American Revolution

John P. French's Masonic Powder Horn

PXL_20240119_203723831~2
Masonic Powder Horn, 1750-1830. John P. French. Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.10

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library holds nearly two dozen powder horns in its collection. Some are from the era of the American Revolutionary War and bear carvings that reflect that use; some feature carvings of Masonic symbols. This unusual double powder horn is particularly intriguing because it exhibits both types of carvings.

Powder horns, made from animal horn (often cow or oxen), were used by soldiers in the field to keep gunpowder dry and secure. The holes at the tips of the horns were used to pour powder into a paper cartridge or directly into the barrel of a musket. Many were carved with designs that were meaningful specifically to the owner. The words “John P. French His Horn” are carved into the surface, identifying this horn’s owner. On this fascinating object, French showcased his Masonic affiliation, his interest in slogans, and possibly his personal hobbies.

PXL_20240119_203518451
Masonic Powder Horn, 1750-1830. John P. French. Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.10

One of the slogans that appears on the horn is “Don’t Tread On Me” above a snake. This phrase was first used in South Carolina in 1775 by Christopher Gadsden, then-Lieutenant Governor of the state. It was inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s 1754 “Join or Die” political cartoon showing the colonies as pieces of a snake, indicating that union between the British colonies was necessary for survival. The slogan became well-known after it was used on naval flags during the Revolutionary War. Another phrase that adorns French’s horn is “Freedom and Victory.” While there is no one known usage of this slogan, the ideals align with the goals of the American Revolutionary War.

PXL_20240119_203538379
Masonic Powder Horn, 1750-1830. John P. French. Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.10

The majority of the carvings on this double powder horn are connected to Freemasonry, perhaps a sign that the fraternity and its teachings held special meaning to French. The slogan “Cemented with Love” appears, which refers to the tight bonds that Masons encourage and enjoy with their brethren. In this apron in the museum’s collection, another Mason has chosen the same phrase to decorate his regalia.

Along with this Masonic slogan, French applied around two dozen symbols from the teachings of Freemasonry to his horn. Some symbols are common to all forms of Freemasonry, such as a trowel, a gavel, a coffin, a beehive, and two pillars called Boaz and Jachin. One is a stone archway often represented in Royal Arch Freemasonry, the first four degrees of the York Rite. This arch is topped by a figure identified as “Hiram.” Hiram Abiff is a significant character in Freemasonry’s third degree.

PXL_20240119_203606546
Masonic Powder Horn, 1750-1830. John P. French. Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.10

In addition to symbols representing his political and Masonic interests, French also carved what appears to be a hunting scene, featuring a dog, a bird, a deer, a mountain lion, and a man holding a rifle. Perhaps these symbols reflect a pre-war activity.

Unfortunately, even with the helpful addition of a middle initial, the name “John French” was so common at the time of the Revolutionary War that we cannot establish the owner’s identity from military records. French appears to have been a member of the fraternity, but we cannot ascertain to which Masonic lodge he belonged. While we do not know where John P. French lived or very much about him, the symbols he chose to carve on his powder horn give us a sense of what he valued.


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2023!

A1995_011_DS1_webEach year during the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library proudly displays an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter—one of several letters created by the colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It gives contemporary viewers a close-up look at the beginning of the American Revolution.

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington, which took place around daybreak on April 19, 1775. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network. Using this system, the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this version of his famous description of what happened, which was copied the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

The letter will be on view at the Museum from April 10 - 21, 2023. (Check the museum's website for specific days and times that we're open.)

In addition to seeing the letter in person, you can also view our online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter,” which is available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1. 


Heavy Impact: British Cannonball Fired in Lexington on April 19, 1775

75_34aDI1 - for blog
Cannonball (fired in retreat from Lexington), ca. 1775. Gift of Harvey B. Leggee, 75.34a.

Its surface is pitted and its usefulness long gone, but this six-pound iron ball tells an intriguing story of the first military battle of the Revolutionary War and its effect on the town of Lexington, Massachusetts.

According to an accompanying plaque, this cannonball was “fired in 1775 by ‘British regulars’ under command of Captain Earl Perry [sic] during their retreat from Lexington Green.” On April 19th of that year, the first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in Lexington, now the home of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Tensions had been high between Massachusetts citizens and the British government–represented by its royal troops–since the soldiers had landed in Boston in 1769. This friction had already led to such events as the 1769 Lexington Spinning Protest, the 1770 Boston Massacre, and the 1773 Lexington Tea Burning and Boston Tea Party.

