Mason, John Y. (1799-1859)
John Young Mason was born in Hicksford, Greenville County, Virginia, on April 18, 1799. Following a local education he attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which he graduated in 1816. He then attended Tapping Reeve Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut and was admitted to the Southampton County, Virginia, bar in 1819. He had a private law practice there from 1821 until 1831. During that time, Mason also served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1823 through 1827 and in the Virginia State Senate from 1827 through 1831. From March 4, 1831 until January 11, 1837, Mason served in the United States House of Representatives, chairing the House Committee on Foreign Affairs from 1835 to 1836. President Martin Van Buren nominated Mason to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on February 26, 1841, and he was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 2, 1841 (he received his commission the following day). He remained in that position until March 23, 1844, when he resigned to become the U. S. Secretary of the Navy. He served in that capacity from March 26, 1844 through March 4, 1845, after which he became U. S. Attorney General from March 5, 1845 through October 16, 1846. He returned to the post of Secretary of the Navy from September 10, 1846 until March 4, 1849, after which he resumed his private legal practice in Virginia. He served as president of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1851, and subsequently, on October 10, 1853, was appointed United States Minister Plenipotentiary to France. While in this position, Mason participated in discussions regarding the famous Ostend Manifesto, a document advancing the rationale for the United States to purchase Cuba from Spain. John Y. Mason served in this capacity until his death in Paris, France, on October 3, 1859. After his death, Mason’s remains were returned to the United States and interred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. The USS Mason, a Navy destroyer (DD-191) in service from 1920 to 1940, was named in his honor.
Offered is an official period letter written by a secretary but signed while Mason was serving in his capacity as the Secretary of the Navy. Though listed by another dealer as having been penned by Mason, this piece was obviously written by someone else based on the individual letter formations and the difference in the ink. The letter is headlined “Navy Department” and is dated “June 15th 1844”. It is presented in two paragraphs, with the first reading (in full): “Sir, I have received your letter of the 10th inst. enumerating the advantages which Gibralter possesses, over all other places, for the money (?) operations of our Squadron in the Mediterranean.”, and the second stating: “The Department feels obliged for the information contained therein.” The letter closes: “I am, respy: yours”, followed by the signature of “J. Y. Mason”. The letter is addressed in the lower left corner to: ”Rodman M. Price Esqr / Purser, U. S. Navy / Brooklyn, N. Y.” in three lines. Rodman Price, the recipient of this letter, was born in Newton, New Jersey on May 5, 1816, attended Lawrenceville Academy, pursued studies at Princeton College, and subsequently became a lawyer. He was appointed purser in the United States Navy in 1840 and was stationed in San Francisco. He served as an officer during the Mexican-American War, was prefect and alcalde of Monterey in 1846, and naval agent from 1848 through 1850. Returning to New Jersey, Price was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives to serve from March 4, 1851 to March 3, 1853, after which he was elected governor of the state, serving from January 17, 1854 until January 20, 1857. Rodman McCamley Price died in Oakland, New Jersey on June 7, 1894. The letter measures approximately 8 x 10 inches and was accomplished in period ink on watermarked off-white paper (fittingly, the watermark is a sailing ship). While the offered letter is comprised of two pages, only the first bears any writing, the second being completely blank (so is the back of the first page). No address, other than that noted at the bottom left corner, is present, nor is the original transmittal envelope included. It is possible that with additional research a more complete story involving the proposed base at Gibraltar will come to light (we will leave that search to the purchaser).
A cursory look at the accompanying illustration of this piece will show that it is significantly toned across the entire surface, with darker sections present at the edges. This darker toning is especially evident at the upper and lower right corners, as well as a thin strip along that same edge. Several small stains are scattered throughout the piece, the largest located in the blank area at the lower left. Ink show-thru is present behind all the words, a common occurrence due to the nature of the ink and the type of paper. Two horizontal folds bisect the letter, the upper one affecting the first line of text while the lower one just touches the tops of the letters in the address. The paper is intact along these folds, though there is minor weakness at the junctions with the edges. Each corner exhibits some wrinkling to the paper, as does the entire left margin (due to the indentation of the text, very few of the words are affected). Minor edge tears with accompanying paper loss are noted, two of which have been strengthened with archival tape. While this piece is not in perfect condition, the most important aspects, the text and signature, are intact. Official letters from this period are not frequently encountered in today’s marketplace, making this a great opportunity to add one to your collection.