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March 2013

A 1794 Masonic Medal from New London

2000.059.7b name sideIn 1794 Freemasons in New London, Connecticut, had much to celebrate.  After several years of inactivity, Union Lodge (now Union Lodge #31) received a dispensation from the newly organized Grand Lodge of Connecticut.  As a sign of enthusiasm, one lodge member had this attractive gold medal manufactured and engraved.

Around the time this medal was crafted, Masons on both sides of the Atlantic commissioned personal badges or medals made out of precious metals to wear to lodge meetings and at processions.  Unlike jewels of office that were owned by a lodge, these badges belonged to individual Masons.  Men wore them as a sign of their connection with Freemasonry, its ideals and place in the community.  Engraved with Masonic symbols and often the owner’s name and initiation date, these badges linked, in an enduring way, Masons with the organization they valued.

Many of these badges, sometimes called chapter medals, although engraved by different craftsmen and owned by men in different parts of the country, share similarities in shape, size and iconography.  Decorated on both sides, this small oval medal—about 1 ½ inches long—bears a Latin motto, multiple Masonic symbols, the owner’s initials, J. S. (or possibly J. P.), and the year, 1794, with the words, “Member of Union Lodge N. London.”  This medal also features Masonic symbols such as an open bible, square and compasses, various working tools, an all-seeing eye, a dove and ark, pillars, suns, moons, stars, and a coffin; symbols associated with Freemasonry’s first three degrees.  On the medal the engraver also illustrated symbols related to Royal Arch Freemasonry.   

New England chapter medals emerged from an English practice.  As early as 1776 the frontispiece of a2000.059.7b reverse London-printed Masonic expose, Jachin & Boaz, or An Authentic Key to the Door of Free Masonry, showed an engraved medal featuring many of the same symbols as seen on this and other chapter medals.  Text within the publication also described the badges noting that:  “These medals are usually of silver…on the reverse of these medals…some even add to the emblems other fancy things that bear some analogy to Masonry.”  American engravers might have used illustrations in Jachin & Boaz or other publications as models for their depiction of Masonic symbols.  As well, American publishers issued versions of Jachin & Boaz that opened with the same frontispiece as the British editions.  Additionally, small emblems similar to this one were easily carried when their owners traveled.  One craftsman might copy or seek inspiration from another engraver’s work; be it a medal, jewel, a certificate or Masonic apron.  Residents of New London, a seaport, likely had the chance to socialize and do business with Masons from other parts of the country and the world. 

So far, research has not confirmed who fired owned this medal, but Joseph Skinner, a member of Union Lodge who joined on December 23, 1794, is a good candidate.  Although small, this carefully engraved medal, because it was made of gold, a scarce and costly material, was not ordered or worn casually.  Whoever commissioned and wore this medal took pride in his association with Freemasonry.   


John D. Hamilton, The Material Culture of the American Freemasons. Museum of Our National Heritage, Lexington, Massachusetts, 1994. pp. 121-133, 140-142.

Barbara Franco, Masonic Symbols in American Decorative Arts.  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum of Our National Heritage, Lexington, Massachusetts, 1976. pp. 25-26.

Many thanks to John Birdsall of Union Lodge #31.

Photo credits:

Medal, ca. 1794. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Museum Purchase, 2000.059.7b.


Civil War Lecture Explores Black Activists in Boston: March 23 at 2 p.m.

Our 2013 Civil War Lecture Series begins this weekend! Join us for the first lecture in the series. The series explores the history of this divisive war and its meaning for our nation today.

Stephen Kantrowitz KANTROWITZ
A Citizenship of the Heart: Black Activists and Universal Brotherhood in Civil War-Era Boston
Saturday, March 23 at 2 p.m., free

Stephen Kantrowitz, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will explore how the fight to abolish slavery was part of a broader campaign by Boston’s African American community to claim full citizenship. The talk will trace the activities of Prince Hall Freemason Lewis Hayden, a fugitive slave and Boston anti-slavery activist. Hayden’s Masonic engagement reflects the development of ideas and practices of black citizenship as tool to remake the republic into a place where all men could belong. Kantrowitz will be available after the talk to sign his book, More than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889.

The lecture is made possible by the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

For more information on the Civil War Lecture Series, please refer to the Museum's programs page. For information on visiting the Museum please click here, or call 781 861-6559.

Photo credit: Courtesy Stephen Kantrowitz


New Acquisitions: Contextualizing the Lives of Early Jewish Scottish Rite Masons

At the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, we are conscious of the fact that Freemasonry does not take place in a vacuum. It is, and always has been, a part of a person's life. Freemasonry is one of many groups that a man belongs to - one that might overlap with family, business, religion, or friendship. To look at Freemasonry in its historical context then, is to understand how it fits into a person's life.