These tensions and other events led to an armed conflict between Lexington’s Training Band and British troops on April 19, 1775. A contingent of British soldiers headquartered in Boston were deployed on an overnight mission to retrieve stolen cannon and ammunition hidden in Concord. After a short engagement at dawn in which eight Lexington men were killed and ten wounded, the British troops continued to Concord where they found themselves in a pitched battle at the Old North Bridge with militia members from Concord and surrounding towns. Eventually, the order to retreat was given and the British soldiers began a long and harrowing march back to Boston.

Local militias reengaged British troops many times along the route back–now called “Battle Road"–but the fighting took a different tone as the troops marched back through Lexington. By this time, relief troops from Boston had positioned two six-pound cannon at a rise east of the town center to provide covering fire for the soldiers on foot.

This bombardment led to cannonballs smashing through both the Lexington meetinghouse on the Green and one of the houses west of the Green on Harrington Road. According to SRMML’s records, the museum's cannonball was excavated in 1956–181 years after the battle–by local Mason Harold L. Worth (1909-1993) from the “south side of Merriam Hill.” This ball was found within the range of the British cannon that day. The location of the find supports the message on the cannonball’s plaque–that it was fired by British soldiers.

PXL_20230327_203345529 - for blog
Cannonball (fired in retreat from Lexington), ca. 1775. Gift of Harvey B. Leggee, 75.34a.

To confirm this information, SRMML staff measured the cannonball. The British were using six-pound field pieces that day and a six-pound cannonball is usually around 3.58 inches in diameter. As you can see on the right, this cannonball is 3.52 inches, which is within the expected range for historical examples. Using historical accounts, maps, and munitions specifications, we feel confident that this cannonball was fired during the conflict between Massachusetts citizens and British soldiers.

The cannon and troops are long gone, but the town of Lexington is still deeply tied to the events of April 19, 1775. Its landscape and people were profoundly marked by the attack. Evidence of that impact remains in the military detritus left behind. It is also on display in the reenactments and commemorations of the battle held annually in Lexington. See the links below for more Revolutionary War items in the museum’s collection!

---

More Revolutionary War items at SRMML:


The Masonic Hall of Fame: Prince Hall

PH GM w monument M180_B001_F008_Masons_002
Grand Master with Prince Hall Monument, 1910-1930. Charles H. Bruce (1884-1975), Boston, Massachusetts. Charles H. Bruce Photographs (M180), Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections, Boston, Massachusetts, Box 1, Folder 8.
Prince Hall Freemasons honor Prince Hall with a ceremony at his monument in Copp's Hill Burying Ground in Boston each Memorial Day.

 A leading member of Boston’s African American community, Prince Hall (1735 or 1738-1807) campaigned for schools for Black children, fought for equal rights for Black Americans, and sought to abolish slavery. Prince Hall, who was barred from joining American Masonic lodges solely because of his race, founded the historically Black organization that now bears his name.

Made a Mason

Drawn to Freemasonry’s values, Hall tried to join St. John’s Lodge in Boston in the early 1770s but was denied membership because he was a Black man. Hall and fourteen other African Americans who had also been rejected by established Boston lodges turned to a military lodge operating in Boston, No. 441, in their quest to become Freemasons. Initiated by the lodge in 1775, Hall and his brothers met as members of the British lodge until end of the Revolutionary War.

African Lodge No. 459

In 1784, Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England to form a new lodge in Boston. The governing body granted his request, creating African Lodge No. 459. Prince Hall helped found other lodges in Philadelphia and Providence; they worked under the charter of

Wright certificate at Houghton Library cropped
 Certificate, June 23, 1799. Provided by Colonial North America at Harvard Library, Harvard University, Houghton Library.
In 1799, Prince Hall, as Grand Master of the African Lodge in Boston, signed a document certifying that Richard P. G. Wright was a Master Mason.

African Lodge No. 459. These lodges eventually joined to form African Grand Lodge. In 1847, forty years after Prince Hall’s death, members of African Grand Lodge changed their name to Prince Hall Grand Lodge, in honor of their founder. The organization that Prince Hall established continues to thrive today and Prince Hall Masons meet in thousands of lodges across the United States.

