Recent Acquisition: Hill Family Masonic Collection, 1817-2019

Donations to the collection, along with museum purchases, have made the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library one of the premier institutions in the world for the study of American Freemasonry and fraternalism. The staff are always grateful for the museum’s generous supporters and donors who have helped to build its world-class collection over the course of its nearly fifty year history. Today, we're highlighting the contributions of Jon Gregory Adams Hill, 33°, who has donated numerous artifacts to the museum’s collection (see a selection here), and who has recently donated the Hill Family Masonic Collection, 1817-2019, to the museum’s archives.

2022_232_019DS1Royal Arch certificate issued to Stephen Baker, 1817 May 23.
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Handwritten petition of John B. Hill to Liberty Lodge, 1848 November 6.
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Letter from John E. Giddings and H. L. Foster, 1858 April 9.
 

Amongst the nearly 400 documents found in this collection is this 1817 Royal Arch certificate issued by Concord Chapter, No. 1, of Wilmington, North Carolina, to Stephen Baker; this 1848 petition of John Beckford Hill, great grandfather of Jon Gregory Adams Hill, to Liberty Lodge of Beverly, Massachusetts; and this 1858 letter from John E. Gidding and H. L. Foster to Liberty Lodge in which they pledge to “abstain from the use of spirituous and intoxicating liquors” for a period of five years on penalty of a $100 fine.

These items, which will be added to the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives’ digital collections website in the upcoming months, represent only a small fraction of the many items added to the museum’s collection, built in part by the generosity of our supporters. The museum staff is extremely grateful for the continued support of our donors in helping us ito preserve and provide access to the history of American Freemasonry and fraternalism for future generations.

Would you like to donate an item to the Museum and Library’s collection? Please click on this link for more information.

 


Captions

Royal Arch certificate issued to Stephen Baker, 1817 May 23. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 006.

Handwritten petition of John B. Hill to Liberty Lodge, 1848 November 6. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 300.043

Letter from John E. Giddings and H. L. Foster, 1858 April 9. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 300.043

 

 

 

 



An 1805 Membership Certificate for the New York Mason Society

Masonic Society Certificate 1805
New York Mason Society Certificate Issued to Ezekiel Thorp, 1805. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, A2019/010/001.

In 1805 the New York Mason Society issued a certificate to Ezekiel Thorp proving his membership in the organization. This document, signed by the group’s secretary and president, is an engraving executed by artist Archibald Robertson (1765-1835) and engraver William Rollinson (1762-1842). The images on the certificate help tell the story of the Society's purpose and work.

Divided into three vignettes, each scene on this certificate speaks to one of the group’s activities. On the far right, glimpsed behind a drape, the artist created a scene of men constructing a building. On the ground, climbing a ladder, and on scaffolding, the figures are engaged in preparing and carrying mortar and laying bricks. On the left-hand side, a man in a top hat brings items to a group of three people, a man, woman, and child—the man is in bed, his weeping family members are next to him. With an open stance, the man in the hat gestures toward the group, appearing to offer them the coins in his right hand and the sack in his left. At the center of the image, columns and an arch define the space that contains the text, red wax seal, and officers' signatures. Below the text, two men shake hands. Above them is a selection of mason’s tools: a hammer, two kinds of trowels, and a mallet on either side of a large level. Though some of the tools depicted in the center panel are used as symbols in Freemasonry, the New York Mason Society was not a group for Freemasons. In spite of having the word "Mason" in its name and featuring tools on its certificate, the New York Mason Society was an organization for men who earned their livings in specific building trades.

As yet, nothing is known of the owner of the certificate, New York Mason Society member Ezekiel Thorp. The president of the group who signed Thorp's certificate, Michael Norris, was a mason listed in several New York City directories in the early 1800s. He died in 1818 at age 45. Also listed in New York City directories as a mason, is Samuel Ludlum, who signed  as secretary of the organization. In addition to working as a mason, Ludlum advertised as the co-owner of a plaster-of-Paris factory in 1811. He, like Norris, died at a young age—just 34 years—of consumption, in 1813.

