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February 2021

Pollie and James Henry Thomas and the Household of Ruth

Pollie Thomas postcard
Pollie Thomas, 1908-1914, Benjamin Ami Blakemore (1846-1932), Staunton, Virginia. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, A2018/053/005.

Pencil inscriptions on the back of these two photographs in the collection of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives identify that they portray Pollie Thomas (1888-1976) (at left) and her husband, James Henry Thomas (1869-1929) (at left, below). The Thomases lived in Staunton, Virginia. A copy of the "By-laws and Rules of Order Rose of Sharon Household of Ruth," published in 1915, signed "Sister Pollie Thomas," shows that Pollie Thomas belonged to this organization. A further inscription on the back of her portrait notes that she held the office of “Worthy Recorder,” or secretary, of the group.

Membership in the Household of Ruth was open to wives, daughters, and other relations of men who belonged to the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. Based in England, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows granted a charter to a group of Black men who wished to form a lodge in New York in 1843. In the United States, the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was an African American organization.

Established in the United States in 1858, the Household of Ruth was a women’s auxiliary associated with the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows. The organization granted degrees to both men and women. The group that Pollie Thomas belonged to, Rose of Sharon, No. 79, received its warrant in 1876. The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows lodge in Staunton, King Hiram No. 1463, where Pollie’s husband was likely a member, received its charter a few years before, in 1871. When he died in 1929, James Henry Thomas’s obituary noted that the Odd Fellows, the Household of Ruth, and the Lilly of the Valley Lodge of Elks, No. 171 conducted portions of his funeral service.

More examples of archival material related to African American fraternal groups in the collection of the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives can be viewed here, on our digital collections site.

References:

"Thomas Funeral," The News Leader (Staunton, VA), 7/13/1929, 2.

Charles H. Brooks, The Official History and Manual of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America (Philadelphia, PA: Odd Fellows Print Journal, 1902), 115, 141.

 

Henry Thomas postcard
James Henry Thomas, 1907-1929, J.A. Haack, Washington, D.C. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, A2018/053/007.

 


Masonic Souvenirs from Jerusalem

85_90DP1
Box with Masonic Wheat, Wine and Oil, ca. 1887. Jerusalem. Gift of Alvin Frank Appel, 85.90.

In Freemasonry, corn or grain, wine, and oil symbolize prosperity, health, and peace. They are considered a Freemason’s “wages” or “wages of nourishment” and are featured in Masonic degrees. Masons often use corn, wine, and oil in building consecration ceremonies. The grain, wine, and oil pictured here are housed in a wooden box.  The box was made in Jerusalem.  It is accompanied by a card of authentication from the U.S. Consulate. The printed card, dated January 19, 1887, is signed by U.S. Consul Henry Gillman (1833-1915) and reads “I certify that the wine and oil forwarded to John Worthington Esq. U.S. Consul at Malta were made in Jerusalem, that the wheat was raised here, and that the leather bottles are such as used here and were made in this country. The wine is known as Jerusalem wine and is seven years old.”

In the late 1800s, souvenirs from the Holy Land--an area important to many faiths that encompasses the region between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea--enjoyed great popularity. Affluent Americans, taking advantage of steamship travel and few restrictions on foreign travel, embarked on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. These tourists went in search of adventure and to claim both spiritual and physical pieces of the Holy Land for themselves.

The construction of Solomon’s Temple is central to Masonic ritual.  Some Freemasons who traveled to the Holy Land collected stones or

GL2004_4583DP4DB
Box, 1860. Boston and Jerusalem. Gift of Hammatt Lodge, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.4583a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.

other objects from sacred sites and boxed them up for their own personal collections or as gifts for their home lodges. One such Mason, Jerome Van Crowninshield Smith (1800-1879) of Boston, broke off a piece of white limestone from Mount Moriah on an 1851 trip to Jerusalem and later presented it to Hammatt Lodge in Boston, of which he was a founding member. According to an inscription engraved on the box’s lid, Smith believed the stone to be part of the “foundation stones on which stood the renowned Temple of Solomon.”

Do you have similar souvenirs from Jerusalem? Let us know in the comments below.