Abolitionism

Staff Picks: Jeff Croteau, Director of Library & Archives

RPG Wright title page and ownership label_web
Title page and ownership label from Thomas Smith Webb's The Freemason’s Monitor; or Illustrations of Freemasonry (Salem: Published by Cushing and Appleton, 1816). RARE 14 .W368 1816f. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Lexington, Massachusetts.

My favorite object in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection is a copy of Thomas Smith Webb’s book The Freemason’s Monitor, formerly owned by Richard P.G. Wright (1773?-1847).

This book is my favorite object because it tells a fascinating story that is not apparent at first glance. It is one of four copies in the library’s collection of the 1816 edition of Webb’s Monitor, published in Salem, Massachusetts. But it is only this particular copy that is my favorite, because of its history of ownership. I have always loved the idea that marks in books can tell us something beyond the object itself. As the rare books librarian Roger Stoddard observed in his 1985 book Marks in Books, Illustrated and Explained, “When we handle books sensitively, observing them closely so as to learn as much as we can from them, we discover a thousand little mysteries...”

This copy of Webb’s Monitor has both paper ownership labels inside, as well as handwriting, indicating that the book was originally owned by Richard P.G. Wright, who acquired it in 1822. I was not originally familiar with Wright’s name, and it was only when I noticed that someone had pasted a short newspaper article about African-American participation in Freemasonry into the back of the book that I wondered whether Wright himself was black. I asked myself whether, if I dug a bit deeper, perhaps this book might tell a bigger story. And it did.

 

RPG Wright and family ownership marks_web
Wright family ownership marks from Thomas Smith Webb's The Freemason’s Monitor; or Illustrations of Freemasonry (Salem: Published by Cushing and Appleton, 1816). RARE 14 .W368 1816f. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Lexington, Massachusetts.

A little investigation revealed that Richard P.G. Wright was a black abolitionist and a Freemason who, along with his more well-known son, the preacher Theodore Sedgwick Wright (1797-1847), was active in predominantly white lodges in Schenectady, NY, as early as 1818 until their deaths in 1847. We can assume that this book held important meaning in Wright’s family since this copy of Webb’s Monitor also contains ownership marks indicating that it was later passed down to Wright’s daughter, Lydia L. Thompson, and then to his grandson,  Samuel Thompson.

Inspired by my curiosity from the markings in this book, I eventually followed a trail that showed that, at the same time that they were active Masons, both Richard P.G. Wright and Theodore Sedgwick Wright were heavily involved in the abolitionist movement. Both men were members of the American Anti-Slavery Society and the Committee of Vigilance. Richard P.G. Wright’s Schenectady barbershop was located along the Erie Canal, and was known to be part of the Underground Railroad. Theodore S. Wright came to abolitionism through his father, Richard P.G. Wright, who himself attended abolitionist meetings at least as early as 1816, and who named his son after Theodore Sedgwick, a Massachusetts jurist and legislator who successfully defended an enslaved Massachusetts woman against her master, from whom she had fled.

Richard P.G. Wright, then known as Prince G. Wright, was raised a Master Mason in a lodge of black abolitionists – Boston’s African Lodge No. 459 – in 1799. Yet upon relocating to Schenectady, both he and his son were members of, or visitors to, at least five different predominantly white Masonic lodges or chapters. In Scottish Rite Freemasonry, Wright served as both Treasurer and Tiler in Schenectady’s Delta Lodge of Perfection as early as 1822, serving alongside Giles Fonda Yates (1799-1859), who would later become Sovereign Grand Commander of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s Supreme Council.

Unlike much archival material, books – even the rarest of books – are not unique. However, individual copies of books, with interesting histories of ownership, like this one, can tell a story different from every other copy of this book in existence. We can be grateful that the Wright family wrote their names in this book so that we can tell their story today.