In commissioning a certificate for members, the New York Mason Society worked with an artist Archibald Robertson, and engraver, William Rollinson. The pair worked on other projects together, most notably an engraved portrait of Alexander Hamilton (1755 or 1757-1804), published soon after Hamilton died suddenly from wounds sustained in a duel. Rollinson, an active Freemason, also engraved certificates for several Masonic lodges and the Grand Lodge of New York (you can see examples of some of this work in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library here).

Two years after Ezekiel Thorp received this certificate, the New York state legislature passed an act incorporating the New-York Masons’ Society. This act outlined that this group, drawing members from masons, bricklayers, and plasterers, sought to promote sociability among members, to offer charity to members  “in distress,” and to encourage members to become “more perfect in their respective callings.” These goals and activities are reflected in the images that Robertson and Rollison created for this certificate. The act also noted that the organization’s first president was Samuel Ludlum, one of the men who signed this document over two hundred years ago.

References

Laws of the State of New York, Vol. 5, (Albany, New York: Websters and Skinner), 1809, 8-10.

"For Sale," Public Advertiser (New York, NY), June 14, 1811, 1.

"Died," Mercantile Advertiser (New York, NY), March 3, 1818

 

 

 

 

 


Mysteries in Clay: Pisgah Forest Masonic Pottery

New to the museum’s collection this spring are three pieces of North Carolina pottery bearing Masonic decoration. These items – a small bowl, a vase, and a cup or pencil holder – were created by Pisgah Forest Pottery in western North Carolina in the 1940s and 1950s. They join two previously-purchased bowls in the collection that match the new bowl nearly exactly. Our now-five-piece collection of Pisgah Forest Pottery inspires some interesting questions about their purpose, use, and Masonic connection.

Pisgah pottery - 2022.023.1-3 - small
Pisgah Forest Masonic vase (1959), cup (circa 1948), bowl (1942). Pisgah Forest Pottery, Arden, North Carolina. Museum purchase, 2022.023.1-3.

Pisgah Forest Pottery was founded in 1926 by Walter Benjamin Stephen (1876-1961) in rural western North Carolina, near the Blue Ridge Parkway. He was a member, trustee, and Past Master (1945) of West Asheville Lodge No. 665, which merged with another Asheville Lodge in 2002. After Stephen’s death at the age of 85 in 1961, his step-grandson Thomas Case kept Pisgah Forest Pottery going with the help of another employee, Grady Ledbetter. Case died in 2014, and is buried in the same location as his grandfather, New Salem Baptist Church Cemetery. Nichols-West Asheville Lodge No. 650 performed the funeral ritual for Case.

Pisgah Forest Pottery officially closed in 2014, following Case’s death. Its historic pottery-making tools and equipment were donated to the North Carolina Museum of History. Examples of work from this important pottery are held and exhibited at other museums, such as the Smithsonian, the Asheville Art Museum, and the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum. Popular with collectors, pieces of Pisgah Forest Pottery frequently come up for auction.

All three of the Scottish Rite Museum’s bowls are cobalt blue with a pink glaze inside. The bottom of each bowl bears the company’s mark (a potter sitting at a wheel) and the words "Pisgah Forest / 1942”. They have a raised, unglazed emblem on the exterior which bears a double-headed eagle gripping a sword in its talons with a square and compass on its breast and a "32" glazed in blue above. On the two pieces purchased in 2019, the raised text "Asheville" appears below the emblem. However, on the piece purchased in 2022, the text reads: “Asheville Scottish Rite”. Given that all three bowls bear the same year and were clearly following a set design, it is interesting that our newest acquisition also has the words “Scottish Rite” added to it. For whom were these Scottish Rite Masonic bowls made? Much of Stephen’s usual work was sold to tourists in the region. Were these items produced as custom orders for the local Scottish Rite Valley? Were they given as gifts to Masons? More research is needed in order to determine the context and purpose of these bowls.

