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June 2012

A Tax Protest Relic

GL2004_1868a-e Vial of Tea croppedWhat is in this little vial, only 2½ inches tall?  Its contents are a carefully preserved relic; one that harkens back to a celebrated tax protest in Revolutionary-era Boston.  The material collected in this container is tea, said to have been caught in the boots worn by one of the participants in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.  It was on view in the exhibition "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution."

In the 1700s, Britain fought a number of wars in the colonies--in particular, the French and Indian War (1756-1763)--at huge expense. These wars, in part undertaken to preserve and protect these settlements, effectively doubled Britain’s national debt. To pay this debt, the British parliament instituted new taxes on the American colonies. Used to setting and collecting taxes at the town and colony levels through their own elected representatives, residents balked at the change.  Many felt the new taxes went against their basic rights as Englishmen.  Protests greeted the first taxes in the 1760s and continued as the British government tried different ways to generate tax revenue from the colonies.

Boston’s port-town economy relied on trade, so taxes on imported goods especially pained city residents.  The 1767 Townshend Act taxed imported glass, paper, paint and tea. To voice their objections to it, colonists harassed the customs commissioners and boycotted the taxed goods. These protests, coupled with the high cost of enforcement, prompted the British government to repeal the act in 1770.  However, parliament retained the tax on tea in the act that followed because, as David Hackett Fischer has stated, it was “so small that British ministers believed even Boston might be willing to swallow it.” 

This law, the 1773 Tea Act, brought tensions between the colonists and the British government to the breaking point.  The almost bankrupt East India Company asked the British government for assistance with their dire financial situation. The Tea Act granted the company the right to sell tea in the colonies tariff and duty free.  As a result, the company representatives’ tea was cheaper than that sold by local merchants. Both Boston’s merchants and people concerned about principles of representation and liberty—two groups that had not always seen eye-to-eye—were moved to protest.  

Some colonists, like the residents of Lexington, Massachusetts, expressed their views about the tax by agreeing as a community to not use tea in their homes.  They declared anyone who did “an Enemy to this Town & to this Country.” Residents promised that those who purchased and drank tea, “…shall by this Town be treated with Neglect & Contempt.”  To underscore their views Lexingtonians, as it was reported in the Boston papers, “brought together every ounce [of tea] contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire.”  You can read more about the bonfire in a previous post.

Some Bostonians chose to protest in a more violent manner. On December 16, 1773, about 150 men disguisedBoston Tea Party from the LOC as Native Americans dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston harbor.  Interestingly, the protesters—even as they destroyed the East India Company’s product—took care to respect others’ property and public order.  Organizers punished one protester who purloined tea for his own use.

The British government took a dim view of this protest.  A government investigation of the event called it a, “…crime of high treason, namely to the levying of war against His Majesty.”  The government retaliated for these, “violent and outrageous Proceedings at the Town and Port of Boston” by passing what the colonists called the Intolerable Acts in 1774.  Just sixteen months later, Massachusetts militia members and British Regulars exchanged the first shots of a civil war at Lexington and Concord. 

Did participants know they had taken part in a history-shaping protest?  Perhaps. Several people collected and later preserved relics of the event, such as another sample of tea found the next morning on the shores of Dorchester Neck that is part of the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.  In 1973, as the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and other organizations in the commonwealth prepared for the American Bicentennial, Paul Fenno Dudley (1894-1974) donated this vial of tea to the Grand Lodge’s Museum.  The Grand Lodge's collection is now housed at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in Lexington.


Vial, 1800s or 1900s. Unidentified maker.  Tea, 1700s.  Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts Collection.  Gift of Paul F. Dudley, 1973, GL2004.1868a-c.  Photograph by David Bohl.

“Americans Throwing the Cargoes of the Tea ships into the River, at Boston.” Engraving from W.D. Rev. Mr. Cooper. The History of North America. London: E. Newbery, 1789. Library of Congress.


Theodore Draper, A Struggle for Power:  The American Revolution (New York: Times Books, 1997), 415.

David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1994), 25-26.

Charles Hudson, History of the Town of Lexington, Vol. I, (Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), 84.

Massachusetts Historical Society, “Object of the Month: ‘Boston Harbor a tea-pot tonight.’” http://www.masshist.org/objects/2006february.cfm (accessed on May 22, 2012).

Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, exhibition labels from “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution,” 2007 through the present.

Anita P. Worthen, The First Tea Party Held at Lexington? (Lexington, Massachusetts:  Lexington Bicentennial Committee, 1973).

What's In a Name?

