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January 2012

Masonic Confederate Imprints

GL Alabama Proceedings 1862In the world of printing history, Confederate imprints occupy their own special category. Defined as anything printed within the Confederate States of America during its existence, Confederate imprints were, broadly speaking, printed between 1861 and 1865. These dates vary state by state, depending on date of secession and whether they were under the government control of the Confederate States of America at the time of printing. I was curious to find out whether we had any Masonic Confederate imprints in our collection. Unsurprisingly, I turned up a number of them, most being annual proceedings of various state-level Masonic organizations.

The Masonic Confederate imprints in our collection contain a trove of primary source material related to Masonic activities in the Confederacy during the Civil War. Many of the Grand Lodge Proceedings include "annual returns" of various local lodges that not only list the number of members, but include the names of the men who were members of the lodge. In some cases, like the 1864 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, the individual lodge returns contain a heading that reads "In the Army," listing the members of the lodge that were in the service. These same Proceedings also list the the 19 military lodges that had been chartered by the Grand Lodge of Georgia, lodges created specifically during wartime so that Masons could convene while away from home at war. Owing to the uncertain nature of war, the Proceedings note that the military lodges' "present officers or location are generally unknown at this time."

GL Mississippi Proceedings 1861Perhaps it's no surprise to find that within these Masonic Confederate imprints there is evidence of Masonic organizations in Confederate states seceding from organizations in the Union that they had previously belonged to. One example can be found in the Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Alabama at Two Annual Convocations Held in the City of Montgomery in December 1861 and 1862. Reprinted in the Proceedings is a letter received from S.A.M. Wood, Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of Alabama (and later Brigadier General in the Confederate States Army starting in January 1862 ) who was unable to attend the meetings because he was serving in the Confederate Army as Colonel of the Regiment Alabama Volunteers. In the letter, dated "Head Quarters Forces, (Near) Chattanooga, November 29, 1861," Wood writes, in part:

Grand Chapter Florida Proceedings 1864"The troubles to which our beloved South has been brought by the fury, blindness, and fanatacism of the North, have so occupied my mind and energies, that I have been able to do but little this year in the way of masonic study or action." He goes on to write that he had read and heard that both the Grand Chapter of Georgia and the Grand Chapter of Tennessee had severed ties with the General Grand Chapter. (Most of the state-level Grand Chapters in the United States both before and after the Civil War work under, and comprise a part of, the General Grand Chapter.) Wood goes on to write that "My own opinion is that we in Alabama should sever our connection [from the General Grand Chapter] at once, and, to prevent any trouble in the future, that we should never unite with any General Grand body of a masonic character."

It's not too much of a stretch to see Wood's proposal that his state's Grand Chapter "never unite with any General Grand body" as a sort of Masonic "state's rights" argument, favoring the sovereignty of the state-level Masonic organizations over any national or federal body.

Grand Chapter Alabama Proceedings 1864The Civil War is ever-present in these otherwise-often-dry Proceedings. The 1862 Proceedings of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar and the Appendant Orders of the State of Alabama are all of two pages long, reporting, essentially, that on both days of the annual meeting, there wasn't a quorum present, so they could not have a meeting. Sometimes simply the location of the meeting speaks volumes. The 1863 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi begins:

"On Monday, the 19th Day of January, A.D. 1863, A.L. 5863, the M.W. Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Mississippi, assembled in their Forty-fifth Grand Annual Communication, in the Senate Chamber, in the City of Jackson, (their Hall being used as a Hospital for the sick and wounded soldiers of our army)..."

It isn't suprising to read in the 1865 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, under the heading "Destruction of Property, etc." that "the Masonic temples of our State have been robbed and desecrated by the Vandals of the North." But what is surprising is, reading further along, one finds this: "I am truly sorry, brethren, and regret exceedingly, that our own troops, in some instances have done worse than the fiends of the North," with a further explanation that two Mississippi lodges were broken into by Confederate troops and the contents of the lodge mutilated or stolen.

The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives strives to collect complete runs of Proceedings of every American Masonic body (i.e. Grand Lodge, Grand Commandery, Grand Council, etc.). These Masonic Confederate imprints exist within these larger runs of Proceedings, which we continue to collect today.