The inscriptions on the newly-acquired vase and cup give us a little more information about who likely owned and use them. The light blue vase has the words “To my Good Friend and Brother Dr. S. S. Fay 33° / Stephen - 1959" painted neatly in white glaze, along with a white cross with two bars and a double-headed eagle bearing a “33” on the neck of the vase. Walter Stephen was semi-retired from the pottery by about 1949, but he still created new pieces on his own in a small studio he built on his property that he called “Lone Pine Studio”. The vase inscription and date seem to indicate that he made this vase as a gift for a friend who was a 33° Mason. With help from the Grand Lodge of North Carolina, we’ve identified “S. S. Fay” as Scott Stuart Fay, who was a member and Past Master of John A. Nichols Lodge No. 650, the lodge that later merged with Stephen’s West Asheville No. 665 in 2002. Fay was a West Asheville doctor who was born in 1882 and died in 1980.

The cup has a light blue glaze that matches the vase and is personalized with a white clay emblem on the exterior which bears a keystone and the words "C. C. Ricker / G. H. P. / 1947-48". The “G. H .P.” here helped identify the owner. These letters stand for “Grand High Priest” and paired with the keystone on the cup, suggests that “C. C. Ricker” was elected a Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of North Carolina in 1947. With this information, the Grand Lodge of North Carolina helped us confirm the likely recipient of the cup as Charles Carpenter Ricker. Ricker, an active Mason, served as Grand High Priest, Grand Master (1962), and Grand Commander of North Carolina.

As many members know, one of the benefits of Freemasonry is the chance to convene and form friendships with fellow Masons. We don’t know if Walter Stephen met Scott Fay and Charles Ricker through business dealings in Asheville or if they met as brethren, but these personalized pots underscore their Masonic connection.

Reference and Further Reading:

Our thanks to Eric Greene at the Grand Lodge of North Carolina for his research assistance on this post.


Now on View: Scottish Rite Reunion Programs

Valley of Grand Rapids 1936 program for webCurrently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room through January 27, 2023, are fifteen Scottish Rite programs, dating from 1880 to 1980. These programs are from a large collection of printed Masonic programs that are part of the Museum's Library & Archives collection. These programs, created for members attending an event, help document a long tradition of Scottish Rite activities known as Reunions.

Founded in 1813 in New York City, the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, is the governing organization for Scottish Rite Freemasonry in fifteen states in the Northeast and Midwest of the United States. These states are divided into smaller jurisdictions known as “Valleys.” Similar to a Masonic lodge, Valleys are local groups of Scottish Rite Masons, but typically draw members from a region considerably larger than a city or a town. Each Valley is composed of up to four Scottish Rite bodies, and each body confers a set of staged ritual initiation degrees. In the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, the bodies are the Lodge of Perfection, Council of Princes of Jerusalem, Chapter of Rose Croix, and Consistory.  

Valley of the Genesee 1880 program for webReunions

In Scottish Rite Freemasonry, a “Reunion” is a gathering most Valleys hold for members once or twice a year, typically in the spring or fall. At the Reunion, some of the degrees of the Lodge of Perfection, Princes of Jerusalem, Chapter of Rose Croix, or Consistory are conferred on a class of candidates. The reunion also provides the opportunity for social fellowship. A typical Scottish Rite Reunion today occurs on one or two days over a weekend. At the event, candidates and members witness eight to ten degrees. Reunions in the 1880s could last as long as five days, with all 29 Scottish Rite degrees being conferred.

A Long Tradition

The many printed programs, which are on view in the reading room July 11, 2022 - January 27, 2023, are from the collection of the Library & Archives. They were originally distributed to members attending Scottish Rite Reunions. While the text of the pamphlets help document a long tradition of Scottish Rite activity, their various covers attract the eye and often reflect the time in which they were made.

Captions:

Valley of Grand Rapids Program, Fall Reunion and Business Meetings, 1936. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Scottish Rite Programs Collection, SC 088.

