Thursday, September 26, 2013

Constitutional Trivia

By Frank Barker
Assistant Education Coordinator

This week’s blog entry is a continuation of our series about our Founding Fathers and the 1787 Federal Convention in Philadelphia that created the Constitution. These are random musings and factoids that the writer thought interesting, therefore you should as well. Or not.

Not one of the 55 delegates who attended the Convention was born in the United States. Of course, you remember, the United States didn’t exist, they were not united, nor were they states, but separate British colonies when our Founding Fathers were Founding Infants. A bit more interesting, perhaps, is the fact that eight delegates were not even born in America.

William R. Davie represented North Carolina, but he was born in Cumberlandshire, England. South Carolina’s Pierce Butler was Irish, having been born in County Carlow. James McHenry from Maryland was also Irish, born in County Antrim.You may not remember him for signing the Constitution, but his name lives on at a certain fort in Baltimore Harbor made famous in 1814. Another County Antrim lad was William Paterson, representing New Jersey.

Three of the eight members of the Pennsylvania delegation were from the other side of the pond: Robert Morris from Liverpool, James Wilson from Caskerdo, Scotland, and Thomas Fitzsimons, born in Wexford, Ireland.

The final foreign-born delegate, arguably the most renowned of the eight, represented New York. He was Alexander Hamilton from Nevis, British West Indies. He was also the sole member of the New York delegation to sign the Constitution as his fellow delegates left the convention early (see our September 5 blog post).

Seven men who signed the Constitution (George Clymer, PA; Benjamin Franklin, PA; Morris; George Read, DE; Roger Sherman, CT; Wilson, and George Wythe, VA) had signed the Declaration of Independence.

Six signers (Daniel Carroll, MD; John Dickinson, DE; Gouverneur Morris PA; Morris, and Sherman) had signed the Articles of Confederation.

Only two men, Roger Sherman and Robert Morris, signed all three of our nation's basic documents.

Thirteen delegates owned or managed slave-operated plantations or farms: Richard Bassett from Delaware; Daniel Carroll and Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer from Maryland; North Carolina’s William Blount and Richard Spaight, South Carolina’s Pierce Butler, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and John Rutledge; and John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, and George Washington of Virginia.

Benjamin Franklin freed his two slaves in 1785 and became an abolitionist.

Nine delegates were named William, six were named John, and five were named George.

Of the 55 men who attended the Convention at some point during that summer of 1787, no more than 38 delegates were present at any one time.

Forty-one delegates were or had been members of the Continental Congress.

At least 29 delegates had served in the Continental Army.

The youngest delegate was Jonathon Dayton from New Jersey at 26. Benjamin Franklin at 81 was the eldest. At 62, George Mason was the fifth oldest of the delegates.

The last delegate living was James Madison, who died in 1836 at the age of 85.

Riverfront of Gunston Hall. 
Alexander Hamilton and Richard Spaight were killed in duels.

Virginia delegate George Wythe died under mysterious circumstances in 1806 when he was 80, probably from poison delivered by his heir and grandnephew, George Wythe Sweeney.

In 1829, delegate John Lansing, then 75 was visiting New York City. He left his hotel to mail some letters and disappeared without a trace.

The average age of death of a delegate to the Convention was 67.

George Mason died in 1792. At the age of 67.

Works Cited
"America's Founding Fathers - Delegates to the Constitutional Convention." America's Founding Fathers - Delegates to the Constitutional Convention. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2013. <>
"Individual Biographies of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention | Teaching American History." Teaching American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2013. <>.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Colonial Day

By Mary Kay Ruwe
Docent Board President

George Mason’s Gunston Hall’s Colonial Day is a bi-annual banquet of living history that engages all the senses in an exuberant evocation of 18th century plantation life. In addition to touring the mansion, an architectural tapestry treaded with English Rococo, Neoclassical, Palladian, and Chinoiserie elements, costumed interpreters guide young visitors about, teaching them to write with quill pens in the School House; to churn butter in the Kitchen Yard, to play colonial games like nine pins in the Garden, to make sachets stuffed with fragrant herbs like mint and lavender from the Herb Garden, to witness Riflemen and Musicians milling about, and engage with Hearth Cooks in the open-hearth Kitchen, all in the company of crowds of fellow students.

