New Acquisition: First Masonic Almanac Published in the United States

Free Mason's Calendar title pageThe Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives recently acquired The Free Mason's Calendar and Continental Almanac for the Year of Our Lord 1793. It was the first Masonic almanac published in the United States.

According to Kent Walgren's descriptive bibliography Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry, and Illuminism in the United States, 1734-1850 only nine other libraries own a copy of this almanac. The addition of this almanac to the library's collection makes ours the tenth known copy.

Samuel Stearns (1741-1809), the author whose name appears on the cover of The Free Mason's Calendar, was a physician and astronomer. In addition to the Free Mason's Calendar, he issued other almanacs, including the North-American Almanack, published annually from 1771-1784, as well as the first American nautical almanac, The Navigator's Kalendar, or Nautical Almanack, for 1783.

The copy of The Free Mason's Calendar that we acquired has a fairly detailed provenance (i.e. a list of previous owners of the book). Starting with the first owner, Thomas Noyes, there are eight known previous owners of this book. The most recent owner, Edward B. Jackson, who had owned the book since 1997, generously donated it to our Library & Archives this year.

The previous owner that I'm choosing to focus on in this post is Jonas H. Brown (1821-1897), who wrote a presentation inscription opposite the title page. Although the text indicates that Brown was presenting this to someone else, the recepient is not named. Brown's inscription reads:

Presented by Jonas H. Brown, Warren, Mass., No. 1 Carl street, late of 34 regt. Mass. H Company, Vol. Infantry. [Indecipherable] of Post 65 Clara Barton, Department of Mass., G.A.R. 1894.

Brown's inscription provides a lot of biographical information - where he lived, that he was a Civil War veteran, and that he later joined the Grand Army of the Republic. As the inscription notes, Brown served in Company H of the 34th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry. Following this lead, I was able to discover that Brown served with the 34th Regiment for the for the entirety of its existence. Brown volunteered as a Private on July 23, 1862 (at the age of 41) and was discharged on June 16, 1865. Following the war, Brown was active in his G.A.R. Post - he was named Commander of Clara Barton Post 65 at the end of 1879. Brown died in 1897 at the age of 81.

And although this is a Masonic almanac, it's not clear whether Brown was a Mason. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts has no record of him being a Massachusetts Mason, and it appears that Brown was a lifelong Massachusetts resident. The 1850 Census names his place of birth as Massachusetts and all subsequent censuses place him in that state. If you know more about Jonas H. Brown, feel free to drop us a line in the comments section below.

The Free Mason's Calendar and Continental Almanac for the Year of Our Lord 1793. New York: Printed and sold, wholesale and retail, by Samuel Campbell, no 37 Hanover Square, [1792].
Call number: RARE 01 .S799 1792
Gift of Edward B. Jackson

Tippecanoe and Log Cabins, Too!

Hard Cider and Log Cabine Almanac 1841 This Hard Cider and Log Cabin Almanac, from the Van Gorden-Williams Library’s collection, is an enlightening 24 pages of political memorabilia. Like other almanacs of the time, it contains valuable astronomical information for farmers and others. However, interleaved with charts of sunrises and sunsets, phases of the moon, and high tides, are illustrations and articles supporting William Henry Harrison’s 1840 presidential campaign.

Historians often view the 1840 election as the first modern campaign, in which the parties began promoting their candidates nationally, using events and advertising to create their nominee’s image and push their agenda. The Whig Party backed William Henry Harrison, the 68-year-old former governor of the Indiana Territory and hero from the War of 1812.

This almanac’s title comes from Harrison’s campaign symbol, the log cabin. It appeared on ribbons, medals, banners, brooches, buttons, prints, plates, needle cases, snuff boxes, and many other items. Some Harrison supporters even built log cabins to house their campaign rallies. Ironically, the Whigs adapted the image from an insult by Harrison’s Democratic opponents, who said he would prefer retirement in his log cabin, drinking hard cider, to being president. His campaign co-opted the log cabin idea to make Harrison—born to an elite Virginia family—seem more like a man of the people.

Touting Harrison’s accomplishments as a general and referring to him as “the Washington of the West,” the almanac features engraved illustrations of his treaty negotiations with Shawnee leader Tecumseh, as well as the battle against the Native American uprising at Tippecanoe. There Harrison earned his nickname “Old Tip,” which later led to his (other) campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Illustrations of his War of 1812 victories at Fort Meigs and the Thames are also presented.

The almanac came to the National Heritage Museum bound into a newspaper, the Auburn Daily News and Log Cabin Herald, from Auburn, New York, dated June 17, 1840. The newspaper, like the almanac, includes articles endorsing Harrison and ads for rallies in his honor. It also denounces his opponent, incumbent Martin Van Buren, for “having brought the government to the state of bankruptcy” and “pocketing the people’s money until there was no more to filch.”

In the election, Harrison narrowly won the popular vote, but the tally translated into a landslide in the Electoral College. His presidency, however, is infamous for its brevity. His inaugural address, the longest on record, clocked in at 8,445 words and nearly two hours. After standing in a cold wind without a coat, hat or gloves during the ceremony, Harrison caught pneumonia. He died on April 4, 1841, after only 32 days in office. 

Photo: Hard Cider and Log Cabin Almanac for 1841: Harrison and Tyler. Washington City: Sold wholesale and retail by John Kenedy, 1841. Call number: RARE AY 81 .P7 H3, Gift of Doris Hudson May