ROOM USE AT GUNSTON HALL - THE PUBLIC SPACES
In effect, the rooms of Gunston Hall were the stage on which the drama of George Mason's family life was played. The cast of characters encompassed not only Mason but his wife, nine children, slaves, paid employees, relatives, family friends, and other guests. As interpretive efforts at most historic sites, including Gunston Hall, are heavily grounded in explaining to the public how the rooms were used by past occupants, a major goal of the study, as the name implies, was to ascertain room use. Going back to basics, the Room Use Study team tried to divest themselves of all assumptions, to examine current scholarship on the subject, and to explore the social and cultural underpinnings of the Mason's home life.
Chapter Three and Four will contemplate the use of the individual spaces in Gunston Hall using the clues inherent in the physical fabric of the house as well as documentary evidence of period practice. In some cases, questions have been raised for which there are as yet no answers. In order to record the research process and to keep the questions alive for future inquiry, they are included here. Some information on architectural findings which appears in Chapter Two will be repeated in Chapters Three and Four when it serves to elucidate room use, rather than Mason's taste. However, those in search of architectural interpretation should read the germane sections of all three chapters.
The Room Use Study team has made interpretive recommendations for each space or type of space in the house. They appear in brief with basic background information at the beginning of the sections on each space. Following the summaries for each section are extended discussions of pertinent issues, evidence, and scholarship.
The first living spaces encountered by modern and 18th-century visitors alike, the porches are, in effect, exterior rooms. While the porches obviously function as a visual proclamation of the two main entrances, they also provide both a formal transition and a link between the indoors and outdoors by forming a continuum with the center Passage. They added another layer of spatial hierarchy. Furthermore, the porch provided additional control over access; it was possible that one could be kept waiting on the porch never to be asked into the house at all. By the third quarter of the 18th century, many Virginia houses were fronted by an open porch. Some tidewater houses had stoops covered by small sloping pents while others had more sizeable roofed structures. The larger porches and the building-length porches which sprang up before the end of the century protected people from wet weather as well as provided "an agreeable shade from the sun during the summer."(1)
The porches at Gunston Hall set the stage for what was to come on the interior. Architectural cues make it clear that the land front facade was the primary entrance. The door was taller and topped by a semicircular fanlight; it was flanked by two rectangular sidelights (a Venetian doorway); and it was embellished with classical designs as opposed to the more informal Gothic detailing of the river side porch. The design of the pedimented porch clearly announced its importance as well as serving as an aesthetic precursor to the classically ornamented front passage. Interestingly, as part of their investigations, architects Charles Phillips and Paul Buchanan discovered that the land front porch was added about twenty-five years after the house was built; it replaced a flat, Palladian-styled frontispiece which originally adorned this facade.(2) That George Mason chose to create a porch by constructing the frontispiece design in three dimensions is quite tantalizing. Appending a porch was a deliberate change in the design; in fact, it appears to be the only significant exterior alteration in Mason's lifetime.
Architectural research by Phillips and Buchanan indicated that, in contrast, the garden porch was contemporary with the initial construction of the house. However, it has changed since George Mason's time. In the 18th century, the porch had no railings, but it did possess a rooftop finial and flattened finials which capped the ogee arches on the porch's interior.(3) Although this porch is predominantly classical in design, the ogee arches are an early evocation of the "Gothick" as seen in several English architectural pattern books of the period. As Isaac Ware noted in the 1756 A Complete Body of Architecture: ". . . The Gothick is distinguished from the antique [classical] architecture by its ornament being whimsical, and its profiles incorrect."(4)
Similar polygonal structures, with or without Gothic details, are depicted in a number of 18th-century English pattern books; they are virtually always recommended as follies, "seats," or temples in gardens.(5) In a sense, Mason's garden porch is the equivalent of a summer house attached to the rear facade of the building.
Entering the house from the garden front porch, one finds oneself in the rear passage, a space largely taken up by the main stair and kept distinct from the front passage by the presence of a double-arched screen dividing the two visually contiguous spaces. The less imposing entry tucked under the stair landing and the use of less fashionable raised paneling in the rear Passage (as opposed to the "modern wainscot" or flush board paneling in the front portion of the space) probably also added to the sense of informality embodied in the porch.
Architectural historian Carl Lounsbury notes: "A few porches [in the 18th-century South] were treated as open sitting rooms with cornices, plastered ceilings, sheathing, surbases [chair rails], washboards [baseboards], and built-in benches on the wall next to the entrance."(6) With the exception of the built-in benches, both of the Gunston Hall porches fit into this category.
Period practice does suggest that the porches would have served as outdoor sitting rooms which offered shady seating for conversations, tea, and meals. For example, a 1796 drawing by Benjamin Latrobe illustrates Mason's neighbors Mrs. Washington and Eliza Custis taking tea on the piazza at Mount Vernon. The drawing depicts Mrs. Washington seated at a small neoclassical table, undoubtedly brought out from the house for the occasion; a Windsor chair is pulled up to the table. The scene serves as a reminder that oftentimes furniture was brought out of the house for use on porches and that Windsors seem to have been a common type of seating in passages and porches in 18th-century Virginia.(7) Given the architectural elaboration of the porches and the proclivity of 18th-century Virginians to entertain outdoors during warm weather, it is likely that the Masons utilized their porches in a similar fashion.
It is interesting to speculate on why Mason chose to add a porch to his land front facade years after the house was built. It was not to bring the newer neoclassical style to Gunston Hall, for Mason appears to have repeated the basic elements of the frontispiece which had been the focal point of the land facade from the very beginning. However, as covered porches supported by columns became more popular as the century wore on,(8) transforming the frontispiece to a full-fledged porch may have helped to make the house more fashionable.
One might also ask: did Mason desire a second porch for sitting and entertaining, one which would provide a prospect of the cherry tree allée? His son John recalls how proud his father was of this feature, after noting that Mason had planted and cultivated the four rows of trees in the allée in a pattern which overcame perspective foreshortening. John notes that Mason often would
amuse his Friends by inviting some Gentleman, or Lady . . . to the north front to see the grounds, and then by placeing them exactly in the middle of the door way, and asking- 'how many Trees do you see before you'-? 'Four' would necessarily be the answer, because the fact was, that those at the end of the four rows next the house, compleatly, and especially when in full leaf, concealed, from that view, body & Top all the others- tho' more than fifty in each row- then came the request- 'be good enough to place yourself now close to either side of the door way, & then tell us how many you see?['] The answer would now be with delight and surprise, but as necessarily, 'a great number, and to a vast extent, but how many it is impossible to say.'(9)
Given Mason's delight in the allée, possibly the addition of a land front porch allowed him more time to contemplate a favorite landscape feature. Perhaps the trees in the allée, which were "common black-heart [cherries] raised from stone," matured into a fine feature around the time he added the porch. George Washington's diaries allow us a glimpse of Mason's devotion to his gardens and orchards and the pastime of hunting, suggesting that like most Virginia planters, George Mason enjoyed the outdoors.(10) In addition, could Mason possibly have wanted to give his principal facade a more imposing appearance? Did he hope to add a further measure of control to the main point of access? Perhaps it was a combination of all these reasons or others yet to be understood.
One thing is certain, in telling the story of George Mason's life at Gunston Hall, it is as important to interpret the porches as the interior spaces. As archaeology and garden history help to reestablish the fabric of the property as a whole, the porches will form a link between the world inside Gunston Hall and the surrounding landscape, two inextricably overlapping spheres in the 18th century.
FIRST FLOOR -- PUBLIC SPACES
During the course of the 18th century, a major evolution took place in the houses of the Virginia gentry. Not only did their houses increase in size, but new types of spaces appeared for the first time, primarily the central passage and the dining room.
Before about 1720, most of the planter elite lived in houses with only two rooms on the first floor. According to architectural historian Mark R. Wenger:
The larger of these - the hall - was a communal, multipurpose living space. Here, various members of the household might be found working, cooking, eating, sitting or sleeping. It was the center of daily activity in the dwelling and was accessible to many sorts of people. Opening off this hall was a second, smaller room variously called the parlor, chamber, or inward room. As the last term implies, this space afforded a greater measure of privacy than the hall, often serving the family as a separate living and sleeping area.(11)
The addition of the passage and the dining room to Virginia gentry houses had the twofold effect of creating two distinct spheres within a household -- public and private -- and of increasing the specialization of spaces within the home. As Wenger notes: "By the middle of the eighteenth century . . . the triad of hall [parlor], dining room, and passage had emerged as an integrated social environment - the public component of the planter's domestic world."(12)
Any visitor might enter the passage, but he or she could be denied access to either the more formal rooms for entertaining or the more domestic and private spaces. Both the porch and the passage became spaces to control access to other areas of the home. Again, to quote Wenger, the change in house plans made by the addition of the passage ". . . is thought to have represented a growing desire on the part of planters to distance themselves, in a ceremonial way, from persons outside the closely knit circle of family and social peers."(13)
Gradually, the old hall, often restyled the parlor, metamorphosed into the most formal room for entertaining while the newly added dining room became an adjunct to it. The old "chamber, parlor, or inward room" developed into a ground floor bed chamber, eventually, the most private space in a later 18th-century home.(14)
At Gunston Hall, like the Governor's Palace, Sabine Hall, and Westover, the two rooms devoted to public entertaining are situated to one side of the passage. Taken together, the three public spaces represent over half of the square footage of the ground floor. Additionally, the suite of rooms closely approaches a square shape, a typical bow to the period consideration for geometric regularity and proportion. Mason chose this particular spatial configuration over several other possible groupings, including the popular solution of placing the rooms for public entertainment on either side of the passage across either the front or the back of the house.
The work of numerous architectural historians over the past several decades has established that the woodwork treatments, and often the relative sizes, of rooms in elite 18th-century houses are indicators of room hierarchy.(15) According to Edward Chappell:
The best woodwork . . . in a grand eighteenth-century house were concentrated in the rooms intended for conversation and dining. Subtle distinctions were commonly made even among adjoining entertaining rooms, bedchambers, or passages. . . . Details as individually inconsequential as panel moldings and sometimes as invisible as different methods of joining floorboards were used to delineate hierarchies of space. Some of the visual clues remain opaque to us, and many may have been ambiguous when first created. It is clear, though, that decisions about relative quality were commonly made to emphasize the importance of rooms in which public entertainment took place. Circulation spaces, even those which led to these rooms were less important. Bedchambers, too, were generally treated as secondary, declining in quality as one moved up toward the garret or out toward a domestic wing.(16)
This concept certainly comes into play at Gunston Hall. The rooms in which George Mason received and entertained guests are more highly embellished than the domestic spaces. The elaborate decorative motifs and the more fashionable "modern wainscot," proclaim the front Passage, Great Parlor, and Dining Room as public spaces.(17) The restrained detailing and the old-fashioned raised beveled paneling of the back Passage, Chamber, Little Parlor, and Side Passage mark them as domestic spaces. While some of the architectural messages conveyed by Gunston Hall's interiors may still be "opaque to us," they do offer clues and raise questions about how George Mason and his family utilized the spaces for public entertainment.
Certain architectural elements in the Passage at Gunston Hall call for continued consideration. The first is the meaning of the more old-fashioned style of wainscot in the rear Passage, and the second is the date of the addition of a stove in the front portion of the space.
Interpretive Recommendation Aside from interpreting the space as a reception area and a summer parlor, the Passage interpretation should give additional weight to its role as a waiting area for slaves and servants and less weight to its possible use as an "occasional ball room" or dining space.
By the mid-18th century, the passage was truly the centerpiece of a gentry house. George Mason's Passage, like those in many upper class houses of the period, is broad and open at each end. Lounsbury gives a succinct description of the development and use of passages in southern elite houses in the mid-18th century:
This new space, which generally ran through the center of the building from the front to the rear door, transformed the circulation plan of southern domestic architecture, and greatly enhanced the privacy of the house. Before the advent of the passage, communication in the house was from one room into another. The passage provided independent access to all the principal ground-floor rooms and to the upstairs as well. It also functioned as a waiting room for servants and visitors whose social credentials did not warrant an invitation to join the planter or merchant and his family in the main rooms. Soon the advantages of this space as a refuge from summer heat became evident. By the middle of the 18th century, wealthier families spent an increasing portion of their time there.(18)
Period sources documenting all of the above mentioned activities in passages appear in Wenger's excellent article, "The Central Passage in Virginia." The work also addresses some additional uses of the space. In 1773 Landon Carter wrote that he wanted one of "Gale's Pattent bedsteads on a new plan" for "my Passage in Summer." Since cross ventilation promoted a breezy airiness, in some homes passages may have been employed as sleeping spaces during the warm weather. A reference by tutor Philip Fithian to visiting the Tayloes at Mt. Airy mentions the "young Ladies we found in the Hall playing the Harpsichord;" a knowledge of Mt. Airy's floor plan presumes that the room referred to as the "Hall," in this case, was the very wide through space in the center of the house.(19)
Given the generous size of passages in many 18th-century gentry houses, it is not surprising that historic house interpretations often mention the use of the center passage for dining or dancing during large entertainments. In fact, this practice is little documented for the Chesapeake. Following a description of the saloon(20) or passage at Tuckahoe, Thomas Anburey informs the reader that during his 1779 travels he saw "these saloons" being employed not only as a "cool retreat from the scorching and sultry heat of the climate," but as "an occasional ball-room."(21) However, a single quote does not serve as a firm basis for an important interpretive theme.
Wenger contends that "increasingly, wealthy Virginians came to associate their lower passages with the halls or entries of contemporary English houses," a connection he makes in proposing a similarity between the Windsor chairs often found in American passages and their possible English soulmate, the hall chair.(22) In reading Isaac Ware's description of the hall in his Complete Body of Architecture, it seems that in British country houses this space was occasionally used for public entertainments:
. . . in the country, where there are other ways into the house, the hall may be an elegant room, and it is there we propose its being made large and noble. It serves as a summer room for dining; it is an anti-chamber in which people of business, or of the second rank, wait and amuse themselves; and it is a good apartment for the reception of large companies at publick feasts.(23)
If Virginians were emulating British halls both functionally and symbolically for the role they played in asserting and proclaiming social control and superiority, is it not possible they also employed this space in entertaining, including as a "summer room for dining" and an "occasional ball-room?" However, documentation of this use is absent for the Chesapeake region. Also, in Virginia, wherever the passage formed a corridor running through the house from front to back, there was no other socially appropriate "way into the house." Was the passage's role as an entry and a circulation hub so vital that the planter would not have used this space for either dining or dancing during a large party? Or, once the guests had arrived at a party, would their comings and goings have been minimal?
