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December 2018

Rare Prince Hall Acquisitions Offers Insights into African-American Philanthropy

In a blog post published in September for the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, we highlighted the Scottish Rite’s vision to be a fraternity that fulfils its Masonic obligation to care for its members. In this week’s blog post, we expand upon this theme by featuring three documents taken from the records of a Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in New London, Connecticut, Jepthah Lodge, No. 11. Taken together, these documents highlight the benevolent hearts of African American Freemasons as they respond to a request for aid from Reverend Octavius Singleton, the superintendent of the National Home Finding Society for Colored Children.

In the first document (see below), a letter from Reverend Singleton to Edward M. Stevens, the Junior Warden of Jepthah Lodge, Singleton recounts the difficult times faced by his organization and asks Stevens to petition his Lodge and church for donations.


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Letter from Reverend O. Singleton of the National Home Finding Society to Edward M. Stevens, June 28, 1922.

 

6-28-1922
Mr. Edward M. Stevens, J.W.
My Dear Friend:

     For 11 years we have been toiling almost single handed and alone to perform the duty every man and woman owes to the homeless child of our race. Our own people have not played the part of the good Samaritan toward these poor unfortunates, and had it not been for white friends, these poor little children would still be hungry and naked, out of doors, abused and mistreated. But through their aid, we have cared for 250 children, and have on hand now 50. We have the home in the city a picture of which I send herewith enclosed, and a farm of 240 acres, near Irvington, Ky., and 22 children down there practically out of doors from January 11th, to September 11th.
     We accidently got burnt out on the farm last January, then we erected another building, but before it was completed, a cloud burst and tornado struck us Sunday, May 30th., and leveled it to the ground.
     Through the kind assistance of Colored Lodges and Churches and the help of white friends –and one of these, Mr. Theo. Ahrens gave $200.00, and raised nearly $200.00 besides among his friends – we have about completed another new building. But we have run behind, we owe for coal, for bread, and groceries, for lumber etc. then too we have got to furnish the building and we’ve got to build a school house.

     My Dear Brother, I know you are a man of influence in your Lodge and church; and I don’t believe there is a Church or Lodge in the whole country, that would refuse to take up a collection to help a work like this, that has just gone through so much distress and suffering.
     Please send names of all giving 25¢ or more that we might publish same in the Colored papers. And know always, that any Lodge, any Church, any Community, in or outside of the State of Kentucky, has the right and privilege of placing children in our institution whether they help or not.
     Please do not pass this by, please don’t put it off but give every member a chance to show his fraternal and christian [sic] sympathy and pity and love for the poorest of the poor and the most needy of all creatures of the earth.

Yours for God’s little lambs,  

Rev. O. Singleton, Gen’l Supt.,
National Home Finding Society
1716 West Chestnut Street
Louisville, Kentucky



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A Picture of the National Home Finding Society's "Busy Bee Farm" taken on July 15, 1922. after the great fire and tornado of 1920

 

Singleton’s letter was read before the members of Jepthah Lodge on July 12, 1922, and a collection was held that raised $4.35 for Superintendent Singleton’s home for orphaned children. The Lodge’s donation was sent by money order to Singleton along with the letter depicted below. In addition to this act of kindness, the minutes of Jepthah Lodge show that at this meeting the Lodge also gave $15.00 to Mrs. Clara A. Burr, the widow of a deceased member. 

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Letter from Jepthah Lodge, No. 11, to Reverend O. Singleton, July 18, 1922.

  July 18th, 1922
The National Home Finding Society
Rev. O. Singleton

Dear Sir:-

      Your letter of June 28th. addressed to Mr. Edward M. Stevens has been referred to Jeptha Lodge No. 11, F. & A. M. for our consideration.
       We wish to assure you that we are greatly in sympathy with any and all enterprises which tend towards the advancement of our colored people as a  whole and any difficulties which any one community has in as deeply felt by us as though we were subject to the same misfortune.
      We greatly commend the “National Home Finding Society” for the work they are doing to assist these little children who you state are practically homeless, and wish that were financially able to assist you more than we are doing just now; however, we have urged each member present to contribute as liberably [sic] as his means will afford and he can obtain the address of the Society from our Sec. should any of them wish to make a personal contribution.
      Enclosed you will find a money order to the amount of $4.35 which was contributed by the few brethren who were present at our last regular communication and trust that it will assist you in your struggle to pay off current expenses.

We trust that you will be successful in all attempts you may make for the proper care of these lettle [sic] children.

Very Sincerely Yours,

Jeptha Lodge, No. 11, F. & A. M.
John Ware W. M.
John R. Leeks, Sec.


