Debate over who was the county’s namesake

Last updated: January 17. 2014 7:55PM - 1789 Views
By Beth Sergent bsergent@civitasmedia.com

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MASON COUNTY — Could a clerical error be responsible for history getting it wrong when it comes to just who Mason County was named after?

According to local history buff, Keith Biggs, the evidence he’s uncovered doesn’t support any plausible case that would leave George Mason as Mason County’s namesake. That distinction, according to Biggs, should go to Stevens Thomson Mason.

“It’s a mistake is what it boils down to,” Biggs said. “Whoever did the West Virginia Blue Book in 1927 didn’t do good homework.”

Biggs became interested in this mystery back in the 1990’s when a friend got hold of a copy of the 1916 WV Blue Book where Stevens Thomson Mason was noted as the person Mason County was named for - not George Mason. As the years passed, the technology grew to the point where historic documents were digitized and review was as simple as looking at them on a computer screen as opposed to driving to Richmond, Va. Technology helped reveal the oversight, according to Biggs. Oh yes, and there’s a few fires at the state capitol which also might’ve had a hand in wiping away the correct man from his correct place in history.

Biggs explains, the use of George Mason as the namesake for the county in the WV Blue Book started in the 1927 edition. The Blue Books from 1916-1920 had Stevens Thomson Mason listed as the namesake for Mason County. The 1921-1926 Blue Books didn’t list a namesake. Also the 1921 Blue Book was only 445 pages and the 1920 Blue Book was 1,017 pages.

According to Biggs, Assistant Senate Clerk, Lee Cassis, agrees with his hypothesis that the fires which destroyed the West Virginia State Capitol in 1921 and 1927 may have been the cause for the change in namesake from Stevens Thomson Mason to George Mason. The death of the Senate Clerk, John T. Harris, in 1928 may also have contributed to the change, Biggs guessed. Harris’ wife edited the 1928 Blue Book after his death and she may have edited the 1927 Blue Book, if Mr. Harris was in declining health in the year before his death, Biggs further supposed.

“Cassis couldn’t find any documentation for the change from Stevens Thomson Mason to George Mason, probably due to the loss of Senate Clerk’s records in the fires,” Biggs said.

There’s also the issue of the timing when it comes to making a case that George Mason was not Mason County’s main man. Biggs explained a very strong case can be made for Stevens Thomson Mason due to the timing of the Virginia General Assembly’s actions on filling Stevens Thomson Mason’s unexpired U. S. Senate term and consideration of the petition to divide Kanawha County to form Mason County (Dec. 7, 1803, Dec. 12, 1803).

“Also, the Stevens Thomson Mason attribution of two highly respected Virginia historians, Hugh Blair Grigsby and Kate Mason Rowland, followed by Virgil Lewis’ 1896 correction of his 1889 reference to George Mason makes Stevens Thomson Mason, as eponym for the county, a matter of settled history as was reflected in the WV Blue Books 1916-1920,” Biggs said.

Biggs hopes the debate of just who Mason County’s namesake is will also stir up a love of local and state history. He has also been in contact with local legislators about bringing a resolution to the floor of the West Virginia House of Delegates to have who he believes is the correct Mason recognized.

As Biggs pointed out, this year is the 210th anniversary of the founding of Mason County. What better time than now to revisit its history?

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