2002_018_4DS1Every so often, we stumble across an artifact in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection that prompts a great deal of intrigue among museum staff. This photograph of a deceased member of the Loyal Order of Moose finds itself in that category. I must admit that prior to my arrival as a volunteer at the museum, I was not especially well versed in the history and practice of fraternal groups. Sure, I had heard of the Elks and the Lions, but aside from that, I was somewhat of a novice in the field of fraternalism. Upon further investigation, I was surprised to find that although literature on the group is relatively scarce, the Loyal Order of Moose boasts an impressive list of members. Amongst the ranks are former presidents, astronauts, sports legends, and a cornucopia of Hollywood icons, including Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977), Henry Ford (1863-1947), and Larry Bird (b. 1956).

Due to the strict funeral regulations of the Moose, in which each member, regardless of rank, is provided the same procession, it is difficult to decipher this particular man’s place within the hierarchy of the organization. There are, however, a few clues in the photo that provide us with a small amount of information regarding his identity. Present alongside the casket are four funeral wreaths reading, “Uncle,” “Brother,” “Ole,” and “Moose 679.” The last wreath is the one that immediately struck me as potentially useful. With the help of the official website of the Loyal Order of Moose, I found that “Moose 679” most likely refers to the Springfield, Vermont, chapter of the organization.

The remaining three wreaths however, proved to be slightly more enigmatic than their peer. While intuition would suggest that the words “Uncle” and “Brother” indicate this man’s position on his family tree, I found myself at a loss for an explanation of the word “Ole.” After a series of investigations that bore no fruit, I stumbled upon the definition of the word “Ole” as a Scandinavian name. Keeping in line with my theory that these wreaths represented the various names to which this man may have answered, I felt that this was far more likely an explanation than others I had found. The fact that the photo can be dated between 1890 and 1920, coupled with my limited knowledge of the history of immigration to the United States, suggested that a man of Scandinavian descent with the first name “Ole” could have been living around Springfield, Vermont, during this time period. Although this is mere speculation, these few details hint at the possibility that this picture was taken during the funeral ceremony of Ole, a member of the Springfield, Vermont, Moose Lodge #679, who never fathered any children.

Though popular during the 1800s, the practice of photographing the dead for memorial purposes has since waned in popularity. Any number of conclusions can be drawn as to why post-mortem photography met its demise. For me, the increasing accessibility of photography itself seems like a likely catalyst. As the process of taking a photograph became less formal and more of an everyday activity, people had far less reason to have such portraits of loved ones taken after their death. However, the formal aspects of this picture are the ones that provide us with hints at the biography of a man whose legacy may have otherwise been confined only to those who knew him.

Unidentified Post-Mortem Photograph, 1890-1920, probably Vermont, Museum Purchase, 2002.018.4.


Moose Magazine 33 (1948).

Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles

2002_008T1Make plans now to come see our newest exhibition, "Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles," which opens June 16, 2012, and runs through late 2012.  The exhibition includes over 25 objects from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection.

Textiles incorporating Masonic symbols, both home-made and commercially manufactured, have served many functions since the 1700s.  They have transmitted family memories and history, becoming cherished heirlooms.  They signified family identification with Freemasonry.  Creating these objects offered an opportunity for the maker to display their skills.  These textiles also functioned as educational tools - teaching family members about Masonic symbols and reminding Masons of the lessons they learned in the lodge.  Like the quilts used to fundraise for political or social causes, Masonic quilts and textiles were - and still are - used to raise money for Masonic projects and charities.

The quilt above employs several Masonic symbols, appliqued in red, green and gold, a popular color combination during the late 1800s.  The central motif in each block is a square and compasses symbol (representing reason and faith) with a stylized G in the middle (symbolizing God, geometry, or both).  Trowels, mauls, plumbs and levels decorate the borders.  The quilt offered its maker a way to learn about the values represented by the symbols.  It may have been a gift to a Freemason and could have reminded the recipient of Masonic lessons.

The exhibition also includes other forms of needlew76_33_1T1ork, such as embroidery and rug hooking.  The needlework picture at right was stitched in Massachusetts in 1808.  Using skills learned at a local academy, the female maker copied the design of a Past Master's certificate to commemorate Benjamin Russell's (1761-1845) term as Master of Boston's Rising States Lodge.

Textiles teach us about the individuals who made and enjoyed them, but also about the place of Freemasonry in American society.  Please enjoy these "threads of brotherhood" as they tell a story of connected lives and shared values.  Visit our website for more information.  And, after you visit, come back and leave us a comment below about your favorite object!

