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April 2012

Don't Miss Our Lecture: Michael Halleran on Civil War Freemasonry

Rollins powder horn cropped 77_11_2We would like to remind our readers about the next lecture in our Civil War series. Michael Halleran will join us this Saturday, April 28, at the special time of 1 p.m. to speak on "Gentlemen of the White Apron: Freemasonry in the American Civil War." To learn more about the talk and the speaker, read our previous blog post about Halleran.

Here at the Museum, staff has done quite a bit of interesting research on the Civil War. Take a look at some of these previous posts - they are sure to engage your interest. If they do, Michael Halleran's lecture on Saturday may be just the way to flex your historical imagination this weekend.

Have you heard of silver badges worn by Freemasons fighting on the battlefields of the Civil War? We have some in our collection. Were they really used to identify a wounded Mason, so he could receive aid and comfort from Masonic brothers fighting under the opposing flag?

What do the Confederate imprints in our Van Gorden-Williams Library reveal about Masonic activities in the Confederacy during the American Civil War?

How hot was an 1863 discussion of what to do about a newly commissioned Confederate officer who was a longstanding member of a Masonic lodge in Indiana

What did we learn about a Union soldier's entry into the world of Freemasonry during the Civil War?

What did inquisitive Museum staff discover about a mysterious Civil War POW powderhorn that entered our collection without a history?

During the Civil War, federally issued currency included gold and silver coins. How did the world of commerce respond when those valuable metals disappeared into hoards and legal tender became scarce?

How did the Harper's Ferry arsenal bell end up on Marlborough, MA's town common?

Help us solve a mystery - If the men in our 19th century photo were not Civil War soldiers, who might they have been?

The Museum is offering the lecture as one in a series dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The series is designed to explore the history of this divisive conflict, and its meaning for our nation today. It is sponsored by Ruby W. Linn.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo credit:

Powder horn, ca. 1863, Henry S. P. Rollins (1832-1869), Tyler, Texas, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 77.11.2.  Photo by David Bohl.

Now On View: Riley Whiting Clock

77.1 Whiting clockThe next time you come to the Scottish Rite Massonic Museum and Library, be sure to take a look at some Masonic furniture from our collection, now on view in the hallway cases. 

One of the items you will see is this tall case clock made by Connecticut craftsman Riley Whiting (1785-1835).  We don’t know who originally owned this clock, but in purchasing a tall clock with wooden works, the owners proved they were smart consumers.  This clock was a less costly version of than the tall case clocks with metal works that had been sold in New England cities and towns for decades.  Always seeking ways to use less metal—an expensive material and sometimes hard to come by—New England artisans had produced clocks with wooden works in the past, one by one, in a shop setting.  In the early 1800s this manner of manufacturing gave way to a more efficient one.

As a young man, Whiting joined his older brothers-in-law, Samuel (1776-1858) and Luther Hoadley (1781-1813), in the clock making business.  They followed in the footsteps of the innovative Connecticut clockmaker Eli Terry (1772-1852) who first started making standard-sized, wooden clock parts in water-powered factories.  Because Whiting and others produced factory-made clocks efficiently and inexpensively, consumers paid less than they had before. These craftsmen reshaped and greatly expanded the market for tall case clocks in the early decades of the 1800s.  This clock, likely bought in the 1820s, was part of the trend.

Merchants and peddlers sold Whiting’s economical clocks throughout New England, New York and into the Midwest.  To keep the costs low and the transportation manageable, peddlers traded these wooden clock works without cases.  If the buyer wanted a case, they could hire a local cabinetmaker to put together a suitable one in a chosen style.  This case was likely painted and embellished along the way.  A penciled note inside the door Whiting face 77.1aplaces this clock in New York in the 1840s.  The case may have been built there as well.