This year marks the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Scottish Rite's Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. On August 5, 1813, the Jurisdiction's first Supreme Council was formed by Emanuel De La Motta (1760–1821), in his capacity as the Southern Jurisdiction's Grand Treasurer General. The Council consisted of six members - Daniel D. Tompkins (1774–1825), Sampson Simson (1780–1857), John James Joseph Gourgas (1777–1865), Richard Riker (1773–1842), John Gabriel Tardy (1761-1831), and Moses Levi Maduro Peixotto (1767–1828).

Of these seven men, three were Jewish - De La Motta, Simson, and Peixotto - and, just as Riker and Tompkins were politically associated outside of Freemasonry, these three men were culturally and religiously connected through their faith. For example, Simson and Peixotto were both members of New York's Congregation Shearith Israel. Is it possible to learn more about the communities that these men lived in and how their faith may have played a role in their lives?

In addition to De La Motta, Simson, and Peixotto, other prominent Jews involved with the establishment and founding of the Scottish Rite include Moses Michael Hays (1739–1805), as well as three of the Southern Jurisdiction's founding members - Abraham Alexander (1743-1816), Israel Delieben (1740-1807), and Moses Clava Levy (1749-1839). The library recently acquired the books below in an effort to help researchers contextualize the lives of  Jewish men who played key roles in the founding of the Scottish Rite.

OnceJewsFrontCovJosette Capriles Goldish. Once Jews: Stories of Caribbean Sephardim. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2009.

Emanuel De La Motta and Moses Levy Maduro Peixotto were both born into Sephardic families in the Caribbean (San Croix and Curaçao, respectively) before moving to the United States. Although this book does not mention either man specifically, there is useful information about Dutch trade and Sephardic Jews in the Caribbean, which is essential to understanding the movement of pre-Scottish Rite degrees from their arrival with merchants in the West Indies in the mid-eighteenth century to their movement out of the West Indies to New Orleans, Charleston, and Albany later in that century. The book contains useful information about the common usage of "double names" among Caribbean Sephardim, specifically mentioning the persistence of the double name Levy Maduro.

James William Hagy. This Happy Land: The Jews of Colonial and Antebellum Charleston. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993.

I was surprised to find that, although published twenty years ago, this book was not yet in our collection. Four of the first Supreme Council members of the world's first Supreme Council, founded in Charleston, South Carolina in 1801, were drawn from its Jewish community. This book is a great genealogical resource. For example, it led me to an obituary for Emanuel De La Motta that I have not seen referenced elsewhere. Although Freemasonry is only mentioned on two pages, the author notes that "Perhaps the best example of Jewish participation in life in Charleston is provided by the Masons."

NewIsraelMichael Hoberman. New Israel/New England: Jews and Puritans in Early America. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011.

In addition to contextualizing the lives of Jews and Puritans in early America, this book devotes an entire chapter to Moses Michael Hays. Hays is remembered for many important roles that he played - both within Freemasonry and without. Within Scottish Rite Freemasonry is best remembered as having been deputized by Henry Andrew Francken (ca. 1720–1795) to spread the Order of the Royal Secret, which eventually led to the founding of the Scottish Rite.


  Messianism-Secrecy-bookLaura Arnold Leibman. Messianism, Secrecy and Mysticism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life. Edgware: Vallentine Mitchell, 2012.

In addition to containing information about Freemasonry, this book also features analysis of how symbols shared between Freemasonry and Judaism might have been viewed by Jewish Masons in the eighteenth century. Also contains interesting speculation and analysis about the use of the Mosaic pavement (black and white checkered floor) in Sephardic synagogues and homes in the colonial Caribbean and the relationship to its use within a Masonic context.

William Pencak. Jews and Gentiles in Early America, 1654-1800. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.

The chapters in this book are arranged by important, early Jewish communities in America: New York, NY; Newport, RI; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; and Philadelphia, PA. Among other topics, the author looks at how colonial-era Jewish communities interacted with the larger gentile community, as well as how the Jewish communities in the Americas were connected to one another.

New to the Collection: A Cerneau Consistory Apron

2011_032DP1DBEven in the context of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s collection there is something so tempting about the forbidden. At least, that’s the feeling I had when a prospective donor offered this Masonic apron to us recently. I do have a soft spot for Masonic aprons in general, and then I learned that this one was supposedly worn by a member of the Cerneau Scottish Rite Consistory in Lenox, Massachusetts, during the 1890s. That did it – I was intrigued and immediately agreed that it should be added to our collection.

But, some of you may be wondering who – or what – is Cerneau, while others are grimacing in disgust. For those that don’t know, Joseph Cerneau (1765-1848) was a French Freemason who lived in San Domingo and then Cuba before moving to New York City in 1806. While in Cuba, Cerneau joined a Scottish Rite group and was given the authority of a Deputy Inspector General. This allowed him to confer several degrees on other prospective Scottish Rite members in Cuba, but the jurisdictional restriction does not seem to stopped Cerneau from conferring the degrees once he reached New York. Debate has raged ever since over whether he acted out of confusion or greed (since he would receive a fee from each man who received the degrees).

