"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Sunday, May 12, 2019

George Mason

This 2004 bronze bust of George Mason (1725-1792) by Wendy M. Ross stands near the front door of the Visitors' Center at Gunston Hall on Mason's Neck in Fairfax County Virginia.
George Mason IV (December 11, 1725 [O.S. November 30, 1725] – October 7, 1792) was an American planter, politician and delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, one of three delegates who refused to sign the Constitution. His writings, including substantial portions of the Fairfax Resolves of 1774, the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, and his Objections to this Constitution of Government (1787) in opposition to ratification, have exercised a significant influence on American political thought and events. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, which Mason principally authored, served as a basis for the United States Bill of Rights, of which he has been deemed the father. -- Wikipedia

Although a slave holder, George Mason holds the top spot in Wikipedia's List of Civil Rights Leaders, for his authorship of the Virginia Bill of Rights and his influence on the U.S. Bill of Rights.

The DAR noted George Mason's contradictory legacy in 1916:

 George Mason, of Gunston Hall, fourth of this name in Virginia, friend and neighbor of Washington, author of the Bill of Rights and the Fairfax Resolves, slaveholder, yet an opponent of slavery, vestryman of Truro Parish, but a strong worker for the disestablishment of the church. A far-seeing statesman and an ardent Patriot. (DAR Magazine, Oct. 1916, Vol.  XLIX, No. 4, p. 241. )
When Mason's first wife, Ann,  died in 1773, he had her buried under one of  two sandstone box tombs he had ordered from England.

Her epitaph written by George Mason himself is unreadable but a bronze plaque on her tomb repeats it:

Ann Mason daughter of William Eilbeck of Charles County, Maryland, Merchant, Departed this life on the 9th day of March 1773 in the 39th year of her age after a long and painful illness which she bore with uncommon fortitude and resignation.
“Once she was all that cheers and sweetens life,
the tender mother, daughter, friend and wife,
once she was all that makes mankind adore,
now view this marble and be vain no more.”
(The poem is from Pope's Epistle to Mr. Jervas.)

The other box tomb was put  in storage and had been lost by 1792 when George Mason died. This illustration from the Washington Morning Times, June 14, 1896, of the Family Burying Ground at Gunston shows Ann Mason's Tomb and no marker at all for George.

 Robert C.  Mason commented in his 1919 book that:
“No epitaph has recorded his virtues or embalmed his memory. He needs none.  The constitution of Virginia the Declaration of American Independence, and the principles contained in the Constitution of the United States bear evidence of his handiwork, and will stand as everlasting memorials to his genius and inspiration.”

The current tomb was placed in 1960.

The modern epitaph reads:

George Mason
departed this Life on the 7th day of October 1792
in the 67th year of his Age
Principal Author of the First Constitution of Virginia
and of the Virginia Declaration of Rights
- Basis of the Federal Bill of Rights -

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