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June 2015

New to the Collection: A Masonic Apron by William Laughton

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Master Mason Apron, 1819-1824, William Laughton (poss. 1794-1870), Hartford, Connecticut, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Purchase, 2014.070.7. Photograph by David Bohl.

As regular readers of our blog will know, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library has one of the best collections of Masonic aprons in the world.  We are always looking to add new examples with designs or makers that we are not familiar with.  This apron, a recent purchase at auction, has both a design AND a maker that were new to us. 

This Master Mason apron shows a typical all-seeing eye symbol on the flap, signifying watchfulness.  The body features an arrangement of Masonic symbols with celestial and terrestrial columns on a mosaic pavement at the top of three stairs.  Between the columns are a sun, moon, shooting star, seven stars, clasped hands, three candlestands and an altar with an open Bible.  Rough and smooth ashlars appear to the sides and at bottom center is a coffin.

Applied on the back is a printed label for the apron’s maker – “Hartford / W. Laughton / Painter.”  Unfortunately, little is known about William Laughton (possibly 1794-1870), despite the inclusion of his label on this apron.  The best source of information about his activities is a series of newspaper advertisements in the Hartford papers between 1819 and 1824.  In August 1819, he begged “leave to inform his friends and the public, that he has taken a room a few doors east of the Court House…where he will do all kinds of ornamental painting, in the neatest manner, and at the shortest notice.”  By September 1819, he was advertising as a “delineator, ornamental, and sign painter,” and that he would “execute Masonic paintings and Signs of every description.”

In June 1820, he used his ad to “[tender] his sincere thanks to his friends and the public, for the encouragement they have given him in his profession for a year past.”  In this same advertisement he specifically noted that he would do “Masonic paintings, such as carpets, aprons, etc., etc.”  And, at the end, he noted “W.L. has on hand a few Masonic Aprons, which he offers very low.”  In addition to his newspaper advertisements, Laughton marketed himself by entering a painting in the local cattle show in October 1822.  According to a published account of the fair, “Mr. Laughton…offered for inspection, a fruit piece painted by himself.  This was considered by judges, to indicate a talent in the art which deserves particular encouragement.”  In 1823, his advertisements focused specifically on Masonic aprons, such as the one in the Connecticut Mirror on June 30, 1823, which was headed “Masonic Aprons,” and included an illustration of an apron.  “William Laughton,” the advertisement read, “has now on hand, a handsome assortment of Masonic Aprons, plain and gilt, very cheap by the dozen or single.”

After 1824, Laughton disappears from the newspapers.  He may have headed out of town to work as an itinerant painter.  In an 1898 biography of Esek Hopkins (1718-1802) (Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy, 1775-1778), a portrait of Hopkins is mentioned.  It was “taken from North Providence to Brookline, and in 1825, as it had become somewhat defaced, was turned over to a man by the name of Laughton, a carriage and sign painter, of Brookline, to be repaired.”  We do not know for sure if this “Laughton” and the William Laughton who made this apron are one and the same, but it is possible.  The 1838 Hartford City Directory lists Laughton back in the city as a “fancy painter.”  Few other details remain to tell us about the latter part of his life.  A “William W. Laughton” is listed in the records of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut.  He joined Bridgeport’s St. John’s Lodge No. 3 in 1862, but there is no birth date given, so this is an inconclusive match, especially since it seems strange that Laughton would have joined so late in life after making and selling aprons in the 1810s and 1820s.

Perhaps further information about William Laughton will come to light over time.  If you know of other aprons by Laughton, please let us know in a comment below!

To learn more about our apron collection, see our new book, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, available June 2015 at www.scottishritenmj.org/shop.

References:

Connecticut Mirror, The Times, Connecticut Courant, 1819-1824.

Edward Field, Esek Hopkins, Commander-In-Chief of the Continental Navy during the American Revolution 1775 to 1778 (Providence: The Preston & Rounds Co., 1898).

Susan P. Schoelwer, ed., Lions & Eagles & Bulls: Early American Tavern & Inn Signs (Hartford: The Connecticut Historical Society, 2000).

I am indebted to Robert Fitzgerald, Grand Secretary, Grand Lodge of Connecticut, for sharing the Laughton Masonic membership information with me.


Now on View: The Red, White and Blue

The Red White and Blue installed view two
Here you can see a 46-star that belonged to Louis N. Willgens (1864-1940) who immigrated to America from France. He flew this flag at his home in Buffalo, New York.