A Fraternity Goes to War: The History of a Masonic Civil War Certificate


From April 1861 until the end of September 1863, the Grand Lodge of Illinois issued 1,757 Masonic war certificates to Illinois Master Masons, and eventually to the sons of Master Masons, as a type of traveling certificate, which would vouch for their good Masonic standing to their Confederate brothers whom they would meet on the battlefield.

This certificate, a gift to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library from Rushville Lodge, No. 9, A. F. & A. M., had been issued to Corporal Phineas Lovejoy of the 3rd Regiment, Illinois Cavalry on December 23, 1861. Research into his life reveals that Lovejoy had been elected Most Worshipful Master of Columbus Lodge, No. 227, and was the first cousin once removed of abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy and his brother U.S. Congressman Owen Lovejoy, a friend of Abraham Lincoln.

 

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Masonic War Certificate for Phineas Lovejoy, December 23, 1861.

Census records for the years 1850 and 1860 document that Phineas worked as a farmer, and articles found in the Quincy Whig (provided by the Quincy Public Library) capture his very active political life, including Lovejoy’s election to town clerk for the township of Honey Creek (April 1859). The Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls documents that, like many Illinoisans, Lovejoy swiftly joined the army on August 5, 1861, less than four months after the first shots had been fired upon Fort Sumter, and that he and his regiment took part in the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Phineas Lovejoy did not survive the war, and records consulted for this blog post do not reveal the cause of his death. What we only know for certain is that Lovejoy was mustered out on August 9, 1862, and died on that same day on the Steamer “White Cloud,” somewhere offshore near Memphis, Tennessee. Having said that, after consulting the National Park Service’s website Battle Unit Details, we do know that Lovejoy’s cavalry unit was stationed at Helena, Arkansas, from July 14, 1862, until December 1863. Historian Rhonda M. Kohl explains in her article “This Godforsaken Town”: Death and Disease at Helena, Arkansas, 1862-63, the Union camp at Helena was a sickly place. It “created an unhealthy environment for residents and soldiers,” and “as soon as the Union troops occupied Helena, sickness [dysentery, typhoid, and malaria] overtook the men.” From Kohl’s account of the conditions at Helena, it seems likely that Phineas Lovejoy may have been seriously ill when he was mustered out in August and died while being transported north for medical treatment.   



Caption

Masonic War Certificate for Phineas Lovejoy, December 23, 1861. Gift of Rushville Lodge, No. 9, A. F. & A. M. (Rushville, Illinois). Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 007.

References

Ancestry.com. U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2012.

Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2009.

Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2009.

Bateman, Newton, and Paul Selby, eds. (1899). William Owen Lovejoy. In Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Knox County. (pp. 735-736). New York: Munsell. https://books.google.com/books?id=Oj5JAQAAMAAJ  16 October 2015.

Grand Lodge of Illinois (1861). Returns of Lodges: Columbus Lodge, No. 227. In Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Illinois, (pp. 227). Springfield, Illinois: Steam Press of Bailhache and Baker.

Grand Lodge of Illinois (1863). War Certificates. In Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Illinois, (pp. 15). Springfield, Illinois: Steam Press of Bailhache and Baker.

Historical Data Systems, comp. U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc., 2009

Kohl, Ronda M. “‘This Godforsaken Town:’ Death and Disease at Helena, Arkansas, 1862-63.” Civil War History 50, no. 2 (June 2004): 109-144.

State of Illinois. “Lovejoy, Phineas.” Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls Database. Accessed: 16 October 2015. http://www.ilsos.gov/isaveterans/civilMusterSearch.do?key=154306

United States National Park Service. “3rd Regiment, Illinois Cavalry.” Battle Unit Details. Accessed: 16 October 2015. http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/search-battle-units-detail.htm?battleUnitCode=UIL0003RC


Commemorating the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth Day

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Ambrotype of Unidentified Man in Masonic Apron and Independent Order of Odd Fellows Collar, 1855-1865, unidentified maker, United States, Museum purchase, 85.41. Photograph by David Bohl.