From top to bottom:
Proceedings of the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Alabama held in the City of Montgomery, Commencing December 2d, 1861. Montgomery: Advertiser Book and Job Office, 1862.

Proceedings at the Forty-Third Grand Annual Communication of the M. W. Grand Lodge...of Mississippi, held at the Masonic Hall in the City of Vicksburg, January 21, 22, 23, and 24, A.L. 5861, A.D. 1861. Natchez: Daily Courier Book and Job Office Print, 1861.

Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Florida, at an Annual Convocation Begun and Held in the City of Tallahassee, Monday, January 11th. A.D. 1864. Tallahassee: Office of the Floridian & Journal, Printed by Dyke & Sparhawk, 1864.

Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Alabama,at the Annual Convocation held in City of Montgomery, Commencing December 6th, 1864. Tuskegee: "Semi Weekly News" Book and Job Office, 1865.


“The Bible and the People”: A Temperance Story

The Bible and the People No. 1Here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, we’ve got a soft spot for temperance organizations. Most of the material in the collection related to this subject has to do with groups like the Sons of Temperance—which at one point in the 1850s claimed more members than Freemasonry—or the Independent Order of Good Templars, but we also hold material related to the temperance movement in general.

This includes an example of British temperance propaganda, a mid-1800s folio of colored lithographs called, The Bible and the People.  The publisher, Dean and Son of 35 Threadneedle Street, London, described the work as: “A series of plates with descriptions showing the Inestimable Benefits of the Bible, and its great power as a means of effecting present and lasting good.” The publication, with lithographs by an artist named F. Robinson, may have been inspired by the wildly popular and much duplicated eight-part 1847 series, “The Bottle,” by British artist George Cruikshank (1792-1878).

The Bible and the People No. 2In four plates The Bible and the People tells the story of the respectable Brown family. They are brought low by the bad choices of a weak-willed husband and father but are eventually redeemed through the offices of a visiting missionary, hard work and frugality. The first, and perhaps most charming plate, shows the Brown family in their parlor as they are preparing for tea. A violet and yellow carpet decorates the comfortable room, replete with a cat on the hearth rug, a filled bookcase and table covered with a snowy cloth. At the center of the image, Henry Brown is being lured out of the cozy scene to go “make a merry night of it” with a colleague instead of staying home with his wife and children.

The Bible and the People No. 3The next illustration shows the family greatly reduced.  Henry lost his job and has become, through going out, “careless in person, and idle and dissolute in manners….” Much of the Browns' furniture is gone, presumed sold to support the family. The floors are bare and ragged laundry hangs to dry in the room. An untidy Henry sleeps in the bed while the children and an exhausted Mrs. Brown listen to a visitor reading to them from the Bible.

Plate number three marks the turnaround. In the center of the image, Henry, arm raised, is swearing, “…upon the Book of Salvation, to reform and lead a new life.” The artist shows the family, including the dog and cat, thanking heaven for this change. The final image portrays the “steady, sober, and industrious” Henry with his family on a path near a church, walking from shadow to sun. They greet the local minister, who compliments Henry on his conversion and on his “family’s cleanly and decent appearance.”

The Bible and the People No. 4The Bible and the People folio offers a softer version than other visual narratives treating the evils of drink from the time.  In contrast, Cruikshank’s The Bottle tells a remorseless tale of addiction, death, violence and eventual insanity. Cruikshank’s work may have inspired and influenced The Bible and the People but Robinson’s illustrations with Dean and Son's story suggest a cautiously happy ending for those who sober up.


Patricia M. Tice, Altered States: Alcohol and Other Drugs in America. Rochester, New York: The Strong Museum, 1992, pp. 21-40.


The Bible and the People, ca. 1850.  F. Robinson, lithographer, Dean and Son, publisher, London, England. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Special Acquisitions Fund, 74.2.33a-d.

