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October 2013

New to the Collection: Order of Knights of Friendship Medals

2013_012_2DP1DBAt the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, we actively collect through gifts and purchases to improve and refine our existing holdings of more than 17,000 objects.  The Museum’s primary strength is its American Masonic and fraternal collection.   To fully understand and appreciate Freemasonry in America, the Museum collects objects and documents associated with all types of fraternal organizations. 2013_012_2DP2DB

We currently have a selection of our recent acquisitions on view in our lobby.  Among the items are these two medals from the Order of Knights of Friendship.  We were especially excited to acquire these medals since we did not have the Knights of Friendship previously represented in our collection.  The group was founded in Pennsylvania in 1859 and by 1920 numbered 20,000 members.  These medals are particularly fascinating because they both belonged to the group’s founder, Mark G. Kerr, M.D. (1815-1883).  The gold medal seems to be a membership medal for Kerr and is engraved along the edge on one side “M.G. Kerr M.D. Harmony Chamber No. 1 O.K.F. May 29th, 1859.”  The silver medal with enamel on one side was a gift to Kerr in 1875.  It is engraved on the back “Presented to Most Eminent Grand Sir KM Mark G. Kerr, M.D. by Resolution of the Most Eminent Chamber OKF in appreciation of his Services as Author and Founder of the Order of Knights of Friendship.  Done at Reading, Pa., this 19th day of October A.D. 1875.”

Kerr taught at the Female Medical College in Philadelphia and is thought to have been both a Freemason and an Odd Fellow.  He organized the Knights of Friendship to “inculcate good will among all mankind and establish peace and friendship throughout the world.”  The group conferred three degrees: Knight Junior, Knight Bachelor and Knight Errant.  It also offered funeral benefits to its members, as a type of insurance before the widespread availability of the commercial insurance industry. 2013_012_1DP2DB

The medals will be on view at the museum until early 2014, check our website for more details.

Order of Knights of Friendship Medals, 1859-1883 and 1875, unidentified makers, Pennsylvania.  Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Museum Purchase, 2013.012.1-.2.  Photographs by David Bohl.

A Folk Art Portrait of John Coustos, Masonic Hero

80.40.1 John CoutosTo help pass unoccupied time on long sea voyages, whalers and sailors crafted both fanciful and useful objects out of materials they had to hand aboard ship. Sailors and others called whale bone and teeth decorated by mariners scrimshaw, and the men who practiced the pastime, scrimshanders, as early as the 1820s. This decorated tooth—thought to have come from a bull sperm whale—is an example of this maritime folk art. With his depiction of Masonic symbols, the seafarer who incised images on this tooth sought to celebrate Freemasonry. He also may have wished to call attention to a Masonic folk hero, John Coustos (1703-1746).

Surrounded by halo-like rays of light, the man engraved on this tooth is thought to be Coustos, in part due to a note that accompanied the tooth when it entered the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library. You can examine the accompanying engraved images of Coustos and judge if you think the image on this tooth is his portrait. A Swiss-born British citizen, Coustos worked in Lisbon, Portugal, as a lapidary, or gem cutter. He had been a member of lodges in both London and Paris. In 1741 Coustos formed a lodge for foreign Masons who lived in Lisbon and served as its master. Freemasonry had been banned in Portugal a few years previously. When authorities learned about Coustos’ lodge, the Inquisition arrested Coustos for participation in MasonicJohn Coustos frontispiece from 1746 edition activities. News of his arrest and the charges against him traveled as far as Boston. For over fifteen months he was imprisoned and questioned under torture. The inquisitors finally sentenced Coustos to four years in a workhouse as punishment for organizing a Masonic lodge in Portugal. Not long after, the British ambassador to Lisbon arranged for Coustos’ release.