June 19th will be the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth day, also known as Emancipation Day, in the United States.  Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 declaring that slaves in all states still at war with the federal government were free and would remain so.The proclamation was not fully realized until June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger (1821-1876) announced freedom for all slaves in the Southwest including Texas, the last rebel state to allow slavery following the end of the Civil War. The day is believed to have been named “Juneteenth” by those freed in Texas in 1865.The 13th amendment outlawing slavery everywhere in the United States was subsequently ratified in December 1865.

Since that time, nationwide grassroots celebrations have commemorated this significant moment in American history. In June 2014, the U.S. Senate passed legislation formally recognizing June 19th as “Juneteenth Independence Day” and supporting the nationwide celebration of the holiday.  In light of this anniversary the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is taking a moment to highlight some of the items in our collection related to African American Freemasonry (commonly referred to as Prince Hall Freemasonry) and fraternalism.

The Prince Hall Monument
The Prince Hall Monument in Cambridge, MA was unveiled on May 15, 2010.  Image courtesy of The Prince Hall Monument Project.

African American Freemasonry emerged in 1775 when Prince Hall (1738-1807), an active Methodist and leading citizen in Boston’s African American community, attempted to join Boston’s Masonic Lodges but was denied membership. In response, he and fourteen other African Americans who had been rejected by the established Boston lodges turned to a Masonic Lodge attached to a British regiment stationed in the city. Initiated in 1775, Hall and his Masonic brothers met as members of the British lodge until the Revolutionary War ended. In 1784 Prince Hall and the other members of the British lodge, petitioned the Grand Lodge of England to form a new lodge on American soil. The governing body granted his request, creating African Lodge No. 459.

When Prince Hall died in 1807, African American masons chose to give their fraternity his name to distinguish it from predominantly white “mainstream” lodges that generally excluded blacks throughout the 1800s and early 1900s. Today, there are reported to be over 4500 Prince Hall Lodges worldwide. After the civil war, Prince Hall Freemasonry and other fraternal groups, like the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows and Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks of the World spread throughout the North and South, helping to establish community institutions and benefits for freed families. Prince Hall and other African American Masonic leaders like Moses Dickson (1824-1901) and Lewis Hayden (1811-1889) were  influential activists in the abolitionist and civil rights movements of their era. Their leadership and influence emphasizes how Freemasonry and fraternalism impacted civil rights efforts and afforded African Americans the opportunity to organize toward an equal and free black citizenship in American society.  

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is continuing to look for items related to African American Freemasonry and fraternalism and welcomes inquiries about potential donations. To see items related to African American Freemasonry and fraternalism currently in our collection please visit our museum Flickr page.

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99_044_7DP1DBThis apron originally belonged to an unidentified member of Wilmington, North Carolina’s James W. Telfair Lodge No. 510 who was initiated in March 1915. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina was chartered in 1870. The lodge was named for James W. Telfair Jr. (1837-1914), a slave who later became a reverend at St. Stephen’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. Telfair served as Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina.  

 

 

Caption: Prince Hall Master Mason Apron, United States, 1915, unidentified maker, United States, Museum purchase, 99.044.7. Photograph by David Bohl.

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  RARE 90_H414 1866In December of 1865, Lewis Hayden, Grand Master of the Massachusetts Prince Hall Grand Lodge, delivered a stirring address to members of that Grand Lodge, calling into question the continued discrimination of African Americans in some Masonic lodges and American society.

Caption: Caste among Masons; address before Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Massachusetts, at the festival of St. John the Evangelist, December 27, 1865 By Lewis Hayden, Grand Master.(Boston, Massachusetts: Edward S. Coombs & Company, [1866])

Call number: RARE 90.H414 1866.

