Gunston Hall, Home of George Mason

Woodbridge plantation was located on the Occoquan River, opposite the old town of Colchester, Virginia. It consisted of lands patented by George Mason III, the father of George Mason of Gunston Hall. No evidence of this plantation survives today, yet remnants of what once might have been a building for a ferry remain.1 According to George Mason of Gunston Hall’s will, the ferry had been in the Mason’s possession for generations.2

In 1792 George Mason of Gunston Hall willed this land, along with the ferry, to his youngest son, Thomas. The ferry was well-used in its day by travelers who wanted to cross the Occoquan River. Occasionally a traveler left an account of their voyage across the ferry. In 1796, architect, Benjamin H. Latrobe, met the ferryman on his way to Colchester and gave a detailed description of him.3 Shortly after Latrobe's account, the ferry’s owner, Thomas Mason, replaced it with a tollbridge. Unfortunately for Thomas, the tollbridge proved to be a costly affair and it lasted only until 1807, when a storm washed it away.4

Like his brother John, Thomas was educated to be a merchant. Yet unlike John, he was unhappy with his chosen profession. On 5 July 1792 George Mason wrote to John:

He wrote me a letter, some time ago, expressing his desire of being established in some business upon his own account; at the same time expressing much disgust at the business and profession of a merchant; which after the time he has spent in the pursuit, and which too was his own choice shewed a fickleness of disposition, and want of steadiness, that may prove highly injurious to him.5

Despite this early "fickleness" Thomas Mason achieved a measure of success in his political and family life. In 1793 he married Sarah Barnes Hooe, the daughter of another prominent Virginia family. Together they had four children; two sons, Gerard Alexander and Thomas; and two daughters, Leannah and Elizabeth. He also retained the considerable wealth bequeathed by his father. He even had a short stint in the Virginia House of Delegates as a representative for Prince William County. 6

Unfortunately, Thomas’ political and agricultural careers were cut short when he died in 1800 at the early age of thirty. The exact cause of Thomas’ death is unknown. According to his obituary, he died of a short, but severe illness at Lexington, the home of his late brother, George Mason V.7 No will has ever been found, thus little is known about what happened to his property. According to an 1815 auction notice in the Alexandria Gazette, the house was left in the care of his wife. It is unclear exactly what was sold in this auction. The ferry house remained within the family because Gerard Mason, Thomas’ oldest child, was living there in 1849 when he was found slain there by his own slave.8

1. Steven B. Shwartzmen, Fortunate Son: Thomas Mason of Woodbridge, (Prince William; Prince William County Historical Commission, 1997), 31.
2. Will of George Mason IV.
3. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, The Virginia Journals of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 1795-1798, edited by Edward C. Carter II et al. 2 vols. (New Haven, 1977) 173.

The ferryman of Occoquan Ferry, is one of the uncommon productions called Albinos. He is one of several who are children of Man and Woman, Negroes brought from Africa, called here Salt water Negroes. I could not get an exact account of his family from him, he appeared ashamed of the Trick dame Nature had played on him. He has the exact features of a perfect Black, flat Nose and thick lips and is very ugly. His skin both of his face and body is uncommonly fair and white. His cheeks and neck which is extremely thick are very red and pimpled as if he were a hard drinker. His hair or rather wool is yellow. His eyebrows are white with a yellowish cast, his eyelashes which are very long and almost choak his eyes, are almost white. His eyes are reddish grey. He wore his head and twinkled as if they were weak, but upon my asking him the question he told me he had as good eyes as anybody else. I suppose he is much pestered with enquiries, and illnatured jokes upon his colour; for he seemed very pettish upon the subject. If his eyes are good his is an exception to Jefferson’s general remark in his notes.

4. Shwartzmen, Fortunate Son, 99-102.
5. Robert A. Rutland, The Papers of George Mason 1725-1792 vol. 3 (Chapel Hill; University of North Carolina Press, 1970), 1269.
6. Alexandria Gazette, April 24, 1800.
7. Richmond Examiner, September 30, 1800.
8. Alexandria Gazette, June 28, 1815.

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