Masonic Quilt, 1880-1920, unidentified maker, probably Ohio, Museum Purchase, 2002.008.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Needlework Picture, 1808, unidentified maker, Massachusetts, Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.33.1.  Photograph by John M. Miller.


Freemasonry and the Early Mormons

Quorum_of_the_Anointed_coverMormonism is a religion founded by Joseph Smith in the late 1820s and known more formally as the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Freemasonry is a fraternal organization that traces its modern roots to the establishment of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717. Arguably, what both groups share is a history of having been misunderstood and misrepresented in the culture at large. In both cases, much of this misunderstanding revolves around perceptions of secrecy and initiation rituals.

Which brings us to the often-asked question of whether Joseph Smith - prophet of a religion that was born in both the temporal and geographical heart of a late 1820s anti-Masonic movement that followed the "Morgan Affair" - was influenced by Masonic initiation rituals when he established the LDS "endowment" ceremonies, especially those in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1842.

In 1839, after having been expelled from Missouri, Joseph Smith and his fellow Mormon pioneers purchased land along the Mississippi River in Illinois. They named the town Nauvoo. Nauvoo was the center of early Mormon activity from its inception in 1839 until the murder of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum in 1844. During this five year period, three Masonic lodges were founded in Nauvoo. The lodges members were all LDS members, drawn exclusively from Nauvoo's Mormon community. The largest of these lodges, with a membership exceeding 1,500, was called Nauvoo Lodge. The initial expanded endowment ceremonies in 1842 took place in the same second-floor room above Joseph Smith's store that Smith and others were initiated into Freemasonry a few months before. In short, there was a lot of Mormon and Masonic activity in Nauvoo.

For researchers interested in the topic of Freemasonry and the early Mormons in Nauvoo, it can be hard to know where to start. Perhaps the best starting place is Michael W. Homer's 1994 essay, "'Similarity of Priesthood in Masonry': The Relationship Between Freemasonry and Mormonism" (available online). Homer takes a thoughtful, dispassionate view of the subject, noting that an exploration of Masonic influence does not necessarily negate belief. Near the beginning of his essay, Homer opens the door on the topic by writing, "while there is room for belief, there is also room to accept the candor of [LDS-founder Joseph] Smith and others that there was a close connection between Freemasonry and Mormonism."

Homer goes on to write about how the topic of influence has been both overstated and understated by many writers:

"Those who deny any relationship, or argue that similarities between the two are superficial, are concerned that Joseph Smith’s use of Masonic rites is inconsistent with his prophetic claims. Others concentrate on similarities to buttress claims that Smith borrowed heavily from Freemasonry without the benefit of inspiration. This “all-or-nothing” approach combines with the secrecy associated with the rituals to create a reluctance to discuss the subject in any meaningful detail."

 The works listed below - all in the collection of the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives - are further resources for those interested in dispassionate, primary-source based books related to this topic. Mervin B. Hogan published a number of works on the topic in the 1970s and 1980s. I only list two works by Hogan below. Both are transcriptions of primary sources - the minutes of Nauvoo Lodge, a Masonic lodge founded at Nauvoo, whose members consisted entirely of early Mormons who established the LDS community in Nauvoo, Illinois.

The other books listed below are more recently published and all focus on early Mormonism, with an emphasis on the development of LDS Temple worship. Some are "documentary" histories that draw on a vast trove of early Mormon primary source material. All of these books touch on the interesting question of the influence of Freemasonry on Joseph Smith as well as the popularity of Freemasonry at Nauvoo.

Devery S. Anderson. Development of LDS Temple Worship, 1846-2000: A Documentary History. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011.

Devery S. Anderson, et al. Joseph Smith's Quorum of the Anointed, 1842-1845: A Documentary History. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005.

Devery S. Anderson, et al. The Nauvoo Endowment Companies, 1845-1846: A Documentary History. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2005.

David John Buerger. The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship. Salt Lake City: Distributed by Signature Books, 1994.

Mervin B. Hogan. The Founding Minutes of Nauvoo Lodge. Des Moines, IA: Research Lodge No. 2, 1971.

Mervin B. Hogan. The Official Minutes of Nauvoo Lodge U.D. Des Moines, IA: Research Lodge No. 2, 1975[?]

D. Michael Quinn. Early Mormonism and the Magic World View [Revised and enlarged ed.]. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1998

Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe, eds. American Apocrypha: Essays on the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002.
    (Includes the essay "Echoes of Anti-Masonry: A Rejoinder to Critics of the Anti-Masonic Thesis")