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February 2016

Lecture: “Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere’s Evolution from Craftsman to Innovative Entrepreneur”

Rob Martello photoSaturday, March 5, 2016

2:00 PM


Lecture and Book Signing by Robert Martello, Professor of the History of Science and Technology at Olin College of Engineering

There is no doubt that Paul Revere played a key role in our nation’s history. His midnight ride immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” and his participation in the events leading up to the Revolution will forever shape our understanding of the man. However, Revere was a craftsman by trade, and his innovations in his craft helped him become a pioneer in industry.

In the aftermath of the American Revolution, Revere began to experiment with new technologies in metal working. He also began to use wage laborers instead of the traditional apprentice system. Although not all of his experiments were successful, Revere’s willingness to try new methods, both in working metals and in using labor, allowed him to transition from a colonial craftsman to an industrialist.

In this lecture at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Robert Martello will discuss Revere’s role as a craftsman and entrepreneur. Drawing on material from his book Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn, Martello will examine how Revere’s willingness to embrace risk and to experiment with new techniques helped him to become a successful businessman. Professor Martello will be available to sign copies of his book after his lecture.

This lecture is made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation and is the first of four talks in the 2016 lecture series, “Enterprise and Craft in the Young Nation.”

A Fashionable and “Ancient” Masonic Chair

Arm Chair, ca. 1790. Probably Massachusetts. Special Acquisitions Fund and in part through the generosity of Harold French, 86.40. Photo by David Bohl.

At a quick glance, this mahogany chair in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library resembles other fashionable armchairs produced in New England during the late 1700s and early 1800s. A second look shows that a craftsman designed this chair with a Masonic customer in mind. He decorated the center of the back of the chair, or splat, with cleverly carved overlapping compasses, a square and a level. Two rosettes help anchor the symbols to the circle enclosing them.

While the symbols on the chair’s splat are Masonic, its overall design follows the popular style of the day. In creating fashionable home furnishings in the late 1700s and early 1800s, American furniture makers often looked to English examples for models of stylish work. This chair, with its shield shaped back, short, curved arms and elaborately pierced splat shows some of the stylish elements codified in The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide; or Repository of Designs for every Article of Household Furniture in the Newest and Most Approved Taste. Alice Hepplewhite (dates unknown), the widow of furniture maker George (d. 1786), first published this illustrated work in London in 1788. Some American furniture makers knew about Hepplewhite’s and similar British pattern books, such as Thomas Sheraton’s The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Brook, first published in 1791. These books were also one way Americans learned about the latest fashion. Americans formed their impression of the current modes by  viewing furniture in shops and homes and from up-to-date engravings and illustrations imported from Britain and Europe. Clients ordering furniture relied on craftsmen to be conversant with fashions of the day, but made specific requests about style, materials and cost, to see their wishes in fashionable furnishings fulfilled.

Unfortunately, we do not know who first ordered this chair, or what purpose it was intended to serve. Did the person who commissioned this chair want to use it at home, or was it made to beautify a lodge room? Judging from this chair’s style, manner of construction and materials, it was crafted in New England, perhaps in Boston, Massachusetts. An inscription on the frame of the upholstered seat notes it was “Originally the property of Genl. Amasa Davis.” Though intriguing, this note does not clarify this chair’s origin. Amasa Davis (1742-1825) of Boston, a merchant, was quartermaster general for Massachusetts from 1787 to 1825 and used the title of General. However, no record points to him having been a member of a Masonic lodge. As well, several men named Amasa Davis made their home in Massachusetts during the time this chair was first made. One even belonged to Morning Star Lodge in Worcester, Massachusetts, though little more is known about him. Fortunately records from Union Lodge in Dorchester, Massachusetts, speak to the chair’s later history. Member John Mears, Jr., (1821-1912), gave an “ancient masonic chair” to Union Lodge in 1864. His gift was one of several presentations of furniture made to the lodge to mark the organization’s move to a new building in 1864. Mear’s gift was set aside for use of the lodge’s Tyler until at least the early 1900s. So, although the early history of this intriguing and fashionable chair still needs to be uncovered, it eventually added a touch of history and tradition to a Masonic lodge room. If you have any ideas about this chair, let us know in the comments section below.


A Masonic Fire Bucket

81_48S1At the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, Massachusetts, we actively collect objects to strengthen and improve our existing holdings.  Our primary strength is American Masonic and fraternal items and we look for things that tell an engaging story, are in good condition and do not duplicate our existing holdings.  In 2014, I was contacted by an antiques dealer who had a fascinating painted leather fire bucket for sale.  The bucket was in nice condition and had a Masonic square and compasses symbol on the front above a pair of clasped hands and the name “J. Beach.”  At the top of the bucket, a painted banner read “Friendship in Adversity.”  On first glance it looked like a terrific addition to our collection. [It was recently (in 1/2016) up for sale again, this time at Sotheby's Americana Week sales in New York City - see it here.]

