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In 18th-century Virginia, running water from a tap was not available.  Water was sourced from hand-dug wells.  At Gunston Hall, enslaved workers likely dug further and further down until they located a consistent source of water.  The walls of the well were then reinforced with bricks to ensure it did not collapse.

The original 18th-century bricked well lining survives below ground. The stone and wooden cover on top was built in the 1970s to show what it might have looked like during George Mason’s life.  The original well house disappeared long ago.

Water from this well provided for all of the Mason family’s household needs.  It was likely also the source of water for the enslaved people working and living nearby.  Enslaved children such as Juba or Beck may have had the responsibility of lifting wooden buckets from the bottom of the well and hauling the water to wherever it was needed.  Large volumes of water required multiple trips to and from the well carrying heavy buckets.  Work like this was accomplished more quickly, with double the weight, using a yoke like the one hanging on the wall in the dairy.  The water was cold year-round.  If someone needed hot water, more work was involved: people in bondage poured the water into a kettle, placed the vessel over a fire, brought it to temperature, and then carried the steaming pot to its destination.

The Masons’ daily needs were provided by the people they owned. Only this one well survives, but sizeable Gunston Hall likely had several others.

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