Famous Freemasons

"Don't Fire Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes!": Remembering Bunker Hill

2008_021_6DP2 In 1876, the United States celebrated its centennial anniversary with great fanfare.  As part of the celebration, souvenirs of all types were available for purchase – including this glass platter that was recently donated to the National Heritage Museum.  At the center is a depiction of the Bunker Hill Monument, which is actually located on Breed’s Hill, in Charlestown, Massachusetts.  The cornerstone for the monument was laid in a Masonic ceremony on June 17, 1825, the 50th anniversary of the famous battle.  Taking part in the festivities was the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), who was making a tour through the United States at the time.  The monument was completed in 1843.

The famous battle, fought against the British on June 17, 1775, was one of the earliest of the Revolutionary War.  Although it was a British victory, the American forces killed or wounded almost half of the 2,200 British soldiers fighting that day.  The platter memorializes the names of four of the American military leaders: Israel Putnam, John Stark, William Prescott and Joseph Warren.  How many of these names do you know?  Here’s a short guide:

Israel Putnam (1718-1790) was born in Massachusetts, but spent his adult life in Connecticut where he was a farmer.  After military service during the French and Indian Wars, Putnam helped organize the Sons of Liberty in eastern Connecticut.  In 1775, he was appointed a brigadier general and eventually became second in rank to George Washington.  As field commander of the troops at Bunker Hill, Putnam reportedly gave one of the most famous orders in military history, “Don’t one of you fire until you see the white of their eyes” (although some accounts attribute this to William Prescott, also named on the platter).

John Stark (1728-1822) was a native of New Hampshire, where he made his living as a farmer and a miller.  Like Putnam, he also served in the French and Indian Wars.  After the fighting at Lexington and Concord, Stark traveled to Cambridge and was appointed colonel.  At Bunker Hill, he deployed his men between Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill to defend the army’s left flank.  He was able to encourage his inexperienced soldiers to cover weak spots in the American defense that day.

Like Putnam and Stark, William Prescott (1726-1795) was also a farmer, tending the land left to him by his father in Groton, Massachusetts.  Also like Putnam and Stark, Prescott gained military experience in the French and Indian Wars.  The night before the Battle of Bunker Hill, Prescott, a commissioned colonel, was ordered to command the expedition to fortify Bunker Hill.  With 1,200 men, he instead entrenched Breed’s Hill.  He was able to defend against British General Sir William Howe’s advances twice.  Although the British broke through on their third advance, Prescott achieved a symbolic victory, suffering only 441 dead and wounded compared to the over 1,000 casualties on the British side.

Perhaps the best-known name on the platter belongs to Joseph Warren (1741-1775).  Warren, a Boston physician, had been elected President Pro Tempore of the Provincial Congress on April 23, 1775.  Just three days before the Battle of Bunker Hill, on June 14, Warren was elected a major general of the provincial army.  Sadly, he died at the end of the battle when Howe’s forces finally broke through.  At the time, Warren was also Grand Master of Massachusetts Provincial Grand Lodge. After recovering Warren’s body from the battlefield, members of both active Massachusetts Grand Lodges honored him with a Masonic funeral service.

Bunker Hill Platter, 1876, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, 2008.021.6.  Photograph by David Bohl.

New to the Collection: Mourning McKinley

2008_021_5DP1 Commemorative glass and ceramic platters, mugs and pitchers were popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s – particularly those bearing the likeness of one of our presidents.  But, this glass platter, which was donated to the National Heritage Museum in 2008, the gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, seemed somewhat eerie to me given its inscription, “It is God’s way / His will be done.”

A quick search of the life dates on the platter, “Born 1843 / Died 1901,” confirmed that the man depicted is William McKinley, 25th president of the United States.  McKinley was assassinated while attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  So, I initially attributed the rather severe verse to vestiges of somber Puritanism or to Victorian mourning ideals.

However, additional research turned up a far more pertinent explanation for the words on this commemorative platter.  According to the New York Times on September 14, 1901, McKinley’s last words as he died that day were “Good bye.  All good bye.  It is God’s way.  His will be done, not ours.”

Born in 1843 in Niles, Ohio, McKinley became a teacher until the Civil War broke out.  He enlisted in the Union Army, eventually achieving the rank of brevet major.  After the war, he became a lawyer in Canton, Ohio.  He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives and held two terms as governor of Ohio.  In 1896, McKinley was elected president of the United States, and was elected to a second term in 1900.  Unfortunately, his life was cut short on September 6, 1901.  On that day, despite the presence of Secret Service agents, anarchist Leon F. Czolgosz shot McKinley while he was shaking hands at a public reception at the Pan-American Exposition.  Despite quick medical attention, gangrene set in around McKinley’s wounds and he died on September 14, 1901.

