University Libraries Acquires Mason Family Account Book

Posted: April 22, 2013 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: April 23, 2013 at 7:02 am

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By Mark Schwartz, communication and marketing officer, University Libraries

Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries

Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries

The George Mason University Libraries has acquired an important late 18th-century manuscript with handwritten entries by the George Mason family. Previously, the university owned only three single-page original documents directly related to its namesake, George Mason IV.

“The Mason family account book is not only an important historical resource, but has immense symbolic significance for Mason,” notes John Zenelis, university librarian. “We are thrilled that this important Virginiana manuscript has been repatriated, particularly to this part of the Commonwealth where the extended Mason family lived.”

The University Libraries purchased the 220-year-old Mason family account book last summer through an antiquarian dealer in Boston. The acquisition was facilitated through the generosity of the Washington and Northern Virginia Company of The Jamestowne Society, an organization dedicated to preserving the historical record of early Virginia.

The book documents the business, family and personal accounts of Stevens Thomson Mason (1760-1803) and his son, Armistead Thompson Mason (1787-1819), respectively the nephew and grandnephew of George Mason IV.

Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries

Courtesy Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries

The two men who wrote most of the entries for the family account book led noteworthy lives. Stevens Thomas Mason fought in the American Revolution as a colonel in the Continental Army and served as an aide to George Washington during the battle of Yorktown. Armistead Thompson Mason served as a general in the War of 1812 and as a United States senator for one year. He was killed in a duel with his cousin, John M. McCarty, over a contentious election.

The family account book includes detailed records about the Mason family plantation Raspberry Plain Farm, located near Leesburg in Loudoun County.

“The account book reveals the considerable work of managing a plantation in the early 19th century,” says Jordan Patty, processing librarian/archivist in Special Collections and Archives (SC&A). “You begin to picture how busy the days must have been, contrary to the image of the Southern gentleman sitting on the porch sipping a mint julep. At the same time, the account book also includes many mentions of the slaves on the plantation, and to see those names among the other business of the day is particularly powerful in light of what we know today about the brutality of slavery.”

Stevens Thomson Mason wrote the accounts from 1792 until his death in 1803, and his son, Armistead, made entries from 1810 until his death in 1819. William Temple Thomson Mason also contributed a number of entries. Other entries in the hand of William Temple, the half-brother of Stevens Thomson and the uncle of Armistead Thompson, can be found in the pages. Other Mason family members adding entries to the accounts were John Thomson Mason (1765-1824), John Thomson Mason (1787-1850), and Stevens Thomson Mason, Jr. (1789-1815).

“The Mason account book is in its original rough or reversed calf binding with headbands, blind stamping on the covers, and raised cords on the spine,” says Yvonne Carignan, head of SC&A. “Although the binding was worn and the front cover detached at the hinge, we had the book conserved instead of rebound to preserve the original artifact. We believe it is instructive for students and other scholars to have an opportunity to view the book as its creators saw it.”

SC&A is also home to the Virginia Historical Documents Collection, which has three other documents related to the Mason family. The 1853, single-page document is a deed-of-gift from Maynadier Mason, grandson of George Mason IV, which transferred ownership of his “negro slave woman named Lucy” to his late wife’s maternal aunt, Mary Ann Clark. The two other Mason family documents are letters written and signed by James Murray Mason, the grandson of George Mason. The 1860 document is a recommendation for a political appointment addressed to President James Buchanan. The other letter concerns James Murray Mason’s involvement in the Trent Affair in 1861.

The Virginia Historical Document Collection and the account book can be examined at the Fenwick Library on the Fairfax Campus. The Mason Family Manuscript Account Book can also be seen online.

Write to Robin Herron at rherron@gmu.edu

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