Ancient Order of Foresters

Recent Acquisition Highlight: Companions of the Forest Membership Certificate



The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently purchased a striking membership certificate issued by Pride of Flushing Circle, No. 437, to Amanda Karlson on June 19, 1901. The Pride of Flushing Circle was a part of the Companions of the Forest, an auxiliary organization to the Foresters of America. Companions of the Forest met in chapters called “circles” and the Foresters of America met in chapters called “courts.” The Foresters of America traces its roots to a British fraternal organization called the Ancient Order of Foresters. The organization drew on imagery of Robin Hood and the Bible, particularly the Garden of Eden. This can be seen in the forest scenes and the garland of red roses and blue flowers, potentially blue bells, on the membership certificate.

The Companions of the Forest was established on June 7, 1883, with the motto “Sociability, Sincerity, and Constancy.” The organization was open to white men and women between the ages of eighteen and fifty who were Foresters or the wives or “lady acquaintances” of the Foresters of America. The Companions of the Forest sought “to improve members morally, socially, and mentally” and provided sick and death benefits. Within the first ten years of the organization’s founding, there were 20,000 members in the United States.

The organization was patriotic. This can be seen in the eagle and American flag imagery in the certificate, as well as in the way that they opened their meetings by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. During initiation, the new members pledged to “honor the flag…and to glorify it.” This patriotic fervor was common in many American fraternal organizations at the time, and reflected the nationalism, assimilationist, and anti-immigrant sentiment that could be found in American society in the early twentieth century. The Companions of the Forest funneled this patriotism into the aim of world peace with the United States leading the way. A prayer included in a 1929 ritual book stated, in part, “as men in their expression enlist for war, so must woman in their natural spirit of protection enlist for peace.”

Although we have not yet discovered much about Amanda Karlson, who received this certificate, there are some traces of the Pride of Flushing Circle, No. 437, found in newspapers. The Pride of Flushing Circle, No. 437, was established in 1898 with a founding membership of twenty-three in Flushing, New York. The Time Union newspaper noted the successful and popular events hosted by the Circle. The paper stated that "the circle lays great stress upon its beneficial features. In the case of sickness of members they receive $5 a week during their illness. A death benefit is also given at the death of either a member of her husband.” The last mention of the organization in the newspaper was a notice for euchre night, a trick taking card game, on February 2, 1910.

These organizations acted as a social outlet and safety net for women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For the Companions of the Forest, this sentiment is emphasized in an 1896 ritual book, which states “our circle represents the home circle, where mutual aid and interest in the welfare of each member hold supreme sway…with the parties and sects of the world we have nothing to do, its disputes and factions we leave behind us. We meet as a family, made so by sociability, sincerity, and constancy.” You can learn more about the Companions of the Forest at the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives.


Photo caption

Membership certificate issued by Pride of Flushing Circle, No. 437, to Amanda Karlson, 1901 June 19, Museum purchase, A2024-029-001.



Constitution and General Laws of the Supreme Circle of the Companions of the Forest (Detroit, MI: John R. Burton, 1883).

Supreme Chief and Supreme Secretary, Companions of the Forest; ritual containing the opening, closing and initiatory ceremonies, also the installation, institution and funeral ceremonies. Together with diagrams of the floor work, (Detroit, MI: A. W. Brookes, Detroit, 1896).

Annie E. Poth, Ritual: Companions of the Forest, (Supreme Circle, 1929).

Flushing Secret Societies: A Fruitful Ground for Fraternal Organizations, Time Union, September 1, 1900

New to the Collection: Ancient Order of Foresters Frog Mug

Frog Mug front Freemasonry is often acknowledged as the first fraternal organization to come to American shores.  But, it is far from the only group that crossed the Atlantic.  This mug, marked “Ancient Order of Foresters,” also represents a group that started in England and came to America.

The mug, which the National Heritage Museum recently acquired, was made in England in the 1830s or 1840s.  Known as a “frog mug,” the vessel has a ceramic frog inside that would surprise the drinker as he drained his beverage.  This charming joke was put on by a number of pottery manufacturers during the 1800s.

The Ancient Order of Foresters dates back to 1790 in England, when it was known as the Royal Ancient Order of Foresters.  According to the group, their object was “to unite the virtuous and good in all sects and denominations of man in the sacred bonds of brotherhood so that while wandering through the Forest of this World they may render mutual aid and assistance to each other.”  Initially, members had to prove themselves in combat before gaining admittance, but in 1843 the group dropped this requirement.  Scholar Victoria Solt Dennis has suggested that this may have served as a “primitive health check" since "a candidate who could acquit himself creditably in a mock fight was probably reasonably fit to work and support himself.”

In 1834, the group had a schism and changed its name to the Ancient Order of Foresters.  It also changed its ritual and introduced new signs and passwords.  Although the Order came to the United States in 1832, it did not take strong hold until the 1860s.  Today, the group remains active in England as the Foresters Friendly Society.2009_012DP3

Despite the prominent inclusion of the Foresters name on the mug, it bears a verse from a decidedly Masonic song: 

Ensigns of state that feed our pride,
Distinctions troublesome and vain,
By Masons true are laid aside,
Arts free-born sons such toys disdain.
Ennobled by the name they bear,
Distinguished by the badge they wear.

This verse is part of “The Fellow-Craft’s Song,” which appeared in Anderson’s Constitutions, a governing document for Freemasonry, when it was published in 1723.  Did the potter make both Masonic and Forester mugs and just make a mistake about which verse belonged on this piece?  Or did the Foresters appropriate the song?  We may never know, but it does seem strange that such a clearly Masonic verse would appear on a mug for a non-Masonic fraternal group.


Victoria Solt Dennis, Discovering Friendly and Fraternal Societies: Their Badges and Regalia (Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications Ltd., 2005), 114-123.

Albert C. Stevens, The Cyclopedia of Fraternities (New York: E.B. Treat and Company, 1907), 221-229.

Ancient Order of Foresters Frog Mug, 1834-1850, England, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Museum purchase, 2009.012.  Photographs by David Bohl.