The American flag is a powerful and easily recognized symbol, carrying a variety of meanings for many people. Congress first resolved that the American flag would be composed of thirteen red and white stripes and stars on a blue background in 1777. In following decades multiple laws specified colors, the number of stripes and stars on the flag and how these elements should be arranged, as well as rules surrounding the care and use of official flags. During the late 1700s and early 1800s, Americans primarily employed flags in military situations or to mark government property. Frequent visitors to the museum are familiar with the large 15-star flag created for this purpose on display in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s Farr Conference Center. 

Everyday Americans started to display the flag and symbols related to it around the time of the War of 1812. During the Civil War, manufacturers and individuals seeking to express their patriotism or political point of view decorated everything from envelopes to quilts with interpretations of the United States flag.  Many fraternal groups, such as the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, have incorporated the flag into their symbols and objects that they used. The Mercer Pottery Company decorated the pitcher (shown below) with the square and compasses and an arm wielding a hammer, a shield and United States flags—all emblems of that group. This fraternal organization promoted jobs for native-born Americans, patriotism and public education. The design and decoration of many of the badges, banners and surviving objects made for the group incorporate United States flags or red, white and blue colors to reflect members’ interest in patriotism.

Pitcher
Pitcher, 1870-1880. Mercer Pottery Company, Trenton, New Jersey. Special Acquisitions Fund, 83.25. Photograph by John M. Miller.

In one of the Museum’s hallway exhibition cases we have recently gathered together a group of objects from the collection that hint at the many ways the American flag has been used to help convey feelings and suggest values. This symbol has been employed by everyone from individual Americans to organizations as various as fraternal groups or manufacturers selling campaign souvenirs. Be sure to take a look the next time you visit the Museum!         

        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Now Available! New Book on Masonic Aprons

The Badge of a Freemason cover ResizedThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is pleased to announce that its new book, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, is now available!  The hardcover book has 248 pages with full-color photos and is $39.95 plus shipping and handling, and sales tax, if applicable.

Soon after the Museum & Library was founded in 1975, the collection began to grow.  Masonic aprons were among the first donations.  Today, with more than 400 aprons, the Museum & Library has one of the largest collections in the world.  Examples date from the late 1700s to the present and come from the United States, England, China and other countries.

Called "the badge of a Freemason" in Masonic ritual, the fraternity's apron was adapted from the protective aprons worn by working stonemasons during the 1600s and 1700s.  Still worn by members today, the apron remains one of the iconic symbols of Freemasonry.  Written by the Museum & Library's Director of Collections Aimee E. Newell, Ph.D., this catalogue presents more than 80 aprons from the collection.  The aprons are organized chronologically to help demonstrate their evolution in shape, style and materials from the eighteenth century through the twentieth century.

To order your copy, visit www.scottishritenmj.org/shop today!

 


Commemorating the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth Day

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Ambrotype of Unidentified Man in Masonic Apron and Independent Order of Odd Fellows Collar, 1855-1865, unidentified maker, United States, Museum purchase, 85.41. Photograph by David Bohl.

June 19th will be the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth day, also known as Emancipation Day, in the United States.  Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 declaring that slaves in all states still at war with the federal government were free and would remain so.The proclamation was not fully realized until June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger (1821-1876) announced freedom for all slaves in the Southwest including Texas, the last rebel state to allow slavery following the end of the Civil War. The day is believed to have been named “Juneteenth” by those freed in Texas in 1865.The 13th amendment outlawing slavery everywhere in the United States was subsequently ratified in December 1865.

Since that time, nationwide grassroots celebrations have commemorated this significant moment in American history. In June 2014, the U.S. Senate passed legislation formally recognizing June 19th as “Juneteenth Independence Day” and supporting the nationwide celebration of the holiday.  In light of this anniversary the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is taking a moment to highlight some of the items in our collection related to African American Freemasonry (commonly referred to as Prince Hall Freemasonry) and fraternalism.

The Prince Hall Monument
The Prince Hall Monument in Cambridge, MA was unveiled on May 15, 2010.  Image courtesy of The Prince Hall Monument Project.

African American Freemasonry emerged in 1775 when Prince Hall (1738-1807), an active Methodist and leading citizen in Boston’s African American community, attempted to join Boston’s Masonic Lodges but was denied membership. In response, he and fourteen other African Americans who had been rejected by the established Boston lodges turned to a Masonic Lodge attached to a British regiment stationed in the city. Initiated in 1775, Hall and his Masonic brothers met as members of the British lodge until the Revolutionary War ended. In 1784 Prince Hall and the other members of the British lodge, petitioned the Grand Lodge of England to form a new lodge on American soil. The governing body granted his request, creating African Lodge No. 459.

