By Claudia Wendling
If you have the good fortune of visiting Gunston Hall in person take the opportunity to visit the Mason Family burying ground - the final resting place of George Mason IV. A short distance from the mansion you will find an allée of cedar trees beckoning you down the path toward the brick wall that encloses the grave of Mason and others. As you enter the grounds through the ornate black wrought iron gate your eyes will be drawn to two large box tombs one of which is that of George Mason.
|George Mason's tomb with his son's headstone in the foreground.|
As you stand at the foot of this great man’s grave you might contemplate his legacy. You might wonder, as I have, what Mason himself would have to say on the subject. Mason was an accomplished man who wore so many hats so well. He was a Virginia planter, businessman, Patriot, legislator, vestryman and devoted husband and father to name a few. Although many letters, documents and records concerning Mason are lost to us, the precious few that survived give us some insights. Excerpts from two in particular, I think, contain Mason’ s thoughts on the matter of his legacy to his family, his country, his world and to future generations.
Shortly after his first wife’s death in 1773 Mason wrote his will. While the excerpt below from his will was intended for his sons, I think his so eloquently expressed words for his sons are also part of his legacy to us.
I recommend it to my sons, from my own experience in life, to prefer the happiness of independence and a private station to the troubles and vexation of public business; but if either their own inclination, or the necessity of the times should engage them in public affairs, I charge them on a father’s blessing, never to let the motives of private interest or ambition induce them to betray, nor the terrors of poverty and disgrace, or the fear of danger or of death deter them from asserting the liberty of their county, and endeavouring to transmit to their posterity those sacred rights to which themselves were born.Several years after Mason wrote his will he wrote a letter on October 2, 1778, to a friend. At the time he was still suffering greatly from the loss of his first wife, Ann Eilbeck Mason who died in 1773. He shared his grief in this letter as well as his plans to retire and to enjoy the company of his children and, in the excerpt below, a portion of his legacy:
…If I can only live to see the American Union firmly fixed, and free government well established in our western world, and can leave to my children but a crust of bread, and liberty, I shall die satisfied, and say with the Psalmist, ‘Lord now lettest thou they servant die in peace.’
To show you that I have not been an idle spectator of this great contest, and to amuse you with the sentiments of an old friend upon an important subject, I inclose you a copy of the first draught of the Declaration of Rights, just as it was drawn by me, and presented to the Virginia Convention, where it received few alterations, some of them, I think not for the better. This was the first thing of the kind upon the continent, and has been closely imitated by all the other States.So, as you leave the Mason Family Burying Ground, where the principal author of the First Constitution of Virginia and the Virginia Declaration of Rights – Basis of the Federal Bill of Rights lies buried and the days pass and the memory of your visit fades, I hope that Mason’s legacy will not and that you too will be an active participant like Mason and never an idle spectator when it comes to freedom and liberty.
Mason, John. (2004). The Recollections of John Mason: George Mason's Son Remembers His Father and Life at Gunston Hall. Ed. Terry K. Dunn. EPM Publications.
Mason, George. (1773, March 20). The Last Will and Testament of George Mason. Fairfax County Court Records, Book F1.
Rowland, Kate Mason (1892). The Life of George Mason, 1725-1792, Volume I. G.P. Putnam's Sons.