 

 

 

 

 

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80_9_1DI1 The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows was created in Europe and is a fraternal group that includes mutual benefits. Peter Ogden created the American counterpart of GUOOF in 1843 after obtaining a charter from the fraternal society of England. Membership exploded after the Civil War when African Americans were able to organize lodges in the south. The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows reported a membership of 108,000 in the late 1990s.

 Caption: Grand United Order of Odd Fellows Chart, 1881, Currier & Ives, New York, 80.9.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

 

 

 

 

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  95_049_2DI2The Improved Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks of the World is an African American fraternal order founded in 1897. The IBPOEW offered leadership training, professional networking opportunities, social fellowship, and community service.

Caption: Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World Apron, 1900-1920, USA, Unidentified maker, Museum purchase. Photograph by David Bohl.

References:

Jeffrey Croteau. "Prince Hall: Masonry and the Man." The Northern Light Feb. 2011: 10-13.

Peter P. Hinks and Stephen Kantrowitz, eds. All Men Free and Brethren: Essays on the History of African American Freemasonry (New York: Cornell University Press, 2013).

Nina Mjagkij, ed. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations (New York: Garland Publishing, 2001).

Aimee E. Newell, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library (Lexington, MA: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2015), 222-224.

Previous Blog Posts:

Jeffrey Croteau. "Moses Dickson and the Order of Twelve." Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Blog. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. May 26, 2008

Aimee Newell. "A New Discovery about an old photo." Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Blog. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.May 1, 2012.

Aimee Newell. "From Boston to Washington D.C.: Prince Hall Freemasonry." Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Blog. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. February 4, 2010.


Civil War Lecture Explores Black Activists in Boston: March 23 at 2 p.m.

Our 2013 Civil War Lecture Series begins this weekend! Join us for the first lecture in the series. The series explores the history of this divisive war and its meaning for our nation today.

Stephen Kantrowitz KANTROWITZ
A Citizenship of the Heart: Black Activists and Universal Brotherhood in Civil War-Era Boston
Saturday, March 23 at 2 p.m., free

Stephen Kantrowitz, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will explore how the fight to abolish slavery was part of a broader campaign by Boston’s African American community to claim full citizenship. The talk will trace the activities of Prince Hall Freemason Lewis Hayden, a fugitive slave and Boston anti-slavery activist. Hayden’s Masonic engagement reflects the development of ideas and practices of black citizenship as tool to remake the republic into a place where all men could belong. Kantrowitz will be available after the talk to sign his book, More than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889.

The lecture is made possible by the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

For more information on the Civil War Lecture Series, please refer to the Museum's programs page. For information on visiting the Museum please click here, or call 781 861-6559.

Photo credit: Courtesy Stephen Kantrowitz

 


The "John Brown Bell" in Marlborough, MA

MarlboroughBellOn Saturday, March 10 at 2 PM the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Inc. (National Heritage Museum) will be offering a free lecture with Tony Horwitz, author of Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil WarTo learn more about the talk, read our previous blog post about this public program.

The history and story of John Brown abolitionist and militant has captivated audiences for over 150 years. Not only is it a Virginia story but it has a Massachusetts connection. Perhaps the speaker or members of the audience already know about the “John Brown Bell” of Marlborough, Massachusetts.

In the summer of 1861, members of Company I, 13th Massachusetts Volunteers were camped by the Potomac River, near Harpers Ferry. Some of these enlisted men were members of the Marlborough Volunteer Fire Department.  The militia was ordered to cross the river and seize anything of value for the US Government, and diligently searched the arsenal for items that might be of use or profitable. Others had had already been there before and taken anything worth confiscating.

Not wishing to return completely empty-handed, the men entered the engine house at Harpers Ferry that had served as Brown’s headquarters during the raid.  The militia spotted the bell in the engine-house and decided to take it home to Marlborough.  The bell, it was reasoned, could be presented to the city’s Hook and Ladder Company, who found themselves bell-less at the time. 

Was the bell Federal property that should be handed over to the government or was it a war souvenir?