Several of Whiting’s surviving clocks have decoratively painted wooden dials ornamented with Masonic symbols, like the ones you see here.  Whiting, a member of Federal Lodge No. 17 in Watertown, Connecticut, was familiar with Freemasonry’s emblems and offered this style of dial to appeal to Masonic buyers.  Like other clocks Whiting constructed, this clock’s dial also bears painted-on winding holes, aping the look of metal works clocks that users wound with a key.  To run this clock, the owner needed to pull down the weights inside the clock every 30 hours, or about once a day.  It gave many years of service before it entered the museum’s collection in 1977. 


Photo credits:

Tall Case Clock, 1815-1835, Riley Whiting (1785-1835), Winchester, Connecticut, Special Acquisitions Fund, 77.1a-e.  Photo by John M. Miller


Chris H. Bailey, Two Hundred Years of American Clocks and Watches, (Prentice-Hall, Inc.:  Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey,1975), 102-117.

Philip Zea and Robert C. Cheney, Clock Making in New England, 1725-1825(Sturbridge, Massachusetts, Old Sturbridge Village,1992), 121-127.

Carlene E. Stephens, On Time:  How America Has Learned to Live by the Clock (New York:  Little, Brown and Company, 2002), 85-87.

Michael Halleran on Civil War Freemasonry, 4/28

MHalleranMichael A. Halleran, a freelance historian, practicing attorney and Freemason, sets the standard for scholarship on Freemasonry in the Civil War. On Saturday, April 28, 2012 at 1 pm, he will present a talk entitled “Gentlemen of the White Apron: Freemasonry in the American Civil War.” The lecture will reveal the history behind the many mythical stories of Masonic Brotherhood across the Civil War battle lines. A signing of his acclaimed book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, will follow. Admission is free.

Halleran's research has helped Museum staff better understand objects in our collection, such as silver Civil War identification badges that display Masonic symbols. Read our previous blog post about how pleased we were to learn more about these objects. 

Halleran received the Mackey Award for Excellence in Masonic Scholarship by the Scottish Rite Research Society for his article on Civil War Freemasonry in that society’s journal, Heredom. He is a member of the Quatuor Coronati Correspondence Circle, and the Scottish Rite Research Society where he studies American military Masonry and the traditions of military lodges worldwide.

The Museum is offering the lecture series on occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The series is designed to explore the history of this divisive conflict, and its meaning for our nation today. It is sponsored by Ruby W. Linn.

Upcoming lectures in the series are:

Among the Ruins: Charles F. Morse and Civil War Destruction - Saturday, September 29, 2 pm. Megan Kate Nelson of Harvard University will unfold the Civil War experience of one Massachusetts soldier, Charles F. Morse, an officer in the 2nd Mass. Rgt. His letters, drawings, and other contemporary images will draw us into the world of ruin and destruction that participants in the war found themselves confronting.

Quilts for Civil War Soldiers: Stories from the Home Front and the Battlefield - Saturday, October 20, 2 pm. Pamela Weeks, Curator of the New England Quilt Museum, knows the stories behind the rare surviving Civil War quilts made by caring hands for soldiers fighting for North and South. Learn about the quilts, their makers, life on the home front during the war, and about how civilians organized to get desperately needed aid and supplies to the battlefield.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo credit:

Courtesy of Michael Halleran

Where - and When - Is This?

81_17DS1Ever since I first came across this photograph in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s collection, I’ve had a soft spot for it. I especially love the railing with its square and compasses decoration!

This particular view shows a Masonic building with a group of men wearing uniforms in front and on the porch. A handwritten note on the back suggests that the building is located in Petersburg, Virginia, and previously museum staff noted that the soldiers were serving in the Civil War. So, when I added it to the checklist for our “Inspired by Fashion” exhibition (which closed on March 24, 2012), I thought I would do some research to see if I could confirm the building’s location – and ascertain whether it is still standing.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to complete my research prior to the opening of the exhibition, but recently, with the help of staff from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, I discovered that the building is actually located in Pocahontas, Virginia, and it is still standing (see image at right). Unfortunately, the railing with those wonderful square and compasses symbols has been removed, but many of the building’s other features are still in place. The Petersburg attribution seems to stem from the fact that an area along the Appomattox River – and adjacent to Petersburg – was known as Pocahontas and was added to Petersburg in 1785.Pocahontas Lodge Resized