After mid-century, passages in elite households tended to be quite spacious. Would planters ignore this significant pool of space when entertaining? Descriptions of large parties and balls, such as the one from Philip Fithian's journal for January 18, 1774, suggest that most of the house, at least on the ground floor, was in use during formal entertainments:
. . . I was introduced into a small Room where a number of Gentlemen were playing Cards, . . . to lay off my Boots Riding-Coat &c-- Next I was directed into the Dining-Room to see young Mr. Lee. . . I conversed til Dinner which came in at half after four. The Ladies dined first . . . when they rose, each nimblest Fellow dined first . . . About Seven the Ladies & Gentlemen began to dance in the Ball-Room . . . But all did not join in the Dance for there were parties in the Rooms made up, some at Cards; some drinking for Pleasure; some toasting the Sons of america; some singing "Liberty Songs" as they call'd them . . .(24)
While the use of the Passage for dining or dancing during large scale entertainments or even for dancing lessons seems logical and might be implied by the Fithian quote, the site should be aware that, absent additional evidence, this function deserves further inquiry since direct documentation of these practices in the Chesapeake is almost solely based on the Thomas Anburey quote. It would be an inquiry worth pursing.
The interpretation at Gunston Hall should emphasize another theme which is more firmly based on period quotes -- the role of the passage as "a waiting room for servants and visitors" who would not be asked to socialize with the planter.(25) This function suggests both the complexity of the plantation community and the growing use of the passage as a mechanism of social distancing and control. British architect Robert Adams certainly mentions this role in English houses when he writes: ". . . the hall [meaning entry] both in our houses and those in France, is a spacious apartment, intended as a room of access where servants in livery wait."(26)
Several Virginia sources suggest much the same use. Attempting to visit Mrs. Campbell on a 1783 trip to Williamsburg, Alexander McCauley recorded that he had to wait among the black servants. He declared that "as I did not Approve of waiting for her in the passage, I . . . led Bettsy into the cold parlour." Philip Fithian describes how one of Robert Carter's slaves
". . . came with a complaint . . . of the Overseer. . . . We were sitting in the passage, he sat himself down on the Floor & then began his Narration."(27) In both of these episodes, waiting or meeting in the passage was intended to keep the visitor or supplicant out of the rooms reserved for formal entertaining and, likewise, out of the private family spaces.(28) A number of sources give the impression that at least some of the household slaves may have occupied the passage while waiting to be summoned to necessary tasks. Eliza Custis remembered standing on the table at age three or four singing to her father's friends "while the servants in the passage would join in the mirth."(29) In January 1774 Philip Fithian writes ". . . Dennis . . . one of the Waiters, as he was standing in the front Door which is vastly huge & heavy; the Door flew up and drew off the Skin & Flesh from his middle Finger. . . .(30) The image suggests that Dennis may have been standing by in the passage when the accident occurred.
Given the above uses, the Passage at Gunston Hall presents some interesting puzzles because the architectural finish of the space invokes mixed messages. The land front portion of the Passage not only has "modern wainscot," but the entire space, bounded on the far end by a double elliptical archway, possesses a highly developed classical decorative scheme probably inspired, in part, by Plate IV -- the "Doric Order" -- from Abraham Swan's British Architect.(31) The use of fourteen pilasters and a full entablature marks the Passage as an enormously important space, second only to the "Palladian Room" in its architectural embellishment. The walls above the chair rail were covered in wallpaper, a very fashionable treatment in the second half of the century.
The double arch which forms the "fourth wall" of this space contains some interesting features. Research has shown that originally a column stood in the center of the arch. This device would have created an arcade that more formally split the Passage in two. Although the column was removed in George Mason's lifetime and replaced with a pendant pine cone (probably sometime between construction and circa 1775),(32) the arch still functions as a visual divider. Further ornamentation adds to the refinement of the arch. Carving on the pendant provides a higher degree of finish than a number of simpler terminal elements popular at the period. The spandrels of the arch facing the land front door are adorned with rococo appliqué carvings, a touch of up-to-date French styling which was incorporated and promoted in such books as the British Architect.
The symmetry of the front Passage was assured by the addition of a false door set across from the opening to the Side Passage. The presence of this completely non-functional element underscores the message of refinement and educated taste which this space conveys. The survival of a number of extant doors and reveals indicates that all of the doorways in the Passage were originally black walnut. The use of a hard wood, rather than painted pine, is another indicator of status through materials and finish. Additionally, architectural investigations show that all the doors in the front Passage originally would have been capped with overdoors. The front Passage was a space with a clear, strong message; George Mason was a man of wealth and power, a member of the gentry elite that ran Virginia.
What seems unusual to the modern scholar is the break in the message at the arch. The back Passage has a split personality. Some features continue the elegant finish of the front Passage, while some are simpler and more old-fashioned. The balusters, bannisters, newels, and spandrels of the staircase were constructed of black walnut, and the spandrels and fascia of the landing were ornamented with rococo carvings. The appliqués on the face of the landing were very similar to those in the spandrels of the arch. The plaster walls that flank the stairs were wallpapered. The doors and reveals in the rear Passage were black walnut, and carving decorates the original architraves which surround the opening to the "Palladian Room." An indistinct ghost mark above this door suggests that it, too, had an overdoor originally. Slight dents in the walls to the right and left of the top of this door made Phillips and Buchanan wonder whether the over door once had console brackets on either side.(33) All of these features are impressive; however, the walls of the rear Passage have raised beveled paneling that extends full height. There is no "modern wainscot" here. This space repeats the style of paneling found in what are definitely known to be the domestic rooms on the east side of the house.
Given the twelve-foot-high ceilings and the dog-leg staircase design, of necessity, the river side entrance door is quite short and unembellished compared to the tall door surmounted by a transom which graces the front Passage. The design of the back Passage also incorporates a door from the Little Parlor. It has no opposing false door for symmetry, but, in all likelihood, this actually enhanced the formality of the Passage, for set as it is under the staircase, the entry to the Little Parlor cannot be seen from the front Passage. A false door on the opposite wall would have given the space an asymmetrical appearance when viewed from the land front entrance.
The question is: why did George Mason and his English craftsmen select this particular combination of finishes and features? The inclusion of raised beveled paneling in the initial design suggests that the back Passage was used for less formal activities. Was this thought of as principally a family space? Wenger speculates that the role of passages as warm weather parlors and the informality in dress and customs that characterized life in Virginia during the summer months may have promoted an association between the passage and "these seasonal periods of informality." In the initial development of this space, passages were less formal than parlors or dining rooms. However, the importance of the passage continued to evolve, and during the third quarter of the century it rose in the hierarchy of rooms.(34)
Gunston Hall appears to be a transitional design standing somewhere between old and new forms. Perhaps the staircase, finely embellished though it is, had not achieved significant status to be considered a fully formal space and was thus intended to be set apart by the original arcaded design. Tulip Hill, the house that Samuel Galloway constructed in Anne Arundel County in the late 1750s and early 60s, exhibits a number of features similar to Gunston Hall. It also has a double elliptical arch dividing the front passage from the rear. As at Gunston Hall, modern wainscot rings the front passage while raised beveled paneling lines the walls of the back passage where the staircase is located. The back passage at Tulip Hill is narrower than the front section which includes a beaufat (with doors, shaped shelves, and a shell-shaped semi-dome), perhaps suggesting a connection to entertaining. In the case of Tulip Hill, by virtue of the shape of the space as well as the ornamentation, the front passage is more formal. Here, too, perhaps it is the transitional role of the staircase which determined the dual personality of the space.
The paneling of the rear Passage certainly suggests family usage, perhaps associated with seasonal informality. It abutted the rear porch which promoted extra shade; it allowed the family direct access to the porch which was finished as an outdoor sitting room, albeit with quite simple plaster and woodwork; it provided a fine vista of the gardens and the river, a feature considered a plus in a parlor-like space.(35) When the house was built, it had no front porch. Did the family outgrow the rear passage and porch? Did they eventually make the switch to sitting in the front Passage and, hence, in part, the addition of the front porch?
In most Virginia houses, the lack of a fireplace probably restricted the use of the passage during the winter months, so it is interesting to contemplate the discovery of the stove pipe hole above the door to the Chamber and small burn marks on the front Passage floor which indicate the addition of a stove at some point.(36) The question is: when? Was it during George Mason's life? Towards this end, further attempts should be made to date the face plate of the stove unearthed in a 1970s archaeological investigation of the cellar. Perhaps additional archaeology on the property or mansion cellar will uncover further pieces of the stove. The presence of a stove would have made the passage habitable year round and would have drawn the residents down to the front end of the space. Could this move have coincided with the addition of the land side porch? Future research of the porch timbers through dendrochronology might shed significant light on the use of the Passage and a possible change in usage over time.
Although lifestyles in transition and a concomitant change in architectural forms present convincing reasons for the mix of formal and domestic finishes seen in the Passage, the combination of forms and the level of embellishment of particular elements do beg further questions. It is important that the search for answers continue as these potential solutions impinge on the uses of the two rooms which complete the suite of spaces devoted to public entertaining.
Parlor and Dining Room
As Graham Hood states: "dining rooms and parlors worked in tandem, although they were always subject to individual choice and variation on the part of the owner or occupant . . . ."(37) In fact, many scholars have noted the crossover in function between parlors and dining rooms. According to Elizabeth Garrett: ". . . the sitting room was often used as the dining room and the dining room, in turn, frequently doubled as a sitting room."(38) However, by the second half of the 18th century, in the homes of the wealthy at least, there were growing distinctions between the two spaces. Parlors generally became the public entertaining space used for formal congregations of guests. The occasion could be gathering a company before dinner, socializing after the meal, drinking tea in the afternoon, playing cards, music, or games, conversing, reading aloud, or engaging in other convivial group pastimes. In a Virginia gentry house after mid-century, the formal dining room was usually the space given over to the service of dinner, a ritual seen as the social centerpiece of most days, and the male camaraderie and business affairs which followed. In some houses the room also might serve as the planter's office. Depending on other available rooms and arrangements, the dining room could double as a sitting room and probably welcomed other less well documented activities as well.
After looking at all of the evidence, this report makes the recommendation that the Palladian Room be interpreted as the Dining Room and the Chinese Room as the Parlor. What follows is, first, an explanation of that recommendation and, second, a review of the research process and issues involved in that decision. As there is no absolute answer to the question of which room was used for which function, the site should continue to search for clues to a positive identification of room use during the Mason's residence.
In a larger interpretive sense, one can argue that it does not entirely matter which room is interpreted as the dining room and which the parlor. Architectural clues and the "Recollections" of John Mason make it is easy to differentiate the public from the private areas in Gunston Hall. The general hierarchy of rooms allows the site to interpret the evolution of space in the 18th-century Chesapeake elite houses and the segregation of functions and people inherent to the mansions of Virginia's elite. No matter which room is interpreted as the dining room and which the parlor, it is possible for the site to present the advance of gentility as an overarching influence on American lifestyles and the customs and rituals which supported the genteel lifestyle.(39) Both of the formal rooms evoke the development of a regional architectural vernacular, resulting from the melding of elements selected from English models, available to George Mason both through Buckland and Sears and printed sources, with forms dictated by Chesapeake resources, climate, and lifestyles.(40) Further, the house, as well as the furnishing recommendations detailed in this plan, embody the consumer revolution which so marked life in 18th-century America. Mason's membership in the Virginia gentry and, by extrapolation, his participation in public life and the intellectual exchange leading to the American Revolution, are embodied in his house and in the message inherent in the public spaces.
Neither George Mason nor any contemporary sources document which of the two formal rooms at Gunston Hall was the Dining Room and which the Parlor. Architectural historians long ago dubbed the two formal spaces on the west side of the house the Palladian and Chinese Rooms; however, these art historical terms had no meaning in 18th-century Virginia.
Only two quotes provide any information about the formal rooms, in fact, actually only about the dining room. The first is from John Mason's "Recollections" in which he notes "across a [narrow side] passage was the small Dining room commonly used as such by the Family, there was a larger one at the other End of the House, which was used when there was company. . . ."(41) This is a tantalizing quote, but one which lacks clarity. What is meant by the phrase the "other End of the House"? Does it refer to the room across the passage or the room diagonally opposite?
The second quote comes from a June 1, 1787 letter from George Mason to his eldest son. After Mason arrived in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention, he discovered he wanted several groups of papers still at home. He asked that his son Thomson look for ". . . the Port Bill but where it is I don't remember; it lay among the loose papers in one of the dining Room Windows; which, a little time before I left Home, I tied up in a Bundle and I believe put into one of the Pigeon-holes in the Bookcase in the Dining Room. . . ."(42) This is not what John Mason calls the "small Dining room commonly used as such by the Family"(43) for George Mason mentions the room earlier in the same letter as the "little Parlour."(44) The one clue in the quote is the reference to the "loose papers in one of the dining Room Windows." Since there are no window seats in the Palladian Room, for years, everyone assumed that the Chinese Room must be the dining room. However, if one carefully considers the quote, one must concede that since pieces of furniture — both tables and chairs — were often placed in window reveals, it does not necessarily refer to the Chinese Room.
After searching high and low for clues in other early documents, after consulting with a wide range of scholars from several disciplines, after scrutinizing the architectural clues, the Room Use Study team realized that, as yet, there is no absolute answer to solve the riddle of which room served as the dining room and which the parlor. A brief review of the major issues and indicators which the Room Use team considered is contained in the following paragraphs; a fuller description of the research and evidence appears as the last segment of this chapter.
The team studied the embellishment of both rooms. Without a doubt, the Palladian Room is architecturally the best room in the house, and not only because of the ornamentation. In some period houses, rooms with less decorative woodwork could be said to supersede those with more elaborate trim, if they were hung with wallpaper or even perhaps a better wallpaper. But, the Palladian Room has other features which give it greater importance. These include the carefully matched, blind doweled floors, a very expensive period treatment. The black walnut entry doors have carving outlining each panel only on the Palladian Room side. Additionally, they are the only doors in the house to be hung on mortise hinges, an almost invisible, high-style hinge. The beaufats or recessed niches, given that they function almost solely as a vehicle for display and do not provide significant storage, could be considered a further sign of the room's greater prominence. However, not to overlook the obvious, the level of carving in the Palladian Room is an indicator that the room stands at the top of the architectural hierarchy. Another nicety is the room's garden view. Quite a number of British sources show plans of houses with dining rooms abutting the garden. There are, however, Virginia houses with similar floorplans to Gunston Hall, including Westover and Blandfield, where the parlor overlooked the garden.
