The National Heritage Museum recently acquired this stunning silver presentation pitcher, which is currently on view in the exhibition, “The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts: Celebrating 275 Years of Brotherhood.” Made by Boston silversmith Benjamin C. Frobisher (1792-1862), the pitcher has a footed base and scroll handle with acanthus, flowering vine and thistle decoration.
Engraving on the front reads “To Benja. Smith Esq. From the Members of St. Andrews Lodge Jany. 1832.” Research in the records of the Lodge of St. Andrew, and in the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, turned up enough details to fill in the story of the pitcher. Boston’s Lodge of St. Andrew was established in 1756 when a group of artisans, who had been denied membership in the city’s St. John’s Lodge, petitioned the Grand Lodge of Scotland for a charter. The pitcher’s recipient, Benjamin Smith, was raised a Master Mason in the Lodge of St. Andrew in the early 1790s, and later served as Senior Warden from 1813 to 1815. However, the timing of the pitcher's presentation - in the midst of the Anti-Masonic period - seemed remarkable.
Throughout Freemasonry’s history, some non-members have regarded it with suspicion. This distrust escalated in 1826 with the Morgan Affair. After William Morgan (1774-1826?) of Batavia, New York, announced his intention to publish a book exposing Freemasonry’s “secrets,” he was kidnapped and never seen again. Courts tried local Masons for abducting Morgan. Although found guilty, the men received lenient sentences. Morgan’s true fate remains a mystery. The Morgan Affair sparked anti-Masonic proponents to organize a national political party. They published newspapers around the country promoting their views that Freemasonry was dangerous and overly influential in American society. Popular opinion swung against Freemasonry. Lodges around the country felt the ill effects. Many local lodges, and even some Grand Lodges, faced with declining membership and threats, were forced to disband.
Despite these difficulties, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts continued to meet throughout the Anti-Masonic period, and in 1832, built its first Masonic Temple in Boston, seen in the engraving here. Benjamin Smith served on several committees to oversee the Grand Lodge’s meeting places up to this time. When he was presented with this pitcher on January 31, 1832, it was to honor “long and valuable services,” including the role he may have played in finding the Grand Lodge’s new home. Smith passed away two years later, on September 11, 1834. His pitcher remains a symbol of Freemasonry's resiliency.
For more on the Anti-Masonic movement, see these previous posts on our blog: The Anti-Masonic Party's First National Convention and The Frenzy of Anti-Masonry in Vermont.
Pitcher, 1832, Benjamin C. Frobisher (1792-1862), Boston, Massachusetts, National Heritage Museum, Museum Purchase with the assistance of the Kane Lodge Foundation, 2007.013, photograph by David Bohl.
Masonic Temple, Boston, ca. 1832, Benjamin F. Nutting (ca. 1803-1887), Boston, Massachusetts, Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.0167. Photograph by David Bohl.