My first step was to analyze it according to our collecting criteria as described above.  So I searched our collections database to see just how many fire buckets we already have.  Imagine my surprise to find the one pictured here, which the Museum purchased in 1981 – it was almost identical to the photo that the dealer had sent me!  While we are fortunate to have a large storage area at the Museum, space is always finite, so I passed on buying the second one and promptly did some research on the one we already owned.

Antiques are rare and valued for a reason – as time passes objects break, get lost, thrown away and disintegrate.  Yet, before they became antiques, they were often common household items.  While it was surprising to turn up two fire buckets with almost identical decoration, it shouldn’t be unexpected.  During the 1700s and early 1800s, most households had at least a couple of buckets like these ones.  They were often the most effective way to combat a fire.  Local residents could line up and form a bucket brigade passing buckets from hand to hand to try and quench the blaze.  Decorating them with symbols and the owner’s name meant that they would be easy to return when the fire was over. 

Groups of local residents also formed fire companies or societies to assist with fighting fires in their neighborhoods.  It makes sense that these local groups would procure fire buckets with similar decoration – as is the case with these two buckets.  The Museum’s bucket is almost identical to the one that was owned by J. Beach – virtually the only difference is the owner’s name – Z. Stevens – and the date it was presumably made – 1799.  Thanks to an email with a colleague at the National Museum of American History, I was able to determine that John Beach and Zachariah Stevens were members of the Masonick Fire Society in Gloucester, Massachusetts.   

Formed in 1789, the Masonick Fire Society aimed to “be helpful to each other in extinguishing [fires in Gloucester], and in saving and taking the utmost care of each other’s goods.”  The printed “Rules and Orders” go on to require that each member “always keep ready, two good Leather Buckets, and two strong bags.”  Members of the Society were also required to be “an approved Mason.”  Indeed, both John Beach and Zachariah Stevens, who owned the fire buckets, were members of Gloucester’s Tyrian Lodge.  Beach was raised in 1779 and served the lodge as Master in 1802.  Stevens was raised in 1804.

Thanks again to my colleague at the National Museum of American History, I discovered that Stevens was a witness to the “sea serpent” sighted in Gloucester in 1817.  Starting in August 1817 and continuing for the next few years, reports of a strange sea creature off the coast of Gloucester began to circulate.  The accuracy of these accounts was debated throughout the country and never conclusively resolved.  But this rather outlandish tale adds another layer of interesting history to Stevens’ Masonic fire bucket.  And keep your eyes peeled – there may be more fire buckets just like this one waiting to be discovered!

Masonic Fire Bucket, 1799, unidentified maker, probably Gloucester, Massachusetts.  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Collection, Special Acquisitions Fund, 81.48.


Museum & Library Acquires Richard Theodore Greener's 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Certificate

Richard Greener 33rd Degree CertificateThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is pleased to announce that it has acquired the 33rd degree Scottish Rite Masonic certificate of Richard Theodore Greener (1844-1922), the prominent African American attorney, educator, diplomat, and Freemason. Among his many accomplishments, Greener was the first African American graduate of Harvard College, the dean of Howard University’s School of Law, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and the first U.S. Consul to Vladivostok, Russia.

The 33rd degree certificate was among many Greener documents discovered in 2009 in the attic of an abandoned house in Chicago by a cleanout crew preparing it for demolition. Along with the 33rd degree certificate, documents found in 2009 included Greener’s 1870 Harvard diploma (now in Harvard’s collection) as well as his law degree from the University of South Carolina and his license to practice law in South Carolina (now both at the University of South Carolina). Historians have greeted the discovery of the Greener documents – long thought lost – with much excitement. Greener’s Masonic certificate gives us a glimpse into his activities while he was in Chicago in 1896 working for the National Republican Committee’s presidential campaign efforts.

