Browse Exhibits (25 total)

Thomson Mason and the Business of Slavery

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DRAFT--Please do not cite at this point in time--

Thomson Mason (14 August 1733 – 26 February 1785) was an important lawyer and jurist in eighteenth century Virginia. He was the younger brother of George Mason (IV) and a fellow supporter of the patriot cause. Thomson married Mary King Barnes, the daughter of the prominent Maryland merchant Abraham Barnes, which opened up many lucrative economic opportunities for him.

One of the most important opportunities to secure his economic future was as a participant in his father-in-law's merchant enterprise which included running tobacco from the Chesapeake region to England. After leaving Liverpool the ship went to the west coast of Africa. This is where the enterprise became focused on human cargo.

This business was lucrative.

George D. Oberle III

Medical Experimentation on Enslaved People


Slavery in the United States was one of the worse crimes against humanity. The enslaved were seen as property and thus had little to no involvement in the decisions in their lives, particulary their health. The medical treatment they endured emphasizes the white slaveholders' and white physicians' beliefs about them: that Africans and their descendants were inferior. This painful history with the field of medicine contributes to the fear and apprehension felt by African Americans of the current healthcare system.

Midwifery and Women's Role in Colonial Society


       During the Colonial Period of the United States men controlled society, including the type of information that was written and discussed. Because of this, the works that were written about women provide some interesting opinions and assertions of who and what a woman was meant for. This was also all from the perspective of men. Exploring this male perspective and then comparing it to what was actually going on in the world of women at the time will show how important the rise of women's suffrage was.

        What seemed to be the general idea in most people’s minds at that time was that women were inferior to men physically and mentally, and therefore had no reason to take on any leadership role in society. Women simply did not make careers for themselves because their rightful place was at home. In fact, one of their biggest worries was surrounding childbirth. Maternal mortality was high during this time, there was limited medicine to aid in the process, and women would constantly continue to have children until their bodies literally could not take it any longer. They would know to stop reproducing when their children would keep miscarrying, or when the woman herself would come too close to death during labor. Unfortunately, the signs did not always come soon enough and many mothers perished in the process.

        All the pain and suffering women have endured for millennia actually has an explanation, according to colonial civilization. Until recently, it was believed that women suffered so much because it was God’s punishment for the sin of Eve. This was simply an accepted fact. Women were arbitrarily placed into a status of “punished”, “inferior”, and “weaker” due to the belief that this was how God wanted it. History is full of the notion that events took place due to Divine Right, but it is hard to imagine that an entire sex was held as inferior because of this same Right. This was the world, though, and it has taken a lot for society to realize that women are at an equal place to men. Women deserve civil rights and the pursuit of happiness as much as anyone else, and a huge chance they took to prove this was by doing what they did best: sticking together.

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Free Blacks and Quaker Communities in Loudoun County


Quakers, also called “The Religious Society of Friends,” who lived in southern states were said to live “in the Lion’s mouth,” because of the stark contrast between their ideals of peace and equality and the ideologies of the slave holding society surrounding them. Quakers had two main settlements in Loudoun County: Goose Creek and Waterford. These towns were much like other Northern Virginian towns: home to schools, businesses, agriculture endeavours, as well as to Quaker “meeting houses”, centers of religious growth and abolitionist action.

Historians argue that Loudoun Quakers, like all Friends in pre-Civil War U.S., struggled to balance conflicting identities as members of a Northern Virginia community rooted in slavery with their firm spiritual and moral belief in the in injustice of slavery. Most of Quakers’ engagement with their wider community was in the spread of abolition rhetoric and actions that were in opposition to the ideals of Northern Virginia slaveholders.

Quaker public engagement in the wider Northern Virginia community was deeply influenced by religious beliefs in equality and the injustice of slavery. Their abolitionary actions and sentiments challenged the social and political structure of the slave-south, and thereby the authority and morality of slave-holders in Northern Virginia. Heightened tension and increasingly frequent conflicts between Quakers and pro-slavery neighbors. Unwilling to engage in violence and disheartened by the ever-firmer commitment of slaveholders to the institution, many Quakers  moved from Loudoun county to areas that were more tolerant of their abolitionist ideals in the years leading up to the Civil War.

This exhibit examines Quaker abolition sentiments and movements in Loudoun County and free-blacks in their communities during the pre-revolutionary war period. Several of the Masons, including Armstead and Thompson Mason, were slaveholders in Loudoun during this period and both they and their enslaved peoples would have encountered Quakers and abolition movements in the surrounding county. 

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The Infamous 1819 Duel between Cousins: Mason and McCarty at Bladensburg

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On Saturday, February 6, 1819, cousins General Armistead T. Mason and John Mason McCarty would meet at the Bladensburg dueling ground for the last time.

Their duel lives on in local infamy, with articles published on it every few years, and a good number of legends have popped up surrounding the duel, as has a good deal of mis-information.

This exhibit contains all the details one could glean about the duel, the men involved and the southern dueling culture that drove friends and relatives to murder.

Taverns, Ordinaries, and Inns: The Shaping of Early American Social Life Through Public Spaces


Some taverns were large, extravagant, and considered worthy places to hold balls and art galleries. Others were modest, yet comfortable living spaces in which one could lay their weary head and expect model hospitality and comfort. And still others were called “dens of depravity” in which drunkards engaged in illicit activities and betrayed their religious upbringing through excess and sinful laziness. But a tavern was never just simply a place to drink and make merry.

