Richard C. Mason was at overlapping times in his life a patriarchal heir, social elite, and plantation investor, but he died a failed progenitor. He was unable to continue the tradition of passing to his children enslaved peoples with their “increase," in other words, children, to posses “forever,” as many wills specified. Mason’s story demonstrated the social capital inherited wealth could provide, revealed opportunities for investment in the Deep South’s slave economy, and presented some of the consequences for participating in war against the United States government. Above all, Richard C. Mason should remind us of the many ways in which the story of the Mason family is intertwined with the larger narratives and developments in American history that reverberate today.
Tracing George Mason IV’s property through the lifetime of his grandson Richard Chichester Mason illustrates two insights our digitized court records index can provide. First, the database allows researchers to track generational wealth, particularly land and enslaved peoples, as they passed from family member to family member. Second, the database gives researchers some indication of where that wealth was invested. Our index is not without limitations; its exclusive focus on Fairfax County means it provides little to those interested in other Virginia counties. However, it serves as an important model of the rich insights that can be gleaned from accessible digitized records. Further efforts to increase access to primary source material throughout Virginia will only deepen our understanding of the Mason family’s impact upon American society.