A Cowan's X-Rays

X_Rays_in_FreemasonryI recently wrote about Auld & Smellie, two eighteenth-century Scottish printers who, it turns out, actually existed and were not, as I had originally suspected, another printer's idea of a practical joke ("old and smelly"). This post takes a look at a book with an author's name that is, in fact, a bit of a practical joke. Let’s put on our x-ray vision glasses and take a look at what’s behind this title page and this author’s name.

Writers, more than printers, are the people that one might first think of as using either pseudonyms or pen names. An interesting - and fairly obscure - example from our collection is one that cleverly plays with the idea of Masonic insiders and outsiders. He is "A. Cowan," the pseudonymous author of anti-Masonic book entitled The X Rays in Freemasonry.

The author's name probably wouldn't make the average reader think twice, since Cowan is an actual surname. But to anyone with knowledge of Freemasonry, "A. Cowan" is a funny play on a Masonic term. Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences, provides a succinct definition of the word "cowan': "This is a purely Masonic term, and signifies in its technical meaning an intruder, whence it is always coupled with the word eavesdropper." Another helpful definition of a cowan is, simply, "one unacquainted with the secrets of Freemasonry." Taking these two definitions together, a cowan may be defined as a non-Mason, intent on discovering the “secrets” of Freemasonry.

Knowing what "a cowan" is then, it should come as no suprise that this is a book written by a self-declared non-Mason, intent on revealing the "truth" about Freemasonry - in this case, proving his thesis that Freemasonry is at odds with Christianity (a perennial anti-Masonic point of view). Who was this eavesdropping non-Mason? Thanks to the catalogers at London's Library and Museum of Freemasonry, I was able to discover that "A. Cowan" was a pseudonym for James J. L. Ratton (1845-1924).  Ratton was a physician and a Catholic with anti-Masonic views. After a stint as Professor of Surgery at the Medical College, Madras (India)and after publishing fairly sober works about salt (including an article with the wonderful title "The Ultimate Source of Common Salt"), Ratton began to study the Bible's Book of Revelation (i.e. The Apocalpyse of St. John) and published a number of books on the topic. On the title page of one book that he published, Ratton also helpfully lists his previously published books, which helps us confirm that Ratton was, indeed, "A. Cowan."

All very interesting, you may be thinking, but what about the strange title of this book? Why x-rays? I think it is a fairly clever analogy to make, since Ratton promises to essentially “see through” Freemasonry and expose what he considers to be its nefarious secrets. By using x-rays as his metaphor, Ratton suggest that he will, in essence, make visible the invisible. Of the hundreds of anti-Masonic works that have been published, this is the only one that I'm aware of that uses x-rays as a metaphor for exposure. The title page shown here, from our collection, is the 2nd edition, published in 1904 - a follow-up to the original published in 1901. Was something going on at the time that would have made x-rays seem especially relevant?

X-rays were all the rage when Ratton's work was first published. In late 1895, just a few years before Ratton's book came out, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen began investigations that would lead to his discovery of a method for taking x-ray images. The idea of a technique that could see through what seemed solid, and render visible what to the naked eye was invisible, entranced both scientists and the press. By the end of 1896, over 1,000 books and articles had been published about x-rays. In 1901, the same year that The X Rays in Freemasonry was published, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the first Nobel Prize in Physics to Roentgen for his discovery of what became popularly known as the x-ray. And three years later, the same year that the second edition of Ratton’s book was published, an x-ray machine was one of the attractions at the St. Louis World's Fair. While not a great resource for factual information about Freemasonry, The X Rays in Freemasonry is an interesting historical object – combining the old tradition of Masonic exposures with an important scientific discovery that had captured the public’s imagination.

Photo caption:
A. Cowan (i.e. James J.L. Ratton). The X Rays in Freemasonry [2nd ed.] London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, E.C., 1904.
Call number: 19.41 .C874 1904
National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives
Gift of Wallace M. Gage

Funny Fashions

90_6_3DP1DB.tif For decades, popular television programs and movies have often poked fun at fraternal groups by featuring characters that belong to made-up fraternities with goofy names and even funnier hats and costumes. In the real world, members and non-members alike have often perceived Masonic costume as weird, silly, or outlandish.

