Mason Island


Mason's Island or Analostan Island is now officially known as Theodore Roosevelt Island. Over the years the place has also been called My Lord's Island, Barbadoes Island, Colonel Mason Island, and Anacostine Island. The Nacotchtank Indians, upon leaving what is today Anacostia, temporarily relocated to the island in 1668, dubbing the place Anacostine and in 1682 it was chartered as Anacostine Island by Captain Randolph Brandt, who left the island to his daughter Margaret Hammersley, upon his death.

The island remained undeveloped and passed through three generations, from the Hammerslys until Colonel George Mason III, an aggressive real estate speculator and tough minded businessman purchased the Island in 1724. He left it to his son, George Mason who in turn left it to his son John Mason in 1792

John Mason (referred to as John Mason of Analostan Island.)was the eighth child and fifth-eldest son of George Mason IV and his wife Ann Eilbeck and the fourth generation Mason to own the island. He was tutored at his father's estate, Gunston Hall, in Fairfax County by Scotsmen Mr. Davidson and a Mr. Constable. Mason completed his formal education in mathematics in Calvert County, Maryland. He was then apprenticed to a Quaker merchant William Hartshorne of the firm of Harper & Hartshorne in Alexandria, Virginia.

In the Spring of 1788 he then entered into a partnership with merchants James and Joseph Fenwick of Maryland to form Fenwick & Mason. In June of that year,  travelled to Bordeaux, France to conduct business for the firm and remained there until 1791 and only then left due to his ill health.

The firm expanded into other lucrative ventures including bankinging, international commerce, the organization of foundries, navigation, turnpike companies,  flour and wheat trade and tobacco operations. Mason also served on the board of directors of the Bank of Columbia and became its president in 1798. 

Two years before, in 1796, Mason married Anna Maria Murray in 1796, and built and estate in Georgetown at the corner of present-day 25th and L Streets and Pennsylvania Avenue. Later that year, he began construction on his summer home on Analostan Island. John Mason built a mansion, reported to be a handsome, impressive stone house described as  
"one story, with a full basement; the main floor included a drawing and dining rooms, (and) three bed chambers . . . while the kitchens and storage rooms were located in the basement. There was a large brick terrace along the south front of the house and the small entrance portico on the north front faced Georgetown."

To fashion his famous gardens on the island, Mason hired English gardener David Hepburn. (Who published one of the first garden books in America.) Mason grew cotton and maize (corn) on the property and raised fowl and prize winning sheep.  Louis-Philippe Duc d'Orleans, later King of France, was once guest on the property as were  Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.


 During the winter months the Masons would return to their winter house in Georgetown, leaving the island house in care of servants. In June of 1806, Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Anne Cary Randolph, describes the Mason house catching fire: "one wing was burnt down and the middle nearly so. They saved their furniture. Suspicions arising that it was done by one of his house servants who wished the family to go back to Georgetown, he was arrested and on his way to prison with the constable, he jumped out of the boat and drowned himself. I understand the family will continue through the summer in the remaining wing."

There were other extensive fires in the 1860s, and in 1906.

After suffering a series of financial setbacks, (He could not meet notes on the house to cover his debts, and the bank foreclosed on both his island and Georgetown properties) Mason was forced to give up Analostan Island, and in 1833, although the  family had already vacated the island in 1831 when a causeway stagnated the water in the Potomac River and the Masons had tired of the island muggy climate and the summer mosquitoes. Later that year, the Mason’s moved to Clermont, his newly built home in the Cameron Run valley in Fairfax County, Virginia.

The following year, the island was the site of the first balloon ascent in the District on July 30, 1834.  Nicholas J. Ash,  a painter from Baltimore who called himself an "aeronaut,"charged 50 cents for those who wanted to observe the event. The balloon took off at  6 o'clock, and drifted to the northwest and then back over Georgetown, before floating back to the island.

In 1815, Mason acquired Henry Foxall's Foxhall Cannon Foundry in Georgetown which he operated until his death in 1849. His son Maynadier Mason took over th factory and sold it five years later.

Mason purchased large tracts of land throughout the city and was appointed superintendent of the Indian Trade in 1807 and hld that position until 1816. He was also a brigadier general in the District of Columbia militia and was appointed by President Thomas Jefferson to be the first Commander of the District of Columbia militia in 1802. He also worked as
commissioner general of prisoners during the War of 1812. In 1817, he became the president of the Potomac Company. Mason died on March 19 1849 at age 82.He is buried at Christ Church Cemetery in Alexandria.

After the Mason's lost the Island, the property was advertised for sale in 1834, and again in 1836. In 1842 Colonel John Carter  bought the island and took over the Mason mansion.  Carter died in 1850 and the island was purchased by William A. Bradley, director general of the C&) Canal Company, postmaster for the City of Washington and Mayor. (He was fired as Postmaster after falling on the wrong side of Franlin Pierce in 1853)
During the 1850's, Bradley leased the property to Jacob Powers who used it for commercial gardening. Bradley later built  wharves and a dancing saloon on the property in an attempt to attract people to his island resort but the civil war ended that plan.




For a brief period during the Civil War, Union troops were stationed there, but otherwise the island has been uninhabited since the Mason family abandoned their summer home there. When the first two regiments of black volunteers were raised in the District during the civil war they were stationed on the island (known by the army as  Analostan Island)  to protect them from harassment from other (White) Union troops. Later that year, the Black troops where moved to so-called  "contraband farms" across the river in Virginia and 960 white District residents who had recently been drafted were sent to the camp on Analostan Island. Also stationed on the island, in October of 1863,  were members of the 109th New York State Volunteers who marched to the island from the B&O railroad depot.  Bradley died in 1867

Washington Gas Light Company purchased the island and owned it from 1913 to 1931 and allowed the place to become overun by vegetation and undergrowth. The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the 88.5-acre island from the Washington Gas Light Company in 1931, with the intention of erecting a memorial honoring Roosevelt. Up to that point, the island was widely known as Mason's Island until the Teddy Roosevelt memorial was built there.

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