Thursday, May 22, 2014

George Mason, Lifesaver

By Frank Barker
Vice President of Educational Endeavors

As bloggers and researchers we are always looking for interesting topics to blog about. We have a few unwritten rules for these blogs, but I’ll write a few of these rules anyway then they will no longer be unwritten.
The blog should be historically accurate.
It should have some sort of connection to George Mason, his family, and his times.
It should be interesting, to keep our readers coming back for more.
And if, somehow, we can find a new angle, something that others haven’t written about…in newspaper jargon, a scoop; well, we might have a successful week of blogging.

This writer may have found just such a stop-the-presses moment. In of all places, the newspaper. Not just any newspaper, but that colonial newspaper of record, the Virginia Gazette.  The Colonial Williamsburg digital library has a searchable index of every available issue of this weekly paper from its first issue in 1736 through the last in December 1780 when the newspaper followed the state capital to its new location in Richmond. Take a look:

Edition of the Virginia Gazette on August 10, 1769.  Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg.

In the index, a researcher might begin logically by looking up Mason, George.
There, located between French Mason: “in 2nd Va. Regiment,” and Gideon Mason, “deserter,” is a wealth of links to George Mason references in the pages of the Gazette.  Let’s take a look at a few.
adv. for bids for building Truro parish vestry house
adv. merchandise for sale
calls meeting of Ohio co. (13 times from 1752 until 1778)
elected member of Congress (May 23, 1777 issue)
declines to be delegate to Congress (June  27, 1777)
letter to, in post office
on Va. committee of safety
plaintiff in Chancery court
saves lives of six men
trustee for opening navigation of Potomac river
Wait, what was that? “Saves lives of six men”? Would that not be a worthy story to add to our history of George Mason?

Let’s take a look. In the August 10, 1769, issue of the Virginia Gazette is an excerpt of a letter dated July 22. Much of the news of the time is reported by letters, some from England, some from other colonies, some from Virginia. Anyone could be a reporter.

“On Monday last,” says the correspondent, “we had a smart thunder storm which produced melancholy effects here.” It seems that about 3 p.m., “Seven men being a reaping on the plantation of Mr. George Mason” took cover from the storm when the wind started gusting. The seven “betook themselves to a tree for shelter from the rain, and stuck their sickles into it, which they had scarce done when a flash of lightning struck the tree, drew out all the sickles, and knocked down every man.”

One, a Mr. Reese, died instantly. The others were “terribly burned and to all appearances dead, until Mr. Mason (who came to their relief) thought of an expedient for their preservation, which was to blow into their mouths.” This was done to all seven; “six were happily brought back to life.” Five were said to recovering nicely, one was still in “a dangerous situation,” and the “unfortunate young Reese” might have been saved as well, “had not his windpipe been cut with a sickle or a splinter from the tree.”
So there it is. An incredible story of George Mason saving six lives using a rescue technique barely heard of in the 18th century.

 Why isn’t this part of our George Mason story?

Perhaps it’s because the information came to Williamsburg via Philadelphia from a correspondent in Chester County. In Pennsylvania. It seems this is another George Mason, not the Sage of Gunston Hall.

Just when you think you have a historical scoop, the facts get in the way.


"Virginia Gazette, Purdie and Dixon, August 10, 1769, Page 3." Virginia Gazette. Colonial Williamsburg, n.d. Web. 21 May 2014.

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