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February 2013

David H. Cole’s Belt Plate

85.10 David H.Cole belt plateThis object, an 1810s belt plate in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, carries several hints about its original owner:  a name, regiment number and a selection of Masonic symbols. But even with this comparatively rich group of clues, the story of this belt plate and the man who wore it remains elusive. 

Belt plates formed part of military dress in the late 1700s and into the 1800s. Officers and soldiers who wore cartridge boxes and swords, bayonets or other weapons suspended them on leather straps. During the War of 1812, when this plate was made, some soldiers wore decorative metal plates, often brass, on their uniform straps, at their chest or at their shoulders (you can see examples of both British and American 1812-era plates here). The U. S. Army uniform regulations did not detail plate designs until the 1820s. Many 1812-era regiments had their own uniform requirements and it is hard to know how closely soldiers followed regiment and Army uniform regulations. This cast brass belt plate may have been one Cole purchased or one issued to him and later engraved by a craftsman at his request. Either way, the engraving on this plate made it a one-of-a-kind object in Cole’s time and today.

An enlistment record for the 21st U. S. Infantry Regiment notes that David H. Cole, a trader, aged 23 and born in Cornish, Massachusetts (now Cornish, Maine), enlisted at Salem, Massachusetts, in April,  1814.  He served through May of the next year. The recorder also noted that Cole was 5’ 7 ¾” tall, with blue eyes, light hair and a light complexion. Another record tells us that for his service, in 1816 Cole earned a 160-acre land grant in Illinois. 

Records maintained at the Grand Lodge of Masons in Maine notes that a man named David Hammond Cole--initiated, passed and raised in 1814--was a member of Pythagorean Lodge No. 11 of Fryeburg.  Was this the same David H. Cole whose name is on the belt plate?  Possibly.  So far it has not been possible to confirm that David H. Cole and David Hammond Cole were one and the same, but it is clear that the David H. Cole who had the plate engraved identified himself with Freemasonry.  His plate features Masonic symbols including: columns, various working tools and symbols of office, as well as a square and compasses and an all-seeing eye.  The crenellated structure at the center of the square and compasses is not a standard Masonic symbol, but must have held meaning for David Cole, since he had it placed at the very center of his belt plate.

GL2004.4588 Elnathan Holmes belt plate Cole’s decorated belt plate may be one-of-a-kind, but related objects exist.  The collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts also includes an earlier belt plate engraved with a name and Masonic symbols.  This silver plate bears a date, 1787, and an owner’s name, Elnathan Holmes, Jr. (b. 1763).  Most of the symbols and the motto depicted on Holmes’ plate came from the frontispiece of a Masonic expose that had first been published in London in the 1760s, Jachin and Boaz; or An Authentic Key to the Door of Free-Masonry.  The engraver who decorated Cole’s plate used a different—and less readily identifiable—source.  Both Holmes and Cole left behind intriguing puzzles.  More importantly, they left enduring evidence of their pride in their military service and in their association with Freemasonry. 

Update: Thanks to help from the Bonney Memorial Library in Cornish, Maine and the Cornish Historical Society, we have some more information about the David H. Cole (1789-1841) who owned this belt plate.  His parents were Capt. Henry Cole (1764-1840) amd Olive Hammons (d. ca. 1805).  David Hammons Cole earned his living as a trader in Cornish, lived in Limington, Maine in the 1820s and later worked as an merchant and auctioneer in Portland, Maine.


Sydney C. Kerksis, Plates and Buckles of the American Military (Kennesaw, GA:  The Gilgal Press, 1974)

Robert L. Taylor, Early Families of Cornish, Maine (Rockport, Me.: Picton Press , 1993), p. 29

Photo captions:

Belt plate, ca. 1814.  Special Acquisitions Fund, 85.10.

Belt plate, 1787.  Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.4588.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Brave the Snow to See our Cozy Masonic Quilts!

95.043.11 overall after consHere in New England, it’s the time of year when nothing seems more cozy than curling up in a warm quilt. There is no better time to visit our exhibition, “Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles.” The exhibit is on view through March 23, 2013, so make plans now to see it before it closes. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with free admission and free parking.

Among the needlework on view is this quilt from about 1860, which is one of my personal favorites. I have always been drawn to its graphic nature. Unfortunately, it has rarely been exhibited because the red fabric was disintegrating and hanging it in the gallery would have caused more damage. Fortunately, we were able to perform some conservation work on the quilt to better preserve it and to finally show it off. You can see a “before” image below to the right.  As you can see, the blocks along the left-hand side of the quilt suffered the most disintegration. 95_043_11T1

This appliqué quilt is comprised of sixteen blocks showing the most common Masonic symbol – the square and compasses, signifying reason and faith. Freemasonry grew out of medieval stonemason trade guilds in England and Scotland, eventually becoming a fraternal society for men encouraging sound moral and social virtues. Freemasonry’s tenets are taught through a series of ritualized lessons using symbols to remind the initiates of important principles. Each block also shows the letter G, which stood for geometry, God, or both. At the corners of each block are four important Masonic symbols: a level symbolizing equality; a plumb signifying uprightness; a gavel reminding Masons to divest the heart of vice; and a trowel that spreads the cement that unites Freemasons in brotherly love.

95.043.11 detail after consTo get it ready for the exhibition, we worked with textile conservator Marie Schlag from The Studio for Textile Conservation in Scituate, Massachusetts. She painstakingly stabilized 35 different areas of the quilt with polyester organza.  The organza helps to reduce further disintegration and covers the areas where the foundation fabric is showing through.  This treatment allows the quilt’s red and green graphic pattern to come to the front once again. In this detail at left, you can see the muting effect of the organza where the red fabric has been lost. We are very pleased to be able to share this quilt in its newly improved condition with our visitors and look forward to caring for it for years to come.

Masonic Quilt, ca. 1860, American, Museum purchase, 95.043.11. Before photograph by David Bohl.

Revere Charter from St. Paul Lodge on Extended Loan

Revere charter scan for blog postRecently, St. Paul Lodge A. F. & A. M., of Gardner (previously Groton), Massachusetts, deposited their lodge's charter on extended loan with the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library for safe keeping (see detail of charter on the left). The museum has an extended loan program in which lodges, chapters, and other Masonic bodies from the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction can place their charters with us.  These charters are stored in a secure vault which is temperature and humidity controlled.  Charters are then documented in our database for tracking purposes.  There is no fee for this storage which is a service to the Masonic community.

The St. Paul Lodge charter, dated January 15, 1797, is signed by Paul Revere, Jr. (1734-1818), Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, and Samuel Dunn (b. 1757), Deputy Grand Master.  Other signatures include Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831), Senior Grand Warden, Joseph Laughton (1746-1808), Junior Grand Warden, and Daniel Oliver (b. 1750), Grand Secretary.  The 24 charter members of St. Paul Lodge are listed on the document.

During Revere’s terms as Grand Master from 1795 through 1797, he chartered 23 lodges in Massachusetts.  This doubled the number of Masonic lodges in Massachusetts. Among these lodges were Union Lodge (Dorchester), Montgomery Lodge (Milford), and Jerusalem Lodge (South Hadley) whose charters the museum also holds on extended loan.          

The 216 year-old St. Paul Lodge charter is in very good condition.  Having been conserved at Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) in 2010, this document has been de-acidified, flattened, and encapsulated.  This stabilization insures that it will be preserved for many years to come.   

We welcome other lodges and chapters to deposit their charters here at the museum on extended loan.  We will store, track, and record each document in our database.  If you are interested in this program or have questions about it, please contact either Catherine Swanson, Archivist, or Maureen Harper,  Collections Manager.