Select Mason Miscellany

Here are some Mason stories and accounts over the years:

Early Masons in England

The Mason name had started to appear in different forms in England by the 13th century.  But it is not quite clear from the examples below whether the name is a surname or simply refers to the occupation. 

Roger le Mason
Oxfordshire (Oseney Abbey)
Godfrey le Mascun  
Essex fines
Osbert le Masson
Oxfordshire rolls
Adam le Machon
Northumberland assizes
Richard Machen
Staffordshire assizes

The Machen and Machyn spellings would probably reflect the Norman pronunciation.

A clearer example of the occupation becoming a surname is shown in the 1379 Yorkshire rolls by John Mason, a mason in Ripon.

Machins/Machens in Gloucestershire

The forebear of these Machins was said by some to have been Robert Machin of Bristol, the man who might have discovered Madeira (the island not the wine) back in the 1340's.  This Machin may be a character of invention rather than of fact as there have been many tales weaved about him.  Still, the town of Machico on Madeira is thought to have got its name from Machin.   

Thomas Machin was a mercer of Gloucester who was three times its mayor in the 1570’s.  He died in 1614, leaving a considerable estate.  A monument to him survives, one of the more elaborate to be found in Gloucester Cathedral.  In it he is represented kneeling in his mayoral robes, facing his wife.  Also featured are their thirteen children.  

A coat of arms was granted to his son Edward Machen a year later.  These Machens established themselves at Eastbach Court in Bicknor parish, close by the Forest of Dean.  They remained there until the 1880’s when Charles Machen of the family moved to Bicknor Court nearby.

The Mason Potters

It was, as the Masons said, both luck and love that got Miles Mason started in the ceramics business.  He had come to London in the 1770’s to work as a clerk for his uncle on Chigwell Row.   By chance, his next door neighbor was Richard Farrar, a prosperous glass and china merchant who sold mainly porcelain imported from China.  Farrar’s daughter, Ruth, was only nine when her father died in 1775 and she inherited his fortune.  Seven years later, when she was sixteen, Miles married her. 

Miles started his own porcelain business, firstly in partnership with others and later with the assistance of his three sons.  It was his third son Charles James (known as CJ) who was destined to become one of the outstanding figures of the Staffordshire pottery industry.  His most famous work was a porcelain known as Ironside China.  His business boomed, both in England and America. 

But the boom was only to be short-term.  In England his type of porcelain went out of fashion.  In America it began to be copied at a cheaper price by others.  In 1848 CJ went bankrupt

The Monck Masons

The first of the Monck Masons was John Monck Mason, born in 1726 and the son of Robert Mason of Galway and Sarah Monck of Dublin.  He was an Irish politician and a man of letters (his works including Shakespearian commentaries).  He died without issue. 

Via another line through his brother Henry came Henry Monck Mason, also a writer and the founder of the Irish Society (although he spoke no Irish).  Then there was Thomas Monck Mason who was a flute player, writer, and balloonist.  He was reported to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon in 1835.  This turned out to be a hoax.  Thomas impoverished himself in the 1840’s when he rented out London theaters to stage operas. 

There were Monck Masons who had more conventional careers.  George Monck Mason went out to India and served as the British Resident at Jodhpurs.  He was killed in the 1857 Indian Mutiny.  A later George Monck Mason of this family, a noted Orientalist, was British consul in Iraq, but was killed during the riots in Mosul in 1939.

The Mason Claim to New Hampshire

Captain John Mason from Norfolk, an early explorer and cartographer in the New World, is considered the founder of New Hampshire, even though he never set foot in the territory.  He did start a colony along the Piscataqua river in 1629.  His family inherited this property on his death five years later.  They then pursued a claim for the state of New Hampshire that was off and on for the next hundred years. 

It was John’s grandson Robert who initiated this Mason claim.  Then in 1691 the family sold out their interest.  A later John Mason of this family, who described himself as a mariner of Boston, revived the Mason claim in 1738.  He subsequently his rights to a group called the Masonian Propriety.  The claim eventually petered out.

George Mason, US Father of the Bill of Rights

Although highly respected by his peers Washington, Jefferson and Madison, Mason did not aspire to public office in the 1770’s.  When he was asked to take Washington’s seat in the Virginia legislature, a slot vacated when Washington was named Chief of the Continental Army, Mason reluctantly agreed.  

In 1776 he was Fairfax county’s representative to the Virginia Convention and was appointed to the committee to draft a “Declaration of Rights” and a constitution to allow Virginia to act as an independent political body. 

Complaining about the “useless members” of the committee, Mason soon found himself authoring the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.  Drawing from the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, Mason produced words that have since become famous: 

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”  

His document was the first in America to call for freedom of the press, tolerance of religion, proscription of unreasonable searches, and the right to a fair and speedy trial. 

In 1787, Mason was chosen to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, where he was one of the most vocal debaters.  Distressed over the amount of power being given to the Federal Government and the Convention’s unwillingness to abolish the slave trade, Mason refused to sign the Constitution.  One of three dissenters, Mason’s refusal to support the new Constitution made him unpopular and destroyed his friendship with Washington, who later referred to Mason as his former friend.

Return to Top of Page
Return to Mason Main Page