Digital Collections

The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2024!



Lexington 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 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 9 - 27, 2024. (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. 


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. 


Digital Collections Highlight: 1768 Lodge Summons Printed & Signed by Paul Revere

Revere summons for webPerhaps best remembered today as the messenger who brought word to his fellow colonists that the British Army had left Boston and were headed west toward Lexington and Concord, Paul Revere (1734-1818) was much more than that. He was a talented silversmith and engraver, a political organizer, a forward-thinking entrepreneur, and a Freemason. This document from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Digital Collections website helps illustrate many of these roles. It is a lodge summons, a notice which was sent from the Lodge of St. Andrew to its members to inform them of an upcoming meeting.

Raised a Master Mason in 1761 in the Lodge of St. Andrew, Revere held a number of offices between 1762 and 1765 - first as Junior Deacon, then Junior Warden, and Senior Warden. From 1767 to 1769, Revere served as Secretary of the lodge. His duties would have included sending out notices summoning members to the lodge's next meeting. This particular summons has many interesting connections to Revere.

The bottom right hand corner of the lodge summons makes it clear that it was "Engrav'd, Printed, & Sold by Paul Revere. Boston." Yet what makes this particular copy of the summons special is that it is also signed by Revere in his capacity as Secretary of the lodge. This summons is dated February 10, 1768, during the time that Revere held that office. The summons directs the member to a meeting at "Freemason's Hall," which is the how the lodge referred to their meeting place - the famous Green Dragon Tavern - beginning in 1764.

This summons was produced quite early in Revere's time as a Mason. In 1794, over twenty-five years after this summons was issued, Revere was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. During Revere's three years in office as Grand Master, he chartered 23 new lodges, almost doubling the number of lodges in the state, which left a lasting mark on Freemasonry in Massachusetts.

If you’d like to take a closer look at this summons, visit the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections site.

Caption:
Paul Revere. Masonic Summons issued by the Lodge of St. Andrew, 1768. Museum Purchase with the assistance of the Lodge of St. Andrew and the Kane Lodge Foundation, MA 001.243.


Digital Collections Highlight: Killian H. Van Rensselaer’s 1845 Petition

KVR Petition A2019_178_0002DS1The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Digital Collections website features nearly a thousand documents in twelve different collections. This week we’re highlighting a 177-year-old document from the Scottish Rite Documents collection.

"I most humbly beg leave to offer myself as a candidate for admission into your Illustrious and Puissant Council..." reads this petition addressed to the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, and signed by Killian Henry Van Rensselaer (1800-1881), a 44-year-old Mason from New York, in 1845. This petition was the first step toward Van Rensselaer becoming an Active Member of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s Supreme Council. In less than twenty years, Van Rensselaer would become its sixth Sovereign Grand Commander, serving from 1861-67. The process by which Van Rensselaer received the 33rd degree is very different from how it works today.

Portrait of Killian Van Rensselaer for webVan Rensselaer’s petition documents the activities of the Supreme Council at the time. Viewed in a broader context, this slip of paper shows the work of John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865), the NMJ’s Sovereign Grand Commander from 1832 through 1851, and helps tell the story of the rebirth of the NMJ in the 1840s.

Gourgas, living in New York City, along with Schenectady-based Giles Fonda Yates (1798-1859), had essentially kept the Scottish Rite’s NMJ alive from 1826 through the early 1840s. During this time, a social and political movement, now known as the Anti-Masonic Movement, curtailed much Masonic activity in the Northeast of the United States and brought the Supreme Council’s official activities to a standstill. During these years, Gourgas and Yates were effectively a Supreme Council of two people, preserving the organization’s records and corresponding with one another about the plight of American Freemasonry from the late 1820s through the early 1840s. When the social climate changed and members began to rebuild Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the early 1840s, Gourgas and Yates sought to find brothers, like Van Rensselaer, who could help revive the Council, starting in 1844. Van Rensselaer’s petition is part of that story. With the exception of Van Rensselaer’s signature, the petition is entirely in the handwriting of John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865). Gourgas wrote out this petition—Van Rensselaer needed only to sign it.

Becoming a 33° Member

Today, no one petitions to become a 33° Member or to join the Supreme Council. Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret (i.e., 32° Members) are nominated, elected, and then created Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the 33rd degree. Most 33° Scottish Rite Members are non-voting Honorary Members, a rank of 33° that the Supreme Council created in 1865. The Supreme Council itself is comprised of Active Members who serve on various committees and have voting privileges within the Council. When a seat opens on the Supreme Council, an Honorary Member is elevated to the rank of Active Member to fill it.