Valley of the Genesee Program, Fourteenth Annual Grand Reunion, 1880. Rochester, New York. Scottish Rite Programs Collection, SC 088.

 

 

 


New to the Collection: Fob Owned by Members of the Chillson Family

Chillson fob 1867 credit Robert Scholnick view oneThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently added an intriguing piece of silver jewelry to its collection--a watch fob owned by three members of the Chillson family. Dates and initials engraved on this fob help tell its story.

Throughout the mid-1800s, an increasing number of American men wore watches, often keeping their timepieces safe and accessible in a vest pocket. A watch chain, usually threaded through a buttonhole, served to secure the watch to a vest, in case it slipped out of the user’s hand when he was checking the time. Some watch-wearers selected tokens and ornaments, called fobs, to add sparkle and pizazz to their watch chains. This fob is made of three square plates joined by wide rings. Rings attach an ornament in the shape of a keystone to the bottom-most plate. The square plates, made from cut down silver dollars, bear engraving detailing its different owners over time.

The first owner recorded in engraving on the fob is “L. D. Chillson” who gave the fob “to his Brother W. S. C., 1867.” Lorenzo Dow Chillson (1830-1921) was the giver; the recipient of this gift was the eldest of Lorenzo’s fifteen siblings, Waters Sherman Chillson (1808-1887). Waters, in turn, gave the fob “to his Son W. F. C.,” William Francis Chillson (1851-1922), in 1884. The keystone-shaped ornament connected to the plates is engraved with Masonic symbols. One side shows a Masonic emblem, a square and compasses with the letter G. The other is decorated with a mnemonic associated with the Mark degree of Freemasonry. Within this circle of letters, an engraver outlined a personal symbol chosen by William.  The symbol on this fob is a ticket punch with the initials W. F. C. engraved on it. These are William Francis Chillson's initials and the ticket punch relates to his profession--census records show that William worked as train conductor in 1880.

Chillson fob 1867 credit Robert Scholnick view twoHis uncle, Lorenzo Dow Chillson, worked in Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, and California as a miner, surveyor, and entrepreneur. He is listed as a Master Mason at Washoe Lodge No. 157, in Washoe, Nevada, in 1863 and was a charter member of San Buenaventura Lodge No. 214 in Buenaventura, California in 1870. In the 1890s, he was involved in Freemasonry in Arizona. What prompted him to give this fob, or the silver dollars it was made from, to his eldest brother in 1864 is not known, nor is it known if a particular occasion led Waters Chillson to give the fob to his son almost twenty years later. Further research may offer insight into this object and its different owners in the Chillson family. In the meantime, it serves as a tangible reminder of the enduring connections between family members.

 

Photo credit:

Fob and Detail of Fob, 1864-1884. United States. Museum Purchase, 2022. Photo, Robert Scholnick, Essex River Antiques.

References:

Deanne DeGrandpre, “The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo Dow Chillson,” The Journal of Ventura County History, vol. 60, no. 1, 2017-2018.

Proceedings of the M. W. Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of California (San Francisco, Frank Eastman), 1863-1866, 1871-1878.


The Challenges of Research and Making the Connection

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library staff gets satisfaction from the rewards of research, the joy of discovering or rediscovering something that brings context to a document--and consequently to lives of others. In fact, in many cases, we gain a greater understanding of our own lives, as well as the lives of others, through our research. However, when we fail to establish the context or history of a document, that same process can be extremely frustrating.

A2022_005_001DSPhilomathian Lodge lady's invitation ticket, 1859 December 29.
 

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library recently acquired the object pictured here. It reads: "Citizens' Grand Dress Ball, to be given to Philomathian Lodge, Thursday Evening, Dec. 29, 1859. Lady's Invitation." We are not certain who issued the invitation (which may also have served as an entrance ticket to the ball), but we believe that it may be have been Philomathian Lodge of New York City, the first Grand United Order of Odd Fellows lodge in America and an African American branch of the Odd Fellows.