Pocahontas, Virginia, where this Masonic lodge stands (and Pocahontas Lodge No. 240 still meets there) is located in Tazewell County, in far western Virginia, on the West Virginia border. Once coal was discovered in the area, development followed: the town was named in 1881 and the railroad reached Pocahontas in 1883. Pocahontas Lodge No. 240 received a dispensation from the Grand Lodge of Virginia in 1883. The building was dedicated on November 24, 1886.  So, not only was our information about where the building stood wrong, but the idea that these are Civil War soldiers is also incorrect; given the date that Pocahontas was settled, this photograph must have been taken long after the Civil War was over.

So, while I have solved the mystery of this building’s location, questions remain: when was this photograph taken? Who are these men? What kind of uniforms are they wearing? If you have any ideas, please let us know in a comment below! And, you can look at more photos from our collection via our website, just click here.

Masonic Building, ca. 1900, Pocahontas, Virginia, Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Special Acquisitions Fund, 81.17.

Masonic Building, ca. 2011, Pocahontas, Virginia. Courtesy of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Visit Us on Patriots' Day!

Join Us for Patriots' Day Activites!

DSCF7856There is always plenty to do in Lexington when April vacation rolls around. The town and neighboring communities have many traditional events that commemorate the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775 and celebrate the community spirit of today. While you and your family are out, plan on dropping by the Museum for some fun programs. We've scheduled them conveniently so that they fall before or after the main reenactments and parades. Please note that the Museum will be open on Patriots' Day, Monday, April 16.

Farmer-soliderSaturday, April 14
11 a.m. & 2 p.m.
Gallery Talks: “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution”
Get the inside scoop on the tendencies and tensions in Lexington before the British marched into town on April 19, 1775. Join Museum staff for this free gallery tour.

Monday, April 16
10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Patriots’ Day Activities
Celebrate Patriots’ Day with arts and crafts activities exploring life in 1775. While you are here, take the opportunity to view "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution." $5/family (members); $7/family (non-members).

You'll also find the Lexington Alarm Letter on display in the Museum's lobby.

Revere ladleVisitors will be interested in exploring our exhibition "Curators' Choice: Favorites from the Collection." There, you'll find two objects related to the most famous midnight rider, Paul Revere. One is a wonderfully crafted silver ladle that showcases Revere's great talent as an silversmith. It's no wonder his works were coveted in their day. The other is much more recent - it dates to 2009. It's an ice cream carton. Brigham’s, a local ice cream company, created a special edition flavor called “Paul Revere’s Rocky Ride.” The name was the contest-winning suggestion by a couple from Charlestown, Massachusetts, where Paul Revere began his ride late at night on April 18, 1775. Come see what else you can discover in Curators' Choice.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo Credits

Farmer, 2007. Joe Farnham, National Heritage Museum.

Ladle, ca. 1765, Paul Revere, Jr. (1734–1818). Boston, Massachusetts. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2088.

New to the Collection: A Masonic Cupboard from Indiana

CupboardOver the summer in 2010, we were alerted to the availability of this Masonic cupboard, which reportedly came from the “old Masonic Hall” in Madison, Indiana, but had most recently been part of a private collection in Ohio. After some negotiations, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library purchased the cupboard for its collection and had it transported to Lexington, Massachusetts.

We are always on the lookout for Masonic furniture, especially if it is accompanied by a story or documentation of its previous use. We were very excited to add the cupboard to our collection – we do not have another piece like it, nor do we have many pieces of Masonic furniture from the Midwestern United States. The symbols on the doors suggest that the local Order of the Eastern Star group organized their papers in one section, while the town’s Masonic lodge used the other two. Pencil notations remain inside over some of the dividers to remind previous users about which types of papers went where. A new Masonic building was constructed in Madison, Indiana, in 1871 and the cupboard may have been made or purchased around that time.Lobby 1-2012 v1

The cupboard has recently been placed on view in the Museum’s lobby area as part of a new exhibition of recent acquisitions for the collection (see the photograph at right). The Museum actively works to improve and refine its collection of over 17,000 objects through gifts and purchases. The new display highlights some of our recent acquisitions in order to recognize our donors and to demonstrate the kinds of things that we collect. We plan to rotate these objects once or twice a year. We hope you will plan a visit to the Museum soon – and then leave a comment here about your favorite recent acquisition!

