“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Near Lorton in Fairfax County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

A “Considerable Force”

A “Considerable Force” Marker image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, May 11, 2019
1. A “Considerable Force” Marker
Inscription.  Gunston Hall in the Masons' time included many structures, roads, gardens, and far-off landscapes built or tended by the Masons' enslaved workers. Today, the mansion house remains the largest surviving physical site of their labor. What John Mason called a “considerable Force” of house workers could be pressed into service at any time, day or night. Notable individuals included George Mason's trusted manservant James, housemaids Poll and Nell, Dick (probably a footman or butler), and the courier Joe. Laboring amidst the Masons and visitors, enslaved house staff served meals, provided childcare, and cleaned the home. In the course of their day, enslaved workers observed Mason family intimacies. They also overheard talk of current events on the plantation and in the world beyond.

The ideals of freedom sparked by the American Revolution inspired some Chesapeake slave owners to manumit (free) the people they owned. George Mason described slavery as a “slow poison,” but he never freed the people he enslaved. Instead, at his death in 1792, he willed all of the men, women, and children to his own nine offspring. Of
A “Considerable Force” Marker image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, May 11, 2019
2. A “Considerable Force” Marker
at Gunston Hall
the twenty enslaved siblings listed, fourteen were separated from their families.

Working Behind-The-Scenes

Enslaved domestic staff were also busy in several outbuildings in the nearby kitchen yard.

Placed within sight and sound of the mansion, these structures included the kitchen, dairy, poultry houses, and laundry. Many times a day, workers crisscrossed the yard, which was a crowded and lively area enclosed by a tall fence.

We do not know what the original kitchen yard looked like. These reconstructed buildings show our conjecture, based on written accounts, archaeology, and original buildings from other mid-l8th-century Chesapeake plantations.

A Cook's Experience

Cooking required physical strength and stamina, sharp senses, the ability to multi-task, and good judgment.

Enslaved cooks knelt and crouched at open hearths. They stood and paced for hours on hard surfaces, moving between worktable and fireplace, as well as out to the smokehouse, dairy, and mansion.

Cooks used expensive and exotic ingredients imported from abroad including sugar, tea, and chocolate. They also sourced local provisions raised on the Masons' plantations, such as fruits and vegetables, meat, grains, fish, and eggs.

Ann Mason instructed her stuff on what food to prepare, and many of her
Reproduction Kitchen, 2017 image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, May 11, 2019
3. Reproduction Kitchen, 2017
Close-up of photo on marker
recipes followed English traditions. But the enslaved cooks’ knowledge of African flavor and cooking styles likely made meals at Gunston uniquely Virginian.
Erected by George Mason's Guston Hall.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: African AmericansColonial Era.
Location. 38° 39.852′ N, 77° 9.609′ W. Marker is near Lorton, Virginia, in Fairfax County. Marker can be reached from Gunston Road (Virginia Route 242) south of Springfield Road, on the left when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 10709 Gunston Road, Lorton VA 22079, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Organizing Nature (within shouting distance of this marker); “Resources within Themselves” (within shouting distance of this marker); What Lies Beneath (about 700 feet away, measured in a direct line); Shiloh Baptist Church (approx. 0.6 miles away); Fort Belvoir Military Railroad Historic Corridor (approx. 1.9 miles away); ‘Thermo-Con’ House (approx. 1.9 miles away); Belvoir Grounds and Potomac View Trail (approx. 1.9 miles away); The Birth of a River (approx. 1.9 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Lorton.
Also see . . .  George Mason’s Gunston Hall.
Fork, c. 1750 image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, May 11, 2019
4. Fork, c. 1750
Archaeologists rarely discover whole items. Imagine their surprise when they uncovered this iron and fork in the kitchen yard. An enslaved person such as Nell or Poll may have carried it from the kitchen to the mansion while working.
Close-up of photo on marker
(Submitted on May 17, 2019.)
Sweet Potatoes Stewed image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, May 11, 2019
5. Sweet Potatoes Stewed
Mary Randolph, The Virginia Housewife, 1828.

Recipes collected and published by Mary Randolph reflected well-established Virginia cooking practices. This dish was likely a familiar one to 18th-century residents of Gunston Hall.
Close-up of photo on marker
The Kitchen Yard image. Click for full size.
By Allen C. Browne, May 11, 2019
6. The Kitchen Yard
at Gunton Hall
Credits. This page was last revised on May 17, 2019. It was originally submitted on May 17, 2019, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. This page has been viewed 86 times since then and 25 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on May 17, 2019, by Allen C. Browne of Silver Spring, Maryland. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.
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Dec. 2, 2020