Most fraternal groups—both real and imagined—took their cues for rituals, symbols, and special clothing from Freemasonry. Masonic regalia—the symbolic clothing that members wear, including aprons, fez, and character costumes—does have an element of wackiness. Yet, we often think the same thing about the clothing we see in fashion magazines. Fashion itself is as wacky, if not more so, than the regalia that Masonic groups wear, and this has been true since the 1700s. When we start to look closely, by comparing Masonic costumes with everyday clothing from the same time periods, we can see that regalia manufacturers often took their cue from popular fashions.

This idea is one of the main themes behind the National Heritage Museum’s current exhibition, Inspired by Regalia: American Masonic Regalia, which runs through March 10, 2012. And, to help make this point, the jumpsuit shown here is prominently placed at the beginning of the exhibition to illustrate how yesterday's fashions can prompt a reaction when viewed out of context. It was made in the early 1960s by clothing manufacturer Bobbie Brooks when this style and the color palette were popular. Today, it makes many of our visitors giggle!

Jumpsuit, 1960-1965, Bobbie Brooks, Cleveland, Ohio, Collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Helen Chase Kimball-Brooke, E. Lee Byron and Mary Eliza Kimball, 90.6.3. Photograph by David Bohl.

Solomon's Temple Samplers

SANQ CoverOne of the National Heritage Museum’s Solomon’s Temple samplers is the cover star for the new issue (Winter 2011) of Sampler and Antique Needlework Quarterly magazine! Pictured below, the sampler was stitched by Margaret Jane Leadbitter in 1846 in Sandoe, England.

My interest in Solomon’s Temple samplers began when I started working at the museum in 2006 and quickly came across three samplers in the collection that depict the temple. Leadbitter’s depiction of the temple is prominently placed at the center of her sampler and is clearly identified by her stitched inscription “South View of Solomons Temple.”80_49_1T1

Established in 1975, as a gift to the American people from the Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., the museum collects objects and documents to support the interpretation of the historical, social and cultural role of Freemasonry, fraternal organizations and voluntary associations in America. The sampler was donated to the Museum in 1980 by Mr. and Mrs. James S. Demond in honor of Gertrude and John D. Lombard (1906-1985). They made the gift around the time that the Museum purchased a second Solomon’s Temple sampler made by Mary Sandiford in 1840 (see below at left). A history of the Museum’s early years explains that building the collection was a priority at that time, “as often as possible we purchased Masonic items that came on the market, and solicited gifts from known owners of fine Masonic material.” An anonymous donor gave a third Solomon’s Temple sampler to the Museum.80_27_1S1

These three samplers were added to the collection undoubtedly because they were considered to be “Masonic” through their inclusion of the Temple, so central to Masonic ritual and teachings. Indeed, in the case of the Leadbitter sampler, the donor and his honoree were both Freemasons who received the Scottish Rite’s 33rd degree. However, as I started to study the samplers, I began to question whether they were “Masonic” and whether they were even American. Today, I would not classify them as “Masonic samplers.” Instead, I think that the makers included the Temple on the samplers as a symbol of virtue. To date, I have located descriptions of over 60 of these samplers, with none that can be conclusively documented as having been made in the United States.

The results of my research on these samplers are detailed in the magazine, based on a scholarly paper I presented in 2008 at the “Expressions of Freemasonry” conference in The Hague, The Netherlands. In addition, by working with magazine staff, a chart of the Leadbitter sampler is included in the magazine, so that stitchers can make their own reproduction, approximating the size and colors of the original. To order a copy of the magazine, visit its website.

Freemasonry was not formed in a vacuum - instead, it drew from values and ideas espoused by the surrounding society and culture - as it formed in England during the 1710s and 1720s and throughout the next 150 years.  By analyzing the samplers as a representation of shared ideals between Freemasonry and the larger culture of 19th-century Britain and America, we can see that the expression of Masonic ideology was spreading out into the communities where it was practiced.

Sampler, 1846, Margaret Jane Leadbitter, Sandoe, England. Collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Mr. and Mrs. James DeMond in honor of Gertrude and John D. Lombard, 80.49.1. Photograph by John M. Miller.

Sampler, 1840, Mary Sandiford, England. Collection of the National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 80.27.1.