As Professor Hermina G.B. Anghelescu explains in her article “A Bit of History in the Library Attic,” the information contained in ephemeral items, such as tickets, “is often not enough” to establish the context or history behind an item, and researchers may “need to draw from other sources” to establish a link. In short, this small invitation was designed to be used for an event. It was not necessarily designed for future observers, but to be used in the moment. Because of that, some information, such as the creator or place of creation, was often not included because it was unnecessary for the purpose of the object and to the woman who likely carried this with her to a Thursday evening ball in 1859.

Do you have any information regarding the history of this lady’s invitation or of Philomathian Lodge? Please free to contact us or to comment about this topic in the comments section below.

 


Captions

Philomathian Lodge lady's invitation ticket, 1859 December 29. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, FR 430.017.


References

Anghelesc, Hermina G. B. “A Bit of History in the Library Attic : Challenges of. Ephemera Research.” Collection Management 25/4 (2001), pp. 61-75.

 

 


The Masonic Hall of Fame: Prince Hall

PH GM w monument M180_B001_F008_Masons_002
Grand Master with Prince Hall Monument, 1910-1930. Charles H. Bruce (1884-1975), Boston, Massachusetts. Charles H. Bruce Photographs (M180), Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections, Boston, Massachusetts, Box 1, Folder 8.
Prince Hall Freemasons honor Prince Hall with a ceremony at his monument in Copp's Hill Burying Ground in Boston each Memorial Day.

 A leading member of Boston’s African American community, Prince Hall (1735 or 1738-1807) campaigned for schools for Black children, fought for equal rights for Black Americans, and sought to abolish slavery. Prince Hall, who was barred from joining American Masonic lodges solely because of his race, founded the historically Black organization that now bears his name.

Made a Mason

Drawn to Freemasonry’s values, Hall tried to join St. John’s Lodge in Boston in the early 1770s but was denied membership because he was a Black man. Hall and fourteen other African Americans who had also been rejected by established Boston lodges turned to a military lodge operating in Boston, No. 441, in their quest to become Freemasons. Initiated by the lodge in 1775, Hall and his brothers met as members of the British lodge until end of the Revolutionary War.

African Lodge No. 459

In 1784, Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England to form a new lodge in Boston. The governing body granted his request, creating African Lodge No. 459. Prince Hall helped found other lodges in Philadelphia and Providence; they worked under the charter of

Wright certificate at Houghton Library cropped
 Certificate, June 23, 1799. Provided by Colonial North America at Harvard Library, Harvard University, Houghton Library.
In 1799, Prince Hall, as Grand Master of the African Lodge in Boston, signed a document certifying that Richard P. G. Wright was a Master Mason.

African Lodge No. 459. These lodges eventually joined to form African Grand Lodge. In 1847, forty years after Prince Hall’s death, members of African Grand Lodge changed their name to Prince Hall Grand Lodge, in honor of their founder. The organization that Prince Hall established continues to thrive today and Prince Hall Masons meet in thousands of lodges across the United States.

"The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History"

We hope you can come visit the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s exhibition, "The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History." This exhibition showcases inspiring American Freemasons and introduces visitors to the history of Freemasonry in the United States. The exhibition will be on view through October of 2024. Throughout the exhibition, visitors will meet extraordinary Masons, such as Prince Hall, who, through their outsized contributions to Freemasonry, government, the arts, and social justice, made a profound impact on their world and ours.

 

 