In 1845, the category of 33° Honorary Member did not exist, so any Sublime Prince who was crowned a 33° was automatically an Active Member of the Supreme Council. Van Rensselaer was among the seven new members who Gourgas and Yates selected to expand the Supreme Council in 1844 and 1845. These additions turned the Supreme Council into a nine-member group, as prescribed by the Constitutions. If not for Gourgas and Yates, it is unlikely that the NMJ’s Supreme Council would have survived. Not only did they keep safe the documents of the Supreme Council, NMJ, during the Council’s inactivity, but, when Freemasonry came back to life in the 1840s, they recruited enthusiastic Masons like Van Rensselaer to help rebuild the Scottish Rite fraternity in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Van Rensselaer’s petition, visit the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections site.

Captions:

Handwritten petition for Killian H. Van Rensselaer, 1845. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, SC 300.002.

Killian H. Van Rensselaer in Proceedings of the Supreme Council, 1883. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 17.9735 Un58 1882. Photograph by David Bohl.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of The Northern Light.


Recent Acquisition: Hill Family Masonic Collection, 1817-2019

Donations to the collection, along with museum purchases, have made the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library one of the premier institutions in the world for the study of American Freemasonry and fraternalism. The staff are always grateful for the museum’s generous supporters and donors who have helped to build its world-class collection over the course of its nearly fifty year history. Today, we're highlighting the contributions of Jon Gregory Adams Hill, 33°, who has donated numerous artifacts to the museum’s collection (see a selection here), and who has recently donated the Hill Family Masonic Collection, 1817-2019, to the museum’s archives.

2022_232_019DS1Royal Arch certificate issued to Stephen Baker, 1817 May 23.
2022_232_016DS1
Handwritten petition of John B. Hill to Liberty Lodge, 1848 November 6.
2022_232_017DS1
Letter from John E. Giddings and H. L. Foster, 1858 April 9.
 

Amongst the nearly 400 documents found in this collection is this 1817 Royal Arch certificate issued by Concord Chapter, No. 1, of Wilmington, North Carolina, to Stephen Baker; this 1848 petition of John Beckford Hill, great grandfather of Jon Gregory Adams Hill, to Liberty Lodge of Beverly, Massachusetts; and this 1858 letter from John E. Gidding and H. L. Foster to Liberty Lodge in which they pledge to “abstain from the use of spirituous and intoxicating liquors” for a period of five years on penalty of a $100 fine.

These items, which will be added to the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives’ digital collections website in the upcoming months, represent only a small fraction of the many items added to the museum’s collection, built in part by the generosity of our supporters. The museum staff is extremely grateful for the continued support of our donors in helping us ito preserve and provide access to the history of American Freemasonry and fraternalism for future generations.

Would you like to donate an item to the Museum and Library’s collection? Please click on this link for more information.

 


Captions

Royal Arch certificate issued to Stephen Baker, 1817 May 23. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 006.

Handwritten petition of John B. Hill to Liberty Lodge, 1848 November 6. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 300.043

Letter from John E. Giddings and H. L. Foster, 1858 April 9. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 300.043

 

 

 

 



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.


Digital Collections Highlight: African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism

A2018_006_001 PH GLNY 1962 Masonic certThe Van Gorden-Williams Digital Collections website features nearly a thousand documents in twelve different collections. This February, we’re highlighting the African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism collection.

This collection brings together a number of documents related to historically Black fraternal organizations, including many related to Prince Hall Freemasonry.

A leading citizen in Boston’s eighteenth-century Black community, Prince Hall (1738-1807) was an abolitionist who petitioned the Massachusetts’ legislature to end slavery, and a Methodist who campaigned for schools to educate the African-American children of Boston. Hall was a leather dresser by trade who, in 1777, supplied drum heads to the Boston Regiment of Artillery. Drawn to Freemasonry’s values and opportunities, Hall, a former slave, tried to join Boston’s Masonic lodges in the early 1770s, but was denied membership.

African American men’s participation in Freemasonry is generally traced back to the March 6, 1775 initiation of Prince Hall and fourteen other Black men in Lodge No. 441, a British military lodge attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot. A year later, as the Siege of Boston was ending, the military lodge that had initiated Hall was evacuating Boston, but before they left, the lodge granted Prince Hall and his brethren authority to meet as a lodge, bury their dead, and march in processions for St. John’s Day. However, they were not given authority to confer degrees or perform any other “work.” With this authority granted to them, Prince Hall and his brethren organized as African Lodge No. 1 on July 3, 1775, with Hall as Master.

In order to become a fully functioning lodge that could confer degrees, African Lodge No. 1 needed to be chartered. Unable to obtain a charter from a Grand Lodge in the United States, they appealed to the Grand Lodge of England and were granted a charter on September 29, 1784 as African Lodge No. 459. Hall then founded lodges in Philadelphia and Providence. These three lodges eventually joined to form African Grand Lodge. It wasn’t until 1847, forty years after Prince Hall's death, that members of African Grand Lodge changed their name to Prince Hall Grand Lodge, in honor of their founder. Nearly 250 years after Prince Hall was initiated, Prince Hall Freemasonry continues to thrive today.