Visitors enjoy a sample of gingercakes and cider served in the open-field ‘Tavern’, are schooled in 18th century deportment by costumed Historical Characters, get their hands dirty with archeologists, listen to storytellers spinning tales of old, and wander amid 200-year-old boxwoods in George Mason’s Formal Garden with a panoramic view of the Potomac River.

The Plantation rings with the sights and sounds of history come alive. It’s a teacher’s paradise as school children engage in unique hands-on learning experiences, witness costumed characters, and enjoy a colonial experience brought to them by Gunston Hall Docents, Volunteers, and Staff.

By the end of the day, all participants share a sense of fulfillment and fatigue. The kids board their buses to collapse in their seats after a day of lively learning, while the volunteers return to their homes to collapse after a day of ushering children back in time. All relish a sense of satisfaction from sharing history through the eyes of one of the beloved Founding Fathers - George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, Planter and Patriot.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Origins of a Name: Gunston Hall

By Jackie LaRaia
House Guide 
After years of answering the question, “Where does the name Gunston come from?”, I finally visited the original  namesake in late June 2010. 

The inspiration for our own Gunston Hall is located in Codsall, Staffordshire, England.  As you can see from the picture, our Gunston Hall hardly resembles the original.  That building dates back to the 15th century and the smaller portion of the house, shown here, is what survives.
The original spelling of the home’s name adds an ‘e’ to the end, becoming “Gunstone, ” and it’s presently a livery. In all, it’s a beautiful place that has been owned by the Fish family for the last 30 years.

Samantha Fish graciously welcomed me and was quite happy to show me around. She and her husband, Bill, live in the original part of the building, while her mother-in-law lives in the newer part. Of course the word newer is relative here to centuries ago. What is most fascinating about Gunstone Hall is the original fireplace that was discovered behind a plaster wall in the kitchen. As well, visitors walk on the same flooring laid when the Hall was built. 

The original Gunston Hall was initially owned by the Fowke family, cousins of the Masons.  Gerard Fowke, brother of the owner, and George Mason I came to Virginia following the defeat of Charles II in the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Many of Charles allies, including the Fowkes and Masons, sought refuge in the New World. Subsequently, three Gunston Halls were built, one in Maryland and two in Virginia. 

It was thrilling for me to see Gunstone Hall.  Though most of the original is long gone, the beautiful surroundings make it easy to image the Fowke and Mason families going about their daily lives, oh so many years ago.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Who Did Not Sign?

By Frank Barker
Assistant Education Coordinator 

The Assembly Room at Independence Hall, photographed 
by Antoine Taveneaux.  Reproduced with permission of the 
In the summer of 1787, George Mason of Gunston Hall traveled to Philadelphia to serve as a delegate to a “Grand Convention” to help improve the inadequacies of the Articles of Confederation. The delegates in attendance soon turned this convention into a constitutional convention that drafted the Constitution for the 13 United States.

Though he spoke often as the delegates hammered out the details of that document, in September, when it came time to sign, George Mason refused, famously saying that he would rather cut off his right hand than sign the document as it was written.

By the spring of ’87, the states appointed had 73 delegates to attend the Philadelphia convention. Eighteen of those delegates refused their appointments, leaving 55 delegates to gather at Independence Hall. Because of the traveling distances involved, by the appointed commencement date of May 14, only eight delegates were in attendance It wasn’t until May 23 that a quorum of seven states had arrived and the Convention could begin in earnest. On September 17, their work was done and the document was ready to be signed.

Was George Mason the only one who did not sign? Below is a state-by-state listing to find out.

Connecticut—Three delegates attended. Only delegate Oliver Ellsworth did not sign, because he left the Convention on August 23 and did not return. He did support ratification, however, and was elected as one of Connecticut’s first two senators.
Detail of the Delaware signatures, including George Read
 and John Dickinson.  Courtesy of the National Archives and 
Record Administration.
Delaware—All five delegates signed.  Except John Dickinson; he left the Convention on September 14 with a migraine and did not return. However, he authorized George Read to sign for him, making George Read the only man to sign the Constitution twice.
Georgia—Sent four delegates. Two did not sign. William L. Pierce left the Convention in July to represent Georgia in the Confederation Congress.* William Houstoun did not arrive until June 1 and did not return to the Convention after his departure on August 6.

