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

Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library staff get 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

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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

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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.


New to the Collection: Portrait of Thomas Lownds (1762-1825)

2021_002DP1FG Thomas Lownds cropped
Thomas Lownds, 1800-1825. Probably New York, New York. Museum Purchase in Memory of Charles Gordon Lambert and through the Generosity of the Augusta Masonic Bodies, 2021.002. Photograph by Frank E. Graham.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently added this wonderful portrait to its collection. The subject of the portrait is New York City native Thomas Lownds (1762-1825), an intriguing character and a Masonic mover and shaker.

By profession Lownds (also spelled Lowndes) was a grocer and a baker. In middle age he left this trade to become superintendent of the alms house in New York City and of St. John’s Hall, a meeting place for many Masonic lodges in the city. Later he owned a boarding house and was, at the end of his life, in charge of running the city’s debtors’ prison. He also earned money serving as a Tyler for several Masonic groups. A history of Washington Lodge No. 21 notes that Lownds, who took his degrees at the lodge and served as its Master in 1808 and 1814, was “energetic, jovial, a good leader, and evidently popular among his companions” as well as “a restless, ambitious man, possessed of wonderful organizing ability.”

The same author described Lownds as “…inexhaustible in his enthusiasm for Masonry….” Lownds’ Masonic record supports this account. Lownds played key roles in several Masonic groups established in New York City in the early 1800s. He held the offices of Deputy High Priest and Grand Visitor of the Grand Chapter of New York in the 1810s. A charter member of the Aurora Grata Lodge of Perfection in 1808, Lownds later worked the Scottish Rite degrees with Joseph Cerneau, whose Rite was in competition with the Scottish Rite’s Northern Masonic Jurisdiction for many years. Additionally, Lownds held leadership roles in the at Columbian Commandery No. 1 and at the Knights Templar Grand Encampment in the 1810s. Lownds helped establish Cryptic Masonry in the United States, serving as Grand Master of the Grand Council when it was organized in 1823. From 1802 through the early 1820s, Lownds participated in almost all the forms of Freemasonry that were active in New York. When he died at the age of 63, the newspapers noted simply that Lownds was, “…an old and respectable inhabitant of this city.”

This undated portrait depicts Lownds as a vibrant man in middle age. In the image Lownds sits on a dark upholstered chair, with red drapery behind him. The understated background and his black clothing provide a contrast to Lownds’ expressive face, crisp neckwear, and the light-colored cane he holds in his right hand. This portrait is not signed, but its unknown artist left a compelling visual record of a strong personality who helped establish and sustain several Masonic organizations in their formative years.

 

References:

Robert W. Reid, Washington Lodge No. 21, F. & A. M. and Some of Its Members (New York, NY: Washington Lodge, 1911), 184-186.

“Died,” Statesman, New York, NY, December 16, 1825, p. 3.


The Plight of Italian Freemasonry in the Post-War Years

Today, we highlight a document from the Scottish Rite Masonic & Library’s archives. President Harry S. Truman wrote this letter to the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s Sovereign Grand Commander Melvin Maynard Johnson in 1948.

2019_001_016DS1Letter from President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, 1948 August 3.
 

August 3, 1948

I am grateful to you for forwarding with your letter of July thirteenth, copy of a document – CIVIL TRIBUNAL OF ROME – CITATION ACT.

I had been hopeful that we could arrive at an amicable adjustment regarding the Masonic property in Italy. I was, however, apprehensive after receiving Ambassador Dunn’s report, copy of which I forwarded to you.

The Citation Act, text of which you sent, particularly paragraph eight, page eighteen, is most informative. With legal complications going back more than twenty years when Mussolini ordered the dissolution of the Masonic Lodges and seized their property, I fear court action now pending will be a long drawn out process. However, I shall continue to do everything possible to bring about restoration. I know you will keep me informed of any developments which come to your attention.

Sincerely yours,

Harry Truman

Honorable Melvin M. Johnson,
1117 Statler Building,
Boston 16, Massachusetts.

As Commander Johnson noted in his 1950 Allocution, Freemasonry had “led a precarious existence” in Italy since its inception in the early eighteenth century. However, since the rise of the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini starting in 1922, matters had only grown worse for Italy’s brethren. Throughout late 1923 and into early 1924, Fascist troops victimized Masonic lodges. Among the many losses were the temples of Lodge Giuseppe Mazzoni in Prato and Lodge Ferruccio in Pistoria, which were demolished, and the great Masonic library of Lodge Ernesto Nathan in Termoli, which was destroyed. Tensions in Italy during this period between its Freemasons and the government had risen to a boil, and The Builder reported in its September 1927 edition that a “nation-wide persecution was launched” against the supposed enemies of the state, Italy’s Freemasons and socialists.

These events and many others culminated in the passage of Mussolini’s anti-Masonic bill, Law No. 2029/1925, on May 19, 1925, which essentially banned the fraternity in Italy. Six months later, Fascist police occupied Palazzo Giustiniani, the grand sixteenth-century Renaissance building and seat of the Grand Orient of Italy in Rome. A few months later, on January 29, 1926, the ministry of public instruction declared the Grand Orient’s 1911 purchase agreement for the building null and void.

As President Truman noted in his letter to Johnson, the process to return Masonic property was a “long drawn out process" after the war. The matter was finally settled in 1960 in an out of court settlement mediated by American ambassador James David Zellerbach. Starting that year, the Grand Orient of Italy regained use of a wing in the Palazzo Giustiniani. Twenty-five years later, in 1985, the organization moved to its current location, the Villa del Vascello on the Janiculan, a hill in western Rome.