Be sure to check out previous blog posts which highlight documents from this collection.

Freemasonry and the First Black-Owned TV Station in the United States

Digital Collections Highlight: Theodore Gleghorn's 1921 Master Mason certificate

Pictured above:

Prince Hall Master Mason certificate issued to Russell L. Randolph, 1962. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts. MA 007. Museum Purchase.


Digital Collections Highlight: Check Signed by President Garfield and Albert Hawkins

Hawkins check frontThe G. Edward Elwell, Jr., Autograph Collection contains around one hundred documents collected by G. Edward Elwell, Jr., 33°, a member of Caldwell Consistory (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania), a professional printer and Scottish Rite Mason. In 1898, the 12-year-old Elwell wrote a letter to Admiral George Dewey (1837–1917), a hero of the Spanish-American War. Dewey’s reply became the first signed document in Elwell's collection. The items in the collection span nearly 500 years of history (1489-1960), and each contains the signature of a well-known figure from American and European history.

One of the items that has always caught my eye is this check, dated June 30, 1881. President James A. Garfield (1831-1881) signed this check, which was issued to Albert Hawkins, the White House's coachman, two days before the President was shot. The sixty-dollar check was Hawkins' monthly salary. After the death of President Garfield, his widow, Lucretia Garfield, gave the check to the historian Edward Everett Hale, who notes the history of the check on the reverse.

Hawkins check backThere is little doubt that Elwell collected this item because of its association with President Garfield, but today, we can see that it helps tell a more complete story, that of Albert Hawkins, a Black man who served as the White House's coachman under six U.S. presidents. The White House Historical Association, in writing about Hawkins, states that “Albert Hawkins was a coachman who began his service under Ulysses S. Grant. By the 1880s, he was among the most celebrated of Washington’s African American community…”

You can see a high-res image of this check at our Digital Collections website.

Caption:
Check issued to Albert Hawkins, 1881 June 30. Gift of Caldwell Consistory, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, A74/002/043.


"When among Unionists these limbs were of course lost in the service of the Union": A Masonic Impostor During the American Civil War

Masonic impostor 1864 webLong-time readers of our blog know that every May we return to the topic of our very first blog post: Masonic impostors. This year we highlight a document from our Digital Collections website, an American Civil War era circular letter warning other Masons of an itinerant Masonic impostor.

Olympia Lodge No. 1, a Masonic lodge in what was then Washington Territory - statehood would not come until 1889 - issued this letter warning other lodges to be wary of a man named "O. H. Treat, Tweed, or Treed," who had claimed to be a Mason and asked for financial help from the lodge.

Written by Elwood Evans, the Master of Olympia Lodge No. 1, this letter describes the appearance of "Treat" and his story claiming to be a Mason in need of assistance. The story is one that, Evans admits, upon first hearing, engenders sympathy:

He is about 6 feet in height, sallow complexion, dark hair, light blueish grey eyes, supposed to be about 32 years old, and uses two crutches to travel with. His sallow, sickly appearance, and the use of crutches, invite a sympathy, as would the first hearing of his story about his hip-disease, disease of the spine, rheumatism, kidney disease, gravel, and finally a deep-seated pulmonary affection. He said his father was blind from infancy; that his poor mother, lately made a widow, is but recently afflicted by her other son having lost a leg and right arm in the present war. When among Unionists these limbs were of course lost in the service of the Union; but if the crowd be of different sympathies, then the "story is changed." Before I could learn where such mishap occurred, he desired my views, as he said it was not politic to say which side his brother fought upon, as that would commit him.

However, as Evans described his attempt to determine whether "Treat" was indeed a Freemason, he encountered many red flags and conflicting statements. For instance, Evans noted that while "Treat" seemed very familiar with the various parts of known ritual exposures, he could not name the lodge he belonged to, despite claiming to have been a Mason for six years.

Are elements of the story told by the man known as Treat/Tweed/Treed true? Were any of those names his real name or were they all aliases? Was he a mere con artist or a man with a hard life seeking assistance on false pretenses during a time before government- and company-based insurance was commonplace? We may not find answers to these questions, but this document reminds us that even during times of conflict - perhaps especially during times of conflict - both Masons and those falsely claiming to be Masons sought aid from local lodges.

Want to read more about Masonic impostors? Be sure to check out all of our previous posts on the topic.

Caption:

Letter from Worshipful Master Elwood Evans of Olympia Lodge, No. 1, 1864. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts. MA 630.003. Museum purchase.


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.