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The Times-Mirror and the mysterious tombstone

photoA Boy Scout troop touring the Loudoun Times-Mirror offices inspects the tombstone of John McCarty. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Andrew Sharbel

For years, an abandoned tombstone lay in the basement of the historic Loudoun Times-Mirror building, shrouded in mystery. No one knew how the tombstone arrived in the basement, or why it was there. But thanks to some sleuth work from the Loudoun County Museum, we finally know a little bit more about the who.

The name on the tombstone is easily discernible; it belonged to John M. McCarty, who was born in 1795 and died in 1852. Beyond that, little was known about our mystery man.

According to Liz Whiting, president of the Loudoun Museum Board of Trustees, McCarty was none other than founding father George Mason’s grandson; the middle initial stands for Mason. McCarty’s mother, Sarah (known as Sally) was Mason’s sixth child, who married Daniel McCarty in 1778.

McCarty resided at Raspberry Plain, which neighbored Selma Plantation, both near Leesburg. Selma was owned by McCarty’s cousin, Armistead Mason (additionally, Mason’s sister and McCarty’s brother were married). The two were close friends. This was quick to change.

Mason, a Democratic-Republican, was a rising political star, serving in the U.S. Senate from 1816 to 1817 before resigning to challenge Federalist Charles Fenton Mercer for the U.S. House of Representatives seat.

During Mason’s Senate service, he introduced a bill allowing Quakers to avoid military service by paying a $500 fee. A Federalist, McCarty opposed the bill and publicly criticized Mason.

McCarty voted against his cousin during the election and with no secret ballots, everyone knew. Mason accused McCarty of being too young to vote (at the time, the voting age was 21) and a fight reportedly broke out. Mason ultimately lost the election.

The two then proceeded to exchange barbs via the local newspaper, The Genius of Liberty.

Time appeared to be healing the wounds, but Mason was persuaded to pursue a duel at the urging of none other than future president Andrew Jackson, who found himself on the same stagecoach as Mason when both were returning to Washington from Richmond.

Though McCarty tried to avoid the duel, ultimately, the two men settled on fighting in Bladensburg, Md. (famous for the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr), due to Virginia banning dueling in 1810. The two settled on pistols for weapons. The duel took place Feb. 6, 1819. Mason died instantly, and McCarty was severely wounded, losing use of one of his arms.

McCarty married Lucinda Bell following the duel and had three children, though both his sons predeceased him. McCarty was originally interred at the Episcopal Cemetery on Church Street in Leesburg (the same cemetery as Mason) after his death in 1852. However, his daughter exhumed the body and reburied it in Richmond years later.

From there, his Leesburg tombstone made its way to Purcell and Littlejohn, a pharmacy in Leesburg. Pharmacists used the stone to mix prescriptions. Later, the tomb stone was given to Harry Harrison, for whom Harrison Street is named. Then, the history of the tombstone becomes muddled, until it showed up in the basement of the Times-Mirror building, where it sat for decades.

But the paper has decided to relinquish the tombstone to the custody of the Loudoun Museum, where it can be properly displayed.

To see the tombstone, visit the Loudoun Museum, open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. To visit McCarthy, go to Bladensburg, where he is said to remorsefully haunt the grounds where he killed his cousin.


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