Cupboard, 1870-1900, probably Indiana, Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Museum purchase through the generosity of Helen G. Deffenbaugh in memory of George S. Deffenbaugh, 2010.039a-r.


“Masonic Chit-Chat,” The Freemason’s Monthly Magazine 30 (July 1871), 288.

Dwight L. Smith, Goodly Heritage: One Hundred Fifty Years of Craft Freemasonry in Indiana (Indianapolis, 1968).

The Lexington Alarm Letter on View at the Museum!

LexingtonAlarm_A95_011_1T1_croppedEach year around the time of the Patriots' Day holiday, the Museum is proud to display the Lexington Alarm Letter. Our document is a copy, made at Brooklyn, Connecticut on the morning of April 20th, of the original letter, written on the morning of April 19, 1775. The Connecticut copy was made by Brooklyn town officials from the original, now lost, which was sent by post rider to notify the colonies south of Massachusetts that war had begun. Visitors will have the opportunity to see the letter during its annual appearance between Wednesday, April 10 and Saturday, April 21. Please note that the Museum will be open on Patriots' Day, Monday April 16.

What makes this hand-written document such an exciting piece of American history is the urgency with which it was written. As we read the text, we can sense the shock and concern of its author, Joseph Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, a near neighbor to Lexington:

Watertown Wednesday Morning near 10 o’Clock

To all the Friends of American Liberty, be it known that this Morning before breake of Day a Brigade consisting of about 1000 or 1200 Men landed at [David] Phip’s Farm at Cambridge & marched to Lexington where they found a Company of our Colony Militia in Arms, upon Whom they fired without any Provocation and killed 6 Men and Wounded 4 others.

By an Express from Boston this Moment, we find another Brigade are now upon their march from Boston supposed to be about 1000. [...]

I have spoken with Several Persons who have seen the Dead & Wounded. Pray let the Delegates from this Colony to Connecticut see this they know.

Why does Palmer emphasize the events in Lexington, failing to mention the confrontation in Concord? Perhaps he wanted to spread news that portrayed the colonists as victims in order to garner sympathy for the cause of rebellion? Certainly this was popular strategy of the patriotic colonial press, perfected in broadsheets such as "A List of the Names of the Provincials who were Killed and Wounded in the late Engagement with His Majesty's Troops at Concord, &c." 

Or perhaps there is a simpler explanation. The letter was written at 10 o'clock, only one half-hour after the skirmish at Concord's North Bridge. Not enough time had passed for witnesses of the second phase of the Battle of Lexington and Concord to reach Watertown. The encounter between Lexington's militia under Capt. John Parker and the force of 700 or so Regular Army soldiers sent out from Boston was much earlier, at around 4:30 a.m. Palmer has spoken to witnesses of the destruction at Lexington and fears that more unprovoked attacks are to come from the second brigade he has learned is on its way from Boston. His letter spreads the news of unfolding events, the outcome of which he does not yet know.

When you visit the Museum to view the Lexington Alarm letter, don't miss "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution." In the exhibition, you'll find a map that traces how a group of riders spread the alarm throughout eastern Massachusetts. The adventures of some of these riders, such as Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott, are the stuff of legend. However, countless men rode through the night of April 18 and into the morning of April 19, 1775, to let the countryside know of the unfolding events. Colonial leaders who opposed the Crown, anticipating a move by the British Army, had set a communication network in place. Towns had prepared systems using bells, drums and gunshots to call militia units to gather at specified locations. Throughout April 19th, militias from 23 Massachusetts towns fought in the battles, and many more towns were alerted.

