By Frank N. Barker
Assistant Education Coordinator
“We came equals into this world, and equals shall we go out of it.”
George Mason, 1775
October 7, 1792—George Mason died at Gunston Hall. He was buried in the family burial ground, a few hundred yards from the mansion. Col. Mason lies next to his first wife, Ann Eilbeck Mason.
Why were George Mason and other family members buried at home and not in a church cemetery?
While towns such as Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Alexandria had churchyard cemeteries, it was impractical for most people to be buried there unless they lived (and died) in town, close to the church. In the 18th century South and Mid-Atlantic region, the rise of the plantation system spread out the population geographically. Towns were far apart, large church parishes were often centered around a single church, and roads were often bad. As plantations became a self-sufficient way of life, they also became a self-sufficient way of death.
Family members who died were prepared for burial by other family members. The coffin was made at the plantation. The corpse would lie in state in the house until the funeral. Burials were done quickly as bodies were not embalmed.
Family cemeteries were often enclosed by a fence or wall; sometimes slaves were buried in the family cemetery, but outside the wall or fence. According to custom, people were usually buried lined up from east to west. Graves were often marked with both headstones and footstones; some with large stone tablets or statues. Engraved gravestones could be homemade, purchased locally, or, sometimes, purchased in England. Often elaborate epitaphs and poems were carved into the stones.
Did George Mason and his familiy celebrate Halloween?
Public events could include dances, story-telling where neighbors would share stories of the dead, fortune-telling, ghost stories and mischief-making. Whether such customs occurred with the Mason family of devout Anglicans living at Gunston Hall is unknown.
More widespread celebrations of Halloween wouldn't be common until the middle of the 19th century and its enormous influx of European immigrants.
In the year that George Mason died
- The U.S. postal service was created; postage was 6 cents to 12 cents, depending on distance.
- Oranges were introduced to Hawaii.
· Congress established the Philadelphia Mint.
- The United States authorized $10 Eagle, $5 half-Eagle and $2.50 quarter-Eagle gold coins and silver dollars, quarters, dimes and half-dimes.
- George Washington used a presidential veto for the first time, vetoing a bill designed to apportion representatives among the several states.
- France declared war on Austria.
- The U.S. established a military draft.
- The Columbia River was discovered and named by American explorer Capt. Robert Gray.
- A toilet that flushed itself at regular intervals was patented.
- 24 merchants formed the New York Stock Exchange at 70 Wall Street.
- Kentucky was admitted as the 15th state in the union.
- Columbus Day was first celebrated on the 300th anniversary of the discovery of America.
- President Washington laid the cornerstone of the Executive Mansion (White House).
- George Washington was re-elected president.
- In Vienna, 22-year old Ludwig Von Beethoven received his first lesson in music composition from Franz Joseph Haydn.
Important October events in George Mason’s lifetime
- Oct. 4, 1787—A broadside with George Mason's “Objections” to the proposed U.S. Constitution was printed in Philadelphia.
- Oct. 7, 1765—Nine American colonies sent a total of 28 delegates to New York City for the Stamp Act Congress. The delegates adopted the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances.”
- Oct. 11, 1759—Mason Locke Weems was born. This future parson at Pohick Church is better known as the biographer who created the story about George Washington cutting down his father's cherry tree.
- Oct 17, 1781—General Charles Cornwallis surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown, essentially ending hostilities of the American Revolution.
- Oct. 19, 1782—George Mason quit his seat in the House of Delegates, “from a Conviction that I was no longer able to do any essential Service. Some of the public Measures have been so contrary to my Notions of Policy and of Justice, that I wished to be no further concern'd with, or answerable for them; and to spend the Remnant of my Life in Quiet & Retirement.”
- Oct. 24, 1788—American poet Sarah Josepha Hale was born. Her most famous work? “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
- Oct. 25, 1760—George III ascended to the British throne after the death of King George II, his grandfather.
- Oct. 27, 1757—William Mason, George and Ann Mason’s fourth child is born. Their third child, also named William, had died that August.
- Oct. 25, 1787—The first of the Federalist Papers were published in the New York Independent. The series of 85 essays, written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, were published under the pen name “Publius.”