Richard Greener portraitGreener was active in Freemasonry as early as 1876, as evidenced by a Masonic speech he gave which was published that year, An Oration Pronounced at the Celebration of the Festival of Saint John the Baptist, June 24, 1876: At the Invitation of Eureka Lodge No. 1, F.A.M., in the Savannah Georgia Theatre. Twenty years later, on September 8, 1896, the United Supreme Council of the 33d Degree for Southern and Western Jurisdictions of the United States – a Scottish Rite group formed by black Chicago lawyer John G. Jones and others in 1895 – elevated Greener to the 33rd degree in their Council. (Although Jones suffers from a negative reputation within Freemasonry today, he was an activist and lawyer who fought against segregation, served in the Illinois Legislature, and was the eighth African American admitted to the Illinois bar.) The date of Greener’s 33rd degree certificate coincides with his arrival in Chicago and his involvement with the National Republican Committee’s National Colored Bureau in the 1896 presidential campaign for Republican nominee William McKinley. Within the United Supreme Council, Greener served as Jones’ second-in-command, holding the office of Lieutenant Grand Commander in 1896 and 1897. Greener was also a Shriner and held office in the Imperial Grand Council of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, the black Masonic organization established by Jones in Chicago in 1893 during a time when the predominantly white Shriners excluded African Americans as members. The acquisition of Greener’s 33rd degree certificate strengthens the Museum & Library’s holdings related to African American fraternalism and helps tell the larger story of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the United States.


33° Certificate issued to Richard Theodore Greener, 1896, United Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree for Southern and Western Jurisdiction of the United States, Washington, D.C. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Collection, Lexington, Massachusetts, Museum Purchase, A2016/001.

Lower right:
Schomburg General Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. "R. T. Greener" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed January 13, 2016. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-72f8-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Model Train Weekend presented by the Northeast Ntrak Modular Railroad Club

Saturday, February 13, 2016
10:00 AM-4:30 PM

Sunday, February 14, 2016
12:00 Noon-4:00 PM

$7 per family ($5 for Museum or HUB members)
$5 per individual ($4 Museum or HUB members)

Love trains? Love museums? Bring your sweethearts to the Ntrak model train show at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library this Valentine’s weekend! The Northeast Ntrak Modular Railroad Club will be running its annual train show at the Museum on Saturday, February 13 from 10 AM to 4:30 PM and Sunday, February 14 from 12 noon to 4 PM. Admission is a sweet deal at only $7 per family or $5 per individual with discounted admission for members of either organization. Proceeds benefit both organizations.

2010_02_14_0237_CroppedWatch these small but mighty trains as they zip around incredibly detailed landscapes. Ntrak trains are smaller in size then traditional model trains but just as fun to watch. Because of their small size the landscapes and city scenes the trains travel though can encompass more. The show features bridges, train yards and a spectacular cliff face with multiple tunnels running in and out of the rocks. Trains climb mountain passes, shunt freight cars and use branch lines to pick up and set out cars at the many industries and stations along the way. Adults may even recognize a few of the local landmarks!

For more information about this show contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or check out our upcoming programs on our website.

New to the Collection: Scottish Rite Rose Croix Apron

Scottish Rite Rose Croix apron, 1810-1840, unidentified maker, France or United States, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library purchase, 2015.053.

Recently, we were able to add this Masonic apron to our collection.  It shows symbols associated with the Rose Croix degree of the Scottish Rite, which is the fraternity that founded and supports the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.  Many people, Freemasons and non-Masons alike, assume that the fraternity’s name, “Scottish Rite,” honors the roots of the group and that it originated in Scotland.  Some historical sources have fostered this story by suggesting that Scottish supporters of the Stuarts of England invented the Scottish Rite degrees in the 1600s to advance their political cause.  The Scottish Rite was actually established in France in the 1700s, followed trade routes to the West Indies and was then imported to North America.

Once a man becomes a Master Mason, he may choose to join additional Masonic groups, such as the Scottish Rite.  Today, members perform a series of twenty-nine degrees (4th-32nd) as morality plays.  Freemasons often call the Scottish Rite “the University of Freemasonry,” as the degrees are designed to supplement and amplify the philosophical lessons of the first three degrees by exploring the philosophy, history and ethics that guide members.  A 33rd degree is conferred as an honorary degree on selected members.

The Rose Croix degree, for which this apron was used, is the 18th degree in the Scottish Rite’s Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.  It tells the biblical story of the building of the Temple of Zerubbabel on the site of Solomon’s Temple, which had been destroyed.  The apron shows the symbols used in the ritual: the pelican piercing her breast to feed her children with her blood; a cross with a rose; and several symbolic tools along the side.  As the symbols on the apron suggest – note the implements of the crucifixion at bottom center – the ritual explores the idea of resurrection and alludes to the story of Jesus Christ.

The design of this apron is probably French, although it can be hard to tell if an apron was actually made in France, or was influenced by French style and made in the United States.  The motif of the ribbons along the sides with tools is often seen on French aprons.  For more examples of Rose Croix aprons, see our recent publication, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, which can be ordered here.