A number of experts suggested that one often finds the best furniture in the parlor. If one makes the leap of faith that the best furniture was associated with the best room, then the Palladian Room would be the parlor. In reviewing all the evidence in the Gunston Hall inventory database, rooms functioning as parlors did appear to have the best furniture 70% of the time. However, it was not the case for more than a quarter of the sample, a significant enough deviation to cast serious doubt on this possible "rule of thumb."
One line of inquiry involved the nature of beaufats. A hope that they were predominantly built either in dining rooms or parlors disappeared as it became evident there were beaufats situated in both types of room. The fact that the Palladian Room beaufats apparently had no doors on either the upper or lower compartments is even more perplexing. Most beaufats had solid or glazed doors on the upper section and a solid closure below. The absence of doors presents a security problem for the homeowner. If one wished to display the family's best objects, how are they then secured when the room in not in use? Does one just lock the entire room? Could these beaufats represent a transition from the earlier American and British practice of displaying silver and other costly possessions in a cupboard? Display on a court cupboard or a draped, stepped side table would necessitate storing these precious items following a meal, the usual venue for exhibiting silver and other fine articles to guests. It is noteworthy that the Little Parlor, the name George Mason assigned to what John calls the "small family dining room," has beaufats which were undoubtedly associated with the service of beverages and the meal when the family dined in that room. The presence and form of the Palladian Room beaufats suggest many possibilities and questions, but they provide no absolute indication of the use of this space.
The Chinese Room presents other considerations. The room does have full-sized closets with what were probably lockable doors. However, the lock evidence on the door jambs is quite unusual, so the possibility that the doors only had slide latches cannot be eliminated. The question was raised as to whether the location of storage might be a major clue to room use. Looking at inventories, the answer turned out to be no. Storage did not always correlate to room use; in one or two cases, the dining equipage seemed to be in a closet on the second floor of a house with a ground floor dining room. In addition, in a quite a number of houses, tablewares and equipage for beverage service were stored in more than one room.
As no resounding answer on room usage emanated from these lines of inquiry, the Room Use Study team began to consider the issue from a different angle. Over the last several decades there has been a wealth of scholarship on the evolution and meaning of dining rooms and dining in Virginia houses. Work from such eminent scholars as James Deetz, Dell Upton, Rhys Issac, Mark R. Wenger, Barbara Carson, and others has shed new light on the importance of the dining ritual.(45) It is apparent that, both in England and America, dining was the ne plus ultra in entertaining. The dining table was certainly the ultimate destination in Virginia hospitality. And, given that fact, the dining room became the inner sanctum. English prescriptive literature and period accounts indicate that dinner guests arrived before the meal. Although the practice was not universal, the company often would gather in the parlor for convivial conversation and drinks, and then they would be ushered into the dining room. In 1747 Governor Gooch suggests a similar occurrence took place at the Governor's Palace when he mentioned to his brother that "when things were upon the Table . . . [we] . . . were call'd to Dinner and came into the Room." Almost forty years later, Robert Hunter was at Warner Lewis' home in Gloucester County where he noted that "at three we were shown into the dining (room) where a most elegant dinner was prepared."(46)
As the door on the land front side of Gunston Hall is architecturally more important than the riverfront door, it is readily apparent that this was the principal entrance to the house. In addition, as mentioned previously, the front Passage is fitted with "modern wainscot," ringed with pilasters crowned by a full entablature, and adorned with wallpaper. In the hierarchy of spaces, the front Passage stands above the back Passage. One would expect most guests to enter the house through the land front door. Once through this entrance, the first door on the public side of the house belongs to the Chinese Room. Following general social customs, one would expect this to be the door to the parlor.
Of course, the Palladian Room has a door to the Passage as well. But, it is less noticeable being in the rear Passage and in a less formal part of the entry space. If someday the design of the missing overdoors in both the front and rear passages resurfaces and the overdoor to the Palladian Room is very elaborate or showy, this might tip the weight of this recommendation back in the other direction.
Assuming the Chinese Room to be the parlor, once in that space, the guests gathering for a meal would be ushered into the all important dining room through the connecting door. Wenger has noted that the door between the rooms opens into the Palladian Room, the direction which leads one towards the ultimate goal -- the meal. It is likely that this is a subtle, but clear, clue to the direction in which guests would progress as they moved towards the central symbol of 18th-century hospitality. This concept certainly seems to underscore the idea of parade and theatricality, both an important part of the 18th-century mind set. Again, there is a caveat though. If evidence is discovered to suggest that in many wealthy planter houses, the guests gathered in the passage prior to being ushered into the dining room at dinner, the recommendation should be reconsidered.
Scholarship predicates another strand in the 18th-century dining experience. It is the association of dining with men and the development of the dining room as a male space. The dining room was the theater of the master's hospitality. As Rhys Isaac has observed, the "authority of the planter--within the family--and in society at large-- rest[ed] upon certain displays of dominance and submission at the table."(47) John Mason's "Recollections" offer two prime examples of this behavior. He mentions that, although members of the family may have gathered in either of the dining spaces prior to the meal, they did not sit down until George Mason arrived at table. Grace was one of the "Ceremonies at Table" which reinforced the dominance of men generally and the planter specifically in society. As John remembers, his father ". . . always had Grace said, most generally he performed that office himself- but sometimes desired one of his elder Sons to do so." John goes to describe a more complicated ceremony imbued with deference to the host, in this case, his father who:
. . .drank his toddy just before Dinner and at Dinner every Day . . . his habit was every day between 1 and 2 [dinner hour] to send for one of his Sons- to make the Bowl of Toddy- which was compounded always of West India Spirit - loaf Sugar and water- with a little Nutmeg grated on the Top- every Body drank out of the same bowl and uniformly, it was the practice with my Father, when the Bowl was presented to him, immediately after its preparation, to say to this Son so presenting it- I pledge you Sir, which was to say, drink first yourself Sir- This belonged to the courtesy of the times.- You saw it in all good Company, when the Bowl was first produced-; the polite return from the person so pledged - was to put his lips to the Bowl just taste the contents- and then hand it to him, to whom the first offering was intended- This little ceremony was then & thus a matter of civility in Society- but the practice as I have often heard it stated, about that time-, originated during the civil wars in England, when hard to tell Friend from Foe in mixed companies- the pledge-, of, drinking first-, was required by him, to whom the Bowl was offered- against the possibility of poison in the Drought-(48)
To the tables of the Chesapeake elite, be they planters or merchants, came not only social equals, like friends and family, but business acquaintances, many of whom relied on the master for patronage or their livelihood. As Isaac states: ". . . a continual series of essential exchanges took place here -- obligations incurred and returned. Tokens of social esteem, or simply of recognition, were given by the great and received by the less exalted."(49) Should the master be absent, it was generally not the mistress who would preside over the meal, but another man. Philip Fithian's journal clearly indicates that if his employer was not at dinner, either one of the Carter sons or the tutor himself would say grace, carve, direct the conversation, and begin the toasts.(50) As John mentions in his "Recollections," Mason would occasionally delegate the authority for saying grace or making the toddy to one of his older boys.
Often, groups of men gathered to dine with only one woman, the mistress of the family, at the table. It was seen as a necessity to have a woman at the head of the table, but what was her role? Wenger believes:
In her capacity of "mistress" the planter's wife was essentially another servant, laboring in silence to maintain an appropriate display of the master's liberality. Yes, the planter's wife sat at the head of the table, and yes, she concerned herself with the logistics of serving the meal. But its ceremonial aspects -- the saying of grace, the choice of topics of conversation, the receiving of punch, the toast -- these were the prerogatives of her husband.(51)
However, even in mixed gender groups, at the end of the second course or the beginning of the third course, the ladies vacated the dining room, leaving the men to smoke and drink, to broach any topic without restriction, and probably to relieve themselves in well-placed chamber pots. This practice followed English custom.(52) Robert Adam noted in The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adams (1773) that in the British Isles they:
. . . indulge more largely in the enjoyment of the bottle. Every person of rank here is either a member of the legislation, or entitled by his condition to take part in the political arrangements of his country, and to enter with ardour into those discussions to which they give rise; these circumstances lead men to live more with one another, and more detached from the society of the ladies. The eating rooms are considered apartments of conversation, in which we are to pass a great part of our time.(53)
Numerous period sources reveal the presence of the same custom in Virginia. One French visitor remarked that ". . . as in England, after dinner . . . the ladies withdraw, and give place to the drinking of wine . . . the most prominent pleasure of the day, which is consequently, very natural to prolong as late as possible." On visiting Norfolk in 1793, another Frenchman wrote that the women "always leave the table the moment the men announce they prefer Bacchus to Venus." Philip Fithian exclaimed that after one dinner at the Carters the male guests "sat . . . till Sunset [and] drank three Bottles of Madeira and two Bowls of Toddy!" (54)
Dining provided the opportunity for thought-provoking intellectual discussions between men.(55) As John Mason describes his father:
At other times and when not deeply engaged my Father was remarkably chearful- with politicians and Men of Business fond of being ample in his conversation and with his family and the young company that frequented the house unbending and jocular- He was abstemious and particularly in drinking- but he drank his toddy just before Dinner and at Dinner every Day . . .(56)
Whether or not Mason was as "abstemious" as his son says, a 1788 letter written by one man of business, a representative of the merchant firm of Huie Reid & Company, suggests that he was "fond of being ample in conversation" after dinner:
I . . . went out to Gunston to dinner — Col. Mason said that his not Settling the Accot was purely owing to the want of money, and that we need not be uneasy as the first Cash that came to his hand he would pay it to you and if we chose would allow interest -- I made him the most polite and respectful reply in my power -- but was detained so long on the Subjects of politics and the forming a Harbour here that I could not get farther than Alexa that night which from his house is 18 long miles.(57)
Given Mason's involvement in the issues of the day and the famous "politicians" who visited Gunston Hall, among them Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, the dinner table at Gunston Hall must have been the scene of many stimulating conversations.
Looking at these trends, scholars have noted that architectural treatises, inventories, and other period sources record that the decor of the dining room was often the more masculine of the formal rooms. Dining room architecture was often more solid and vigorous which is the case with the Palladian Room when compared to the Chinese Room. Other elements of dining room decor may have engendered masculine associations as well. Wenger considers the prints of race horses in the dining room at John Tayloe's Mount Airy an example of this trend.(58)
Conversely, the parlor became a more feminine space. An alternate name for the parlor was the withdrawing room, a term which suggests the retreat of the ladies to this space after dinner.(59) Shortened to drawing room in the second half of the 18th century, it was used in many English houses and a handful of Virginia homes as well. Here, while awaiting the return of the gentlemen, the mistress served tea and coffee to the other ladies.(60) The architecture of the Chinese Room is certainly lighter in feeling and more whimsical than the heavy, architectonic woodwork of the Palladian Room. Again, however, looking at both British and American sources, there are examples of both parlors and dining rooms, not to mention bed chambers, dressing rooms, and breakfast rooms, decorated in the Chinese taste.
The inclusion in the Chinese Room overdoors of a pagoda-roofed canopy set above a swelled central platform suggests that ceramic vases or figures were intended to be displayed in the intervening space. It also seems probable that a number of other features in the Chinese Room, including the overdoors, over windows, and chimney-breast, may have been designed to hold ceramics. In England the collection and display of prized ceramics was associated with women and women's spaces. It is worth asking whether the intended presence of a ceramic display might be a gender cue at least in the mind of London-trained William Buckland.(61) Given the strong male gender cues apparent in the 18th-century dining experience and the difference in architectural aesthetics in the two public rooms at Gunston Hall, the Palladian Room appears to be a better candidate for the dining room than the Chinese Room.
While it is not currently possible to assign a definitive room use to either of these spaces, given the current understanding of 18th-century dining in elite households, the stronger interpretive choice would be to exhibit the Palladian Room as the dining room and the Chinese Room as the parlor. This arrangement will help visitors to understand the mind set of 18th-century entertaining as they progress from the passage to the parlor to the dining room. The change will permit a clearer and more integrated interpretation of dining and its incredible importance in the landscape of 18th-century hospitality as well as the gender issues in room use and evolving traffic patterns in the homes of Virginia's elite.
To reiterate, though, the recommendation to reverse the rooms is purely an interpretive choice. An absolute answer to the dilemma of which room is which will depend on the discovery of additional documentation. There is more than one way to interpret the evidence presented above. The recommendation to interpret the Palladian Room as the dining room relies heavily on two threads. The first is the general state of scholarship on 18th-century dining and dining rooms. The second is the signals seemingly inherent in two physical features of the house: the direction of the swing of the door between the Chinese and Palladian Rooms and the lesser architectural finish in the rear Passage. However, to keep in mind for the future, the discovery that the Passage door to the Palladian Room has an elaborate overdoor would be cause for re-evaluating the decision. Additionally, a case can be made that the quote from George Mason's June 1, 1787 letter noting ". . . I shou'd be glad to have the Strictures I wrote some time ago, upon the Port Bill . . . it lay among the loose Papers in one of the dining Room windows. . . ." strongly suggests that Mason was referring to the window seats in the Chinese Room, not a piece of furniture. As there are no window seats in the Palladian Room, if this meaning could be verified, it would automatically reverse the above recommendation. It is important to note, that should information surface to suggest the room uses should be switched again, the transposition principally would involve moving the furniture from one room to the next; it would not require changing any major elements of the room or the decor.
Room Names: Parlor / Drawing Room and Little Parlor
In interpreting the house to the public, it is important for clarity and simplicity to use period terms for the rooms. Palladian Room and Chinese Room are purely 20th-century art historical terms; they would never have been used to designate spaces in an 18th-century house. So, the question is: what should these two rooms be called? As George Mason mentioned a "dining Room" in his June 1, 1787 letter, whichever room is interpreted as the space dedicated to the presentation of formal meals should be so titled. However, what should the other room devoted to public entertaining be called? Among the period names given this type of space are
parlor and drawing room as well as the more old fashioned term -- hall. Of the 122 room-by-room inventories in the database, just 6.5% use the term drawing room while 37.7% use the term parlor.(62)
Adding weight to the numerical evidence is the fact that George Mason referred to the non-chamber space on the private side of the house as the "little Parlour," an indication that the term "parlor" had currency in family usage. Looking at Virginia and Maryland inventories in the entire database there are very few modifying terms associated with parlor. The great majority of the 50 inventories listing parlors include just one room with that name and the word "parlour" is almost always unmodified. In two cases, the word parlor has a modifier which refers to the room's location, "Back Parlour" in NELSON89 and "Front Parlour" in BTTORT70. In Thomas Nelson's house there was a drawing room, so, in a sense "Back Parlour," undoubtedly an informal parlor or parlor/dining room (there is a formal dining room as well), is a diminutive of drawing room. In studying both the Maryland and Virginia room-by-room inventories in the Gunston Hall database, there are only five instances of households with two named "parlors." In all five, the listing for one or both parlors includes a size modifier, a trend which suggests that the use of "little Parlour" by George Mason predicates the existence of a "parlor" or "great parlor" on the formal side of the house.(63) Unless additional documentary evidence surfaces at some future date showing that the Masons referred to the primary space for public entertaining as the drawing room, Gunston Hall should use the term "Great Parlor" in its interpretation.