"The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History"

We hope you can come visit the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s exhibition, "The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History." This exhibition showcases inspiring American Freemasons and introduces visitors to the history of Freemasonry in the United States. The exhibition will be on view through October of 2024. Throughout the exhibition, visitors will meet extraordinary Masons, such as Prince Hall, who, through their outsized contributions to Freemasonry, government, the arts, and social justice, made a profound impact on their world and ours.

 

 


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2022!

A1995_011_DS1_webEach year during the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library proudly displays an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter—one of several letters created by the colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It gives contemporary viewers a close-up look at the beginning of the American Revolution.

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington, which took place around daybreak on April 19, 1775. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network. Using this system, the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this version of his famous description of what happened, which was copied the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

In addition to seeing the letter in person, you can also view our online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter,” which is now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1.


The Green Dragon Tavern Sign’s Winding Legacy

GL2004_7293aDP1DB

Green Dragon Tavern Sign, 1875-1940. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.7293a. Photograph by David Bohl.

 

As we look forward to Patriots’ Day here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, our minds turn to objects in our collection related to the American Revolution. Among these is the dramatic sculpture pictured here. This sculpture is a reproduction of a tavern sign that once hung over Boston’s fabled (and no longer surviving) Green Dragon Tavern and connects viewers to the remembrance of important events relating to our nation’s origins.

This sculptural dragon’s story is as winding as its tail. The original Green Dragon Tavern, in operation as early as 1712 and located on Union Street in Boston’s North End, attracted customers with a metal (possibly copper) sign in the shape of a dragon over its door. The Lodge of St. Andrew met at the tavern and purchased the building in 1764. The tavern continued to operate in the basement while the Lodge used the upper floors for its meetings. This structure burned down in 1832, and the original dragon sign was lost.

The Lodge rebuilt the building after the fire. For its centennial in 1856, a new sign in the shape of a dragon was commissioned. It was modeled after its predecessor as closely as could be determined but was made of sandstone instead of metal. This 1855 dragon sign was also lost sometime after it was created.

The sign shown here, sculpted in bronze, has more mysterious origins. It was discovered in 1947 by clothing store proprietor Samuel Lebow, who had purchased the Lodge of St. Andrew’s building to use as his shop. Lebow, himself a Freemason, gave the dragon to the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts the same year he found it.

The original Green Dragon Tavern—referred to as the “Headquarters of the Revolution” by Daniel Webster and a “nest of sedition” by Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson—was the location at which the Sons of Liberty met to plan out the Boston Tea Party. An 1898 artist’s rendering of that storied night, with the tavern and its sign in the shape of a dragon in the background, can be seen below. Lodge of St. Andrew members Paul Revere (1734-1818), John Hancock (1736/7-1793), and Joseph Warren (1741-1775) were also members of the Sons of Liberty and deeply involved in the group’s activities.

GL2004_0763DI1cropped

Green Dragon Tavern, Boston, Massachusetts, 1898. Lee Woodward Zeigler (1868-1952); The Masonic History Company, New York, NY. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.0763.

 

Today, this dragon sign, part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, is cared for by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. If you would like to see it in person, it is currently on view in our exhibition, “The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History.”

 

References:

Newell, Aimee E., et al. Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection. Boston: Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and Lexington, Massachusetts: Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 2013, pp. 54-55.

Gimber, Karl and Mary Jo. “Hook a Tavern Sign.” Early American Life, Feb. 2012, pp. 72-73.

The Lodge of Saint Andrew, and the Massachusetts Grand Lodge. Boston: Lodge of St. Andrew, 1870, pp. 184-185.


Celebrate Patriots' Day With Our New Online Exhibition

Lexington Alarm letter exhibition imagePatriots' Day, a holiday well-known in Massachusetts and celebrated in other U.S. states as well, commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This year's holiday marks the 246th anniversary of the events that signaled the beginning of the American Revolution.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library invites you to explore our new online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter” now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection. Written on April 20, 1775, the letter's urgent news that war had broken out brings today's viewers to the beginning of the American Revolution.

The Museum's copy of the letter, written in the late morning of April 20, 1775, is one of several created by colonists to inform distant communities and colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England.

Interested in more online exhibitions? You can check out all of the Library & Archives online exhibitions here. Also be sure to check out the seven online exhibitions that are available at the Museum's online exhibitions website.


