Tomb of Virginia’s First U.S. Senator Gets Repaired

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There’s a little hillside off Longview Drive in Woodbridge that embraces an 18th-century, arched, stone tomb that is the final resting place of the members of one of Prince William County’s most influential colonial families.

Perhaps the most prominent member of the family who is buried there is William Grayson (1736–1790), the son of Benjamin Grayson and Susannah Monroe Grayson, the aunt of President James Monroe. Benjamin Grayson had close political and social ties to the Washington, Lee, Fairfax, Carter and Mason families and was the leader of a local militia.

The younger Grayson followed in his father’s footsteps. “William Grayson was very active politically in Virginia,” said Prince William County Archeologist Justin Patton. “He was educated in the colonies, but he received his law degree back in England. He served in the Revolutionary War. We think he was an aide-de-camp to Washington.”

Grayson contributed to the Revolutionary War by raising a company to serve in the Continental Army. Grayson rose to the rank of colonel and served with distinction until he resigned in 1779 to work on the Congressional Board of War, Patton said.

After the war, Grayson returned to Prince William County to practice law from his offices in Dumfries and became a member of the Virginia General Assembly. Later, as a member of the U.S. Congress, Grayson served as President of Congress in 1788. In 1789, his close friend Patrick Henry assisted in getting Grayson selected to the U.S. Senate, making him Virginia’s first U.S. Senator. William Grayson died in 1790.

Over the years, the stone tomb — which sits on property now owned by the Good Shepherd Housing Foundation — underwent different repairs. Patton said that Rev. Bob Allard, who heads the Good Shepherd Housing Foundation, wanted to get the tomb repaired, but didn’t know how to go about it and called the County for help. “This tomb fell into disrepair and was brought to the attention of the landowner, the Good Shepherd Housing Foundation and Rev. Bob Allard. He wanted to respect the tomb; and he wanted to repair it, but he didn’t have the technical expertise to do it.”

Patton said there was some work to be done before the tomb could be repaired and stabilized. “We decided that in order to repair the tomb, we were going to need to do some archaeology. We knew that in 2005, there was a survey for burials outside of the tomb, during which they found five. We also wanted to re-find those burials and mark them with head and footstones.”

To make sure everything was done in the best way possible, the County brought in experts from its Historic Preservation Division and the Prince William County Historical Commission, which together with Patton’s office, figured out the best way to preserve the tomb.

Study showed that some of the early repairs to the tomb appear to be stonework that was added after the tomb’s original stone construction. Later, concrete was added to shore up sections of the tomb. Together, the experts decided the best way to preserve the tomb was to sheath it entirely in concrete and close a breach in tomb where people had gained access to the interior in the past.

Patton said the work to restore the tomb was a collaboration between the County, the landowner, a private donor and two Eagle Scout candidates. He said everyone’s cooperation was integral to preserving the tomb. “We don’t have a lot of tombs or burial vaults like this in Prince William County. It’s a very unique resource. The other thing that kind of makes this a special place is it’s still in its original location. We also had a group of people and groups that came together to make this restoration project happen. We came up with a plan to build the trail and put up a fence to demarcate that trail and also add some vegetation and landscaping to try to and buffer between the surrounding single-family homes and the tomb itself.”

The two Eagle Scouts, Ryan Beach, Troop 1865, and Peter Boyle, Troop 555, developed two separate projects to help make limited public access to the site easier.

“Ryan Beach’s Eagle Scout Project was erecting a split rail fence from the parking area all the way up and around the hill to the tomb,” Patton said. “Peter Boyle’s Eagle Scout project actually built a parking area where local citizens and the public can come in and park.”

Boyle also re-sided a utility shed for the Good Shepherd Housing Foundation.

The private donor gave $20,000 to complete the restoration and the Good Shepherd Housing Foundation allowed for public access to the tomb. The Elizabeth McIntosh Hammill Chapter of the Virginia of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a plaque on the tomb to complete the project.

“This kind of project is something special. It doesn’t happen very often, and it really brings a lot of efficiency to preservation and also opens this particular site to the public on a limited basis,” Patton said.

A report will be prepared in the coming year documenting the project’s work.

The tomb is located at 2338 West Longview Drive in Woodbridge and will be open to the public after September 20, 2014.  If planning a visit please respect the privacy of the owners and visit during daylight hours only.


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