IF PIERRE S. DU PONT II (1870–1954) loved anyone in his long life, it was Lewes Andrew Mason, the young man who worked at Longwood Gardens as his driver and handyman. Doubtless Pierre felt affection for his wife, Alice Belin du Pont (1872–1944), but a working man from Delaware won his heart.
Unfortunately, family and friends have sought to erase Lewes’ presence from Pierre’s life, and this effort raises issues of prejudice and misunderstanding while it also denies the reality of a relationship that meant a great deal to one of America’s most capable and accomplished businessmen. Thus it is appropriate to rediscover Lewes Mason, to recall his life with Pierre, to make sense of Pierre’s generosity to Lewes both in life and in death, and to view the portraits of Lewes that history has left us, portraits that help explain Pierre’s deep admiration for an ordinary young man.
Lewes Mason was born in Delaware in 1896, and his first name reveals the city of his birth. (Alice usually misspelled it as “Lewis.”) He was first employed at Longwood in 1913, at the age of seventeen, along with his older brother Charlie. Lewes worked mostly as a handyman at Longwood, doing everything from gardening to house chores. When Charlie joined the U.S. Army in 1917 to go to war, Lewes took over his duties as Pierre’s chauffeur. He wore a suit and tie when he drove Pierre to work in Wilmington and to various events in Philadelphia, but he never wore a driver’s uniform, perhaps because Pierre often included Lewes in his social life.
From 1917 to 1918, Lewes became increasingly close to Pierre. He dined with Pierre and Alice at the DuPont-owned Bellevue-Stratford hotel in Philadelphia and even sat in their box for opera performances in Philadelphia and New York. In the summer of 1918, Lewes became engaged to Catherine Chalfont, whose last name indicates her family’s origins in Pennsylvania. Pierre gave Catherine a silver tea service as an engagement gift. He even hired architects to design a house for Lewes and Catherine to be built on Longwood’s grounds. Marriage would not end Lewes’ ties to Longwood and Pierre.