As for Truman and Johnson, these two Freemasons, along with many other American and European Freemasons, helped European Freemasonry rise from the ashes after the war.  

 


Captions

Letter from President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, 1948 August 3. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

 


References

“Freemasonry and Fascism in Italy.” The Builder 8, no. 8 (1927) : 244-248. Accessed: 11 March 2022. http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/the_builder_1927_august.htm

“Freemasonry and Fascism in Italy.” The Builder 8, no. 9 (1927) : 257-264. Accessed: 11 March 2022. http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/the_builder_1927_september.htm

“Grande Oriente d'Italia,” n.d. Accessed: 11 March 2022. https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grande_Oriente_d%27Italia

Johnson, Melvin M. Advance copy of the allocution of the M. P. Sovereign Grand Commander Melvin M. Johnson, 33° : to be delivered at the one hundred thirty-eight Annual Meeting of the Supreme Council, 33° : Philadelphia, Pennsylvania : September 26, 1950. [Boston, Mass.] : Supreme Council 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., 1950.

 


Masonic Hall of Fame: George Washington

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George Washington, William Joseph Williams (1759-1823), 1794. Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, A.F. & A.M., Alexandria, Virginia.

“…the grand object of Masonry is to promote the happiness of the human race.” George Washington, 1793

Elected on February 4, 1789, George Washington (1732-1799) served as the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Washington had been an officer in the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War from 1754 to 1763, a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses, and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution from 1775 to 1783. He devoted his professional life to his country. He was born on February 22, 1732, two hundred and ninety years ago today.

Freemason

Freemasonry played an important role in Washington's private and public life from the time he joined Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 in Virginia in 1752. In 1788, Alexandria Lodge No. 22, composed largely of Revolutionary War officers, petitioned the Grand Lodge of Virginia for a charter and asked Washington to be their founding lodge Master. He complied with his brethren’s request and served as Master for nearly twenty months, starting in April 1788.

Lodge Master and President

Inaugurated on April 30, 1789, Washington became the first and only United States President to also serve as Master of his lodge during his term. Although his time as Master ended in December of 1789, Washington continued to support the fraternity. While touring the country, he often met with local Freemasons and took part in special ceremonies, such as the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the U.S. Capitol in 1793. After Washington’s death in 1799, Freemasons throughout the nation participated in processions and ceremonies marking the passing of

A2017_043_1DS1 scan of Plummer memorial cropped
Memorial Drawing, 1800 or 1802, Nathan Plummer (1750-1835) or (1787-1871), New Hampshire. Museum Purchase, A2017/043.

their Masonic brother. The watercolor and ink memorial pictured here (at right) expressed the grief felt by one American upon Washington's death and features, at the center, Masonic symbols underscoring Washington's association with Freemasonry. For over two centuries, Freemasons have taken great pride in Washington's membership in the fraternity.

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

When you have the chance, we hope you can come visit the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s new 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, like George Washington, who, through their outsized contributions to Freemasonry, government, the arts, and social justice, made a profound impact on their world and ours.

 


Digital Collections Highlight: African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism

A2018_006_001 PH GLNY 1962 Masonic certThe Van Gorden-Williams Digital Collections website features nearly a thousand documents in twelve different collections. This February, we’re highlighting the African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism collection.

This collection brings together a number of documents related to historically Black fraternal organizations, including many related to Prince Hall Freemasonry.

A leading citizen in Boston’s eighteenth-century Black community, Prince Hall (1738-1807) was an abolitionist who petitioned the Massachusetts’ legislature to end slavery, and a Methodist who campaigned for schools to educate the African-American children of Boston. Hall was a leather dresser by trade who, in 1777, supplied drum heads to the Boston Regiment of Artillery. Drawn to Freemasonry’s values and opportunities, Hall, a former slave, tried to join Boston’s Masonic lodges in the early 1770s, but was denied membership.

African American men’s participation in Freemasonry is generally traced back to the March 6, 1775 initiation of Prince Hall and fourteen other Black men in Lodge No. 441, a British military lodge attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot. A year later, as the Siege of Boston was ending, the military lodge that had initiated Hall was evacuating Boston, but before they left, the lodge granted Prince Hall and his brethren authority to meet as a lodge, bury their dead, and march in processions for St. John’s Day. However, they were not given authority to confer degrees or perform any other “work.” With this authority granted to them, Prince Hall and his brethren organized as African Lodge No. 1 on July 3, 1775, with Hall as Master.

In order to become a fully functioning lodge that could confer degrees, African Lodge No. 1 needed to be chartered. Unable to obtain a charter from a Grand Lodge in the United States, they appealed to the Grand Lodge of England and were granted a charter on September 29, 1784 as African Lodge No. 459. Hall then founded lodges in Philadelphia and Providence. These three lodges eventually joined to form African Grand Lodge. It wasn’t until 1847, forty years after Prince Hall's death, that members of African Grand Lodge changed their name to Prince Hall Grand Lodge, in honor of their founder. Nearly 250 years after Prince Hall was initiated, Prince Hall Freemasonry continues to thrive today.

Be sure to check out previous blog posts which highlight documents from this collection.

Freemasonry and the First Black-Owned TV Station in the United States

Digital Collections Highlight: Theodore Gleghorn's 1921 Master Mason certificate

Pictured above:

Prince Hall Master Mason certificate issued to Russell L. Randolph, 1962. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts. MA 007. Museum Purchase.