In 1862 the company  did not have sufficient funds to send it home and the on-going military conflicts also  prevented them from getting the bell to Marlborough.

From 1862 to 1892 the bell resided in Williamsport, Maryland. Mrs. George Snyder, a local resident, had kept the bell for the company. In 1892, former members of Company I, now organized in a Grand Army of the Republic chapter, returned to Williamsport and, after finding the bell still in Mrs. Snyder’s possession, raised the necessary money to have the bell shipped to Marlborough.

Over thirty years after its removal in 1861 from the engine-house in Harpers Ferry, the bell was eventually  placed in the “John Brown Bell Tower” in Union Common at the intersection of Main and Bolton Street in Marlborough, Massachusetts, where it resides to this day. To learn more, visit the Marlborough Historical Society website.

Should a bell of such historic importance be located in Harpers Ferry, Marlborough or elsewhere?  We look forward to hearing if Tony Horwitz has something to add on this subject.

Photo credits:

Courtesy of Claudia Roche

 


Tony Horwitz to Speak on Raid on Harper's Ferry to Kick off Museum's Civil War Lecture Series

 

Press-th_croppedJohn Brown_againJoin Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tony Horwitz at the Museum on Saturday, March 10 at 2 pm to hear the electrifying tale of John Brown and his mission that changed the course of American history.

Plotted in secret and launched in the dark, Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry ruptured the union between North and South. Yet few Americans know the true story of the militant idealists who invaded Virginia before the the shelling of Fort Sumter opened the Civil War. The lecture, “Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Civil War,” is based on Horwitz’s acclaimed Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War, which takes an unblinking look at a nation on the brink of explosive conflict. A book signing will follow. Admission is free. The lecture is part of a series on the Civil War, and is made possible by Ruby W. Linn.

Horwitz is a graduate of Brown University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He worked for many years as a reporter, first in Indiana and then during a decade overseas in Australia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, covering wars and conflicts for The Wall Street Journal. He won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, and worked as a staff writer for The New Yorker before becoming a full-time author. Four of his books have been national and New York Times bestsellers: A Voyage Long and Strange, Blue Latitudes, Confederates in the Attic, and Baghdad Without A Map. He lives with his wife and sons on Martha’s Vineyard.

JBLastProphecyThe Museum is offering the lecture series on occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The series is designed to explore the history of this divisive conflict, and its meaning for our nation today. It also relates to Museum’s mission of fostering an appreciation of American history, patriotism and Freemasonry. All talks are sponsored by Ruby W. Linn.

Other lectures in the series are:

Gentlemen of the White Apron: Freemasonry in the American Civil War - Saturday, April 28, 1 pm

Michael Halleran, a freelance historian and practicing attorney, sets the standard for scholarship on Freemasonry in the Civil War. This talk will reveal the history behind the many mythical stories of Masonic Brotherhood across the Civil War battlelines.

Among the Ruins: Charles F. Morse and Civil War Destruction - Saturday, September 29, 2 pm

Megan Kate Nelson of Harvard University will unfold the Civil War experience of one Massachusetts soldier, Charles F. Morse, an officer in the 2nd Mass. Rgt. His letters, drawings, and other contemporary images will draw us into the world of ruin and destruction that participants in the war found themselves confronting.

Quilts for Civil War Soldiers: Stories from the Home Front and the Battlefield - Saturday, October 20, 2 pm

Pamela Weeks, Curator of the New England Quilt Museum, knows the stories behind the rare surviving Civil War quilts made by caring hands for soldiers fighting for North and South. Learn about the quilts, their makers, life on the home front during the war, and about how civilians organized to get desperately needed aid and supplies to the battlefield.

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559. www.nationalheritagemuseum.org

Image credits:

Courtesy Tony Horwitz

John Brown in late 1856 (Courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives, Boyd B. Stutler Collection)

Brown's Last Prophesy, 1859. Courtesy of the Virginia State Archives, Boyd B. Stutler Collection