ADDITIONAL RESEARCH INQUIRIES
The following sections of text include more detailed information on factors which were considered in examining the issue of 18th-century room use in the Palladian and Chinese Rooms:
Both of the rooms on the west side of the Passage are highly embellished which made them costly to create. The land front room sports chinoiserie woodwork elements, all the fashion in mid-18th-century England. The river front space contains highly elaborated forms of the vigorous classicism which typified the English Palladian style, then on its way out of fashion in contemporary Britain; however, the room also incorporates touches of up-to-date, naturalistic rococo styling.(64) The use of chinoiserie woodwork motifs in the land front room and the high level of ornamentation in the river front room appear to be unusual in contrast to other Chesapeake houses. Unfortunately, this fact and the transitional nature of Chesapeake architecture at mid-century complicates the attempt to assign uses to the two formal rooms.
The search for the identity of the two "mystery" spaces involved a careful study of their relative sizes and architectural finishes. As detailed in the above section on Interpretive Recommendations, without a doubt, the Palladian Room is architecturally the best room in the house.
Looking purely at architectural finish, the Chinese Room is a lesser space than the Palladian Room. Both rooms have black walnut doors and reveals, overdoors, over windows, and evidence of elaborate chimney-breast designs; however, the woodwork in the Chinese Room is certainly less heavily embellished with carvings than the adjacent Palladian. In terms of both time and labor, the woodwork in the Chinese Room would have been much less costly.
Instead of beaufats which are central to the decorative scheme of the Palladian Room, the Chinese Room has closets with single leaf doors. The closet interiors had no special embellishments or finishes, unlike the beaufat shelving in the Palladian Room.(65)
The black walnut door between the Palladian and Chinese Rooms is both original and in its original location. While the panels on the Palladian Room face are outlined with egg and dart carving which matches other elements in the room, the panels on the Chinese Room side have a plain quarter round molding. Hinge marks disclose that there were split window shutters in the room unlike the carved single leaf shutters in the Palladian Room. The split shutter form is seen in the rooms on the domestic side to the house as well. However, as the 18th-century shutters are missing, it is impossible to know the degree of elaboration of the original design.
The floors in the Chinese Room are face nailed as are all of the floors in the house except those in the Palladian Room. This treatment was much less expensive than the blind doweling used in the adjoining room. Additionally, the wood in the Chinese Room floors was not as carefully tooled or selected as the flooring lumber in the Palladian Room.
Unanswered questions do linger about the wall surfaces of the public rooms. The Palladian Room and the front Passage had flush paneling above the modern wainscot, while the Chinese Room and walls running aside the two flights of steps on the main staircase had a second coat plaster finish. Research indicates that all these spaces were wallpapered, a very fashionable treatment beginning at mid-century. But, why are the wall surfaces of these spaces treated differently? Surely, the use of board walls as a substrate for wallpaper must be significant.
In comparing the similar treatment of the front Passage and the Palladian Room walls and the architectural embellishment of both spaces, it seems highly likely, but not a foregone conclusion, that the front Passage would be ranked second in the hierarchy of rooms. Looking just at the wall finishes, this would suggest that the Chinese Room follows in third place. As the plaster walls of the Chinese Room were finished similarly to those in the back Passage, a space which has more old-fashioned raised beveled wainscot, one would expect the rear Passage to take fourth place in the parade of public rooms.
Not surprisingly, it is apparent, as well as consistent with period fashions, that Mason considered wallpaper the finish of choice for all of the public spaces including the staircase. Did Mason believe wood paneled walls would provide a better underpinning for wallpaper? Architectural research conducted by Charles Phillips, Mark R. Wenger, and Willie Graham indicates that the Palladian Room walls were not covered with a textile interlining to buffer the paper from the potential acid staining of the wood or from the movement of the paneling. Unfortunately, although remnants of the originals provided evidence that the walls above the front Passage dado were flush paneled, they do not survive to investigate. Eventually, in both these spaces, the response of the wood to fluctuations in temperature and humidity would cause movement in the wood paneling and one would expect the wallpaper to tear. Did George Mason and William Buckland think that the smoother wooden surface would provide a better support than the second coat plaster? Does the wooden substrate suggest the use of either a different style or type of paper? If it can be deciphered, this should be a clue to room use.
While a basic feature of any room, size can often be an indication of use and hierarchical value. The Chinese Room is one foot wider than the Palladian Room, making the two rooms for public entertaining at Gunston Hall very close, but not identical, in size. Since the deviation was not that great, perhaps it had little meaning. It is deliberate, however. The two rooms could have been identical.
In considering the evolution of house plans and room use among the Virginia gentry, Wenger has noted that once the dining room appeared in Virginia houses, it began to grow in social importance until it assumed equal weight with the parlor. The floor plans of such houses as Wilton, Sabine Hall, Westover, Blandfield, and the Virginia Governor's Palace, as well as Gunston Hall, place the two formal rooms on one side of the passage. Interestingly, the parlor and dining room spaces at Westover and Gunston Hall are equal or nearly equal in size. Landon Carter's 1779 inventory indicates that the parlor at Sabine Hall was originally the much larger of the two rooms, but by the early 19th century the family had switched the spaces and converted the bigger room into the dining room. That change is indicative of a shift that Wenger sees occurring during the second half of the century. Eventually, in many households the dining room comes to occupy the larger and more elaborate of the two spaces.(66)
At Gunston Hall, the Palladian Room is more elaborate and the Chinese Room is larger by a foot, a set of conditions which splits the difference in the two indicative qualities. Which would Mason have chosen as his dining room when the house was newly built is impossible to say with certainty based on size. However, it seems that around mid-century, although change was in the air, the parlor still had a tendency to be larger than the dining room. It is difficult to tell whether Mason might ever have switched the uses of the two rooms during his lifetime. That a man who was getting older would be tempted to do so for the minimal difference in room size which exists at Gunston Hall seems improbable; however, it is harder to determine whether the room functions might have been reversed to address changing service and storage needs.
The Chinese Room presents a dilemma. Its woodwork scheme is so unusual for the American colonies that it is difficult to assess exactly how the room fits into the hierarchy of public spaces. Was it second in importance or did the Passage fill that role?
No other rooms with coordinated "Chinese" woodwork schemes have thus far come to light in colonial houses. Today art historians would describe this room as chinoiserie, a term signifying a distinctly western melding of Oriental motifs with European styles.(67) In the 18th century, the terms "Chinese," "India," or "Japan" would have been used, interchangeably in fact, to indicate any type of exotic Eastern design inspiration.
The very rarity of Gunston Hall's chinoiserie woodwork scheme suggests that William Buckland, perhaps in conjunction with carver William Bernard Sears, proposed the design program to George Mason. Chinese-inspired design was in great vogue in 1750s Britain. In fact, the craze for chinoiserie grew to such proportions that it drew satirical barbs from a number of contemporary British authors who observed that seemingly everyone of fashion was decorating at least one room of their homes in the Chinese style. This was but one of several waves of "China-mania" which washed over Europe at intervals from the 17th through the early 19th centuries. In its mid-18th century guise, chinoiserie was often allied with two other popular styles: the Gothic and the rococo.(68)
At first, it appeared that chinoiserie was not a woodwork style which the Chesapeake gentry embraced. However, further examination revealed a regional taste for one particular design element of the Chinese style. In surveying both extant and demolished, but documented, Virginia and Maryland houses, one sees multiple examples of gentry homeowners adopting "Chinese railing" designs for staircases. These stair railings are similar to those depicted in plates 197 and 198 of the third edition of Chippendale's Director as well as in comparable illustrations in other pattern books; the example in Chippendale were recommended as being "genteel Fences for Gardens."(69) In Virginia there are at least twelve examples of Chinese railing stairs and in Maryland five. Others may have escaped notice during the research process, and it is likely that more existed in the 18th century which no longer survive. Known examples of the Chinese railing stairs date from the 1740s into the early 19th century. Most are in main entry ways.(70)
In Maryland, Chinese railing stairs are scattered throughout the eastern counties; none were located in the western part of the state. While Smithfield, built in the 1770s in Montgomery County on the western edge of Virginia, has a chinoiserie entry stair, all of the remaining Virginia examples are in the southeastern portion of the state. Thus far, no "Chinese railing" stairs have been discovered in Northern Virginia. In much of the Chesapeake tidewater, however, there does seem to be a vogue for lattice railing stairs. Interestingly, this cluster of Chinese-railed stairs appears to be unique to the Chesapeake; pockets of similar Chinese design elements are not known to occur in the other colonies, a fact which does suggest the area had a proclivity for the "Chinese taste," albeit in a rather restrained form.
An argument can be made that, like the stair railings, some of the fretwork in Chesapeake buildings has Chinese overtones, but, if so, it is certainly very subtle. Like the Chinese railing, the main elements of fret are created by combining a "series of . . . bands that are interconnected in a variety of rectangular patterns."(71) A number of houses are ornamented with blind fret, that is, fret applied to a solid ground.(72) In most instances it is hard to tell whether these motifs were inspired by the Chinese taste, by very similar Gothic frets, or even by classical designs. But when considering chinoiserie in the Chesapeake, fretwork seems to be the principal signature of the style, whether in the form of open latticework stair railings or blind fret.
As part of the concerted search for other buildings or rooms with a coordinated Chinese design scheme, several intriguing references did surface. The 1756 South Carolina Gazette, describes the house of James Reid in Charleston as "new built, strong, and madith [made] after the Chinese taste, which spreads 60 feet square, including the balconies." Unfortunately, the house no longer exists and nothing more is known about it. In 1773 a visitor to Williamsburg opined that "there is but two private buildings of note, the Governor's and the Att'y General's. The first is not remarkable; the other is in the Chinese taste, and it is the handsomest of the two."(73) At that date, Virginia's Attorney General was John Randolph who owned Tazewell Hall. Today, no details remain on Tazewell Hall to suggest the vaguest connection with the Chinese style. However, a question might be posed. Could the house have had Chinese paling balustrades or fencing? Was this, in fact, what prompted the descriptor "Chinese taste?" Considering the specific mention of balconies in the notice advertising the Reid house, could this building, too, have had Chinese-style railings? Like the staircases, do both of these examples of "Chinese taste" rely on lattice-like designs as the principal Chinese feature?
An oft-quoted reference to a piece of furniture might beg the same question. In 1773, Virginian Robert Beverley ordered "a neat Mahogany Press or Case to hold a Service of China, & what little Plate I have to stand in a dining Room, with Glass Doors above in the Chinese Taste. Something in the shape of a cabinet not large. . . ."(74) Scholars often assume that the piece might be similar to "China Cases" depicted in plates 132 to 137 in the third edition of Chippendale's Director. While most of these possess Chinese lattice doors, all have pagoda-style rooflines. However, it is possible, depending how one interprets the emphasis and punctuation of the Beverley quote, that the only Chinese-inspired element in this piece to be sent to Beverley were the lattice doors. In fact, his order opens with the word "neat." Given the predilection of the Chesapeake for the "neat and plain" and the infrequent use of chinoiserie elements in architecture and furniture, it would not be surprising if the piece was only Chinese by virtue of lattice mullioned doors.
The presence of the cluster of Chinese railing staircases and the seeming interest of at least a few members of the Chesapeake gentry in adorning buildings, landscapes, and furniture with Chinese-inspired latticework designs implies a certain regional preference for subdued Chinese styling. Perhaps this local taste provided an aesthetic springboard which permitted Mason to go one step further and use the Chinese style as the basis for a coordinated woodwork scheme in the land front public space at Gunston Hall. The decorative elements at Gunston go beyond "Chinese railings" and fretwork, but they still are restrained.
The room of Buckland, Sears, and Mason's devising represents a very controlled rendition of chinoiserie in which Chinese and classical elements carefully coexist. It is, in fact, by European standards, a "neat and plain" vision of the Chinese. The room is symmetrically balanced as was most British architecture in the Chinese taste. The dentilated cornice, the baseboards, the six panel doors, and the moldings outlining the doors and windows are all based on classical motifs. The scalloped pagoda roof cornices above the doors and windows, the canopies over the doors, fish scale consoles under the windows, and the fret carvings are elements inspired by a European vision of Chinese architecture.
It also seems likely that the intention of the overdoor platforms surmounted by canopies was to heighten the Chinese effect of the woodwork through the introduction of Chinese porcelains or Chinese-style "images." The swelled corners of the over windows and possibly the entire length of the overdoors probably also were conceived to permit the display of ceramics.(75) In England, many period interiors incorporated ceramic display which was often associated with certain woodwork features, including overdoors, mantels, and brackets as well as with rococo and chinoiserie decorative schemes.(76)
Over the years, scholars have uniformly believed that the chinoiserie, with its exotic and whimsical overtones, was relegated to the more informal and domestic spaces of 18th-century houses, such as bed chambers and dressing rooms. There are a number of bed chambers and subsidiary circulation spaces in American houses featuring Chinese motifs. For example, in 1757 George Washington ordered "96 yds India figur'd paper" and "96 yds Chintz paper," most likely for bed chambers on the second floor of Mount Vernon.(77) Wealthy merchant Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead, Massachusetts hung two English chinoiserie papers in his house; one was in a side passage and one in the service stair and third floor passage.(78) However, in the past number of years, there has been increasing evidence of the existence of Chinese-style decorative schemes in public spaces in both America and Britain. George Washington seems to have been interested in one of the first sets of wallpaper made in China (as opposed to English chinoiserie papers) to be imported into America, a happenstance which did not occur until after the Revolutionary War. He wrote to Robert Morris in 1787: "It is possible I may avail myself of your kind offer of sending for India Paper for my New Room," referring to the large dining room at Mount Vernon. A newspaper advertisement listing "Chinese Papering -- A few sets of very elegant for drawing rooms" also suggests the use of Chinese motifs was acceptable in public spaces.(79) In England and Scotland additional examples of "India" papers in public rooms have come to light. In 1750 Madame du Bocage described the room where "people of the country and strangers" met to eat breakfast in Mrs. Monatgue's fashionable London townhouse as ". . . a closet lined with painted paper of Pekin & furnished with the choicest moveables of China."(80) According to Arthur Young's 1768 account a similar "breakfasting closet" existed at Grimsthorpe Castle.(81) In 1762 Lady Kildare wrote of a visit to Carton where she sat "in the India paper drawing-room."(82) A house in Edinburgh finished in 1778 included two rooms with Chinese or chinoiserie papers. Its first floor drawing room was decorated with an India paper while the parlor behind the dining room was hung with "mock India paper."(83) An 18th-century English chinoiserie wallpaper was discovered in the passage of a house outside of London once owned by actor Richard Garrick, and the "cool little hall" where Horace Walpole generally dined at Strawberry Hill was covered in a simple blue and white paper which mimicked Chinese-style Delft tiles.(84) Other examples will undoubtedly surface as time goes by and as British scholars sort out period room use for houses in which chinoiserie papers were installed.