Donations from people and organizations, such as Jepthah Lodge, No. 11, kept Octavius Singleton’s ambitious dream of providing a home for Kentucky’s homeless African American children alive for over 30 years in spite of tremendous obstacles.  As Jennie Cole of the Filson Historical Society writes, “World War II brought times of increasing hardship to the Home,” and when “combined with the ill health of” Singleton’s wife Harriet, his great partner and the matron of the home, Singleton was forced “to release the children in his care or find placement for them in other homes.” Yet, in spite of each setback, Singleton persevered; he continued to seek support for his work at Irvington, Kentucky, and for “blacks living in his hometown of Edwards, Mississippi and the surrounding region” until his death in 1950.

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National Home Finding Society for Colored Children pamphlet, about 1922.


Captions

Letter from Reverend O. Singleton of the National Home Finding Society to Edward M. Stevens, June 28, 1922. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 130.002.

National Home Finding Society for Colored Children pamphlet, about 1922. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 130.002.

Letter from Jephtha Lodge, No. 11, to Reverend O. Singleton, July 18, 1922. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 130.002.

References

Cole, Jennie. “Singleton family Papers, 1907-1983.” Filson Historical Society, last modified August 12, 2015. Accessed: 27 October 2018. https://filsonhistorical.org/research-doc/singleton-family-papers-1907-1983/

Kleber, John E., ed. “Civic, Fraternal, and Philanthropic Orphanages.” In The Encyclopedia of Louisville, 682. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2001. Accessed: 27 October 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=pXbYITw4ZesC&dq

Powell, Jacob W. Bird’s Eye View of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church with Observations on the Progress of the Colored People of Louisville, Kentucky, and a History of the Movement Looking Toward the Elevation of Rev. Benjamin W. Swain, D.D. to the Bishopric in 1920. Boston: Lavalle Press, 1918. Accessed: 27 October 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=Vf8-AAAAYAAJ&dq

Slingerland, W. H. Child Welfare Work in Louisville: A Study of Conditions, Agencies and Institutions. Louisville, Kentucky: Welfare League, 1919. Accessed: 27 October 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=FFQHAAAAMAAJ

 

 

 


Illustrating Arctic Exploration

In 1853, physician Elisha Kent Kane (1820-1857) led the Second Grinnell Expedition from London, England, to Rensselaer Harbor, Greenland. Kane, an experienced Arctic explorer and member of the First Grinnell Expedition in 1850, charted the coasts of Smith Sound and the Kane Basin in Greenland. American merchant Henry Grinnell (1799-1874) financed both tours, launched as search expeditions for the 1845 lost Franklin Polar Expedition.

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Farewell, ca. 1889. Albert Operti (1852-1927), New York,
New York. Special Acquisitions Fund, 91.014.

After an arduous year at sea, Kane's vessel, the Advance became icebound. After two treacherous winters, Dr. Kane and his crew were forced to abandon the Advance. They navigated through the bay in their small whaling boats.  Before abandoning ship, Kane and his crew removed the figure-head from their ship as a remembrance of their journey. Kane described the experience in the 1856 book Arctic Explorations, Vol.II, writing:...“Our Figure-head, ‘The Fair Augusta,’ the little blue girl with pink cheeks, who had lost her breast by an iceberg, and her nose by a nip off ‘Bedevilled Reach,’ was taken from our bows and place aboard the ‘Hope.” “She is at any rate wood,’ said the men, when I hesitated about giving them the additional burden, ‘and if we cannot carry her far we can burn her.’”

Artist and Freemason Albert Operti (1852-1927), depicted Kane and his crew abandoning their icebound ship in his 1855 painting titled, Farewell. Operati, a scenic artist for the Metropolitan Opera House and later exhibit artist for the American Museum of Natural History, often focused on Arctic exploration in his paintings. The print shown here, in the Museum & Library collection and made after the painting in 1889, shows six men from the exploration team with dogs and sleds, preparing to board their escape boats. In the lower right hand corner, Operati included a square and compasses, the letter “G,” with a walrus and iceberg, illustrating his Masonic affiliation. Kane, also a Freemason, was a member of Franklin Lodge no. 134 in Philadelphia. Kane Lodge No. 454 in New York City, chartered in 1859, was named after and dedicated to Kane, who died in Havana, Cuba, in 1857.

According to an 1889 edition of The Freemasons Repository, Operati presented the Farewell painting to Kane Lodge, also in possession of the aforementioned figure-head from the Advance. To see more prints and paintings from the Museum collection depicting scenes from American history visit our new exhibition, "The Art of American History," on view through November 2019.