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CHAPTER SIX

FURNISHINGS RECOMMENDATIONS

The recommendations which follow result from the careful consideration of a number of factors. They reflect a combination of statistical information gleaned from Elite Chesapeake inventories, documentation on Mason household belongings, surviving Mason objects, architectural evidence found at Gunston Hall, and contextual information about elite consumer patterns in the Chesapeake region.

The first step in formulating these recommendations was a statistical analysis of the material from the Gunston Hall Probate Inventory Database. This database was assembled from information contained in 319 Virginia and Maryland probate inventories dating from 1744 to 1810. Within the larger group of inventories, a subgroup of individuals comparable to George Mason was identified by using geographic, economic, material culture, and chronological factors. This subset was identified as the Rural Elite Inventory group (REI). A second subset of five Mason/Eilbeck family inventories also was compiled.

Within the REI, the percentage of ownership for each specific object was determined. Also calculated were the average and the median for those households having each type of object. The same procedures were followed for the five family inventories. In general, those items in which family inventories showed the same or higher percentage of ownership as REI were considered for inclusion in the list of recommended objects. Items were omitted in a few cases, for example, when the ownership of a particular type of object was grouped in only those REI and/or family inventories late in the period of study, or when ownership was limited to one family inventory and a correspondingly low percentage of REI. Items found in only one family inventory, but supported by additional corroborating evidence, were included.

This preliminary list was then compared to the objects known or believed to have been owned by George Mason. These objects were identified through a variety of means. There is a small group of surviving store accounts and merchant invoices which document Mason's purchase of certain objects, such as glassware and ceramics. A few of Mason's letters, such as one to his son mentioning papers in the desk and bookcase, provide evidence about specific furnishings at Gunston Hall. Additional information gleaned from family wills also offers evidence of bequests, such as that of the "largest silver salver" left to George Mason by his mother or the tea chest with silver canisters left to Mason's daughter, Ann, by her grandmother Eilbeck. Also among the Mason material considered were extant objects which a family history as having once been at Gunston Hall. These objects were evaluated as to the strength of their provenance as well as possible dates of production based upon stylistic and construction details. Objects from the appropriate period with strong family histories and clear lines of descent were added to list. Evidence drawn from architectural and archaeological investigations also influenced some decisions. Chapter Two of this report discusses these various types of evidence in detail.

Finally, general contextual material, drawn from the account books and papers of regional merchants, newspapers advertisements, and the personal papers of Mason's contemporaries in the Chesapeake, was examined. Purchase patterns for certain types of goods, primarily breakables, like glassware and ceramics, were gleaned from manuscript collections such as the papers of George Washington and the Jones family. Merchants' orders, revealed in the ledgers of firms like Wallace, Davidson & Johnson and John Norton and Sons, offer glimpses of regional taste and the types of consumer goods available to be purchased. Newspaper advertisements describe goods and services offered for sale and provide information about the origin of the items or the training of the craftsman with such telling phrases as “imported from London” or “as good as Philadelphia work.”

The information in the recommendation chart and in the longer recommendation text sections is organized using the same terminology and sequence as the nomenclature developed for the inventory data base. Each item in the database has been classified in a three part hierarchy of terms. The highest or broadest order in the hierarchy is “category.” Consequently, the largest groupings are by category, i.e., art, beverage, food service, furniture, etc. Not all categories in the data base are included in the recommendations. Some categories such as clothing, food preparation, and household stores contain items which, though of interpretative interest, either do not relate to spaces found in the first and second floors of Gunston Hall or were deemed to require a separate investigation, and thus are not included in this report. Information about the contents of outbuildings and the house cellars are found in the Gunston Hall Probate Inventory Database but will require separate detailed analysis before furnishings can be recommended.

The category groupings are then divided by sub-category and type, (for example: Category-Furniture, Sub-Category-Storage, Type-Chest). Only those sub-categories and types for which objects are recommended are included. A ll category, sub-category and type entries are in alphabetical order. The listing for each item also includes recommendations as to origin, date, material, number, and the existence of Mason documentation or ownership. In some cases, several options for origin and material are given. In a few instances, further research is recommended before detailed decisions are made about certain object types. Date ranges given suggest the probable period when Mason might have acquired the recommended object or objects.

These date ranges reflect different aspects of George Mason's life. For example, the 1750-1770 date range is meant to reflect items likely to have been acquired from the time of his first marriage through the first decade of occupation of Gunston Hall. The date range 1750-1780 suggests items that might have been acquired at any time between his marriage to Ann Eilbeck and the date of his second marriage to Sarah Brent. Date ranges which end in 1788 are meant to reflect items which might have been added to the household through to the end of the chosen interpretative period. Items with more specific dates reflect objects inherited from earlier generations, particular family events, or other types of evidence.

By providing a variety of recommended furnishing options, it is hoped that a mix will be achieved which accurately reflects the reality of the Gunston Hall in which George Mason and his family lived. These options should be balanced to create a house in which one quarter to one half of the furniture is from Britain. Tablewares should show ownership of British refined salt-glazed and earthen wares as well as Chinese export porcelains. Table glass should be primarily British in origin. Textiles for bed and window curtains and carpets on floors should reflect the realities of a marketplace dominated by British goods prior to the American Revolution, with some variety creeping in during the 1780s. The furnishings of Gunston Hall should also reflect a family life stretching from 1750 to 1788 — with most major objects having been acquired during the period 1750-1780. Additionally, some pieces would relate to a re-decoration possibly undertaken in the early 1780s and with a few also showing a pattern of replacement of breakables right through the end of the interpretative period. The furnishings should also mirror what appears to be a family preference for investing in substantial and large quantities of silver, an emphasis on the equipage necessary for offering the Chesapeake's fabled hospitality, and a desire to be fashionable in the “neat but plain” manner.




© Gunston Hall Plantation 2002