The question has been raised as to whether the Chinese Room at Gunston Hall was originally a bed chamber, because of the strong association of chinoiserie decorative schemes with domestic spaces. The Room Use Study team gave careful consideration to this idea. However, it was rejected for a number of reasons. Given the hierarchical finish of rooms in 18th-century houses as well as examples provided by extant structures, it would have been highly unusual for a ground floor bed chamber to be one of the three best spaces in the house. Bed chambers in Virginia houses normally are not elaborately finished. If the Chinese Room were originally a bed chamber, then there would have been two bed chambers on the ground floor since John Mason clearly recalls that the northeast room off the Passage was his mother's Chamber. A number of Virginia houses did have two ground floor chambers. However, if there were two ground floor bed chambers at Gunston Hall, it would leave only one room for public entertaining, as the use of the Little Parlor, the fourth ground floor room, is also documented by John Mason. It would be very odd by mid-century for a man of Mason's wealth, a man who had two English craftsmen in his employ, a man building a house with such a large footprint, to have an old-fashioned "hall" incorporating both dining and parlor functions. Additionally, George Mason calls one of his ground floor rooms the "Dining Room" in his June 1, 1787 letter. If there was a room being used as a combination dining room and parlor, it would most likely have been called the hall or possibly even the parlor. It is less likely it would have been called the dining room, although the example of Robert Carter at Nomini Hall does give one pause. In the 1770s tutor Philip Fithian records that in the Carter household there was a "dining Room where we usually sit."(85)
Though early dining rooms did include beds, by mid-century, Elite Virginia inventories indicate that this practice was almost extinct. There are no beds listed in dining rooms in any of the Elite inventories in the Gunston Hall database; in the entire database there are only four dining rooms that include beds, and they are all in Aspiring or Old-Fashioned households. For all of these reasons, unless a document comes to light to show that Gunston Hall was very much out of the ordinary in having such a elaborately finished Chamber, it is recommended that both rooms on the west side of the passage be interpreted solely as public spaces.
Other "Chinese" rooms undoubtedly existed in colonial America; however, just as in British houses, most of these spaces achieved a Chinese guise from chinoiserie wallpaper; some may also have contained ceramics, looking glasses, and other furnishings which lent them a "Chinese" air. A tantalizing suggestion of this possibility is raised in the inventory listings of Annapolis resident, John Morton Jordan, who died in 1771. His "large Winscott Room," which was probably the parlor, contains "2 fire schreens with indian paper; 1 large looking Glass, Guilt frame in the Cheneese Fashion; 2 large Gerendolis Guilt Frames; 13 China Images & [Jars?] Broke and much defaced."(86) What is unusual about Gunston Hall is that it had a woodwork scheme in the "Chinese" mode. Physical evidence has disclosed that George Mason's Chinese Room was wallpapered, although no fragments survive to tell us whether the paper was en suite with the chinoiserie woodwork.(87)
In the course of the project a question was raised about the position of the dining room relative to that of the gardens. Was it popular or, more to the point, typical to have the dining room overlook the garden? Quite a number of British sources show plans of houses with dining rooms abutting the garden; some recommend situating the dining room to take advantage of a garden view. Many Virginia houses positioned the two principal spaces for public entertainment on either side of the passage, giving the parlor and the dining room identical views.
A much smaller number of houses had the same spatial configuration as Gunston Hall with both the dining room and the parlor located on one side of the passage. Given the orientation of 18th-century Virginia plantation houses, under these circumstances, only one of the best rooms would have a garden view. Looking at houses with floorplans similar to Gunston Hall, one sees examples where the dining room overlooks the gardens and others, like Westover and Blandfield, where the parlor had the garden view. This issue probably deserves more detailed study, but, it may be that, like many other choices in house design, the placement of the rooms relative to the garden relied on personal preference. It seems as if there is no simple rule of thumb hidden in the type of room located adjacent to the gardens. Elizabeth Garrett ascribes two, not one, common locations to the parlor:
The best parlor was a reception room, the apartment to which the guest would first be shown. It was strategically located on the main floor, frequently at the front of the house, just off the entry hall; as the view could play an important part in the overall éclat, however, the room might be shifted to take advantage of an expansive prospect or breathtaking garden at the back or side of the house.(88)
John Mason recalls that the Little Parlor which served as George Mason's office and the family dining room was situated overlooking the garden. So, at least one dining room at Gunston Hall had this attribute, but as it is probable that the room doubled as a family parlor, so would one parlor. Unfortunately, unless new information comes to light, a garden prospect cannot be considered a major factor in determining room use at Gunston Hall.
As part of the Room Use project, several general hypotheses of 18th-century material culture were examined in hopes one or more could provide assistance in determining which room was the parlor and which the dining room. One was the theory that, as the parlor generally had the highest quality furniture, it was usually the room with the most elaborate architecture.(89) Indeed, in reviewing the Virginia Elite room-by-room inventories in the Gunston Hall database, it appears rooms functioning as parlors usually did have the "best" furniture about 70% of the time as indicated by values or modifying adjectives such a wood types or "best." Thomas Shippen's 1783 description of the formal rooms at Westover suggests this pattern:
The 1st room on the left after you enter the N. door . . . is the common dining room, with fourteen black & gilt framed pictures, wainscoated (as all the rooms are) to the ceiling, . . . the drawing room of the same size of the last mentioned . . . here is more rich, . . . the pictures too better than in the dining room. . . .(90)
The problem lies in presuming that the "best" furniture was always associated with the "best" woodwork. If this were absolutely true, then it would follow that the Palladian Room was the parlor. However, the fact that the best furnishings were in rooms other than the parlor in over a quarter of the sample seemed a significant enough deviation to produce qualms in making any assumption across the board. Of the 30% of cases where the parlor did not contain the highest quality furnishings, in about half, the "best" pieces were split between the dining room and the parlor and, in the other half of the group, the "best" items were found in the dining room. The question is: were all of the rooms in which the "best" furniture stood also the finest by virtue of their architectural ornamentation and wall coverings? It is hard to say without extensive research comparing extant houses which have a clear architectural history and a room-by-room inventory with monetary values, a fairly rare occurrence.
Given Wenger's study of the evolution of dining rooms in the second half of the 18th century, it is difficult to presume that the parlor was always the room with the best architectural finish. Leviner and Gilliam have observed: "While the parlor was furnished with some of the most expensive pieces in the house, the dining room was the largest in size and its architectural embellishments reflected its importance. . . ."(91) Additionally, Margaret Pritchard and Willie Graham have postulated that, after mid-century, wallpaper could affect the hierarchy of rooms. Rooms with comparatively simple woodwork whose walls were covered with an expensive and fashionable wallpaper could be the best rooms in the house.(92)
Since Gunston Hall has neither an estate inventory nor descriptive orders for furniture, there is no way to know which room had the "best furnishings." It is possible that the future discovery of additional pieces of George Mason's furniture will assist the site in determining room use should the form, decoration, or style of the pieces connect to the ornamentation of either the Chinese or Palladian Rooms.
Another avenue of investigation explored the prevalence of floor coverings in certain types of rooms. Which rooms were more likely to be carpeted -- parlors or dining rooms or both? Using the inventory database, the public spaces in room-by-room Elite inventories from the Maryland and Virginia Rural Elite and the Non-Option One groups were studied for floor covering listings.(93) There were carpets in both parlors and dining rooms in about 55% of the sample. Carpets in only parlors occurred in 20% of the cases, while carpets in dining rooms alone accounted for only 5% of the group. These figures are of potential interest when considering the dilemma of room usage at Gunston Hall. However, they need to be understood in terms of the physical evidence.
In examining the floors in the two rooms, Phillips and Wenger discovered a profusion of tack holes undoubtedly indicating where carpeting had been nailed down. Unfortunately, none of the holes yielded the remnants of tacks, so it is not possible to assign a conclusive date to any of the marks. However, the tack holes form patterns which suggest that George Mason did have carpets at least in one room and possibly in both.
In the 18th century, carpets were assembled by sewing together narrow strips of carpeting. Sometimes, the carpets were further embellished with a separate border which was sewn around the perimeter. The strips could be made into area carpets, or they could be custom fit wall-to-wall. Many of the tack holes in the center of the two best rooms at Gunston suggest that the carpets were nailed down along the seams where the sections were sewn together.
Two types of English-made carpets -- Scotch and Wilton -- were common in American homes in the second half of the 18th century. Scotch or ingrain carpet was a pileless, loom-woven floor covering with a reversible design. Wilton carpets were made of cut wool pile; they were more luxurious and expensive as well as harder wearing than Scotch carpets. Strips of carpeting commonly were produced in several sizes. Scotch carpeting came in a variety of widths, including 18, 27, 31, and 36 inches; however, a yard wide seems to have been the most typical. Wilton carpeting was usually manufactured in 27 and, less often, 36 inch widths.(94)
The tack holes in both the Chinese Room and the Palladian Room indicate the presence of carpets in some of the above widths. However, it is not certain that these are marks of 18th-century carpets since carpeting continued to be manufactured in the same dimensions through much of the 19th century. Research on the tack holes is still ongoing. Since the time Phillips and Wenger identified the presence of lines of tack holes in the floors of the formal rooms, two students have pinpointed over a thousand more holes in the Chinese Room. The location and shape of all the holes in this room have been documented and now await entry into a computer program which may assist in sorting out various carpet patterns in the room. The search for additional tack holes in the Palladian Room was begun but has not yet been completed. The hole locations and shapes also remain to be recorded. However, in the absence of this more rigorously documented information, there are several major patterns which are apparent. The Chinese Room shows evidence of one carpet tacked down at 26 inch intervals and another tacked down every 36 inches. There are also lines of tack holes which indicate that one or more wall-to-wall carpets graced this room. Tack holes in the Palladian Room suggest that there was one carpet nailed down at 36 inch intervals and, again, at least one wall-to-wall carpet.
Analysis of the currently visible evidence suggests that the Chinese Room had multiple carpet installations over the years. At least two of these appear to be large carpets composed of joined strips, a manufacturing technique current until the introduction of broadloom carpeting in the late 19th century. The 26 inch strip pattern suggests Wilton carpet and the 36 inch configuration an ingrain carpet. However, as both types of carpets were available in a variety of strip sizes, this is certainly not conclusive.
The tack holes in the Palladian Room reveal the existence of only one carpet comprised of 36 inch strips, a width most typical of an ingrain carpet. Since the floors in the room were so carefully crafted, one must ask if Mason used a carpet in this space during his lifetime. In his Complete Body of Architecture, Isaac Ware mentions that "the use of carpeting at this time has set aside the ornamenting of floors in a great measure; it is the custom almost universally to cover a room entirely; so that there is no necessity of any beauty or workmanship underneath."(95) Also, that Mason might have carpeted what is architecturally the best room with a cheaper grade of carpet like an ingrain has raised questions. However, since Mason family inventories show a predilection for carpets, one has to look at other possibilities.
Mason could have had what today is called an area carpet which might not have been tacked down. These carpets often left significant portions of the floor uncovered and would have shown off the fine boards around the circumference of the room. It is obvious from British paintings, surviving carpets still in their original locations, and period documents that not all carpets were nailed down. Writing instructions to her housekeeping staff, Englishwoman Susannah Whatman says of the drawing room that ". . . when the fire is light and the stove cleaned something must be laid down to prevent carpet from being dirtied, as it is nailed down. The other carpets are not. . . ." She goes on to note that the housemaids should "always turn up the carpet round the fire and sweep under it every day. . . ."(96) Likewise, Hannah Glasse instructs the chamber maid in her Directions to Servants ". . . if you have any Carpets in the Room, sweep them clean with your Broom, or with a Whisk-broom for the purpose brush it clean, them fold it back to sweep your Room. . . ."(97) Sending carpeting to his wife from London in 1758, Benjamin Franklin informs her that the strips were "to be sow'd together" into "one large or two small carpets."(98) Potentially, Mason could also have had a "Turkey" carpet or a Wilton made in 36 inch widths. So, tack holes in the Palladian Room floor may not tell the whole story.
Many wealthy planters had carpets in both the dining room and parlor, including George Mason, Jr. (V) whose 1797 estate inventory lists "one new Wilton Carpet" in what appears to be the parlor and "one Scotch carpet two thirds worn" in what seems to be the dining room of his plantation house.(99) However, as in George Mason's son's inventory, the best carpet in most planter homes is usually found in the parlor and lesser grade carpets in the dining room. The 36 inch tack hole interval in the Palladian Room is more likely to be from an ingrain carpet, a type of carpeting produced long into the 19th century. The 26 inch wide tack hole pattern in the Chinese Room suggests a Wilton carpet, also manufactured in the following century, probably was laid in this room at one time. However, if the tack patterns are 18th century, it makes greater sense to suppose that the Chinese Room was carpeted with a Wilton during Mason's lifetime; the Palladian Room floor may have been left bare or covered with an unnailed area carpet or a nailed ingrain. If one predicates uncovered floors in the Palladian Room in the 18th century, then it is more likely that the Chinese Room would be the parlor given that results of the database search of Elite room-by-room inventories which suggests that when only one carpet was present it was much more likely to be in the parlor than in the dining room. If one postulates that the Palladian Room was carpeted with ingrain during all or part of Mason's residence in the house, it would suggest that this room was the dining room if the 26 inch marks in the Chinese Room were of a concurrently laid Wilton carpet.
As with the question of the placement of the "best" furniture, there are so many variables it is hard to use this as a strict rule of thumb. Obviously, these findings should be reevaluated once the research on the hole locations and shapes and the resulting indications of possible carpet patterns have been analyzed.