Experience Some of Patriots' Day Online

Lexington alarm letterThis year marks the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington. During any other year, you can usually visit us in person at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library around Patriots’ Day, when we normally exhibit one of the highlights from our collection: an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter. Our letter is one of several created by colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It is as close as contemporary viewers can get to the beginning of the American Revolution. While all of the Patriots' Day activities and events around Lexington and the rest of Massachusetts have been canceled this year, we wanted to remind you that you can still get an up close look at the Lexington Alarm letter through the high resolution images of it that are available to everyone through our Digital Collections website

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington which took place around daybreak on April 19, 1775. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, a town near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network so that the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this copy of his famous warning, which was written the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

If you want to do a little more armchair traveling, be sure to check out a blog post we published over a decade ago, which traces the route that the alarm letter took from Watertown, Massachusetts down to New York City.

And we hope to see you in person in April of next year for the 246th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, when you can once again see this exciting piece of American history in person.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1.


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online

Alarm letterEach year during the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library proudly displays an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter—one of several letters created by the colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It is as close as contemporary viewers can get to the beginning of the American Revolution.

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, a town near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network so that the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this copy of his famous warning, which was written the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

In 2016, the Library & Archives digitized the Lexington Alarm letter and made high resolution images of it available to everyone through our Digital Collections website. If you're in Lexington during April, and would like to see this exciting piece of American history in person, please be sure to visit the Museum & Library. Or if you're reading this post and would like to get a close-up look at this document, be sure to visit our Digital Collections website at this link.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1.


The North Shore Lace Industry

GL2004_0143T1
Masonic Apron, 1780-1800, Unidentified Maker, Probably Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts Collection, GL2004.0143. Photograph by David Bohl.

I love learning about regional styles of craft and the cultural reasons that associate a particular style or design with a specific area. This is why when I saw a striking apron from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts on long-term loan to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, I was excited.

As recounted in Curiosities of the Craft the name “William O’Brien” is written on the underside of the apron’s flap. William O’Brien (1753-1784) was a member of the O’Brien family of Machias, Maine. William's brother, the famous Captain Jeremiah

O'Brien (1744-1818), is credited with capturing a British ship during the first naval battle of the American Revolution. The most common story associated with this apron was that it was worn during the procession held in memory of George Washington in 1800. However, this story conflicts with existing dates since William O’Brien died in Spain in 1784 and he would have been unable to participate in the processions. It is possible that the apron may have belonged to William but was worn by one of his brothers for the procession. William was a member of the Philanthropic Lodge in Marblehead, Massachusetts, while Jeremiah belonged to the St. Andrews Lodge of Boston.

The apron is made of white leather with “Memento Mori” (Remember Death) written in black ink across the front. While it is easy to be drawn in by this intriguing message, the black lace trimming on the apron also helps to illuminate the object’s history. The lace’s pattern is nearly identical to a pattern made in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Ipswich was the home of a lace industry from approximately the 1750s to 1840. A sample from

Whipple House detailWhipple House detail from The Laces of Ipswich by Marta Cotterell Raffel. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

the Whipple House in Ipswich, an Ipswich historic property named for its first owner, entrepreneur Captain John Whipple (1596-1669), shows striking similarities to the Grand Lodge apron. Both use thicker thread (called gimp) to outline parts of the design. The “spider” motif pattern under the gimp outline near the scalloped edge of the apron lace is very similar to the Whipple House sample. In Laces of Ipswich, Marta Cotterell Raffel explains that lace makers developed the Whipple House pattern in the region. In fact, the Whipple House sample was sent to the Library of Congress as part of a survey of early regional American industries. The marked similarity between the lace on the apron and the Whipple House lace sample supports the story that this apron originated in New England.

No matter who wore the apron, the time and places William and his brothers were active in a time and place when Ipswich lace would have been available. Due to trade embargoes and boycotts of British goods, Ipswich lace may have been a patriotic and also a practical decision. Though delicate and purely ornamental, this black lace helps tell a story of early industry on the North Shore and of the men who fought to win American Independence.

 Kayla Bishop is a volunteer in the Museum's collections department. For the past 5 months, Kayla has assisted in all aspects of collections management. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University.

 

References

Marta Cotterell Raffel, The Laces of Ipswich (Lebanon, New Hampshire, 2003); 86-87, 142-143.

Aimee E. Newell, Hilary Anderson Stelling and Catherine Compton Swanson, Curiosities of the Craft:  Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection (Boston and Lexington, Massachusetts:  Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, 2013), 234.