Virginia statesman Edmund Randolph once remarked that the modest, devoted family man George Mason was ‘indifferent to distinction, hated pomp, was philosophical in spirit and saw immediately to the bottom of every problem affecting public welfare.’ George Mason was a friend and neighbor of George Washington and was frequently visited at Gunston Hall by his friend Thomas Jefferson. James Madison praised Mason for his eloquence, and Patrick Henry considered him one of the greatest statesmen he had ever known.

In 1776 George Mason authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights – a document that would serve as a basis for the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence and later for the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. Mason took a strong stand for basic American liberties such as freedom of religion and freedom of the press. His relationship with George Washington became strained when he, along with Patrick Henry, refused to sign the U.S. Constitution because it lacked a Bill of Rights. Eventually, in 1789 James Madison added a Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution that was based upon George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights.

George Mason’s Gunston Hall was named for the Mason family’s ancestral home in Staffordshire, England. The ca. 1759 Georgian mansion was designed and built by Buckland and Sears – two indentured servants Mason had brought to Virginia from England. The interior features Buckland’s intricately carved wood details in fashionable designs from that era such as the Chinoiserie Dining Room and the Rococo Palladian room – styles that were all the rage in London at the time. The study features a folding ladder gifted by Thomas Jefferson that was identical to his own and the walnut table upon which George Mason famously penned the Virginia Declaration of Rights. The grounds at Gunston Hall feature the original boxwood allee that greeted visitors at the elaborate river entrance of the home where terraced gardens overlooked the Potomac.

Gunston Hall was a 5,500 acre tobacco and wheat plantation during George Mason’s time. Sadly, the rights that George Mason penned and fought long and hard to see codified did not apply to the approximately 100 enslaved men, women and children who labored from dawn to dusk in the fields and the manor home at Gunston Hall. Mason’s personal servant was an enslaved man named James who travelled with him and attended his needs. Enslaved house servants cooked, cleaned, preserved food, and minded the Mason children. Enslaved children under the age of 10 played with the Mason children before they, too, were put to work in the house and fields. Enslaved men served as blacksmiths, carpenters, barrel makers and tanners. Both men and women toiled in the fields cultivating the labor-intensive tobacco crop.

Gunston Hall is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and administered by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. The house and grounds are open daily. There is a staffed visitors center, museum and gift shop as well as guided tours of the restored manor home and furnishings and self-guided tours of the grounds including the original 18th century boxwood allee, gardens with views of the Potomac, recreated school house and kitchen yards. Gunston Hall is an active archaeology site, and a slave quarter excavation is in progress.

Bill of Rights Timeline

 1215  English Barons limit the powers of the King in the Magna Carta.

 1632  Enlightenment philosopher John Locke declares that the purpose of government is to protect individual rights and freedoms.

 1689  The English Bill of Rights guarantees the right to bear arms, free elections, freedom of speech, and forbids cruel and unusual punishments.

 1776  George Mason authors the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

 1789  The Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, based upon the Virginia Declaration of Rights, guarantees personal liberties such as freedom of speech and religion, the right to peaceful assembly, and the right to bear arms. At the same time it limits the power of government in legal proceedings by disallowing unreasonable searches and seizures and requiring trial by jury and the right to confront witnesses.

Pictured at the top: The river-side entrance of Gunston Hall with the original 18th century boxwood alle.

george mason gunston hall

A long, tree-lined carriage road leads to the carriage-side entrance of Gunston Hall.

george mason gunston hall

Gunston Hall is located on the Potomac River not far from George Washington's Mount Vernon.

george mason gunston hall

Some of the boxwoods in the alle were alive during George Mason's time.