Upon his return to England, Coustos wrote a sensational book about his experiences, The Sufferings of John Coustos for Freemasonry…. It first went on sale in 1746. Soon after, Coustos died. His account, which featured lurid details of his imprisonment and engravings depicting his torture, proved irresistible to readers. Coustos’ work also capitalized on the wide-spread anti-Catholic sentiment of the time. Although some modern scholars have questioned aspects of Coustos’ description of his torture and his assessment of how much Masonic information he did or did not reveal to his interrogators, many readers admired Coustos for keeping his Masonic oath under the strain of torture.

John Coustos frontispiece from the 1790 editionThe Sufferings of John Coustos for Free-Masonry… remained in print for decades. Some editions featured a portrait of Coustos as a frontispiece, like the British examples seen here. American publishers made versions of the work available to readers from the 1790s through the 1850s. An engraving of Coustos may have served as a model for the scrimshander who decorated this tooth. You can see this tooth on view at the museum, outside the entrance to the Farr Conference Center, the next time you visit.


Frontispiece, [Louis Phillippe] Boitard (active 1733-1767), delin., [Louis] Truchy (1731?-1764), sc., from The Sufferings of John Coustos, for Free-Masonry… (London: W. Strahan), 1746. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, RARE 19.41 C869, 1746

Frontispiece, S. Sketchley, Enven., Tolley, Sculpt., from Unparalleled Sufferings of John Coustos… (Birmingham, England: M. Swinney), 1790. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, RARE 19.41 C869, 1790

Scrimshaw Tooth, 1800s, Special Acquisitions Fund, 80.40.1. Photo by David Bohl.


William McLeod, ed., The Sufferings of John Coustos, A facsimile reprint of the first English edition published at London in 1746 (Bloomington, Illinois: The Masonic Book Club), 1979, 1-74.

Lecture - A Season with the Army: Civil War Nurse Harriet Eaton, 10/26

Continuing our fall series of Civil War lectures, at 2 PM on Saturday, October 26, we welcome to the Museum Jane Schultz, Professor of English, American Studies, and Women’s Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis. Her topic will be "A Season with the Army: Civil War Nurse Harriet Eaton and New England’s Role in Medical Relief Work," based on her 2010 scholarly edition, This Birth Place of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Diary of Harriet Eaton. Admission is free, thanks to the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

Schultz2012Jane Schultz, the nation’s expert on Civil War nursing, will discuss a New England woman’s critical role on the battlefields of Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Harriet Eaton was born as Harriet Hope Agnes Bacon in 1818 in Newton, MA. Her marriage to Baptist minister Jeremiah Sewall Eaton was followed by relocation to Portland, ME, where her husband led the Free Street Baptist Church. She was one of the first volunteers to enlist in the Maine Camp Hospital Association, an aid organization established by the church in October of 1862, in the wake of the Battle of Antietam. One of a handful of women who served as regimental nurses, she led a transient existence, roving the field hospitals that grew as battles raged.

CityPointHospitalHarriet Eaton’s diary and papers offer insight into the experience of the twenty-one thousand women who served in Union military hospitals. Her uncensored nursing diary is a rarity among medical accounts of the war, showing the diarist to be an astute observer of human nature. She struggled with the disruptions of transience, scarcely sleeping in the same place twice, but found the politics of daily toil even more challenging. Though Eaton praised some of the surgeons with whom she worked, she labeled others charlatans whose neglect had deadly implications for the rank and file. If she saw villainy in her medical colleagues, she also saw her service as an opportunity to convert the soldiers who were her patients. The diary stands in contrast to accounts of women's hospital work published as post-war memoirs, which were often carefully crafted narratives attentive to conventions of propriety and commemorative practice.

Jane Schultz is also the author of Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America (2004). In that work, she shows that women war workers during the Civil War era were not all white and middle class. Women without middle-class advantages and African-American women also served as hospital workers, though women like Harriet Eaton left a stronger paper trail. On one hand, women of middle-class origin had to struggle against the belief that nursing wounded soldiers was an improper role because it exposed them to so many men and so much horror. On the other, they showed themselves eager to maintain race and class boundaries between themselves and the other women around them.