Firstly, a tavern was, according to Patricia Gibbs of William and Mary in her dissertation, “Taverns in Tidewater Virginia, 1700-1774,” a form of public housing, synonymous with “inns,” “ordinaries,” and “tippling houses.” Taverns were public spaces in which people could gather to socialize, conduct business meetings, or disseminate political news and information. One often had no other options when it came to places to gather with others and socialize. 

Gossip, agricultural prices, political news, and opinions abounded in these social spaces. Taverns were often places where those living more rural lifestyles isolated from others could come to feel a part of their community and the larger world. News about political parties often circulated within taverns. Mailmen passed through taverns and could pass along valuable and casual information while delivering mail. 

Taverns thus were at the political, economic, and social crossroads of early American civilization. They transformed, and were transformed by, American culture. 

[1] Gibbs, Patricia Ann. 1968. “Taverns in Tidewater Virginia, 1700-1774.” Dissertation. College of William and Mary.

Kira Stalker

Wine in Early Virginia


Plantations in eighteenth and nineteenth century Virginia were all suffering from a stressed tobacco market. Futures in growing tobacco was dim with Jefferson writing to a friend that “there is no prospect that the European market for tobacco will improve” (Jefferson 2002a 227). With little hope that tobacco would work as strong of a cash crop, as it did back in the earlier days of Colonial Virginia, Plantation owners decided to shift away from tobacco and experiment with various crops that they hoped would be able to substitute tobacco’s once preeminent position in Virginia’s plantation agriculture. Plantation owners who were a major part of this experimental agriculture movement included premier founders of our nations such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and George Mason. Thomas Jefferson in particular was a major advocate for Virginian planters to leave tobacco remarking, “Good husbandry with us consists in abandoning Indian corn and tobacco” (Jefferson 2002 a 227). Jefferson in general shifted his plantation to the production of various foods and stated his perception of the state of the colonial Virginia planter to Jean Baptiste Say, saying “Our culture is of wheat for market, and of maize, oats, peas, and clover, for the support of the farm” (Jefferson 2002a 227). However, these weren’t the only crops that Jefferson experimented with.

Probably the most interesting crop that Jefferson and his cohorts tried was grapes for wine. The prospect of growing wine in Virginia was not a new prospect as, before the British came, Spanish explorers reported seeing a Native American village with “a beautiful vineyard, as well laid out and ordered as the vineyards of Spain”(Painter 4). The founders were also left with documents such as Wriothesley’s treaty, dating back to 1622, noting that “Vines doe both grow naturally in Virginia”. (Wriothesley B2) This was mainly due to the fact that at that time there were many grapes that grew out in the abundant and thick forests of Virginia. The idea that Wriothesley and the colonial planation owners had was that the Virginia forest grapes have “bushes and weeds, so much choke and cover them, they cannot come to their full ripeness” (Wriothesley B1) and if they took these grapes and put them in ideal grape growing conditions they would be a solid source of income. Previously there was little execution on this prospection as during Virginia’s early years producing tobacco was such a safe way for plantation owners to make tons of money. However, as tobacco became less and less profitable, prospective crops that had been hypothesized to grow well in Virginia during the colonial years were coming to the forefront of agricultural conscious at the time. These were the justifications that Virginia Plantation owners were using to push forward the new culture of agricultural experimentation. The culture of agricultural experimentation and particularly the experimentation on wine was highlighted and pushed forward by The Philip Mazzei Agricultural Company.

Smoke Control: Just a Recommendation

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Smoke control in the late nineteenth-early twentieth century was not taken seriously. As the smoke nuisance increased, activists in Baltimore only concerned themselves with the value of their properties diminishing and the railroad worried that electrifying would be too expensive. Laws were put into place, but as will be proven, they went unforced. Really, these ordinances and laws were just recommendations.

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The Assets of George Mason versus George Washington

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The purpose of the present exhibit is to explore how Mason and Washington showed off their wealth. Mason and Washington were close friends. They often influenced one another and visited one another's estates. Some may argue that there were competition and envy between them. While Mason was born into wealth, Washington married into wealth. During the time, wealth was directly linked to social status and it was important for both of these founding fathers to prove themselves to society. As shown through Washington's greater social status, it can be understood that he possessed a greater amount of wealth than Mason. Given their unbalanced relationship, it seems that the two were constantly trying to prove themselves to one another as well. Although there is a sense of competition and envy between them, in the end, it is interesting to see how far Washington goes, especially considering that he was not born into wealth like Mason was. It could possibly be implied that Washington may have been influenced by Mason to acquire more land and pursue a greater status socially and politically. 

The estates of Mason and Washington are two sites that are commonly visited by students, families, and researchers. Their homes display what these two founding fathers left behind for history. The exhibit explores their domestic lives, their homes, and their roles as founding fathers. 

Forgotten People: The Erasure and Displacement of American Indians


American Indians have claims to American land, rights, and history that have been historically ignored. The Mason family was part of this erasure. Though a man of noble ideals, George Mason (and his ancestors) often failed to extend his ideals and rights to minorities like Native Americans. From George Mason I’s arrival to Virginia in 1652, the Mason family harassed, fought, forgot and antagonized American Indians. While they were no different than other men of their day, they held positions of power that could have been used to curb the genocide of America’s First Peoples. Instead, they remained complicit to a society that displaced and erased American Indians from this land and its history.

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