An 18th-Century Love Affair?

Kyle Messamore / University of Central Florida / Fall 2013

One of my favorite things to do is people watch.  I love letting my imagination run wild creating stories about people and their lives.  Little did I know that it would be possible to people watch while transcribing store ledgers from the 18thcentury.  At first, I did not pay much attention to the lives of the individuals I was transcribing, however, my imagination ran wild when I came across a widowed Mrs. Mason.  What grabbed my attention was when I noted a fellow by the name of Hector Ross depositing £4..3..1 ½ (4 pounds, 3 shillings, and 1 ½ pence) into her account.  My love for dramatics was further fueled when I noted that on the same day Hector Ross made the deposit, Mrs. Mason purchased a pair

Colchester Ledger 1767/1768, Folio 223

Mrs. Mason's Expenses. Ledger 1767-1768 Colchester, Virginia, Folio 223D. From the John Glassford and Company Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Microfilm Reel 60 (owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association).

of calamanco pumps.  As if that were not juicy enough, my mind really went wild with this story when 12 days later, Mrs. Mason returned the shoes to the Colchester store!

Colchester Ledger 1767/1768, Folio 223

Mrs. Mason's Credits. Ledger 1767-1768 Colchester, Virginia, Folio 223C. From the John Glassford and Company Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Microfilm Reel 60 (owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association).

I immediately composed this rather dramatic story chronicling Mrs. Mason’s life soon after her husband’s passing.  I fantasized that she had found another suitor, but then began to have second thoughts.  After I let my mind run wild for a while, I found myself asking, “Was it plausible for the two to have really had a love affair?”  It was this question combined with the fact that the historical record for women is severely lacking/limited that made me decide to look into Hector Ross.  It just so happens that he shows up quite frequently in the historic record of Virginia because he was a merchant in Colchester.  One with ties to Alexander Henderson and George Washington, whom he was known to have purchased tobacco and Indian corn from.[1]

Aside from the common purchases of tobacco and other crops, Hector Ross was also constantly purchasing and reselling land; some of which still has ties to him today.  Ross once owned 960 acres of what is the present-day Laurel Hill Park in Fairfax County, Virginia.[2]  He sold the 960 acres in two separate transactions to William Lindsay. The first transaction was for 303 acres in 1787, and the second was for 657 acres in 1790.[3]  Another location with ties to Hector Ross is the Fairfax Arms.  The Fairfax Arms was a tavern that operated within the town of Colchester and is now a private residence on the state historic register.  Hector Ross purchased the Fairfax Arms in 1772 from Benjamin Grayson, and a year later sold it to Alexander Henderson who likely ran a postal business out of the building with fellow postmaster (and later purchaser) William Thompson.[4]

Colchester Inn (also known as the Fairfax Arms), Fairfax County, VA. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

As if land and crops were not enough, Hector Ross also purchased and sold slaves.  We see these deals occurring quite frequently with John Ballendine.  John Ballendine was responsible for building a canal in Seneca Falls, New York, and upon completion of this project in May, 1767, he sold 41 slaves to Hector Ross.[5]   It appears that selling his slaves was not enough to make Ballendine debt free to Ross, for on August 30, 1770, Ross advertised in the Virginia Gazette for the sale of seventeen slaves and 400 acres of land that were a “part of the estate of John Ballendine, and sold to satisfy a debt due to Hector Ross.”[6]

Virginia Gazette Advertisement

Hector Ross advertises the sale of slaves in the Virginia Gazette. Virginia Gazette (Purdie & Dixon), August 30, 1770, pp. 4, courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation..

Clearly, Hector Ross was doing well for himself, so much so that he fell into the gentry class, which means he was expected to hold a position in government.  His name appears on a list of justices and judges of Fairfax County four times as a “Gentleman Justice” (which was the colonial equivalent to a magistrate) between the years of 1762 and 1770. Ross appears next to other prestigious members of the county during the eighteenth century such as George Washington and Alexander Henderson.[7]

With all this information in mind let us go back to my initial question, “Was it possible that Mrs. Mason had a love affair with Hector Ross?”  I would have to say that the odds are extremely unlikely (much to my disappointment).  Hector Ross was first and foremost a merchant; one could even argue he was a workaholic.  I say this because upon his death according to Edith Moore Sprouse, “No mention was made of a family, but Hector Ross seems to have left a spotless reputation behind him.”[8]  This leads me to believe that Hector Ross was strictly a businessman who wanted no distractions, and the only love affair he ever had was with his work.