In attempting to determine which room was the dining room and which the parlor, the Room Use Study team looked at George Mason's beaufats and closets for clues to room use. Recorded below are some of the issues which were considered in trying to analyze the meaning of built-in storage. It is, in and of itself, a very complex and confusing subject. It is hoped that, as scholars continue to study the role of beaufats and closets, a greater understanding will result.
Just as passages and dining rooms were evolving during the 18th century, so, too, was built-in storage. Although built-in storage units were present in many 18th-century households, by period standards, Gunston Hall is unusual in having so many. There were two storage units flanking each of the chimney-breasts in the four ground-floor rooms, a closet under the principal stairs, and a storage closet or lumber room on the second floor. In a sense, George Mason's closets and beaufats could be considered emblems of the consumer revolution which transformed upper-class houses during the course of the century.
Storage Units at Gunston Hall
The storage units in the four ground floor rooms vary in form; however, all of them are part of the decorative schemes in their respective rooms. None are intended to disappear discreetly into the woodwork. In his "Recollections," John Mason paid particular attention to the "closets" in the Chamber. He remembers that one held his mother's clothing and the other valuable table stores.(100) The purpose of these closets was utilitarian storage. Originally, these closets had full height single leaf doors. Partial replacement of the door jambs has obliterated all evidence of the closet locking mechanisms. Physical evidence reveals that inside the closet were recessed U-shaped shelves which promoted easier access by permitting one to stand in the closet. Decorative glazed transoms surmounted the doors, presumably helping to light the closet interiors. When the house was new, the plaster walls and yellow pine shelving in the closets had no additional applied finishes. At the time Mason redecorated the room, both the closet shelves and walls were painted with a brilliant verdigris glaze that matched the woodwork in the room, much like decorative beaufats. However, John Mason clearly states that these storage units were called closets.
Directly across the Passage in the Chinese Room are two comparable storage units. They, too, had single leaf doors, recessed U-shaped yellow pine shelves, and plaster walls. However, during Mason's residence, the closet interiors lacked a painted finish that would either highlight the contents or cover signs of wear and tear. Given how similar they are in physical form to the Chamber storage units, it seems likely that those in the Chinese Room would have been termed closets as well. However, there is one puzzling element concerning the doors. A repair patch on the closet jambs indicates the location of the original mechanism for locking or at least holding the doors closed. The patch, which is only about 2¾ inches high, is not located opposite to the cross rail of the door but stands on the stile about 46 inches from the floor (visually the patch is lined up with the middle of the longest central panels of the door). Despite searches in period hardware catalogs and consultations with experts on period hardware, no obvious candidate for a locking mechanism has come to light so far. It is possible that this ghost indicates the presence of a very small box lock or simply a sliding latch. Such latches are seen in late 19th and early 20th-century photographs of closets in 18th-century houses. From just the images alone, it is impossible to tell whether or not these sliding latches are original in any of those instances.
In the two river front rooms, the storage units are based on a different form. Despite rather disparate appearances, the units in both the Little Parlor and the Palladian Room are characterized by separate upper and lower sections, counter-like surfaces formed by the bottom boards of the upper section, and shaped shelving in the upper portions.
In the Little Parlor, both sections have lockable raised panel doors painted to match the woodwork in the room; round-headed upper doors surmounted by keyblocks integrate the units into the overall scheme of the chimney-breast wall while at the same time highlighting the presence of built-in storage. Physical evidence indicates that the upper compartments were fitted with deep shelves, presumably with shaped front edges. As alluded to above, the bottom board of the upper section extends out beyond the shaped shelving to form a flat counter-like surface. The lower sections were not fitted with shelves and the yellow pine floorboards of the room form the bottoms of the compartments. The original shelves of the upper units do not survive, but paint tests indicate that the plaster interiors were unpainted during Mason's lifetime.(101)
The Palladian Room has the most elaborate, decorative, and puzzling storage units in the house. Flanked by pilasters and crowned by split pediments, the upper compartments of the units have barrel backs topped by a semi-dome, narrow decoratively shaped shelves which echo the outline of the plinth on the bottom counter-like surface. The shape of the shelves and the plinths probably would have been termed "scalloped" in the 18th century as an entry for "Beaufets" in The Rules of Work for the Carpenters' Company of the City and County of Philadelphia suggests.(102) The front edges of the shelves are molded while carving embellishes the curves of the plinths, the architraves which outline the round-headed openings, and the moldings which separate the semi-domes from the curved barrels.
Like the Little Parlor, the lower sections do not seem to have had shelves during Mason's occupancy. Unlike the Little Parlor, the lower compartments have a separate floor installed level with the top of the baseboard.
The upper sections did not have doors in the 18th century. Based on current research, the lower compartments also appear to have had no doors; however, this configuration is so unusual that the site should continue to question this finding. There is one set of hinge marks on the jambs of the lower openings not absolutely accounted for in the evolutionary sequence of the room, although Phillips postulates a chronology which suggests the marks are probably 19th century.(103) To rule out any possibility that doors once existed on the bottom recesses, the holes in these hinge marks need to be x-rayed to determine whether the presence of a blunt screw end might indeed indicate an early date.(104)
The side walls of the lower sections are constructed of plain, flush boards and the back wall is plaster above a simple baseboard with a beaded edge. Frank Welsh's finish analysis indicates the interiors were painted white. Given the high state of architectural detailing in the rest of this room, the interior finish of the lower compartments is troubling. One would expect them to have had a more consistent and refined appearance if they were open to view.
The fact that the Palladian Room storage units seem not to have had doors on the top or bottom sections is very perplexing. Most built-in storage of this type had solid or glazed doors on the upper section and a solid closure below. The absence of doors presents a security problem for the homeowner. If one wishes to display one's best objects, how does one secure them when the room is not in use? Does one just lock the entire room? Whether the room was used as a dining room or a parlor, the lack of doors and locking mechanisms seems problematic. If the site ascertains that there were doors on the lower compartments originally, then one might speculate that the objects from the upper sections would be locked below when the room was not in use for dining or parlor activities.
The storage units in both the Little Parlor and the Palladian Room are more than simple closets. In 18th-century parlance, it seems likely they would have been called buffets or beaufats. Lounsbury defines the term as follows:
A closet or cupboard for the storage of tablewares. These were often built-in, though freestanding buffets were also common. Most often found in public rooms, these highly ornamental features were made for display, with glazed doors and/or shelving fashioned in decorative shapes. Buffets were rare before the 1740s, but the unprecedented prosperity of the subsequent decades led to dramatic improvements in gentry housing and to continuing elaboration of table equipage. Both trends contributed to the popularity of buffets as a means of displaying these wares.(105)
Both pairs of storage units are "ornamental"; their presence is echoed in the architecture of their respective chimney-breast walls. Both sets had shaped shelving, a design element which focused attention on the contents as well as further highlighting the units themselves.
The term buffet, under the guise of a variety of spellings which suggest the word was pronounced bow-fat or bow-fet in the Chesapeake, appears in quite a number of regional inventories.(106) In the future, for consistency, it is recommended that the interpretive staff use the term "beaufat" and the pronunciation "bow-fat" when writing or talking about the storage units in the Palladian Room and Little Parlor; for this report, "beaufat" will be used from hereon, unless the term is spelled differently in considering another author's work.
Beaufat and Closet Locations
In trying to decode the use of Gunston Hall's public entertainment spaces, the Room Use Study team initially hoped that storage units might provide major clues to room usage. From the beginning, two questions loomed large. The first was: were beaufats found predominantly in either dining rooms or parlors? The second was: were commodious storage closets (such as those in the Chinese Room) associated primarily with dining rooms, given that the large amounts of tablewares associated with dining in an elite house required storage somewhere?
In studying both inventories and extant houses, it is apparent that beaufats existed in both parlors and dining rooms as well as in passages of Chesapeake houses. Unfortunately, there is no simple correlation between beaufats and room use.
Looking at the presence of beaufats and closets in Virginia room-by-room inventories for Elite and Aspiring households between 1749 and 1808, it is readily apparent that house size and the increased ability of Elite homeowners to entertain at meals had much to do with the greater amounts of storage in Elite versus Aspiring homes. Returning just to the wealthiest group, out of 27 Virginia Elite room-by room inventories in the Gunston Hall database, 13 included some sort of breakdown by built-in storage unit.(107) In all likelihood, more of the 27 houses had closets or beaufats which were simply not specified by the inventory takers. Five of the 13 had at least one beaufat or what appeared to be a built-in cupboard; four of those five had one or more closets as well. Eight of the 13 decedents contained listings only for closets. While the sample is too small to make any strong suppositions, it is interesting to note that, of the five inventories with beaufats, one had a beaufat in the passage, one in the dining room, and three in the parlor or parlor equivalent. Occasionally, some houses, like the Wythe House in Williamsburg, had beaufats in both the parlor and the dining room.
There is also no easy correlation between equipage storage and room use. Searching the inventory database to determine the presence of storage units in different types of rooms revealed that slightly less than 30% show equipage storage only in dining rooms, while just over 35% show storage in room combinations which include dining rooms. Taken together, equipage storage in dining rooms and space combinations which include dining rooms occurs in approximately 65% of the inventories studied. By contrast, just under 6% list equipage storage in only parlors and 17.6% show storage in parlor and other room combinations, making for a total of 23.5% of inventories which reveal some or all equipage storage in parlors. The numbers do seem to suggest a link between dining rooms and equipage storage; however, it is not possible to determine what percent of equipage is stored in dining rooms versus other rooms. However, at Gunston Hall, although of different types, storage units exist in both the Palladian and Chinese Rooms, and undoubtedly both were used for the storage of equipage.
Additionally, it should be noted that among the inventories studied, at least one example of virtually any pattern of equipage storage can be found, making it difficult to link dining rooms with the exclusive storage of tablewares. In one or two cases, dining equipage seemed to be in a closet on the second floor of a house with a ground floor dining room. It is important to note that in a large number of houses, tablewares, and equipage for beverage service were stored in more than one room. In fact, at least seven of the 13 room-by-room Virginia Elite inventories with designated built-in storage list table and beverage equipage in a ground floor chamber closet.(108) To speculate if bed chambers made practical places to store equipage for dining or drinking is an engaging possibility. Did they provide a good staging area for the elaborate meals in elite households? How often were they in the mistresses' chamber for easier access or better security? In fact, what role did security play in determining where different types of objects would be stored?
It is interesting to note that storage of a large selection of table and beverage wares in the parlor adjacent to the dining room (the proposed room use interpretation for Gunston Hall) is a pattern seen in at least one house with a floor plan similar to Gunston Hall, Landon Carter's Sabine Hall. His 1779 inventory lists tea wares, cutlery for dinner and dessert, table and tea spoons, condiment vessels, several sorts of drinking glasses and mugs, chafing dishes, candlesticks, and snuffers in the "Parlour Closet." A "Closet up Stairs" holds the pewter and china plates, dishes, and specialized serving pieces like condiment vessels, custard cups, butter boats, and tart molds, and additional glassware for wine and beer.
In regard to beaufats at Gunston Hall, several issues are important to consider both now and in the future: the changing uses of beaufats in the 18th century and clues to possible beaufat use and room use offered by the physical configuration and locations of the Little Parlor and Palladian Room beaufats.
In recent years beaufats have garnered new attention from scholars. Among others, Kevin Sweeney and Cary Carson writing about the consumer revolution and Elizabeth Garrett about the early American home,(109) have remarked on the dual role of these built-ins for storage and display and their connection to the increasing amounts of tablewares that became de rigeur in Elite and Aspiring households. Ian Gow in studying the buffet-niche in Scotland, Betty Leviner in examining the presence and evolution of the same feature in American houses, and E. Charles Beyer in endeavoring to decipher the mystery of the location of the formal dining room in Gunston Hall have paid close attention to beaufats.(110) Their research provides helpful background against which to consider the Gunston Hall beaufats.
The history of buffets and sideboards is complex, involving quite a number of unsolved mysteries of its own. Buffets and sideboards began life in the Middle Ages as tables or stepped cupboards. Found throughout Europe in rooms used for drinking and dining, these forms were
". . . used to display plate, glass, and/or ceramics and to dispense beverages for the table." By the end of the 17th century, in France at least, the buffet form could include the presence of water ". . . either piped-in or hand-carried for use in a fountain or cistern and needed for rinsing glassware. . . ." What began as freestanding furniture forms were eventually built into niches in the wall. The buffet-niche, as Leviner calls it, ". . . had the advantage of providing security when locked and an arena for display when opened."(111)
Leviner further predicates that the buffet-niche had gender associations which changed over time. Originally, it seemed to be associated with drinking and, therefore, with men and with that male space, the dining room. In fact, the buffet-niche probably highlighted the "ceremonial nature of drink. . . . The buffet-niche, even more than the dining room, was a man's domain. Women within the household were not involved with its operations; rather, the male head of the house and his butler oversaw its contents and functioning."(112)
As inventories aptly demonstrate, by the middle of the 18th century, food service and tea equipage started to appear in the buffet. At this point a change in gender association seems to occur. In one mid-century English reference, a husband complains that he was no longer allowed to use the objects on display in the buffet-niche as they had been carefully arranged by his wife to make a fine display. Also around this period, Leviner sees a separation in the functions of the buffet and the sideboard, the latter of which now serves as a table for beverage service. Leviner conjectures that the appearance of closet space in gentry households may not only have allowed homeowners to store more of the goods which appeared as a result of the consumer revolution, but also to restrict the amount and types of possessions they exhibited at one time. Keeping a portion of these new acquisitions out of view may have been done to avoid the appearance of tasteless ostentation or perhaps it permitted homeowners to highlight certain select objects which were chosen for display on the sideboard. Buffet-niches may have continued in use for dispensing drinks in some households as they did not go out of fashion suddenly. But as dinners and dining assumed greater importance and the number of guests at formal dinners increased, the buffet-niche may have become too small to provide adequate service for beverages.(113)
As Leviner notes as well, buffet-niches appear in parlors, too. Not only that, but the terminology of words like cupboard, buffet (and all its variants), and closet become intermingled as the analysis of period references reveals. There is still too much confusion over the purpose and the evolution of beaufats to come to any decisive conclusion on the room use associations of the built-in storage units in the Palladian Room.(114)
As mentioned above, the Little Parlor, the name George Mason assigned to what his son John calls the "small Dining room," also has twin beaufats. Given John Mason's documentation of the use of the Little Parlor for dining, it seems highly probable that the beaufats in this room were associated with the service of beverages and food. In this case, the counter-like bottoms of the upper compartments are spacious and deep and could have served as side tables and/or sideboards as they did in certain British and Continental homes. Beverages for the meal as well as plates, cutlery, and glassware for the second and third courses could have been stored, arranged, and displayed on the counter and shelves of these units. If the family also utilized this room as an informal parlor, then it is very possible that wares for tea and coffee service were kept here as well. It is interesting to note, however, that, although Phillips and Buchanan extrapolated the presence of shaped shelves from physical evidence, the plaster interiors of the beaufats in this family dining space were unpainted so these storage units were not intended to highlight the contents through color contrast.