Royal Arch Certificate Issued to Seth Sweetzer in 1797

GL2004_10888_DS1 from RIn 1797 the officers of “the Royal Arch Chapter holden at Boston under the sanction of St. Andrew’s Lodge No. 82” certified that on September 11, 1797 “our faithful, true and well beloved Brother Seth Sweetzer had been exalted to the sublime degrees of Super Excellent and Royal Arch Mason.” The men who signed the document (above) proclaimed Sweetzer a member of their group and recommended him to “all Royal Arch Chapters on the face of the Globe.” Sweetzer’s fascinating certificate is part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Seth Sweetzer (1772-1851), to whom this certificate was issued, took the first three Masonic degrees at St. Andrew’s Lodge in Boston in 1795. He was later one of the founding members of St. Andrew’s Chapter No. 1—his was name noted on the charter that the chapter received from the General Grand Chapter in 1800. Sweetzer served as Grand Secretary for the Grand Chapter of Massachusetts from 1801 through 1803. Sweetzer (also spelled Sweetser), who sold glass, crockery, and other goods for a living, moved from the Boston area to Newburyport, Massachusetts, in the early 1800s. In Newburyport he expanded his business undertakings to include auctioneering and running a bakery. Though he joined St. John’s Lodge in Newburyport in 1800, he eventually cut his connection to Freemasonry and was, decades later, remembered as “not approving of Masonic teachings.”

Until the end of the 1700s, Masonic certificates were generally issued not as a matter of course, but only if requested. Known to their fellow lodge brethren, members did not need a certificate to attend meetings at their home lodge. A Masonic brother who relocated, as Sweetzer did, might desire a certificate to help him prove his status as a Mason or as a Royal Arch Mason in a new town. Certificates from the handful of lodges that met in North America in the mid-1700s, if issued at all, were handwritten, rather than printed, documents. In the late 1700s lodges began to commission artists to design and engrave printed certificates bearing standard text. These were often illustrated with Masonic symbols. Printed by the hundreds, these attractive certificates were easy to issue—the lodge or chapter secretary needed only to fill out the recipient’s name, location, and other details, and to make the document official by affixing the lodge’s seal to it and by obtaining lodge officers’ signatures.

Sweetzer’s intriguing 1797 certificate is a hybrid of a printed certificate and a manuscript (or handwritten) certificate. The Masonic symbols on Sweetzer’s certificate—a large arch containing an assortment of Masonic emblems set on a checkered pavement—also appear on a printed certificate issued by St. Andrew’s Lodge to Phillip Wentworth the year before, in 1796 (see below). On Wentworth’s certificate for the third, or Master Mason, degree of Freemasonry, the text in the center was printed with blank spaces left for the recipient’s name, his lodge, and for other information added by the lodge secretary. Sweetzer’s certificate features the same Masonic ornaments, but no printed text. Instead, at the center, the text on his certificate was handwritten in ink.  As well, several mottos, shapes, and symbols related to the Royal Arch degrees were inked onto Sweetzer’s certificate.

Historians have stated that these certificates are the work of Boston silversmith Benjamin Hurd (1739-1781) based on the script “Brother B. Hurd del.” engraved on the lower left-hand corner. This attribution may be correct, but it is also possible that the design of the certificate was undertaken by St. Andrew’s Chapter member Benjamin Hurd Jr. (1750-1821) and was engraved by a craftsman that did not sign the work. The abbreviation “del.” after “Brother B. Hurd” represents the Latin for “drawn by.” In the time this certificate was created, some engravers would sign their name to their work along with with the abbreviation “sculpt.” which represented the phrase “engraved by.” Benjamin Hurd Jr., a Charlestown merchant, was a former secretary of St. Andrew’s Chapter and the presiding officer of the chapter when Sweetzer received this document. He was not, in spite of their shared names, directly related to Benjamin Hurd, the silversmith. Benjamin Hurd Jr.'s signature is the topmost of the officers’ signatures on the document. There are several reasons to question the certificate’s attribution to the silversmith Benjamin Hurd. The silversmith Hurd was not known to have been a Freemason and this certificate is signed "Brother." The silversmith Hurd died in 1781, several years before Sweetzer's and Wentworth's certificate were issued. And, finally, the silversmith Hurd is not known to have signed other engraved prints. The question of which Benjamin Hurd designed this certificate is bedeviled by the fact that several men that lived in Boston and Charlestown in the 1790s were named Benjamin Hurd and Benjamin Hurd Jr.—their separate life histories and activities are difficult to distinguish. Regardless of who designed these certificates, these preserved documents speak to the involvement of members with Freemasonry at the close of the eighteenth century.