Maryland—Two of the five delegates did not sign. Luther Martin and John F. Mercer both opposed the Constitution and a strong Federal government, and they walked out of the Convention; Mercer in August and Martin in early September.
Independence Hall where all the
great documents are wrought.
Historic American Buildings Survey,
Frederick D. Nichols, Photographer.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Massachusetts—Four delegates attended. Two did not sign. Caleb Strong supported a strong Federal government, but he was called away in August because of family illness and never had a chance to sign. Elbridge Gerry stayed at the Convention until the end, but he refused to sign because did not think the Constitution provided adequate protection for the rights of individuals and states. He later argued against ratification. From 1813 to until his death in 1814, he served as President James Madison’s Vice-President.

New Hampshire—Both delegates signed

New Jersey—Five delegates; only William Churchill Houston did not sign. He was present only May 31 and June 1, and was absent for the duration of the Convention due to illness. He would die of tuberculosis in August of 1788.

New York—Three delegates arrived; only Alexander Hamilton stayed until the end to sign the Constitution. Robert Yates and John Lansing, Jr. believed the delegates were in Philadelphia simply to amend the Articles of Confederation. They stayed six weeks, then left, explaining in a joint letter to New York Governor George Clinton that they opposed any system that would consolidate the United States into one government. Both Yates and Lansing vigorously fought against ratification.

North Carolina—Five delegates attended. William R. Davie left the convention on August 13, but would later fight for ratification. Delegate Alexander Martin also resigned in August. He was not staunchly Federalist, but would later serve as one of North Carolina’s first two senators.

Pennsylvania—All eight delegates signed.

South Carolina—All four delegates signed.

Rhode Island—not one delegate from Rhode Island signed the Constitution. Nor did Rhode Island send any delegates to the Convention. In 1790, Rhode Island became the last of the states to ratify the Constitution.

Virginia—sent seven delegates. Four did not sign: Dr. James McClurg wanted a President to serve for life and thought the Federal government should be able to override state laws. He left the Convention on July 21. George Wythe left on July 2 to take care of his ill wife in Williamsburg. Edmund J. Randolph was present at the end of the Convention but refused to sign, calling for a second convention. He disliked the power of a single president and thought the new Constitution was not republican enough. He did, however, support ratification, went on to become U.S. Attorney General under President Washington, and later replaced Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State after Jefferson resigned the post in 1793. The final non-signing delegate from the Old Dominion was George Mason.

Though Mason was the fifth most prolific speaker at the Convention and had initially supported a stronger central government, he withdrew his support toward the end of the deliberations. Late in the proceedings he wrote his “Objections to This Constitution of Government” to explain himself. His first objection was “There is no Declaration of Rights….” Mason would later oppose ratification of the new Constitution as a delegate from Stafford County. He took no positions in the new government. Though he was appointed to succeed Senator John Grayson when Grayson died in 1790, Mason refused because of his own ill health.
Of the 55 men who spent all or part of that hot summer in Independence Hall, 16 did not sign the new Constitution. Only three, Elbridge Gerry, Edmund Randolph, and George Mason were present and refused to sign.
Howard Chandler Christy's 1940 painting Scene at the 
Signing of the Constitution of the United States.  The
painting currently hangs in the U.S. Capitol.

*Pierce’s contribution to the Convention is invaluable, as he wrote insightful character sketches of each of the delegates that were published after his death, giving historians eyewitness descriptions of even the lesser-known delegates. Pierce described George Mason as “... able and convincing in debate, steady and firm in his principles, and undoubtedly one of the best politicians in America."

"America's Founding Fathers - Delegates to the Constitutional Convention." America's Founding Fathers - Delegates to the Constitutional Convention. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2013.<>.
 "George Mason & Historic Human Rights Documents." Gunston Hall. Web. 04 Sept. 2013. <>.
"Individual Biographies of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention | Teaching American History." Teaching American History. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 July 2013. <>.