In 1813, the Scottish Rite Supreme Council in Charleston, South Carolina, sent a member to investigate Cerneau, as well as two additional groups claiming to have jurisdiction in New York. After Cerneau refused the member's request to inspect his records, he was denounced “as an imposter of the first magnitude, and whom we have expelled from Masonic Asylum within our Jurisdiction.” Cerneau was not daunted by the pronouncement and continued to confer degrees.  He oversaw his own Supreme Council until 1827, when he left New York to return to France. Despite Cerneau’s departure from the United States, his name continued to serve as an umbrella term for spurious and irregular Masonic groups, like the one associated with this apron.

Information provided with the apron when it was donated suggests that it was worn by George Washington Ferguson (1865-1936), an ice dealer in Lenox who joined nearby Evening Star Lodge in 1891. At the time, many men who belonged to their local lodge found that they wanted to learn more about Masonic symbolism and philosophy.  Joining additional Masonic groups allowed them to do this, as well as to increase their social circle. The Scottish Rite, with twenty-nine additional degrees, is often called “the University of Freemasonry,” because of the allegorical lessons that its degrees teach. However, in 1891, the nearest recognized Scottish Rite Consistory to Lenox was in Worcester, almost ninety miles away. But, in April 1891, the Cerneau Supreme Council formed Berkshire Consistory No. 56 in Lenox and, according to the information with the apron, Ferguson joined this group. Records of Berkshire Consistory’s founding state that there were thirty-six charter members.

Berkshire Consistory No. 56 continued to meet throughout the 1890s, even hosting the Grand Sovereign Consistory’s “annual rendezvous,” or meeting, in 1895. In response, the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, which had denounced Cerneau and his group back in 1813, established the Onota Lodge of Perfection in nearby Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Relations between the two groups proved to be difficult over the next several years.

Questions remain unanswered about George Ferguson and Berkshire Consistory No. 56. Did he ever switch to the recognized Onota Lodge of Perfection? How long did Berkshire Consistory No. 56 remain functional? Please write a comment below if you know more about the story, or have additional questions.  This year, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, saluting its longevity.  This apron is a scarce reminder of the competing Berkshire Consistory No. 56 and its story.

Cerneau Scottish Rite Apron, ca. 1891, American. Gift of Pittsfield Masonic Association, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 2011.032. Photograph by David Bohl.

Jean-Hyacinthe Astier and the Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse

A2013_5_1DS1_Amis de la SagesseAs I was cataloging 18th and 19th century French Masonic rituals the other day, I found an interesting collection of documents from the Souverain Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse of Paris (Sovereign Chapter of the Friends of Wisdom of the Orient of Paris) that are not ritual.  The collection of records includes minutes of the chapter, rules and regulations, several lists of members.  These records date from 1822-1830. This chapter was overseen by the Grand Orient of France.

Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse was a Rose Croix chapter.  Although the Grand Orient of France and the Grand Lodge of France confined themselves mostly to Craft degrees, in 1826-1827 the Grand Orient of France (which had merged with Grand Lodge of France in 1799) had 450 lodges, chapters, and councils. These chapters conferred higher degrees such as the Rose Croix degrees at Les Amis de la Sagesse.

According to the chapter minutes, Jean-Hyacinthe Astier (1784-1852) presided over the Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse from 1826 through 1828, succeeding Melchior Kubly.  The list of members in this collection includes Astier's name and his signature appears throughout the collection. The membership lists Astier's occupation as a book seller in 1826. 

By the 1830s, Astier had become disenchanted by the Grand Orient of France and took a demit from this chapter.  He decided to put his energies and service toward the Supreme Conseil de France, which had been established in 1804. Astier beleived that Freemasonry was essentially a Christian endeavor and France's Supreme Council, at this time, enforced this belief.

Astier owned a very remarkable collection of books on Freemasonry and a catalogue of his works was published postumously in 1856, entitled,  Notice des Livres Manuscrits et Imprimés sur Franc-Maçonnerie. Interestingly, catalogue no. 274 indicates that Astier's library included the archives of the Souverain Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse. The description includes the records we now hold at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, including Séances du Comité, Status et Reglément, Registre des Délibérations, and Registre de présence des Amis de la Sagesse. This is evidence of theA2013_5_1bDS1_Astier original provenance for these records! 



Collection of Records from Souverain Chapitre des Amis de la Sagesse, 1822-1830. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, A2013/5/1a-h. 


Bernheim, Alan. "The History of the Present Grand Lodge of France Revisited," Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonryhttp://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/bernheim10.html, accessed 2/16/2013. 

Coil, Henry Wilson. Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia.  Richmond, VA:  Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., 1995, p. 263-265.

Hocart, M. J. Notice des Livres Manuscrits et Imprimés sur Franc-Maçonnerie, les Templiers et Sociétés qui en dépendent, provenant du Cabinet de Feu M. Astier.  Paris:  Chez D. Guillemot, 1856.