Schultz will be available after the talk to sign her book This Birth Place of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Diary of Harriet Eaton.
The final lecture in the series is:

"'Not that this is Going to Be a Real War': The Civil War, the Marshall House Flag, and Elmer Ellsworth’s Martyrdom" by Robert Weible, State Historian, Chief Curator, New York State Museum on Saturday, November 9, 2:00 pm.

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559. www.monh.org.

Image credits:

Courtesy of Jane Schultz.

Field hospital near City Point, Va. (1861-1865). NYPL Wallach Division: Photography Collection. Digital ID: 114682.

Benjamin Franklin's Favorite Likeness

86_12TBenjamin Franklin’s (1706-1790) lifelong commitment to Freemasonry is well known.  After becoming a Freemason in Philadelphia in 1731, he was active in the fraternity for over fifty years.  He served as Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1734 and Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1749.  In addition to some of the more common prints depicting Franklin as a Freemason, we are also fortunate to have this terra cotta medallion in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection.

Created in 1777 by Jean-Baptiste Nini (1717-1786), it shows Franklin wearing a fur cap and dates to the time he spent in France as an American diplomat.  Franklin felt that this portrait was an accurate likeness of himself and by 1779 wrote to his daughter that it helped make his face “as well known as that of the moon.”

These medallions continue to be popular today – they are offered at auctions around the United States on a regular basis.  Nini, an Italian sculptor working in Paris, created the medallions using drawings by other artists.  Eventually, five versions of the Franklin medallion were made.  Nini used terra cotta cast from a wax mold, allowing him to make a large number from one mold.

Medallion, 1777, Jean-Baptiste Nini (1717-1786), France, Special Acquisitions Fund, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 86.12a.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Sources Consulted:

Charles Coleman Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1962).

William B. Willcox, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin Volume 24 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984).

“Jean Baptiste Nini,” www.benfranklin300.org/frankliniana/people.php?id=34.

“Nini Medallion,” www.fi.edu/learn/sci-tech/nini-medallion/nini-medallion.php?cts=benfranklin.

Lecture: The Civil War in a Northern Community, 10/5

Civil War lectures return to the Museum for fall 2013! The next presentation will be on October 5, 2013 at 2pm, when we welcome Professor Nicole Etcheson of Ball State University. She will speak on "The Anti-Civil War Movement in the North: Copperheads in a Midwestern Community, 1861-1865." Admission is free, thanks to the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

Copperhead Party_LOC_croppedCopperheads, anti-war Democrats, protested against the policies of the Lincoln administration, opposed emancipation and resisted the draft with violence. Were the Copperheads expressing sentiments that mirrored concerns of their fellow citizens? Did they actually aid the Confederacy?

Nicole 2011Nicole Etcheson is the Alexander M. Bracken Professor of History at Ball State University. She is the author of A Generation at War: The Civil War Era in a Northern Community, which won the 2012 Avery O. Craven Award from the Organization of American Historians; Bleeding Kansas (2004); and The Emerging Midwest (1996). She is currently working on a project about suffrage in the post-Civil War era.

Join us earlier in the day on Saturday, October 5, for a 1:00 pm free gallery talk in "A Sublime Brotherhood:  200 Years of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction." Aimee E. Newell, the Museum's Director of Collections and curator of the exhibition, will share her knowledge of the Scottish Rite's French roots, its founding in America two centuries ago and its evolution into one of the most popular American fraternal groups during the 1900s. The exhibition includes photos, costumes, and other Scottish Rite materials, many of which have never previously been on view.

The final lectures in this series, with which the Museum is marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, are:

"A Season with the Army: Civil War Nurse Harriet Eaton and New England's Role in Medical Relief Work," by Jane Schultz, Professor of English and American Studies, Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis on Saturday, October 26, at 2:00 pm;

and "'Not that this is Going to Be a Real War': The Civil War, the Marshall House Flag, and Elmer Ellsworth’s Martyrdom" by Robert Weible, State Historian, Chief Curator, New York State Museum on Saturday, November 9, 2:00 pm.