The likely association of the beaufat form in the Little Parlor with dining gives weight to the argument that the similarly formed beaufats in the Palladian Room would have been used for the same purpose. The Palladian Room beaufats, with their narrow, more decorative shelves, suggest a connection to the earlier American and British practice of displaying silver and other costly possessions in or on a cupboard or a draped stepped side table. The Palladian Room beaufats provided small counter-like tops surmounted by shelves which offered the opportunity to showcase the family silver and other expensive equipage. Whatever the original use of this room, it seems more than appropriate for the Masons to show off their finest equipage in the "best" room of the house. As the Room Use Study research revealed, the Masons liked and bought silver. Two large, inherited pieces from the end of the 17th or the beginning of the 18th centuries -- a footed salver and a monteith -- were quite showy and associated with dining and drink. However, whether the counter-like surfaces of these beaufats, much smaller than those in the Little Parlor, would have been suitable for dispensing beverages or whether a sideboard would have served that function is debatable.
The documented presence of beaufats in period parlors begs several questions. What was the use of beaufats in parlors? In parlors, were these built-in units employed solely for the dual role of storage and display? Did they ever assist in the service of drink as they did originally in dining rooms? In fact, how much of a role does drinking play in parlors? Certainly, drinking in parlors was not associated with the custom of the master and his male guests remaining at the dinner table following the meal to drink, converse, and smoke. But drink is mentioned in conjunction with gatherings before the meal and at parties and informal gatherings. One English reference notes that following the service of tea and coffee, typically a ceremony associated with the parlor, cordials or liqueurs were served to combat the jitters, presumably the result of too much caffeine.(115)
Two circa 1730 English paintings, one by Gawen Hamilton depicting An Elegant Company Playing at Cards and the second a group portrait illustrating a family sitting around a baize-draped table in a parlor-like room, include wine coolers, decanters, and other paraphernalia associated with drinking. A Music Party, circa 1740, and Love and Opportunity, a 1768 satirical print, show mixed gender-mingling in the parlor with drinks.(116) However, with one exception, in all of the portrayals of tea drinking, even those showing large companies of people playing cards and other games, there are no signs of alcoholic beverages.(117) These depictions of social occasions seem to indicate that drinking did take place in the parlor at certain times, although perhaps not generally when tea was served. More work remains to be done on the use of beaufats and the role of drinking in parlors as questions abound. For instance, if parlors were generally considered to be female spaces, why would a form associated with drinking, and therefore possibly men, be incorporated in those spaces? Were parlors, in fact, more gender neutral? Did women indeed take control of beaufat contents earlier than supposed? Were any gender associations with beaufats totally dependent on the room in which they were situated? Whatever the answers to all these queries, the content listings for Virginia beaufats in the Gunston Hall inventory seem to suggest that equipage for serving meals, alcoholic beverages, and tea usually shared these built-in storage units.
The Room Use Study team examined content listings for beaufats and closets for possible clues as to their use as well as the types of objects which might have been on display in the Palladian Room beaufats. Of the five Elite Virginia inventories which specifically listed beaufats or what appear to be built-in cupboards (aside from Governor Botetourt), all but one contained equipage devoted to a mixture of uses. In Robert Mitchell's Richmond County
establishment in 1808, one of the parlor cupboards held only books, while the second cupboard in the room stored a mixed group of equipage. However, care must be exercised in jumping to conclusions since the sample is so small.(118) The content listings of the four beaufats found in the Virginia Aspiring inventories in the database also comprised wares of mixed uses.(119) Off scale for the Virginia planter is the Governor's Palace which in 1770 lists the dining room "Bowfat" as principally holding items associated with drink and ornamental china and "English china Candlesticks," probably used for table decorations. A quote written around mid-century describing Annapolis merchant Charles Cole certainly suggests that beaufats held groups of items of mixed functions. Alexander Hamilton said that Cole "understood perfectly well how to set out a mantle piece or bofett, with plate, Glass, and China, in the neatest and most Showy
order. . . ."(120)
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, thus far no American images of 18th-century beaufats have been found. In the few British or European period prints and paintings which depict both built-in and free-standing beaufats, one sees a variety of uses. These illustrations span a century and a range of economic classes. Some, including a Parisian engraving of a built-in buffet circa 1700 and a free-standing buffet in an Italian dining-room circa 1750, show the form displaying glasses and salvers and apparent containers for liquors.(121) The Italian painting pictures four small side tables ringed around the room, one of which evidently holds a silver bottle slide, suggesting that one or more of the tables was used as an adjunct surface for the service of beverages as well. A Peter Angellis painting of Elegant Merrymaking from the early part of the century illustrates a dinner where the guests are attended by footmen.(122) A built-in buffet with doors flung open houses what seems to be various pieces of plate associated with dining; a small table covered with a white cloth is set perpendicular to the buffet, evidently bearing a silver ewer and charger. A large cistern for cooling wine bottles is set out on the marble floor of the room.(123) The background of a 1751 English glass transfer print, entitled The Dextrous Trimmer or Poor Pill Garlick left in the Suds, shows a shelved buffet with decanters, a bottle, both coffee and chocolate pots, bowls, glasses, a plate, and possibly a sugar bowl on display.(124) While these pictures indicate two different types of use, one seemingly associated with drinking and one with food service, other paintings and prints exist which suggest, that as in many of the Virginia inventory listings, beaufats held equipage for both drinking and dining. The Tea-Table, a circa 1710 engraving, shows a buffet without doors with narrow decorative shelving, seeming to hold a variety of wares, including a mortar and pestle, a coffee pot, a liquor bottle, a lidded tankard, and possibly plates, salts, a caster, tumblers, and glasses.(125) The drawing of A Very Lively Tea Party mentioned above includes a woman opening the door of a shell-topped buffet. Although the buffet contents in the drawing are not entirely clear, they, too, appear to be of mixed use. Given the spotty but varied depictions of buffets and their contents, it is hard to say with assurance what would be displayed within; again, personal preferences would have been important. However, given the mixture of dining, drinking, tea and coffee equipage in the beaufats listed in Virginia inventories, the Room Use Study team does recommend a varied display of objects in the Palladian Room beaufat unless contradictory information comes to light.
Another issue looms large for Gunston Hall as well. How would the lower compartments in the Palladian Room beaufats, if open, have been used? Several scholars have suggested that, based on the evolution of the beaufat form in Britain and on the Continent, there might have been cisterns or coolers or a cooler and a bottle case in these openings.(126) However, the bottom boards show no signs of particular wear or scrape marks which one would expect that heavy bottle cases, cisterns, or coolers, such as the "1 substantial Copper Cooler to Contain about a Dozn. Bottles" listed in a 1760 order of Charles Carroll, Barrister, would make.(127) Additionally, the inventory database reveals that coolers and cisterns were rarely found in the houses of the Chesapeake elite.(128) Unfortunately, the unusual nature of these openings and the lack of physical and documentary evidence provide no substantial clues as to the use of these spaces. As mentioned above, additional research should be done on the one unexplained set of hinges before the presence of lower doors is entirely ruled out.
To raise an issue heretofore unsaid, there is always the question of change. Leviner postulates that as the century wore on, buffets came to be more under the control of the mistress and more for display than service. Could Mason have switched the use of his two formal rooms in the course of his lifetime? Switches did occur over time. Wenger has documented the swapping of room functions at the Nelson House in Yorktown and at Sabine Hall in Richmond County. However, both of these examples suggest changes effected by family members of the succeeding generation. Would Mason have reversed the use of the rooms, especially as the house was built during a time of enormous transition in room layout and hierarchy? One could argue that his second marriage might have provided the impetus for such a switch.
1. Dell Upton, "Early Vernacular Architecture in Southeastern Virginia" (Ph.D. diss., Brown University, 1980), 294.
2. Charles A. Phillips, "Findings at Gunston Hall, Part III, Summer 1983," (summary report), Gunston Hall Library and Archives.
3. Charles A. Phillips, Architectural Research Document Cards, South Porch, April 1987, Gunston Hall Plantation Library and Archives.
4. Carl Lounsbury, An Illustrated Glossary of Early Southern Architecture & Landscape (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 163.
5. Examples of these texts include: William Pain, The Builder's Companion and Workman's General Assistant (London, 1769); Batty and Thomas Langley, Gothic Architecture Improv'd (London, 1747); and Robert Morris, The Architectural Rembrancer (London, 1751). Plates in all three of these works have been noted as possible prototypes for Gunston's garden porch. Plate 10, one of the suggested prototypes in Morris, is described as "A Plan and Profile of a small Seat for a Garden to terminate a Walk, or as a Resting Place, or for a view of some remarkable Prospect." George Mason's garden porch, like many of the garden buildings illustrated in the pattern books, fits all of these characteristics. In the 18th-century as John Mason mentions in his "Recollections," the garden commanded a full view of the Potomac River.
6. Lounsbury, Glossary, 285.
7. Benjamin Henry Latrobe, The Virginia Journals of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 1795-1798, 2 vol., ed. Edward C. Carter, II, ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), July 1796, 168; Mark R. Wenger, "The Central Passage in Virginia: Evolution of an Eighteenth-Century Living Space," in Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, ed. Camille Wells, 2 (1986), 148-149; Elizabeth Donaghy Garrett, At Home: The American Family 1750-1870 (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990), 199.
8. Lounsbury, Glossary, 285.
9. John Mason, "Recollections of John Mason," transcribed by Terry Dunn and Estella Bryans-Munson, Gunston Hall Plantation and Archives, 1989; revised, 1999, 41-43.
10. George Washington, Diaries of George Washington, ed., Donald Jackson (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976-1979). There are multiple entries in Washington's diaries documenting the large amount of plant materials, especially fruit trees, which Mason gave to Washington as well as the numerous occasions on which the two men went hunting together.
11. Wenger, "Passage," 137-138.
12. Mark R. Wenger, "The Dining Room in Early Virginia," eds. Thomas Carter and Bernard L. Herman, Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, 3 (1989), 154.
13. Wenger, "Passage," 138.
14. Wenger, "Passage," 138.
15. Edward A. Chappell, "Looking at Buildings," Fresh Advices: A Research Supplement to the Colonial Williamsburg Interpreter 5 (1984), I-vi.
16. Edward A. Chappell, "Housing a Nation: The Transformation of Living Standards in Early America," in Of Consuming Interests: The Style of Life in the Eighteenth Century, ed. Cary Carson (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1994), 217-218.
17. Lounsbury, Glossary, 394-395.
18. Lounsbury, Glossary, 262.
19. Wenger, "Passage," 137-149.
20. In his article on the dining room, Wenger determined that, after 1760 or so, the term "saloon" began to be applied to a number of passages, a use of an Anglicized version of the French word "salon" which suggests a new awareness for emulating high-style British and French spatial antecedents.
21. Thomas Anburey, Travels Through the Interior Parts of America, (London, 1791) 1: 319.
22. Wenger, "Passage," 147-148.
23. Isaac Ware, A Complete Body of Architecture (London, 1755), 335.
24. Philip Vickers Fithian, Journal and Letters of Philip Vickers Fithian, a Plantation Tutor in the Old Dominion, 1773-1774, ed. Hunter Dickinson Farish (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1968), 57.
25. Lounsbury, Glossary, 262.
26. John Fowler and John Cornforth, English Decoration in the 18th Century (London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1974), 66.
27. Lounsbury, Glossary, 262; Wenger, "Passage," 138 -139; Fithian, 129.
28. Wenger, "Passage," 138-139.
29. Wenger, "Passage," 138-139; Daniel Blake Smith, Inside the Great House: Planter Family Life in Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake Society (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980), 43.
30. Wenger, "Passage," 139; Fithian, 51.
31. Abraham Swan, The British Architect (London, 1745), plate 4.
32. Charles A. Phillips, "Physical Study of Gunston Hall -- Part II," (summary report), April 1993, Gunston Hall Library and Archives, 2.
33. Phillips, "Physical Study of Gunston Hall -- Part II," 2-3; Charles A. Phillips, "Findings at Gunston Hall -- Part III, Summer 1983" (summary report), 3; Conversation with Charles A. Phillips, Fall 1998.
34. Wenger, "Passage," 139-141.
35. Garrett, At Home, 39.
36. Phillips, "Physical Study of Gunston Hall -- Part II," 2.
37. Graham Hood, The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg: A Cultural Study (Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1991), 126.
38. Garrett, At Home, 62.
39. Richard Bushman, The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1992).
40. Carl Lounsbury, "'An Elegant and Commodious Building:' William Buckland and the Design of the Prince William County Courthouse," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 46-3 (1987): 228; Dell Upton, "Vernacular Domestic Architecture in Eighteenth-Century Virginia," Winterthur Portfolio, 17 (1982): 95.
41. "Recollections," 12.
42. Robert A. Rutland, ed., The Papers of George Mason (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970), 3: 893.
43. "Recollections," 12.
44. It is possible to determine the location of the "little Parlour" by comparing the text of the 1 June 1787 letter with John Mason's "Recollections." See the section of Chapter Four on the Little Parlor for that information.
45. Barbara G. Carson, Ambitious Appetites: Dining, Behavior, and Patterns of Consumption in Federal Washington (Washington, DC: The American Institute of Architects Foundation, 1990); James Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten: The Archeology of Early American Life (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1977); Dell Upton, "Vernacular Domestic Architecture"; Rhys Isaac, Transformation of Virginia: 1740-1790, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982);Mark R. Wenger, "Gender and the Eighteenth-Century Meal," in A Taste of the Past: Early Foodways of the Albemarle Region, 1585-1830 (Elizabeth City, North Carolina: The Museum of the Albemarle, 1991); Wenger, "Dining Room."
46. Dan Cruickshank and Neil Burton, Life in the Georgian City (London: Viking Press, 1990), 35-36; Sara Paston-Williams, The Art of Dining: A History of Cooking and Eating (New York: Harry Abrams, Inc., 1993), 248-249; Wenger, "Gender," 32-33; Hood, Governor's Palace, 126-128.
47. Isaac, 74-79; Wenger, "Gender," 26.
48. "Recollections," 15; Wenger, "Gender," 26.
