Mason, John Y.

Born: 1799-04-18 Hicksford, Virginia

Died: 1859-10-03 Paris, France

John Y. Mason attended the University of North Carolina, graduating in 1816. He read law with Judge Griffin Stith in Southampton County, Virginia, and later attended Judge Tapping Reeve's law school in Litchfield, Connecticut. Mason earned admission to the Virginia bar in 1819 and began practicing law in Hicksford. In 1821, he married Mary Ann Fort and moved to Southampton County, where he continued as an attorney and became a planter. In 1823, he won election to the Virginia House of Delegates. He continued to serve in the House until 1827, when he elevated to the Virginia Senate. Mason was a delegate to the Virginia constitutional convention of 1829-30. In 1830, voters sent him as a Jacksonian Democrat to the United States House of Representatives. He won reelection in 1832 and 1834. Leaving office in 1837, Mason became a judge on the General Court of Virginia. In 1841, President Martin Van Buren appointed him United States district judge for the eastern district of Virginia. In March 1844, Mason resigned from the bench to accept President John Tyler's offer of appointment as secretary of the navy. Mason remained at the Navy Department until March 1845, when he became attorney general under President James K. Polk. In 1846, Mason again received appointment as secretary of the navy. He remained in that position until March 1849, when he returned to his law practice and plantation. The Virginia General Assembly appointed him president of the James River and Kanawha Company, and in 1850 he served as a delegate and presiding officer of the Virginia constitutional convention. In 1854, President Franklin Pierce appointed Mason United States minister plenipotentiary to France, where he served until his death.

William G. Shade, "Mason, John Young," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 14:654-56; Daniel W. Crofts, Old Southampton: Politics and Society in a Virginia County, 1834-1869 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992).