When you have had enough of the noise, the crowds and the endless selfies, step it down a notch and go in search of some of the lesser known places - you won't regret it. David and I did just that on our recent trip to America's capital and discovered a hidden treasure at Gunston Hall, in Fairfax County, just 25 miles south of central Washington.
|Gunston Hall - notice the lack of crowds|
|David, me and about a million others at the Lincoln Memorial.|
Gunston Hall was built in the mid 18th Century by George Mason. Designed as Mason's 'family seat' and intended to be passed down through the generations, the house today remains very much as it was when it was completed in 1759. Visitors are taken on a journey back to the time of Colonial Virginia and given an insight into the life of one of America's most fascinating but lesser known historical figures.
|The grand driveway.|
The Declaration of Rights for Virginia
George Mason (1725 - 1792) was a fourth generation Virginian. In 1776 he was appointed to the committee charged with drafting a Declaration of Rights for Virginia, in anticipation of the American colonies breaking their ties with Britain. The resulting document was principally Mason's work and is believed to have influenced Thomas Jefferson when he drafted the Declaration of Independence at about the same time.
Section 1 of the Declaration of Rights for Virginia states -
If those words seem familiar, compare them to the more famous words in the Declaration of Independence and make up your own mind about whether Mason's words influenced Jefferson.
'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness ........'
The Constitution of the United States
Mason was one of the few delegates to the US Constitutional Convention who refused to sign the Constitution. When other delegates were ready to sign and go home, Mason held out. He was concerned that too much power would be vested in the new Federal Government and he wanted a Bill of Rights to protect individual liberties. He might have failed to have a Bill of Rights included in the Constitution when it was first drafted but his arguments won out in the end and led to the first ten amendments to the Constitution These were ratified in December 1791 and are collectively known as the Bill of Rights.
George Mason - the family man
Gunston Hall was built in the Georgian style and has hardly been altered since its completion. Furnished as if the Mason's had just stepped out the door, it gives a real feeling for what life in mid 18th Century Virginia as a wealthy plantation owner was like. Rebecca, our tour guide, brought Mason to life - a man who somewhat reluctantly was drawn into contributing to the birth of the new nation but would have much preferred to spend his time at home with his family.
Mason's wife Ann died when she was 39 - almost 20 years before her husband. Much more so than any of the legal phrases Mason crafted during his public life the words he wrote upon the death of Ann give a glimpse of the man he was. Mason wrote -
In the beauty of her person, and the sweetness of her disposition, she was equaled by few, and excelled by none of her sex ...... without one jarring atom in her frame! Her irreparable loss I do, and ever shall deplore; and tho' time I hope will soften my sad impressions, and restore me greater serenity of mind than I have lately enjoyed, I shall ever retain the most tender and melancholy remembrance of one so justly dear.
|Inside Gunston hall.|
|We could imagine Mason sitting here writing letters in support of a Bill of Rights.|
|The Gunston Hall schoolhouse.|
|Inside the school house - a bit different to today's classrooms.|
This is the second post in a series on our road and cycling trip in the north-east of the U.S.
For last week's post click - here .
For all the posts in this series so far click - here .
Keep an eye out for next week's post on Thursday/Friday.
Note: David and I received a complimentary tour of Gunston Hall.
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