49. Isaac, 76.
50. Wenger, "Gender," 26.
51. Wenger, "Gender," 27-28.
52. Cruickshank, 40-43; Paston-Williams, 260-262; Wenger, "Gender," 26-28.
53. Hood, 122.
54. Wenger, "Gender," 28.
55. Hood, 130.
56. "Recollections," 14.
57. George Walker to Huie Reid & Co., 7 March 1788, Dumfries, Huie Reid & Company Business Records 1784-1795, MssD., Library of Congress.
58. Hood, 128-130; Wenger, "Gender," 32; Fithian 94-95.
59. Lounsbury, Glossary, 122, 408. Also, see the section on names for parlor-type spaces following this for the names of the Virginia decedents in the Gunston Hall inventory database who have a drawing room listed in their houses.
60. Wenger, "Gender," 28.
61. Anne S. Cocks, "The Non-Functional Use of Ceramics in English Country Houses During the Eighteenth Century," The Fashioning and Functioning of the British Country House, eds. Gervase Jackson-Stops, et al., (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1989), 195-215.
62. There are six Virginia inventories in the database with rooms called "drawing room" (XRNDPH75, LEWIS82, NELSON89, WORMLY91, TOMLIN02, and BUCHNN04) and two in Maryland (BRICE02 and XMERCR05). As the dates on these documents indicate the term came into use later in the century, another factor suggesting that Mason, who built his house in the late 1750s, would have preferred the term "parlor" or even possibly "hall," rather than "drawing room."
63. In Maryland ADDSN61 has a Great Parlour and Little Parlour, ADDSN75 includes the same terms, BOWIE95 has a Little Parlour and Big Parlour, and TASKER63 has a Large Parlour and Small Parlour. In Virginia WSHGTN99 has a Little Parlor and Front Parlour. There are two documents where a parlor and a drawing room appear together. One, NELSON89 from Yorktown, Virginia, is mentioned in the above text; the second is BRICE02 from Anne Arundel County, Maryland which has a parlor (accompanied by no modifying word) and a drawing room.
64. James A. Hall, "William Buckland's Anglo-Palladian Interior Ornamentation at Gunston Hall" (master's thesis: School of Architecture, University of Virginia, 1989). This thesis considers in detail possible prototypes for major woodwork elements in the ground floor rooms at Gunston Hall as they relate to 18th-century pattern books and treatises.
65. Further details relating to all of the beaufats and closets at Gunston Hall are included in section G on storage.
66. Wenger, "Dining Room," 154-157.
67. Ellen Paul Denker, After the Chinese Taste: China's Influence on America 1730 -1930 (Salem, Massachusetts: Peabody Museum, c. 1985), 2; Lounsbury, Glossary, 76-77.
68. Dawn Jacobson, Chinoiserie (London: Phaidon Press, Ltd., 1993), 125.
69. Thomas Chippendale, The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker's Director (Reprint: New York: Dover Publications, 1966).
70. A list of these "Chinese railing" stairs and their locations is on file at Gunston Hall Plantation.
71. Lounsbury, Glossary, 151.
72. Blind fret decorated the spandrels and stringer of the Chinese-style stairs at Bohemia in Cecil County, Maryland; it also provided additional embellishment on the Chinese-railed stairs at Battersea in Petersburg, Virginia. In both these cases, the fret probably was intended to have Chinese connotations. Occasionally, fret adorns other architectural features, like the overmantel in the drawing room at Sotterly in Hollywood, Maryland; however, it usually has no connotations or associations to tie it directly to the chinoiserie.
73. Lounsbury, Glossary, 76-77.
74. Robert Beverley to Samuel Athawes, [ca. 1773], Letterbook, 1761-1775, Robert Beverley Papers 1761- 1775, MssD., Library of Congress, 43V & 44.
75. Hall, 62.
76. Cocks, 195-215.
77. W.W. Abbot, ed., The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series, 5 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988), 50.
78. Denker, 15; Richard Nylander, "An Ocean Apart: Imports and the Beginning of American Manufacture," in The Papered Wall, ed. Lesley Hoskins (New York: Harry Abrams, 1994), 117.
79. Carl L. Crossman, The Decorative Arts of the China Trade (Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Antique Collector's Club, 1991), 391.
80. E. A. Entwisle, The Book of Wallpaper: A History and an Appreciation (London: Arthur Baker, 1954), 44.
81. Edward Croft-Murray, Decorative Painting in England 1537-1837, 2 (London: Country Life, 1970), 41.
82. Cornforth and Fowler, 79.
83. Sheila Mackay, Behind the Facade: Four Centuries of Scottish Interiors (Edinburgh: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1995), 61.
84. Ellen K. Donald and Susan Borchardt, "Chinese Room Research Project: Phase II Research Findings," unpublished, October 1988, Gunston Hall Plantation Library and Archives, 11-13; Alan V. Sugden and John L. Edmondson, A History of English Wallpaper (London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd., 1926), 72.
85. Fithian, 80.
86. John Morton Jordan, Probate Inventory, 11 October 1771, Register of Wills, Liber 38, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, 114-139.
87. In deference to the concept of en suite decoration which was part of the 18th-century aesthetic, the plaster walls of the Chinese Room at Gunston Hall have been papered with a reproduction of an 18th-century chinoiserie wallpaper, the original of which at currently hangs in the Stamper-Blackwell Vestibule at the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum. Two research reports which document that decision are on file at the Gunston Hall Plantation Library and Archives [Ellen K. Donald and Susan Borchardt, "Chinese Room Research Report -- Phase I," April 1988 and Ellen K. Donald and Susan Borchardt, "Chinese Room Research Report -- Phase II," October 1988.]
88. Garrett, At Home, 39. Care must be exercised in applying such quotes from Garrett's book since it covers a period spanning from 1750 to 1870.
89. Margaret Pritchard, "Color and Pattern: Decorative Schemes in 18th- and Early 19th-Century America," (paper presented Colors for a New Nation Symposium, 30 October 1998), 4.
90. Thomas Lee Shippen to Dr. and Mrs. William Shippen, Jr., 30 December 1783, Thomas Lee Shippen Papers, MssD., Library of Congress.
91. Leviner, 25-26.
92. Margaret Pritchard, "Color and Pattern," 4-7; Margaret Pritchard and Willie Graham, "Rethinking Two Houses at Colonial Williamsburg," The Magazine Antiques (January 1996), 169, 171.
94. Rodris Roth, Floor Coverings in 18th-Century America (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Press, 1967), 29-40; Christopher Gilbert, James Lomax and Anthony Wells-Cole, Country House Floors (Leeds: Temple Newsam House, 1987), 61-62, 71.
95. Ware, 123.
96. Susannah Whatman, The House Keeping Book of Susannah Whatman 1776-1800, ed. Thomas Balston (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952), 14, 16.
97. Christopher Gilbert, et al., 110-111.
98. Roth, 38.
99. George Mason, Jr., Will, 10 December 1799, Will Book G-1, Fairfax County, Virginia, 38.
100. "Recollections," 34.
101. Phillips, "Physical Study of Study -- Part II," 4; Phillips, Architectural Research Document Cards, Little Parlor, April 1984; Welsh, 15.
102. Ian Gow, "The Buffet-Niche in Eighteenth-Century Scotland," Furniture History Society Journal, 30 (1994), 108.
103. Charles A. Phillips and Mark R. Wenger, "Miscellaneous Investigations at Gunston Hall Summer 1994" (summary report), Gunston Hall Plantation Library and Archives.
104. E. Charles Beyer, "The Gunston Hall Parlor 'China Cabinets:' New Discoveries and Questions," 29 October 1993, Gunston Hall Plantation Library and Archives. This piece analyzes the construction of the beaufats and the questions which remain to be answered before ruling out the presence of lower doors and shelves in the lower sections; Charles A. Phillips and Mark R. Wenger, Summary Report of Investigations, August 1993, Gunston Hall Plantation Library and Archives.
A perplexing finding came to light as a result of Phillips and Buchanan's architectural investigations of the room in 1984. According to their summary report: "Early wrought nails were found on the inside edge of the bottom of the counter. All of these remaining nails were finish nails and projected approximately one-quarter inch, implying that a small strip of wood was nailed there in the 18th century. This was probably to hold a curtain to cover the lower compartment" (Charles A. Phillips, "Gunston Hall - Part IV - Winter, 1983 - Spring, 1984"
(summary report), September 1984, Gunston Hall Plantation Library and Archives). Curtains on the lower sections are, of course, possible. However, since no 18th-century examples or illustrations of this practice have come to light, it seems rather unusual. Could the lower sections have received curtains in the early 19th century to deal with what were perceived as unwieldy or unattractive spaces? Or, could these openings have been curtained by George Mason for the same reason? But, why not add doors? The idea that curtains were an unique response to an unique situation is dangerous given the number of unanswered questions. However, continued consideration should be given as to whether this might be a practice not unique to Gunston Hall, but not yet documented elsewhere.
105. Lounsbury, Glossary, 51-52.
106. Various spellings in Virginia inventories include "Beaufat" in BCHNAN04, "Beaufet" in SMITH55, "BowFett" in HRRSN91, "Bofat" in CRAIKE55, WALKER63, and FLOOD76, "bowfelt" in MCCRTY53, "Beaufelt" in STOTT81, "Bofett" in SMLWD67, "Buffat" in SNGLTN73, "buffet" in HORNBY50 and BTTORT70, and "Buffett" in PEACHY51. In Maryland spellings include "Bophat" in WARING69, "Bofatt" in CLARK66 and CHEW69, "Beaufatt" in HPBRN74, "Beaufet" in HALL71, "Beaufet" in BOWIE95 "Beaufett" in CHPMN61, and "Boffet" in WRDRPE60.
107. LEE58, CORBIN60, NEWTON67, FLOOD76, CARTER79, DWNMN81, LEWIS82, GILMOR82, FANTRY91, HRRSN91, HUNTER95, FANTRY98, and MTCHLL08.
108. CORBIN60, NEWTON67, FLOOD76, (not sure which floor), DWNMN81, FANTRY91, HUNTER95, and FANTRY98. CARTER79 has equipage in "Closet up Stairs."
109. Cary Carson, "The Consumer Revolution in Colonial America: Why Demand?," and Kevin Sweeney, "High-Style Vernacular: Lifestyles of the Colonial Elite," in Of Consuming Interests, 22, 634, 636-637; Garrett, At Home, 48-51.
110. Gow, "The Buffet-Niche;" Betty C. Leviner, "Is It a Buffet, A Beaufait, A Bowfat, or A Sideboard?," unpublished, summer 1998, courtesy of the author, 1-11; Leviner, "The Buffet or 'Bowfat' in the Eighteenth Century," The Magazine Antiques, (May, 1999), forthcoming; E. Charles Beyer, Research Files on Beaufats, Gunston Hall. Special thanks are due all three of these scholars, Charles A. Phillips of Phillips and Oppermann, and Mark R. Wenger and Willie Graham of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. All have been extremely generous in sharing their research and their thoughts on beaufats with the Room Use Study team during the course of this project.
111. Leviner, "Is It A Buffet," 1-3.
112. Leviner, "Is It A Buffet," 4.
113. Leviner, "Is It A Buffet," 4-8.
114. Leviner, "Is It A Buffet," 8-11.
115. John Coakley Lettsom, The Natural History of the Tea-Tree, with Observations on the Medical Qualities of Tea, and the Effects of Tea-Drinking (London, 1772), 61-62 as quoted in Julia B. Claypool, Tea Customs in Virginia, 1700-1783 (master's thesis: State University of New York College at Oneonta, 1984), 94.
116. Charles Saumarez-Smith, Eighteenth-Century Decoration: Design and the Domestic Interior In England (New York: Harry Abrams, Inc., 1993), plates 79, 81, 149, 259.
117. The exception is a drawing by Louis-Phillipe Boitard, active in England between 1730 and 1769, representing A Very Lively Tea Party, in which one of a large and seemingly boisterous group of ladies gathered around the table seems to have a decanter at hand and to be drinking from a wine glass. However, does this depict an acceptable custom or is it a social statement. Illustrated in Gervase Jackson-Stops, et al., The Fashioning and Functioning of the British Country House, 190.
118. Beaufats or cupboards which were probably built-ins appear in FLOOD76 (in the parlor), DWNMN81 (Cupboard in the Passage"), FANTRY91, (cupboard in dining room, though there is the chance it may be a clothes press) HRRSN91 (follows Great Room, probably a parlor), and MTCHLL08 (in the parlor). Of course, the contents varied quite a bit, probably in part due to personal choice, but undoubtedly also due to the total amount of closets, beaufats, and other storage units in the house. Homeowners like Flood and Downman had more closets in their households than Harrison and Fauntleroy. Issues of class and wealth also intervene, for as we see in the Virginia inventories in Aspiring, Decent, and Old-Fashioned houses where beaufats are present, there is always a mix of objects but also many fewer storage units and as well as storage units in rooms which combine the parlor and dining functions into a single, more old-fashioned "hall."
119. HORNBY50 (follows dining room), PEACHY51 (in Hall, the only public room), SMITH55 (in Hall, the only public room), and SNGLTN73 (in Hall, the only public room).
120. Alexander Hamilton, "The History of the Ancient and Honorable Tuesday Club" in Michal J. Rozbicki, The Complete Colonial Gentleman: Cultural Legitimacy in Plantation America (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), 145.
121. Peter Thornton, Authentic Decor: The Domestic Interior 1620-1920 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984) plates 80, 154.
122. Peter Angellis was Flemish; however, this is probably an English scene since he lived and worked in Britain from 1716 to 1728.
123. Paston-Williams, 258.
124. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, accession number 1994-16, by [Richard] Houston, printed by John Bowles, London.
125. Saumarez-Smith, plate 37.
126. Betty C. Leviner, "The Buffet or 'Bowfat' in the Eighteenth Century," forthcoming; E. Charles Beyer, conversations between 1993 and 1998.
127. Letters of Charles Carroll, Barrister, Maryland Historical Magazine 33 (June 1938): 188. A second item in the order is for a small cooler to hold a bottle or two to put on the table.
128. In looking at the presence of coolers and cisterns in Rural Elite households (REI) in Maryland and Virginia in the Gunston Hall inventory database, 14 -18% of REI households had what might be identified as vessels large enough to hold water to cool wine bottles. Values and descriptors show that most "coolers" in the database are actually small receptacles intended for use on a table top. None of the Mason family inventories contains listings for large coolers or cisterns. No one in the database has a pair of coolers or cisterns, but about two thirds of the few decedents who had a large cooler / cistern form also had a bottle case. Of REI households 22% have more than one bottle case; however, most of these listings indicate there is one large case and one small case. Only one household includes what even vaguely could be interpreted as a pair -- "2 rum cases."