What did Richard Chichester Mason do with his land and enslaved peoples he inherited from his parents and grandparents, and what can this tell us about the history of slavery in Virginia? Mason’s slaveholding illustrated how slavery evolved in the nineteenth century. Historians, particularly Adam Rothman and Ira Berlin, among others, have written excellent books in the past twenty years which explain slavery’s regional shift from a concentration in the Chesapeake region in the 1600s and 1700s to an entrenchment in the deep south by the 1820s and 1830s. This transition, facilitated both by Indian removal and land auctions by the U.S. Government, created a national economy driven by slavery. Slavery’s decline in Virginia as the 1800s progressed might suggest that the Mason family’s involvement with the slave economy was on a similar decline. However, in addition to the Mason’s continued ownership of enslaved peoples in Virginia, several Masons, including Richard Chichester Mason, took advantage of the economic opportunities offered by slavery in the deep south.
The land, enslaved peoples, and livestock accumulated through inherited generational wealth allowed Richard C. Mason to invest heavily in the southern slave economy. Investments and inheritances aside, in 1843, Richard C. Mason, along with his wife Lucy B. Mason, were facing a debt of $3,665. To guarantee the payment of this sum to Alexander Hunter of Washington, DC, Richard and Lucy Mason placed their eight-hundred-acre estate and twenty-one enslaved peoples “in trust” as collateral to be forfeited if the debt went unpaid. However, these enslaved peoples were not Mason’s Virginia enslaved peoples but were held on a “plantation” in “Madison County” Mississippi, near Vicksburg.
Richard C. Mason, while living in Northern Virginia, was still profiting from slavery’s expansion southward. In addition to providing needed collateral, these enslaved peoples in Mississippi were also a source of income. The 1843 trusts noted that R.C. Mason was still entitled to remain in “peaceable possession…[of] the aforesaid slaves, and take the profits thereof to his own use” until his debt was fully paid. By 1851, Mason had paid off his debt and retained full ownership of these twenty-one enslaved peoples, at least for the next fourteen years.
Richard C. Mason used the land and enslaved peoples he inherited from his parents and grandparents to establish himself socially and economically in Northern Virginia. As slavery shifted its concentration from the Chesapeake to the Deep South, Mason followed suit and invested money in Mississippi. This demonstrates that Mason was connected to the heart of slavery in the 1850s even though he was living on its periphery. It also may have factored into why Mason felt it necessary to join the Confederate Army as he approached the age of seventy.
 Adam Rothman, Slave Country: American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep South (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007); Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).
 Richard C. Mason and Lucy B. Mason, Trust, August 29, 1843. Fairfax County Courthouse, Deed Book H-3, pg. 331; Edwin Hergesheimer, "Map Showing the Distribution of the Slave Population of the Southern States of the United States Compiled from the Census of 1860" [Map] (Washington: Henry S. Graham, 1861).