When Prince Hall died in 1807, African American masons chose to give their fraternity his name to distinguish it from predominantly white “mainstream” lodges that generally excluded blacks throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Today, there are reported to be over 4500 Prince Hall Lodges worldwide. After the civil war, Prince Hall Freemasonry and other fraternal groups, like the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows and Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World spread throughout the North and South, helping to establish community institutions and benefits for freed families. Prince Hall and other African American Masonic leaders like Moses Dickson (1824-1901) and Lewis Hayden (1811-1889) were  influential activists in the abolitionist and civil rights movements of their era. Their leadership and influence emphasizes how Freemasonry and fraternalism impacted civil rights efforts and afforded African Americans the opportunity to organize toward an equal and free black citizenship in American society.  

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is continuing to look for items related to African American Freemasonry and fraternalism and welcomes inquiries about potential donations. To see items related to African American Freemasonry and fraternalism currently in our collection please visit our museum Flickr page.

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99_044_7DP1DBThis apron originally belonged to an unidentified member of Wilmington, North Carolina’s James W. Telfair Lodge No. 510 who was initiated in March 1915. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina was chartered in 1870. The lodge was named for James W. Telfair Jr. (1837-1914), a slave who later became a reverend at St. Stephen’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. Telfair served as Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina.  

 

 

Caption: Prince Hall Master Mason Apron, United States, 1915, unidentified maker, United States, Museum purchase, 99.044.7. Photograph by David Bohl.

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  RARE 90_H414 1866In December of 1865, Lewis Hayden, Grand Master of the Massachusetts Prince Hall Grand Lodge, delivered a stirring address to members of that Grand Lodge, calling into question the continued discrimination of African Americans in some Masonic lodges and American society.

Caption: Caste among Masons; address before Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Massachusetts, at the festival of St. John the Evangelist, December 27, 1865 By Lewis Hayden, Grand Master.(Boston, Massachusetts: Edward S. Coombs & Company, [1866])

Call number: RARE 90.H414 1866.

 

 

 

 

 

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80_9_1DI1 The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was created in Europe and is a fraternal group that includes mutual benefits. Peter Ogden created the American counterpart of GUOOF in 1843 after obtaining a charter from the fraternal society of England. Membership exploded after the Civil War when African Americans were able to organize lodges in the south. The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows reported a membership of 108,000 in the late 1990s.

 Caption: Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Chart, 1881, Currier & Ives, New York, 80.9.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

 

 

 

 

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  95_049_2DI2The Improved Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks of the World is an African American fraternal order founded in 1897. The IBPOEW offered leadership training, professional networking opportunities, social fellowship, and community service.

Caption: Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World Apron, 1900-1920, USA, Unidentified maker, Museum purchase. Photograph by David Bohl.

References:

Jeffrey Croteau. "Prince Hall: Masonry and the Man." The Northern Light Feb. 2011: 10-13.

Peter P. Hinks and Stephen Kantrowitz, eds. All Men Free and Brethren: Essays on the History of African American Freemasonry (New York: Cornell University Press, 2013).

Nina Mjagkij, ed. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations (New York: Garland Publishing, 2001).

Aimee E. Newell, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library (Lexington, MA: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2015), 222-224.

Previous Blog Posts:

Jeffrey Croteau. "Moses Dickson and the Order of Twelve." Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Blog. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. May 26, 2008

Aimee Newell. "A New Discovery about an old photo." Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Blog. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.May 1, 2012.

Aimee Newell. "From Boston to Washington D.C.: Prince Hall Freemasonry." Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Blog. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. February 4, 2010.


Rochester Consistory's New Candidates in 1893

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This wonderful photograph from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection shows the candidates for the Scottish Rite's 32nd degree in Rochester, NY, in 1893. With only 16 candidates, the 1893 Rochester Consistory class was typical of its time. The total membership of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (NMJ) that year was just over 20,000, with nearly 4,000 members in the state of New York. With the addition of these 16 candidates, membership in the Rochester Consistory rose to 695 members. Fifty years later, Rochester Consistory was comprised of 2,241 members. Membership in the entire jurisdiction increased ten-fold between 1893 and 1943, with the entire NMJ membership at just under 220,000 members in 1943. Membership in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction peaked in 1976, with 513,355 members.

 Caption:

32° Scottish Rite Class, Rochester Consistory, 1893. Cornell & Saunders, photographers, Rochester, New York. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Gift of the Valley of Rochester, A2003/18/25. Photograph by David Bohl.