Freemasonry is widely recognized as the first fraternal group to organize in America. There are accounts of men meeting together in informal lodges during the 1720s. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts was formally established in 1733. As the most venerable group of its kind, Freemasonry served as an inspiration for other American fraternal groups throughout the 1700s and 1800s. When the Independent Order of Odd Fellows began in England in the mid-1700s, and came to the United States in the early 1800s, it followed the degree structure of Freemasonry and incorporated similar symbols and regalia.
Among the early regalia items worn by the Odd Fellows were aprons. Recently, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library acquired this Odd Fellows apron that was originally worn by a member of Maine’s Astoria Lodge No. 38. Based on the lodge’s history, the apron dates between 1846 and 1862. In 1846, the lodge was founded in Frankfort, Maine. By 1849, the lodge numbered 83 members. The last meeting of the lodge was held on December 30, 1862. A brief published history of the lodge alludes to its dramatic end, “various causes combined led to the death of the Lodge. Many of the members moved away, others lost all interest in the order, and a few proved themselves unworthy. One, who held a prominent position, used a large portion of the fund, leaving worthless paper as security. This soured and disappointed many, and finally the Lodge ceased work.”
Accompanying the apron is a receipt dated July 1, 1849, documenting that Brother Leonard B. Pratt (1820-1882) paid his quarterly assessments for nine months, for a total of $2.25. Pratt lived in Bucksport, Maine, near Frankfort, where the lodge met. Like many Odd Fellows aprons, this one is shield shaped and includes the fraternity’s three-link chain emblem, signifying “the only chain by which [members] are bound together is that of Friendship, Love and Truth.” Odd Fellows used the red and white colors for regalia worn by the Noble Grand, the Outside Guardian and state Grand Officers.
The apron will be on view in our lobby, starting in February 2016, as part of a small exhibition of some of our recent acquisitions. We hope you will be able to come by and see it in person. See our website for hours and directions. And, if you have seen any similar aprons or know more about Astoria Lodge, please leave us a comment!
Independent Order of Odd Fellows Astoria Lodge No. 38 apron, 1846-1862, unidentified maker, probably Maine, Museum purchase, 2015.027.