printed it as soon as they heard, on Friday, July 12, 1776. The article was on page three of that issue, the last piece of news before the classified ads.

One week later, on July 19, an excerpt of the actual Declaration was printed on page two. This was the first part of the document that was a “recapitulation of injuries” with the crown.

The full text of the Declaration of Independence, by order of the Virginia Council, was printed on the following Friday, July 26. Finally, independence was page one news! Later, in that same issue, was this account of the reaction to the public readings of the Declaration.

w i l l i a m s b u r g, July 26.

"...accompanied by the firing of cannon and musketry..."
Courtesy of Frank Barker
Yesterday afternoon, agreeable to an order of the Hon. Privy Council, the declaration of independence was solemnly proclaimed at the Capitol, the Courthouse, and the Palace amidst the acclamations of the people, accompanied by firing of cannon and musketry, the several regiments of continental troops having been paraded on that solemnity.

And from New Jersey:

t r e n t o n, July 8.

The Declaration of Independence was this day proclaimed here….the Declaration and other proceedings were received with loud acclamations.

In New York:

On Wednesday last the Declaration of Independence was read at the head of each brigade of the continental army posted at and near New York, and every where received with loud huzzas and the utmost demonstrations of joy.

The same evening the equestrian statue of George III, which Tory pride and folly raised in the year 1770, was, by the sons of freedom, laid prostrate in the dirt, the just desert of an ungrateful tyrant!

A contemporary illustration of the destruction of the King George statue
in New York.  Apparently, the illustrator had not actually seen the statue,
as he left out an important detail; King George was on a horse.  That statue,
and its destruction, have a story all their own.  Check it out here

Our first Independence Day. It wasn’t on July 4. There were no fireworks, no hot dogs, but there were cannons, musketry, parades, and huzzas. And the destruction of a statue destined to be melted down for 42,088 musket balls.

1777, the Second Independence Day—Finally, July 4!

The Nation’s Capital, Philadelphia, had probably the most elaborate celebration in the United States, documented well in the Virginia Gazette of July 18, 1777.

Here is a time line of the events as reported.

p h i l a d e l p h i a,  July 5

Yesterday the 4th of July, being the Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America, was celebrated in this city with demonstration of joy and festivity.

  • About noon all the armed ships and gallies in the river were drawn up before the city, dressed in the gayest manner, with the colours of the United States and streamers displayed.
  • At one o'clock, … they began the celebration of the day by a discharge of thirteen cannon from each of the ships, …in honour of the Thirteen United States.
  • In the afternoon an elegant dinner was prepared for Congress, to which were invited the President and Supreme Executive Council, and Speaker of the Assembly of this State, the General Officers and Colonels of the army, and strangers of eminence, and the members of the several Continental Boards in town.
  • The Hessian band of music taken in Trenton the 26th of December last, attended and heightened the festivity with some fine performances suited to the joyous occasion…. [They couldn’t get an American band for the event? Did the Beach Boys have another gig?]
  • After dinner a number of toasts were drank, all breaking independence, and a generous love of liberty….
  • Each toast was followed by a discharge of artillery and small arms, and a suitable piece of music by the Hessian band.
  • The glorious fourth of July was reiterated three times accompanied with triple discharges of cannon and small arms, and loud huzzas that resounded from street to street through the city.
  • Towards evening several troops of horse, a corps of artillery, and a brigade of North Carolina forces, which was in town on its way to join the grand army, were drawn up in Second street and reviewed by Congress and the General Officers.
  •  The evening was closed with the ringing of bells…
  • …and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.”
    "...And at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks..."
So by the first anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4 customs were established for all time, flag-waving, a cookout, patriotic music, drinking, shouting, a parade, fireworks, and bell-ringing. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Downright American.


“Adams Electronic Archive : Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams , 3 July 1776 , ‘Had a Declaration...’” Adams Electronic Archive : Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams , 3 July 1776 , “Had a Declaration...” N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2013.

"Virginia Gazette, Dixon and Hunter, July 18, 1777, Page 2." Virginia Gazette. Williamsburg. Web. 27 June 2013.

"Virginia Gazette, Purdie, July 12, 1776, Page 3." Virginia Gazette. Williamsburg. Web. 27 June 2013.

"Virginia Gazette, Purdie, July 19, 1776, Page 2." Virginia Gazette. Williamsburg.  Web. 27 June 2013.

"Virginia Gazette, Purdie, July 26, 1776, Page 2." Virginia Gazette. Williamsburg.  Web. 27 June 2013.
"Virginia Gazette, Purdie, July 26, 1776, Page 2." Virginia Gazette. Williamsburg.  Web. 27 June 2013.