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August 2017

New to the Collection: Apron Owned by John Mix

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Royal Arch Apron, 1810-1830. Attributed to James T. Porter (active 1810-1830), Middletown, Connecticut. Museum Purchase, 2017.011.

In the 1950s James Royal Case, later the Grand Historian of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, noted, “We probably are indebted to this brother for preservation of records which Storer [Eliphalet Gilman Storer (1793-1870), long-time Grand Secretary] transcribed ‘almost entire’ and printed in the Connecticut Grand Lodge Proceedings….”  Case was praising John Mix (1755-1834)--the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut for almost thirty years, from 1791 to 1820.  Following his service at the Grand Lodge, Mix filled the same role at the Grand Chapter of Connecticut from 1821 until 1831.  Along the way he held offices in both Frederick Lodge No. 14 in Farmington and Pythagoras Chapter in Hartford.  He was also a probate judge and town clerk in his hometown, Farmington, from 1791 to 1823.  He stepped away from his work in Freemasonry in 1831, “on account of his advanced age, and almost total blindness, occasioned by cataracts on both of his eyes,” after “long and faithful services.”

A few months ago the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library purchased a hand-colored engraved leather apron (pictured at left) with a family history of having been owned by John Mix.  The family had preserved it along with an 1818 receipt for furniture made out to Mix as part of his job as Grand Secretary.   To decorate the apron, a painter highlighted Masonic symbols, many of them used in the Royal Arch degrees, in watercolor (pictured at left) and added a gold border around the edges.  The apron has dull red silk trim along its top edge; at one time it likely had ties made out of the same material.  The museum owns a similar apron, as does the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (pictured at right).  The apron in the GLMA collection has a history of having belonged to Ebenezer Way (1784-1849), a Freemason from New London, Connecticut.  He may have worn it at the cornerstone laying ceremony for the Bunker Hill Monument in 1825.      

This apron design and at least two others are thought to be the work of engraver James T. Porter (active 1810-1830), of Middletown, Connecticut.  The attributions stem from a printed inscription on one of the apron designs: “J. T. Porter, Middletown, Conn.”  Another design has been attributed to Porter through its similarities to the inscribed example and a related inscription on the second design: “Designed and engraved by a brother, Midd. Conn.”  Unfortunately, James T. Porter’s name does not show up in the Grand Lodge of Connecticut’s membership records and little is known of his biography.  The apron thought to have been owned by John Mix and the related example collected by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, do not have printed inscriptions on them but have been attributed to James T. Porter based on similarities in design and histories of ownership in Connecticut.  Hopefully, further research will  uncover more information about James T. Porter and the aprons he engraved for the Masonic community in the early 1800s.         

 

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Royal Arch Apron, ca. 1825. Attributed to James T. Porter (active 1810-1830), Middletown, Connecticut. Loaned by The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.7553. Photograph by David Bohl.

Many thanks to Gary Littlefield and Richard Memmott of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut.

References:

James R. Case, “Nominal Roll of those on record in the Minutes of American Union Lodge, 1776-1783,” Transactions of the American Lodge of Research, vol. VI, no. 1, July 2, 1952-December 12, 1953, 383.

Barbara Franco, Bespangled, Painted & Embroidered: Decorated Masonic Aprons in America 1790-1850, (Lexington, Massachusetts:  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum of Our National Heritage, 1980) 92-93.

Aimee E. Newell, Hilary Anderson Stelling, Catherine Compton Swanson, Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures form the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection (Boston and Lexington, Massachusetts: Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2013) 102-103.  

Joseph K. Wheeler, Record of Capitular Masonry in the State of Connecticut (Hartford, Connecticut: Wiley, Waterman & Eaton, 1875).


The Importance of Research in Creating Connections to the Past

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Colored Odd Fellows Handbill

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 Envelope (front)

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Envelope (back)

At the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, research helps the museum’s staff of professionals not only to establish the history or provenance of the objects we collect, but also helps us to better understand the past lives of the people connected to these objects.

This week, we feature a new acquisition, a handbill that publicized an “Amateur Minstrels” show for the “Benefit of the Colored Odd Fellows.” The handbill was acquired with an envelope, postmarked February, 27, 1907, and is addressed to William Russ of Clarksburg, West Virginia. Research into this document has narrowed its sender to one of three people: Wilbur Miles, the headlining performer mentioned in the enclosed handbill, Agnes C. Stuart, or her daughter Katherine Stuart Godfrey. As this report from the society page of the Clarksburg Telegram (December 13, 1906) explains, it was customary for the Stuart family to spend their winters in Florida, and during the winter of 1906-1907, Agnes C. Stuart brought two members of her family with her.  

