Enslaver, Investor, and Failed Progenitor: Richard Chichester Mason and the Legacies of Slavery in Fairfax, Virginia

The purpose of this digital exhibit is to demonstrate the features of the Fairfax Circuit Court Index by using it to provide several answers to the question, “Who was Richard Chichester Mason?” This question has four answers. Richard Chichester Mason (1793-1869) was a Patriarchal Heir, Plantation Investor, Societal Elite, and Failed Progenitor.

To complete this research, it was necessary to identify the wills held at Fairfax County Courthouse from family members of Richard C. Mason. The research began with Richard C. Mason’s paternal grandfather, George Mason IV, the original owner of much of the estate R.C. Mason eventually inherited. First, one must track the land and enslaved peoples which were handed down to Thomson Mason from his father using George Mason IV’s will. Next, one must check Thomson Mason’s will to determine the property given to his son, Richard C. Mason. The final step was to examine any other wills, estate documents, and tax records connected to R.C. Mason. This was an exhaustive process but one that was made possible by our database.

Researchers interested in completing similar work should use the faceted search function to narrow document type to “Will” when doing keyword searching. This will quickly produce a comprehensive list of relevant wills held at Fairfax County Courthouse. Researchers should also keep in mind that these types of projects require some genealogical knowledge. In this example, it was necessary to search for “Chichester” family wills as well as “Mason” family wills to find documents from the Chichester family who were connected to the Mason family through marriage.


Exhibit Author: Anthony Guidone, Center for Mason Legacies

Richard C. Mason 1855 Broadside - $100 Reward for Thomas Cook

Richard C. Mason offered a $100 Reward in 1855 to anyone who would "apprehend and secure" an enslaved person named Thomas Cook who ran away from Mason's farm. This advertisement reflected the legacies of enslavement in the Mason family as it noted that Thomas ran away wearing his deceased father's coat. Thomas' unnamed father was most likely enslaved by R. C. Mason because Mason had such intimate knowledge of his clothing.