The lovely portrait of you still hangs at Gunston Hall, as it did during your lifetime, alongside that of Colonel Mason.
Your tomb bears a beautiful inscription, including words that speak to the adoration and grief of a devoted husband: “… Once she was all that cheers and sweetens life, the tender mother, daughter, friend and wife, once she was all that makes mankind adore …” These words pale by comparison with those in Colonel Mason’s eulogy of you.
Beyond these descriptions, I have little idea what you were like. How did your voice sound? Was there, as I suspect, a prankster in your personality? Were you afraid of thunder or mice? Did you have a childhood best friend? Were there duties expected of a lady such as you that seemed tedious and unpleasant? Did you have a favorite holiday, or pastime, or skill? Did you resemble, in appearance or disposition, either of your parents more than the other? How I wonder who you were, Ann, and whether we might have been friends.
I am a single citizen among many who share a reverence for those who worked and struggled and sacrificed to create our nation. Among our shared interests is Gunston Hall, because we appreciate not only its elegance and simplicity, the activity that defined your plantation life, the work that was expected of you as mistress, and that you offered with pleasure, or the love and devotion that blessed your marriage. It seems to us that “dignified” well characterizes every aspect of your life.
Above and beyond all of these things, we cherish the principals of innate human rights which your husband espoused, fought for, sacrificed friendships for … and which we feel confident were as fundamental to your thinking as they were to his. We share gratitude that those powerful declarations of human rights articulated by him now represent the foundation of our government and our society.
It is because of this that you, your husband, your home, and your shared humanity are preserved as a memorial in perpetuity. It is because of this that a Society exists of ladies who endeavor relentlessly to promote and honor the effort and sacrifice of those who helped to create a free, just, and democratic nation 237 years ago.
As a member of this Society I have repeatedly found myself lingering in Gunston Hall’s burial ground, chattering away to you. It is a particularly peaceful and lovely setting. Why I chose you rather than your husband with whom to commiserate only a lady might understand! There lie both of you, but it has invariably been your counsel I sought, confident that many of your days as Colonel Mason’s wife were devoted to hearing, supporting, and guiding your husband as he wrestled with some of the most difficult and critical decisions ever imposed on a caring human being. It always seemed to me that you must have demonstrated a special ability in this regard.
Until one day I was struck immobile by the date of death etched on your tomb: March 9, 1773.
1773! Before everything.
|Ann Eilbeck Mason's tomb.|
You departed this world two years before the colonies declared a war of independence against Britain; before, in support of that effort, Colonel Mason wrote a Declaration of Rights on behalf of Virginians and all colonists, the Declaration to which I have referred; before those colonists defeated the British, gained their precious and God-willed independence, and established a democratic government for, by and of the people; before your friends General and Mrs. Washington became our nation’s first President and his First Lady; and before … thanks to the indefatigable work of your husband … our democracy became grounded in the fundamental principal that ALL MEN ARE CREATED FREE AND EQUAL.
Could you have imagined that, Ann, that all must be accepted and entitled as free and equal?
237 years later, our democracy remains the strongest, fairest, and most coveted government on Earth.
If only your life had not been cut short! I can only imagine how different the details might have been. Perhaps, with your daily companionship and your gentle and nurturing counsel, Colonel Mason and General Washington might have found a way to achieve what became our Bill of Rights without the loss of a friendship. Perhaps you yourself might have become a First Lady of the United States of America, and who knows what your intelligence and insight might have brought to bear? Perhaps we might know much more today about the life of Gunston Hall and its owners than is available to us.
Still, we are enormously blessed to have your legacy, if not your written word. Rest comfortably, Ann, in the assurance that your husband’s contribution to the creation and endurance of a brilliant, honorable nation is without compare. And know also that your lives, your productive home, and your respect for the sanctity of every human life will remain an inspiration to all who cherish freedom, in perpetuity. There will always be ladies who see to that.