GL2004_1105DP1DB

 

 

Photo Credits:

Certificate Issued to Seth Sweetzer, 1797. Boston, Massachusetts. Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.10888.

Certificate Issued to Phillip Wentworth, 1796. Boston, Massachusetts. Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.1105. Photograph by David Bohl.

References:

William Richard Cutter, Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Boston and Eastern Massachusetts (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1908), 1595.

Hollis French, Jacob Hurd and His Sons Nathaniel & Benjamin Silversmiths, 1702-1781 (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972), 143-146.

Aimee E. Newell, Hilary Anderson Stelling, and Catherine Compton Swanson, Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection (Boston: Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and Lexington, Massachusetts: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2013), 38-41.

 

 

 

 


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2022!

A1995_011_DS1_webEach year during the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library proudly displays an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter—one of several letters created by the colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It gives contemporary viewers a close-up look at the beginning of the American Revolution.

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington, which took place around daybreak on April 19, 1775. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network. Using this system, the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this version of his famous description of what happened, which was copied the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

In addition to seeing the letter in person, you can also view our online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter,” which is now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1.


The Green Dragon Tavern Sign’s Winding Legacy

GL2004_7293aDP1DB

Green Dragon Tavern Sign, 1875-1940. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.7293a. Photograph by David Bohl.

 

As we look forward to Patriots’ Day here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, our minds turn to objects in our collection related to the American Revolution. Among these is the dramatic sculpture pictured here. This sculpture is a reproduction of a tavern sign that once hung over Boston’s fabled (and no longer surviving) Green Dragon Tavern and connects viewers to the remembrance of important events relating to our nation’s origins.

This sculptural dragon’s story is as winding as its tail. The original Green Dragon Tavern, in operation as early as 1712 and located on Union Street in Boston’s North End, attracted customers with a metal (possibly copper) sign in the shape of a dragon over its door. The Lodge of St. Andrew met at the tavern and purchased the building in 1764. The tavern continued to operate in the basement while the Lodge used the upper floors for its meetings. This structure burned down in 1832, and the original dragon sign was lost.

The Lodge rebuilt the building after the fire. For its centennial in 1856, a new sign in the shape of a dragon was commissioned. It was modeled after its predecessor as closely as could be determined but was made of sandstone instead of metal. This 1855 dragon sign was also lost sometime after it was created.

The sign shown here, sculpted in bronze, has more mysterious origins. It was discovered in 1947 by clothing store proprietor Samuel Lebow, who had purchased the Lodge of St. Andrew’s building to use as his shop. Lebow, himself a Freemason, gave the dragon to the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts the same year he found it.

The original Green Dragon Tavern—referred to as the “Headquarters of the Revolution” by Daniel Webster and a “nest of sedition” by Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson—was the location at which the Sons of Liberty met to plan out the Boston Tea Party. An 1898 artist’s rendering of that storied night, with the tavern and its sign in the shape of a dragon in the background, can be seen below. Lodge of St. Andrew members Paul Revere (1734-1818), John Hancock (1736/7-1793), and Joseph Warren (1741-1775) were also members of the Sons of Liberty and deeply involved in the group’s activities.

GL2004_0763DI1cropped

Green Dragon Tavern, Boston, Massachusetts, 1898. Lee Woodward Zeigler (1868-1952); The Masonic History Company, New York, NY. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.0763.

 

Today, this dragon sign, part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, is cared for by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. If you would like to see it in person, it is currently on view in our exhibition, “The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History.”

 

References:

Newell, Aimee E., et al. Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection. Boston: Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and Lexington, Massachusetts: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2013, pp. 54-55.

Gimber, Karl and Mary Jo. “Hook a Tavern Sign.” Early American Life, Feb. 2012, pp. 72-73.

The Lodge of Saint Andrew, and the Massachusetts Grand Lodge. Boston: Lodge of St. Andrew, 1870, pp. 184-185.