“Mrs. Agnes C. Stuart and daughter, Miss Kathyrine [sic], left today for St. Lucie, Fla., to spend the winter. Wilbur Miles, colored, joined them from Birmingham, Ala. Mrs. Stuart raised him and on that account, as he requested to be taken along she granted the request.”

The Stuart family were prominent citizens of Clarksburg, and as burial records for the town’s Odd Fellows cemetery reveals, at least three generations of Stuarts were buried there and were members of the Odd Fellows. It is likely that Wilbur Miles was introduced to Odd Fellowship through his relationship with the Stuarts and may have been a member of its African American counterpart, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America.

In addition to caring for the young Wilbur Miles, the Federal Census reports for the years 1870 and 1880 indicate that Agnes’ parents, William and Catherine, may have cared for another member of Wilbur’s family, Rosa D. Miles, who eventually 

 

became the family’s domestic servant and was identified as “mulatto” or mixed race in the records. Research has yet to establish her connection to Wilbur; however, it is possible that Rosa was either Wilbur’s mother or older sister.

As for the recipient of the handbill, William Russ, how was he connected to the Stuart family and to Wilbur Miles?  Federal Census records for the years 1900 and 1920 reveal that Russ, who was of mixed raced ancestry as well, worked as a construction worker for himself and later for Katherine Stuart Godfrey, Agnes’ daughter. In fact, for the 1942 draft, Russ listed Katherine as both his employer and as a “person who will always know your address” on his draft registration card.
 
Do you have any information regarding the history of this document or the people behind its creation? Or would you like to learn more about African American Minstrel performers? Feel free to contact us or to comment about this topic in the comments section below.

 


Captions

Colored Odd Fellows Handbill and Envelope Addressed to William Russ, February 1907. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, FR 160.001.


International Order of Twelve

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International Order of Twelve of Knights Temple Jewel, 1872-1920. Scotford Co., Kansas City, Missouri. Museum Purchase, 2017.005.

The Museum & Library recently acquired a jewel associated with the International Order of Twelve fraternal group. The Rev. Moses Dickson (1824-1901) founded the order, also known as the International Order of Twelve of Knights and Daughters of Tabor, as an African American fraternal group in Independence, Missouri, in 1872. Histories of the order connect it with the Order of Twelve, a group formed in 1846 as an anti-slavery group in the American South. Founded as a benevolence and financial aid group, the International Order of Twelve provided death and sickness benefits to members. The organization accepted men and women, who met collectively to govern the order together.  Locally, men and women held separate meetings—the men in “temples” and the women in "tabernacles." The name Tabor refers to Mount Tabor in Israel—a significant site in the Biblical Book of Judges. The group's ritual drew significantly from the Book of Judges.

The jewel features the numbers 777 and 333 stamped onto a metal twelve-pointed star. These numbers formed part of the chief emblem of the fraternal order and  were derived from significant days and numbers in the Bible. An 1879 Order of Twelve manual features an illustration of temple jewels with officer titles. The manual also includes illustrations of ritual objects, temple furniture, and guidelines for ceremonies and drills. 

The Mississippi jurisdiction of the Order funded and operated the Taborian Hospital in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, from 1942 to the mid-1960s. The hospital was one of two in the state owned and operated by African Americans in the mid-1900s. The Taborian hospital provided access to medical treatment for African Americans in the town of Mound Bayou and surrounding areas. The Taborian merged with the Sarah Brown Hospital in 1966 to become the Mound Bayou Community Hospital. It closed in 1983.

Illustrations from A manual of the Knights of Tabor and Daughters of the Tabernacle, 1897.
Illustrations from A manual of the Knights of Tabor and Daughters of the Tabernacle, 1879. RARE HS 2259 .T3 D5 1879

Today the Knights and Daughters of Tabor operates as a 501c3 non-profit focused on revitalization and renovation projects in the Mound Bayou, Mississippi, community.

This temple jewel is featured in a display of Recent Acquisitions, on view at the Museum & Library through July, 2018.

Do you have information about the Order of Twelve? Do you have any relatives who were once members or are you a current member? Let us know in the comments section below.

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