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559. www.monh.org

Image credits:

The copperhead party - in favor of a vigorous prosecution of peace! Illus. in: Harper's weekly, February 28, 1863. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-132749.

Courtesy Nicole Etcheson.

Written Mnemonics - Deciphering a Controversial Ritual

Written_Mnemonics_webMost Masonic ritual, if it is not printed in plain English, is written in a cipher that works as a prompt for a script that has already been memorized. In other words, it is not a cipher that requires a key to read. Instead, the key to reading it is, almost counter-intuitively, previous knowledge of the text. Ritual books are what a Mason uses to learn his part. Here’s an example of how you might be able to read a similar kind of cipher to a text you already know:

I pldg allgnce t Ћ flg oЋ Un St o Am & t Ћ repblc fr wh i stnds, 1 ntn undr Gd…

The cipher pictured above was published in 1860, and is titled Written Mnemonics: Illustrated by Copious Examples from Moral Philosophy, Science and Religion. It is an example of a Masonic ritual cipher that was encrypted – that is, a text which can be read if one has the key to decrypt it (see our post on the Ast Ritual, for another example of an encrypted cipher ritual). Written Mnenomics is currently on view in Secret Scripts: Masonic and Fraternal Ritual Books in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

A group known as “The Conservators,” led by Freemason Rob Morris, published this book, which is an unusual-looking cipher containing the Craft degrees. The Conservator movement was short-lived, only lasting from 1860 until 1865. Their goal was to disseminate a standard Craft ritual for the United States, at a time when (as today) Masonic ritual was not uniform from state to state. The Conservators tried to recruit prominent Masons who were either in influential positions within their Grand Lodge or who were noted for their ritualistic ability. In the end, around three thousand Masons joined the Conservators.

While it may be hard to imagine that such an impenetrable looking cipher could have provoked strong opinions, Written Mnemonics had vocal detractors. The objection was two-fold: the first was about the accuracy of the ritual and the second was about whether Morris had violated his Masonic oath.

In trying to create a uniform ritual, Morris used the ritual and lectures popularized by Thomas Smith Webb (1771-1819), who himself built on the work of Wiliam Preston (1742-1818). Morris claimed that Written Mnemonics contained the true “Preston-Webb” work. Many detractors doubted the authenticity and accuracy of Morris’s ritual, a criticism that Morris refuted in the pages of the movement’s official magazine, The Conservator.

But the largest part of the objections made against Written Mnemonics centered around Morris’s Masonic obligations. Many Masons objected to this book’s publication, claiming that, because the book could be read by anyone who had the key, its publication violated Morris’s Masonic oath. The objectors’ main concern was that the publication included – albeit in code – the tokens, grips, and signs that all Masons promised not to reveal.

For those wondering how complicated decryption of the text is, Ray V. Denslow, in his book about the Conservator movement described the encryption of Written Mnemonics this way:

"The inside [i.e. of Written Mnemonics] contained little but a jumble of figures and letters arranged in eighteen columns and twenty-five rows. But the book, itself, was not complete; to be able to read the volume required the "spelling book" and an additional page of instructions. The latter told where to begin; sometimes the searcher for authentic ritual would read up, at other times down; and again, cross-wise. To be a Conservator, and a student of Mnemonics required an exercise of those truly Masonic and Conservator virtues of Time, Patience and Perserverance.

If you are interested in reading more about Written Mnemonics and the Conservator movement, look no further than Ray V. Denslow's book, The Masonic Conservators (Grand Lodge of Missouri, 1931). It is the definitive work on the topic. (Denslow's book can be read online through a digitized copy on the HathiTrust Digital Library website.)


Rob Morris, Written Mnemonics: Illustrated by Copious Examples from Moral Philosophy, Science and Religion, 1860, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Collection, RARE 14 .W7 1860.