Thursday, June 5, 2014

George Mason’s Writing Table

By Mark Whatford
Deputy Director

In August of 2006 Gunston Hall acquired a small writing table now on display in the little parlour.  This writing table had been donated to the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) in 1881 by a great grandson of the family, George Mason of Alexandria, Va.  This item had been on loan from the VHS to Gunston Hall since 1951.

George Mason's writing desk in situ at Gunston Hall.
The table, just 27 5/8” h x 30 ½” w x 19 ¾ “ d, is made of American black walnut with secondary wood of yellow pine. The original drawer pulls have been lost, the lock replaced and the feet also replaced in the 19th century.  The 19th century restoration has been described as “sloppy” with the table being completely disassembled, partially refinished, re-glued and re-pegged. The missing pad feet were replaced with ball feet. The surface of the desk was left "as-is" but with a silver shield-shaped  plaque insert on center top with the Mason crest and “The writing table of George Mason Gunston Hall, Fairfax County, Va. upon which he wrote the Virginia Bill of Rights adopted in convention June 12th, 1776 Presented to the Virginia Historical Society by his Great grandson George Mason of Alexandria, Virginia

The great grandson left a colorful account of the table- “This table is of English oak and almost as it was in Col. Mason’s time- except of some very [?] attempts at repairs much after the war, to ‘reconstruct’ where injuries had been done by Yankee vandals-“ Another account tells of it being rescued after a fire.

Although the table was at Gunston hall during Mason’s lifetime, it is unlikely he carried it with him to Williamsburg, where he actually composed the Declaration of Rights. He may have used it to compile elements of the bill of rights or draft elements to the Virginia Constitution along with his estate accounts and letters.

In return for the table, Gunston Hall gave the VHS 167 volumes from the library of Robert Carter [1728-1804], alternately known as Robert Carter the Councillor or Robert Carter of Nomini Hall, a grandson of Robert “King” Carter. Gunston Hall had purchased these volumes from Kenmore Plantation in 1976.

Carter had a substantial library, estimated by Philip Vickers Fithian in his journal to have contained 1,500 volumes as early as 1774.

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