Court record for Mason land seized by U.S. Marshall John Underwood in 1864

This deed conveyed Richard C. Mason's 800 acre estate and plantation home, Okeley, to the highest bidder, William A. Duncan, on July 19, 1864. Mason's estate was seized by U.S. Marshall John Underwood as penalty for Mason joining the Confederate Army as a doctor.

Failed Progenitor

Deed from U.S. Marshall John Underwood to William A. Duncan for Richard C. Mason's estate, 1864.

The 1864 deed conveying Richard C. Mason's confiscated estate from the U.S. Government to its new owner, William A. Duncan, identified the land as that inherited by Richard from his father, "Thomas [Thomson] Mason." The inclusion of "Dogue's Run" on the property's border further proves that it was Mason's inherited estate originally belonging to George Mason IV.

Enoch Grayson's statement in R.C. Mason v. William A. Duncan, 1866

Enoch Grayson's 1866 statement to the Fairfax County Court affirmed he was employed "hauling wood from the farm of Dr. Richard C. Mason," and had been doing so "for some time."

Richard C. Mason benefited greatly from inheriting land and enslaved peoples from his parents and grandparents. Was he able to provide the same advantage for his children? Ironically, Mason’s defense of his perceived right to own enslaved peoples in the Civil War cost him the ability to pass down landed wealth in the same way his parents and grandparents did to him. The Union, in the process of winning the war and freeing Mason’s enslaved peoples, confiscated his 800-acre estate as penalty for his participation in the Confederate Army.

Mason was trained as a physician and, although nearing the age of seventy, he joined the Confederate Army as a doctor at Richmond, Virginia. It is unclear when exactly between 1861 and 1865 Mason’s enslaved peoples in Virginia and Mississippi secured their freedom, but his land is easier to track. On July 19, 1864, two parcels of Mason’s estate in Northern Virginia, one 800 acres and the other 100 acres, were confiscated and sold by United States’ Marshall John Underwood to William A. Duncan, the highest bidder, for $2,150. This 800-acre plot was the 800-acre plot containing Richard C. Mason’s residence referred to in the 1843 trust, and was specifically noted as land “inherited from his father.”[1] Mason returned from tending wounded Confederates in Richmond, Virginia, to find his estate seized by the U.S. government according to the 1862 confiscation act, passed by Congress to “suppress Insurrection, to punish Treason and Rebellion, to seize and confiscate the Property of Rebels,” and his home, Okeley Manor, burned down.[2]

            Mason spent his final years of his life fighting his estate confiscation in court and attempting to stop the new owner, William Duncan, from cutting down trees on the property.[3] Mason “personally appeared” at the Fairfax County Courthouse to plead with Judge E. K. Snead, out of “equity & good faith” to “tend to the manifest wrong” and stop Duncan from rendering the property “valueless” by cutting down timber on the land. Mason sought a temporary injunction against Duncan while he “applied for a writ of error to the said alleged decree of confiscation, upon various grounds of error, not necessary now to enumerate.”[4] Mason won his case to temporarily prevent Duncan from deforesting the property, but Mason died before he was able to reclaim his estate. Mason’s heirs were left to fight in court for themselves to reclaim the property in the months and years after Richard’s death in 1869.

When George Mason IV died in 1792, his will stated that his land and enslaved peoples, with their increase, now belonged to his heirs “forever.”[5] One year later, in 1793, Richard C. Mason was born. By the end of his life, Richard C. Mason watched his Mason family estate, in both land and enslaved peoples, evaporate under the jurisdiction of the American government his grandfather helped establish.


[1] Court Proceedings, February 20, 1865, Fairfax County Courthouse, 1862/3, pg. 152; John Underwood to William A. Duncan, Deed, July 19, 1864, Fairfax (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1868-025, Local Government Records Collection, Fairfax Co. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

[2] The exact cause of the fire is unknown. Some have theorized that the house was burned down by the Union Army as a precautionary measure after it was used as a Smallpox hospital during the Civil War; Kate Mason RowlandConfederate nurse, Mason descendant, and Mason family historianbelieved it was burned down as retribution for Richard C. Mason’s membership in the Confederate Army. Alexandria Gazette, January 6, 1863; Rowland, Life of George Mason, 2:473; An Act to suppress Insurrection, to punish Treason and Rebellion, to seize and confiscate the Property of Rebels, and for other Purposes, 37th Congress, Session II, U.S. Statues at Large (1862), 589-590.

[3] More documentation on this case, including the justification letter for seizing this property, might be found in NARA record group 21.49.1 and 21.49.2, Alexandria Division, “Records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Eastern District,” held in Philadelphia.

[4] Richard C. Mason vs. William A. Duncan, Fairfax County Chancery Causes 1868-025, Library of Virginia. Further research is necessary to determine the final fate of Richard C. Mason's land and why, or why not, his heirs were able, or unable, to reclaim the property after Richard's death. 

[5] George Mason IV, Will, March 20, 1773, Fairfax County Courthouse, Will Book F-1, pg. 95.