Those curious about how the people of Lexington experienced the beginning of the American Revolution, mark your calendars and and join us for our "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty" gallery talks. We'll be offering two this year, both on Saturday, April 14. Join us at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for these free programs that explore of life in this small community where ordinary people took extraordinary actions and shaped history as a result.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo credits

Lexington Alarm Letter, 1775. Daniel Tyler. Brooklyn, Connecticut, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, # A95/011/1.


The Sprague Family: An American Story

“William Sprague was the youngest of three brothers…who arrived in Salem in 1629, and from thence removed to Charlestown (then called Mish-a-wam by the natives) where they, with a few others, were the first to form an English settlement.” –Marcia A. Thomas, 1835

Sprague_Photo_1Thus begins the story of the Sprague family, an enduring, historically-significant group that calls New England home. The history of the Sprague family can be seen in a new collection at the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives. Through letters, manuscripts, genealogical charts, official documents, and photographs, a clear picture of the Sprague family develops—from their arrival in the 17th century up until the middle of the 20th century.

At the center of the collection is Harold W. Sprague, who assembled much of the material. Harold was an extremely active member in fraternal and civic organizations during his lifetime, being appointed Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1952, as well as being recognized by the Sons of the American Revolution. Harold’s involvement in these organizations demonstrates his sense of community and speaks to his interest in history and tradition. Much of the information gleaned from the collection comes from Harold’s own research into the Sprague family history. His investigations led him down a road of various Sprague relations, including the Burt, Taylor, and Adams families, among others.

It was through these familial connections that Harold was able to piece together the links between his ancestors and two great political families of the 18th and 19th centuries. William Sprague, who came to Salem in 1629, had numerous children with his wife Millicent Eames. Among these was Samuel (Harold’s ancestor) who remained in Massachusetts, and William, who moved to Rhode Island around 1664. William (the younger) established the Rhode Island line of Spragues that included two prominent leaders. The first, William Sprague III, was the 14th Governor of Rhode Island (1838-1839). William also served in Congress both before and after he was governor, first as a Representative (1835-1837) and then as Senator (1842-1844). His nephew, William Sprague IV, was greatly influenced by him and followed him into the political realm at an early age. In 1860, William IV was elected the 27th Governor of Rhode Island (1860-1863). He was only 30 years old at the time, making him one of the youngest governors in U.S. history. Like his uncle, William IV was also a member of Congress, serving two terms as Senator (1863-1875).

While the Sprague family in Rhode Island was certainly notable for their political power, it was through Harold Sprague’s mother that the family is connected to its most influential relatives. As Harold learned through his research, his mother’s side of the family could trace their lineage all the way back to Joseph Adams (1654-1736). Joseph was the uncle of founding father and statesman, Samuel Adams. Even more directly, Joseph’s grandson was John Adams, 2nd President of the United States. John Adams served as vice-president under George Washington from 1789-1797 before being elected president in 1797, serving one term. He was greatly influential as a political thinker and was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. His political legacy was carried on by his son John Quincy Adams, who served as the 6th President of the United States from 1825-1829. He then had a long career as a representative in Congress (1831-1848), winning reelection eight times!

Numerous letters, notes, and genealogical charts in the collection show the familial links between the Adams and Sprague families. In addition to these documents, the collection includes autograph books containing a variety of signatures, including those of John Quincy Adams and his son Charles Francis Adams. The presence of these signatures shows just how close the families were. In fact, numerous letters between prominent members of the two families can be seen in the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Adams Family Papers. A quick search through the MHS Online Adams Catalog reveals dozens of letters between the Adams and Sprague families.


The story of the Sprague family is a familiar one in American history. Beginning with a long voyage across the sea, three brothers set forth to explore and establish a new land. They made their home among the wilds of North America and built towns, cities, and families along the way. As time passed, the Sprague family expanded, and the founders of towns gave way to founders of countries and leaders of states. Theirs is certainly an American story, one that can be discovered in the collections at the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives.

If you want to learn more about the contents of this collection, we've made the Sprague Family Papers finding aid available online.

Photos from the Sprague Family collection, USM 077, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives