Decorative Arts

Daniel Rathbone’s Certificate and Mark Medal

Certificate Daniel Rathbone
Master Mason Certificate for Daniel Rathbone, 1796. Engraved by Isaac Hutton, Albany, New York. Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, A78/038/1.

Around 1790 Daniel Rathbone (1759-1808) moved about 70 miles from Berkshire County, Massachusetts, to Saratoga County, New York.  Recently married to Anna Reddington (1764-1855), he relocated to the area to start a saw mill and a family in an area called Rock City, a community that later became part of Milton, New York.  A county history published in the late 1800s claimed Rathbone was Rock City’s first settler.  Over the next ten years he and his wife had eleven children. As part of establishing his life in a new town, Rathbone joined the first Masonic lodge in the area—Franklin Lodge No. 37 in nearby Ballston, New York.  His Master Mason certificate (pictured at left), issued in 1796, survives.  Engraved by Albany, New York, craftsman Isaac Hutton (1766-1855), it features images of Masonic symbols and a promise, attested by the officers of the lodge, that they “recommend him [Rathbone] as a worthy member.”

Area Freemasons solicited Franklin Lodge No. 37’s warrant from the Grand Lodge of New York in 1794.  A few years later, in 1803, Freemasons in Ballston requested and received a warrant from the Grand Chapter of New York for a Mark Master’s Lodge.  Franklin Mark Lodge No. 21 may have met in the same place as Franklin Lodge No. 37.  Daniel Rathbone was likely a member of this group.  A silver mark medal engraved with his name (pictured at right, below) and mark (pictured at left, below) forms part of the collection here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.  As part of taking the mark degree, a Freemason chose an emblem to represent himself; often a symbol related to his profession or a representation of a value he held dear.  For his mark, Rathbone selected a bird surrounded by a snake eating its own tail (a traditional symbol of infinity or ouroboros).  What the symbols engraved on the mark medal meant to Rathbone is not obvious.  On the other side of the medal the engraver inscribed “Daniel Rothbon” (a variation on the spelling of Daniel’s last name) and “Mk Ms Lodge Ballston” (an abbreviation for Mark Master’s Lodge). 

According to a family history, Daniel Rathbone’s father, also named Daniel (1731-1823), moved from Berkshire County, Massachusetts, to Milton, 

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Mark Medal, 1803-1808. New York. Special Acquisitions Fund, 78.45.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

New York, around 1804, near three of his sons.  Given the fact that both men lived near Ballston around the time residents founded the Mark Master’s Lodge No. 21, it is possible that the medal belonged to Daniel’s father. Daniel Rathbone Jr.’s certificate proves his interest and involvement in Freemasonry during the time that local brethren established the Ballston mark lodge.  It seems most likely that the medal was his property.  If the medal belonged to the younger Daniel Rathbone, he did not own it for long.  He died unexpectedly.  As noted on his gravestone, his “death was occasioned by an accident at his saw mill on the 13th day of December 1808 aged 49 years 9 months and 11 days."

 

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Mark Medal, 1803-1808. New York. Special Acquisitions Fund, 78.45.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

 

References:

John C. Cooley, Rathbone Genealogy (Syracuse, N.Y.:  Press of the Courier Job Print, 1989), 483-485.

Dave Bixby, compiler, “Town of Milton Cemeteries, Rock City Falls Cemetery” (http://www.saratoganygenweb.com).

John Hamilton, Material Culture of the American Freemasons (Lexington, Massachusetts:  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, 1994), 144-145.

Gary L. Heinmiller, compiler, Craft Masonry in Saratoga and Warren Counties, New York, (Onondaga & Oswego Masonic Districts Historical Societies, 2010-2011), 2, 13.

Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, History of Saratoga County, New York (Philadelphia: Everts & Ensign, 1878), 485.

Proceedings of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of the State of New York, (Buffalo, New York: The Grand Chapter, 1871) 1:29.

 


A Masonic Pitcher

In 1924 artist Gamaliel Beaman (1852-1937) gave this transfer-print decorated pitcher to his friend Amos Clayton Parker (b. 1885).  Parker, an interior decorator and member of Norumbega Lodge in Newtonville, Massachusetts, gave or sold it to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. It is now part of the Grand Lodge's collection on loan to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

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Pitcher, 1800-1815. England. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.7128.

In addition to painting, Beaman also sold antiques in Princeton, Massachusetts.  He bought the pitcher some 40 years before he presented it to his friend Parker.  Beaman noted in a statement that accompanied the pitcher when it entered the Grand Lodge’s collection that he had purchased the vessel in nearby Templeton, Massachusetts, “in 1884, of Mrs. Works her Husband was the Tyler + took the Pitcher Home she said as the Lodge Closed for the last time.”  He further recorded that the pitcher was a relic from a lodge that had long since ceased operation and whose charter had been lost.  Beaman believed the pitcher was something out-of-the-ordinary stating that because of its history, “this Old Pitcher has added interest.”

Though efforts to identify a Mrs. Works who lived in Templeton in the 1880s have fallen short so far, it is possible that this pitcher may have once been used at Harris Lodge.  This group met in Athol, Massachusetts, starting in 1802.  From 1813 to 1834, the lodge met in Templeton. This lodge operated during the time when imported English transfer-print decorated earthenware, like this pitcher, enjoyed its greatest popularity.

GL2004.7128 Peace and plenty picture one
Pitcher, 1800-1815. England. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.7128.

Two transfer prints grace this pitcher.  One, pictured to the right, shows a common design that displays a raft of Masonic symbols between two columns surrounded by swags of flowers.  The other print, pictured to the left, depicts a patriotically themed design that English pottery makers developed to appeal particularly to American consumers.  This image shows a winged bird, meant to be an eagle, atop a representation of the Great Seal of the United States ornamented with the motto “Peace, Plenty and Independence.”  This motto was a much-proclaimed toast in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The American flag is in the background and allegorical figures bookend the design.  In embellishing this pitcher with these two images, the pottery decorator hoped to attract the business of a purchaser proud to be both an American and a Mason.   

References:

William G. Lord, “History of Star Lodge,” Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the Year 1939 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Cosmos Press, Inc., 1940) 348-351.

S. Robert Teitelman, Patricia A. Halfpenny and Ronald W. Fuchs III, Success to America: Creamware for the American Market (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, Ltd, 2010) 218-219, 234-235.

White Mountain Art and Artists, "Gamaliel Waldo Beaman," http://whitemountainart.com/about-3/artists/gamaliel-waldo-beaman-1852-1837/.


George E. Lane's Traveling Desk

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Portable Desk, 1854. Canton, China. Gift of Frank M. Gray, 77.38.33a-i
77.38.33 fully open
Portable Desk, detail showing writing slant, 1854. Canton, China. Gift of Frank M. Gray, 77.38.33a-i

When closed, this portable desk looks like a plain compact box or trunk. Open, this desk transforms into a mini office. Important papers, small books and writing materials could be stowed within it. This desk was designed for easy transport. Its edges were bound with brass to protect the desk from damage when it was moved and the maker installed small brass handles so it could be easily lifted. 

When fully unfolded, this desk features a velvet-covered writing surface, silk-covered folders for organizing papers and special compartments for pens, ink bottles and sand containers. As well, the craftsman who made the desk secreted three small drawers (see the image below, at left) within the largest compartment under the writing surface. A removable piece of trim (see the image below, at right) held in place by a hidden brass catch, covers the drawer-fronts. Opening the larger compartment required a key, so the small drawers could only be accessed by someone who knew where they were and had the key.

Who would have needed this tiny, transportable office?  Probably someone whose work required travel, making records and keeping track of information, such as a ship’s officer. This desk’s original owner left a clue to his identity, a penciled inscription under the writing surface reading: “Geo. E. Lane, Canton China, Mar 1854.”  Research suggests that George Edward Lane (1822-1891) may have purchased this portable desk in China. Born in Boston and raised in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Lane worked as a merchant, captain and agent and, at his death, was described as a “successful and enterprising navigator.” For a portion of his career he was employed by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company.  He commanded vessels that sailed from San Francisco to Yokohama, Japan, and Hong Kong.  Working and traveling in Asia, Lane would have had the opportunity to purchase a desk made in Canton. He also may have found this handsome traveling desk useful in his work.    

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Portable Desk, detail showing hidden drawers, 1854. Canton, China. Gift of Frank M. Gray, 77.38.33a-i
77.38.33 detail showing wood hiding drawers
Portable Desk, detail showing hidden drawers covered, 1854. Canton, China. Gift of Frank M. Gray, 77.38.33a-i

References:

Jacob Chapman and James Hill Fitts, Lane Genealogies, Vol. III, Exeter, N.H. : News-Letter Press, 1902, 362-363.


Lecture: “Embroidery and Economic Opportunity in Early Federal Period America”

Pamela A. Parmal
Pamela A. Parmal, Chair and David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

June 11, 2016

2 PM

Lecture by Pamela A. Parmal, Chair and David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

As part of our 2016 Linn Lecture Series “Enterprise and Craft in the Young Nation” the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library will welcome Pamela A. Parmal for a lecture on June 11, 2016. Parmal is a leading authority on historical needlework. Parmal has curated many exhibitions and published numerous books and papers on quilts, embroidery and fashion.

In her lecture on June 11, Parmal will discuss how women’s embroidery work fueled commerce and offered an opportunity for women to earn income to support themselves and their families in early America.

During this time young women from well-to-do families were often taught different kinds of needle arts, including embroidery. Mastery of these skills was seen as a reflection of a family’s gentility. Many of the embroidered pieces these young women created were treasured and passed down for generations.

Women entrepreneurs who possessed skills in embroidery arts opened schools to teach fashionable stiches and techniques. Many of the women who ran these schools also had shops that imported and sold embroidery supplies to their pupils and the public. These schools helped to generate trade by creating a demand for the imported silk and cotton thread needed to craft the detailed designs in vogue at the time.

Schoolgirl embroidery techniques can be seen in our newest exhibition, "The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Collection." Aprons such as the one below show evidence of embroidery techniques that were taught in the early 1800s at female academies. 

Embroidered apron 87_36DP1DB
Masonic Apron, ca. 1800. Probably New York. Museum Purchase, 87.36. Photograph by David Bohl.

This lecture is made possible by the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation and is part of the lecture series, “Enterprise and Craft in the Young Nation.”


New to the Collection: Jared Sandford’s Mark Medal

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Mark Medal, 1809-1817. Probably New York. Museum Purchase, 2016.009.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

From time to time, we have the chance to post about interesting new additions to the collection at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library—today a silver mark medal from the early 1800s.

Previous posts have discussed mark medals, an intriguing form of Masonic material culture.  When taking the mark degree, a new Mark Master Mason selected a symbol that was personally meaningful to be recorded as his unique mark next to his name in the lodge records.  Some men chose an emblem that represented a value important to Freemasonry, such as charity or equality.  Other men recorded symbols with personal meanings, like the initials of their name or attributes representing their profession.  Some Mark Master Masons commissioned engraved silver or medal badges decorated with their personal emblems.  A few lodges, like Holland Mark Lodge in New York City, required that members have these badges made.

An engraver decorated one side of this medal with the owner’s name, Jared Sandford and a depiction of an incomplete arch.  At the top of the medal, the engraver detailed the Masonic symbols of a square and compasses with a sprig of acacia, a ladder and a plumb.  On the other side, the engraver outlined an all-seeing eye near the hanging ring and a cherub’s head at the bottom of the medal.  Between these two elements, the craftsman engraved the mnemonic associated with the Mark Master degree in ornate letters in a circle.  Within the circle, the engraver delineated what appears to be a distinctive tool used by doctors in the early 1800s. 

Doctors and surgeons used this handheld and hand-powered tool, a small circular saw called a trephine, to cut out small circles of bone, often from the skull.  Removing a portion of skull bone could help speed the healing of a head injury by relieving pressure on the brain.  The engraver who portrayed this trephine included distinctive details such as the small spike at the center of the circular blade that helped hold the saw in place.  He also showed the small lever on the side of the tool that controlled the height of the spike.  This control helped keep the spike from injuring the brain as the surgeon cut away bone with the saw. 

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Mark Medal, 1809-1817. Probably New York. Museum Purchase, 2016.009.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

A trephine is an unusual tool to be selected as a mark.  Because a trephine is a medical device, it was likely a meaningful object to a Mark Master Mason who had a special understanding its use—a surgeon or doctor. A man named Jared Sandford, who was born in Southampton, New York in 1774 and died in 1817, and was a doctor in the town of Ovid, Seneca County, New York, appears to be a likely candidate to have owned this medal.  Further research will, hopefully, uncover information about Jared Sandford’s Masonic membership.

If you have ideas or suggestions about how to learn more about this medal, be sure to leave them in the comment section below. 

 

Many thanks to Catherine Walter, Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library, Grand Lodge of New York for helping identify the trephine.

 


John Walton’s Personal Seal

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Seal, ca. 1800. United States. Special Acquisitions Fund, 82.8.1.

In 1982 the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library purchased a personal seal, little knowing how it would connect to other artifacts associated with Massachusetts Freemasonry in the future.

This small oval seal is made of brass and is mounted on a wooden handle. The brass face—the business end of the seal—features a design composed of a pedestal or altar topped with columns and an arch. A skull and crossbones, a square and compasses, a trowel and other Masonic tools are on and above the altar. Swags of flowers flank the pedestal. The initials “JW” decorate its center. When pressed into warm wax, the design cut out of the seal’s face would have left a raised impression of the design, symbols and initials in the wax. When placed on a folded letter, an undisturbed wax seal let the recipient know that no one had read the letter since it left the sender’s hands.

The history that came with the object says it once belonged to John Walton (1770-1862) of Pepperell, Massachusetts. A doctor by profession, Walton also belonged to Saint Paul Lodge in Groton, Massachusetts. He joined the lodge in 1797, served as secretary in 1802 and as master of the lodge from 1806 to 1808. Notably, he also made an impressive gift to the lodge in 1802 of a large earthenware pitcher decorated with Masonic images. He also gave two silver punch ladles—presumably for serving the contents of the pitcher—around the same time.  Both the pitcher and the ladles now form part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts that is on extended loan to the Museum.               

Bearing Walton’s initials, the seal was likely used to mark and seal private or business correspondence. With his impressive gift of the pitcher and the ladles to Saint Paul Lodge, Walton helped support his lodge and added elegance to its proceedings. The inscription he ordered on the face of the pitcher, “From John Walton to St. Paul’s Lodge,” suggests he was proud of his membership in the lodge.This personal seal, decorated with Masonic symbols and Walton’s initials, shows that Walton’s pride in his association with Freemasonry extended into his personal life. 

References:

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), 170-171, 178-179.  


"The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Collection" Now Open

Installation 3-17-16
"The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Collection," on view at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library through March 25, 2017.

Visitors have commented on the striking image at the entrance to our newest exhibition “The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Collection.” The exhibition will be on view through March 25, 2017. This image of an arch, the letter G, a mosaic pavement, three candlesticks and an open Bible with a square and compasses was taken from an engraved Master Mason’s apron made in the United States between 1815 and 1830.  This apron is pictured below. Images of columns from the same apron also ornament the walls in the exhibition. You can learn more about this apron, as well as other aprons on view in the exhibition, in The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library by Aimee E. Newell, the Museum’s Director of Collections. 

Reproduced at over thirteen times its original size, the image clearly shows some of the intriguing details visitors can see on aprons in the exhibition. These details include finely delineated engravings of Masonic symbols, glittering gold paint highlighting elements of the design and hand-inked details. 

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Master Mason Apron, 1815-1830, United States. Gift of Armen Amerigian, 90.19.15. Photograph by David Bohl.

The exhibition features over 50 Masonic aprons dating from the 1700s through the 1900s as well as related artifacts from the Museum’s rich collection, such as tracing boards, books, regalia catalogs, prints and photographs. Visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to learn about the history, symbolism and workmanship behind Masonic aprons as well as the intriguing stories of the people who made and wore them. 

Interested in deepening your knowledge of historic aprons?  Be sure to read some of our recent posts about aprons. You can also attend gallery talks in the exhibition. For an in-depth look, order your own copy of The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, published by the Museum & Library. It is available for $39.95 plus shipping and tax (if applicable) at www.scottishritenmj.org/shop.  The book is also on sale at the Museum.

 


Lecture: “Making and Marketing Furniture in Massachusetts, 1790-1820”

Brock JobeSaturday, March 19, 2016

2 PM

Lecture by Brock Jobe, Professor Emeritus of American Decorative Arts, Winterthur Museum


In this lecture at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, noted decorative arts historian Brock Jobe will recount the little-known story of the transformation of the furniture making trade in federal period Massachusetts. In Colonial America, furniture makers were craftsmen who utilized the apprentice system to fill specific orders from their customers. After the Revolution these craftsmen began to develop business strategies that promoted their products to a range of customers. This led to standardized production of furniture.


Using the example of a cabinetmaker in Sutton, Massachusetts, who was working during the early 1800s, Professor Jobe will discuss how these changes in business strategies altered the face of furniture making in Massachusetts. Eventually these changes led to a furniture making industry that ranked among the largest in the country.


Professor Jobe has authored multiple books on furniture making in New England. He has worked as a museum curator, administrator and professor at Winterthur Museum in Delaware. Professor Jobe has received the President’s Award from Old Sturbridge Village and the Award of Merit from the Antiques Dealers’ Association of America.


This lecture is made possible by the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation and is the third of five talks in the 2016 lecture series, "Enterprise and Craft in the Young Nation".


A Fashionable and “Ancient” Masonic Chair

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Arm Chair, ca. 1790. Probably Massachusetts. Special Acquisitions Fund and in part through the generosity of Harold French, 86.40. Photo by David Bohl.

At a quick glance, this mahogany chair in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library resembles other fashionable armchairs produced in New England during the late 1700s and early 1800s. A second look shows that a craftsman designed this chair with a Masonic customer in mind. He decorated the center of the back of the chair, or splat, with cleverly carved overlapping compasses, a square and a level. Two rosettes help anchor the symbols to the circle enclosing them.

While the symbols on the chair’s splat are Masonic, its overall design follows the popular style of the day. In creating fashionable home furnishings in the late 1700s and early 1800s, American furniture makers often looked to English examples for models of stylish work. This chair, with its shield shaped back, short, curved arms and elaborately pierced splat shows some of the stylish elements codified in The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide; or Repository of Designs for every Article of Household Furniture in the Newest and Most Approved Taste. Alice Hepplewhite (dates unknown), the widow of furniture maker George (d. 1786), first published this illustrated work in London in 1788. Some American furniture makers knew about Hepplewhite’s and similar British pattern books, such as Thomas Sheraton’s The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Brook, first published in 1791. These books were also one way Americans learned about the latest fashion. Americans formed their impression of the current modes by  viewing furniture in shops and homes and from up-to-date engravings and illustrations imported from Britain and Europe. Clients ordering furniture relied on craftsmen to be conversant with fashions of the day, but made specific requests about style, materials and cost, to see their wishes in fashionable furnishings fulfilled.

Unfortunately, we do not know who first ordered this chair, or what purpose it was intended to serve. Did the person who commissioned this chair want to use it at home, or was it made to beautify a lodge room? Judging from this chair’s style, manner of construction and materials, it was crafted in New England, perhaps in Boston, Massachusetts. An inscription on the frame of the upholstered seat notes it was “Originally the property of Genl. Amasa Davis.” Though intriguing, this note does not clarify this chair’s origin. Amasa Davis (1742-1825) of Boston, a merchant, was quartermaster general for Massachusetts from 1787 to 1825 and used the title of General. However, no record points to him having been a member of a Masonic lodge. As well, several men named Amasa Davis made their home in Massachusetts during the time this chair was first made. One even belonged to Morning Star Lodge in Worcester, Massachusetts, though little more is known about him. Fortunately records from Union Lodge in Dorchester, Massachusetts, speak to the chair’s later history. Member John Mears, Jr., (1821-1912), gave an “ancient masonic chair” to Union Lodge in 1864. His gift was one of several presentations of furniture made to the lodge to mark the organization’s move to a new building in 1864. Mear’s gift was set aside for use of the lodge’s Tyler until at least the early 1900s. So, although the early history of this intriguing and fashionable chair still needs to be uncovered, it eventually added a touch of history and tradition to a Masonic lodge room. If you have any ideas about this chair, let us know in the comments section below.

 


A Masonic Fire Bucket

81_48S1At the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, Massachusetts, we actively collect objects to strengthen and improve our existing holdings.  Our primary strength is American Masonic and fraternal items and we look for things that tell an engaging story, are in good condition and do not duplicate our existing holdings.  In 2014, I was contacted by an antiques dealer who had a fascinating painted leather fire bucket for sale.  The bucket was in nice condition and had a Masonic square and compasses symbol on the front above a pair of clasped hands and the name “J. Beach.”  At the top of the bucket, a painted banner read “Friendship in Adversity.”  On first glance it looked like a terrific addition to our collection. [It was recently (in 1/2016) up for sale again, this time at Sotheby's Americana Week sales in New York City - see it here.]

My first step was to analyze it according to our collecting criteria as described above.  So I searched our collections database to see just how many fire buckets we already have.  Imagine my surprise to find the one pictured here, which the Museum purchased in 1981 – it was almost identical to the photo that the dealer had sent me!  While we are fortunate to have a large storage area at the Museum, space is always finite, so I passed on buying the second one and promptly did some research on the one we already owned.

Antiques are rare and valued for a reason – as time passes objects break, get lost, thrown away and disintegrate.  Yet, before they became antiques, they were often common household items.  While it was surprising to turn up two fire buckets with almost identical decoration, it shouldn’t be unexpected.  During the 1700s and early 1800s, most households had at least a couple of buckets like these ones.  They were often the most effective way to combat a fire.  Local residents could line up and form a bucket brigade passing buckets from hand to hand to try and quench the blaze.  Decorating them with symbols and the owner’s name meant that they would be easy to return when the fire was over. 

Groups of local residents also formed fire companies or societies to assist with fighting fires in their neighborhoods.  It makes sense that these local groups would procure fire buckets with similar decoration – as is the case with these two buckets.  The Museum’s bucket is almost identical to the one that was owned by J. Beach – virtually the only difference is the owner’s name – Z. Stevens – and the date it was presumably made – 1799.  Thanks to an email with a colleague at the National Museum of American History, I was able to determine that John Beach and Zachariah Stevens were members of the Masonick Fire Society in Gloucester, Massachusetts.   

Formed in 1789, the Masonick Fire Society aimed to “be helpful to each other in extinguishing [fires in Gloucester], and in saving and taking the utmost care of each other’s goods.”  The printed “Rules and Orders” go on to require that each member “always keep ready, two good Leather Buckets, and two strong bags.”  Members of the Society were also required to be “an approved Mason.”  Indeed, both John Beach and Zachariah Stevens, who owned the fire buckets, were members of Gloucester’s Tyrian Lodge.  Beach was raised in 1779 and served the lodge as Master in 1802.  Stevens was raised in 1804.

Thanks again to my colleague at the National Museum of American History, I discovered that Stevens was a witness to the “sea serpent” sighted in Gloucester in 1817.  Starting in August 1817 and continuing for the next few years, reports of a strange sea creature off the coast of Gloucester began to circulate.  The accuracy of these accounts was debated throughout the country and never conclusively resolved.  But this rather outlandish tale adds another layer of interesting history to Stevens’ Masonic fire bucket.  And keep your eyes peeled – there may be more fire buckets just like this one waiting to be discovered!

Masonic Fire Bucket, 1799, unidentified maker, probably Gloucester, Massachusetts.  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Collection, Special Acquisitions Fund, 81.48.