So, if a love affair did not occur, what then was the relationship between the two?  Chances are that in this credit-based economy, the Masons provided something to Hector Ross, and he was just paying them back shortly after the death of Mrs. Mason’s husband, French Mason.  Just what exactly this something was is not quite clear due to the gaps in the historic record.  The possibilities are quite endless and I encourage you to let your imagination run wild, as I did.  Who knows what you might discover!



[1] “[April 1760],” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed November 19, 2013, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-01-02-0005-0004#GEWN-01-01-02-pb-0263

[2] John Milner Associates, INC, “Laurel Hill Cultural Landscape Report.” Fairfax County, pp. 18-19.  Accessed November 19, 2013, http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/laurelhill/pdf/laurel-hill-house-garden.pdf

[3] Ibid 18-19.

[4] “National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form.” Virginia Department of Historic Resources, accessed November 19, 2013, http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Counties/Fairfax/029-0043_Fairfax_Arms_1979_Final_Nomination.pdf.

[5] David H. McIntosh, “The Ballendine Canal Colonial America’s First Canal,” pp 17.  Accessed November 19, 2013, http://www.brunswickmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/The-Ballendine-Canal.pdf

[6] Virginia Gazette, Purdie and Dixon, August 30, 1770  page #4  http://research.history.org/DigitalLibrary/VirginiaGazette/VGImagePopup.cfm?ID=2735&Res=HI&CFID=10081737&CFTOKEN=12616597 (accessed November 21, 2013).

[7] Ross D. Netherton and Ruby Waldeck. “The Fairfax County Courthouse,” accessed November 19, 2013, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/28750/28750.txt

[8] Edith Moore Sprouse, Colchester: Colonial Port on the Potomac, (Fairfax County of Comprehensive Planning, 1975), 27-29.

Bibliography

Founders Online. “[April 1760].” National Archives. Accessed November 19, 2013. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-01-02-0005-0004#GEWN-01-01-02-pb-0263.

Henderson, Alexander. et al.  Ledger 1767-1768 Colchester, Virginia, Folio 223D/C.  From the John Glassford and Company Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Washington, D.C. Microfilm Reel 60 (owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association).

McIntosh, David H. “The Ballendine Canal Colonial America’s First Canal.” Accessed November 19, 2013. http://www.brunswickmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/The-Ballendine-Canal.pdf.

Milner, John Associates, INC. “Laurel Hill Cultural Landscape Report.” Fairfax County. Accessed November 19, 2013. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/laurelhill/pdf/laurel-hill-house-garden.pdf.

Netherton, Ross D. and Ruby Waldeck. “The Fairfax County Courthouse.” Accessed November 19, 2013. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/28750/28750.txt.

Sprouse, Edith Moore. Colchester: Colonial Port on the Potomac. Fairfax County of Comprehensive Planning, 1975.

Virginia Department of Historic Resources. “National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form.” Accessed November 19, 2013. http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Counties/Fairfax/029-0043_Fairfax_Arms_1979_Final_Nomination.pdf.

Virginia Gazette. Purdie and Dixon. August 30, 1770 page #4. http://research.history.org/DigitalLibrary/VirginiaGazette/VGImagePopup.cfm?ID=2735&Res=HI&CFID=10081737&CFTOKEN=12616597(accessed November 21, 2013).

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One Response to An 18th-Century Love Affair?

  1. This is a great look at how much can be learned about a person from their store account! I enjoyed reading about the speculation and research into Hector Ross and Mrs. Mason. I know there were some individuals who caught my attention as well when I did transcribing back in 2012 – fascinating stuff!

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