In addition to his distinguished political career, William McKinley was a Freemason.  He received the first three degrees from Hiram Lodge No. 21 in Winchester, Virginia, during his Civil War service.  After the war, McKinley affiliated with Canton Lodge No. 90, Canton, Ohio, later becoming a charter member of Eagle Lodge No. 431 in Canton, Ohio.  He was also active in Royal Arch Masonry and the Knights Templar.

President William McKinley Commemorative Platter, ca. 1901, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, 2008.021.5.  Photograph by David Bohl.

The Initiated Eye: Freemasonry and the Architecture of Washington, D.C.

Initiated Eye with Compass Have you read the new Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol, yet?  Maybe you put it on your holiday wish list?  If your answer to either question is yes, then you probably know the basic outline of the story – it takes place in Washington, D.C., and makes reference to a number of prominent D.C. sites, many of which have a connection to Freemasonry. 

The National Heritage Museum’s new exhibition, "The Initiated Eye: Secrets, Symbols, Freemasonry, and the Architecture of Washington, D.C.," explores this same topic, bringing a little bit of Washington to Lexington, Massachusetts.

"The Initiated Eye" presents 21 oil paintings by Peter Waddell based on the architecture of Washington, D.C., and the role that our founding fathers and prominent citizens – many of whom were Freemasons – played in establishing the layout and design of the city.  The exhibition is supplemented with approximately forty objects from the National Heritage Museum’s collection.  The paintings and the objects explain and demystify Freemasonry for those who are unfamiliar, while also encouraging Masons and those who have read books like The Lost Symbol to look closer.

The painting shown here depicts a meeting between President George Washington (1732-1799) and surveyors Andrew Ellicott (1754-1820) and Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806).  Congress designated the location of the new capital on January 24, 1791.  Ellicott and Banneker surveyed the ten-mile-square tract of land and produced a base map of the area.  In the painting, a brazier warms the early spring day in the tent filled with surveying instruments and Masonic artifacts.  The terrestrial and celestial globes symbolize the universality of Freemasonry.92_021_1a-fS1 compass

Accompanying this painting in the exhibition is a surveyor’s compass made between 1849 and 1857 by Charles F. Helffricht (1816-1863) of Philadelphia.  All compasses measure horizontal angles with reference to magnetic north.  In addition, surveyor’s compasses have vertical sights to aim at distant objects.

"The Initiated Eye" opens December 19, 2009 and will be on view through January 9, 2011.  The paintings in the exhibition are the work of Peter Waddell, and were commissioned by, and are the property of, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C., with all rights reserved.  This exhibition is supported by the Scottish Rite Masons of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A.

Left: A Vision Unfolds, 2005, Peter Waddell (b. 1955), Washington, D.C.  Courtesy of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, D.C.  Right: Surveyor’s Compass, 1849-1857, Charles F. Helffricht (1816-1863), Philadelphia, PA, National Heritage Museum, gift of Charles E. Daniels, 92.021.1a-f.  Photograph by David Bohl.

William Hogarth: An Interpretation of one of his Masonic Engravings


   Early Years


William Hogarth (1697-1764) was born in Smithfields, London, the son of Latin teacher Richard Hogarth. At first, Hogarth apprenticed as a silverplate engraver. Later, he met a man who was to prove an inspiration for his future career, artist Sir James Thornhill (ca.1675-1734). Hogarth attended classes at Thornhill's free art academy in Covent Garden, became friends with the artist, and eventually married his daughter, Jane, in 1729.  A talented draughtsman, Hogarth took up the ambitious trade of engraving on copper for reproduction.  Throughout the 1720s, Hogarth made a living from selling his pictorial advertising cards for shops, billheads, theatre tickets and  funeral invitations.  He also created book illustrations and satirical engravings, which were sold in bookshops at a shilling per copy.

    Joining Freemasonry

A sociable man, Hogarth joined many clubs in London.  For him, however, Freemasonry was most important.  There were several reasons for this.  One was the social connections that the lodge and banquets provided.  Another was that Freemasonry stood for equality at this time in English society.  Hogarth realized the social prestige that came with membership in a Masonic lodge.  He was also introduced to a club, his Masonic lodge, that was interested and active in charitable institutions.  Hogarth chose the prestigious life of Freemasonry over an association with the old artist guilds.   

Hogarth became a Mason by 1725.  He belonged to a lodge that met at the Bear and Harrow tavern on Butcher Row, later called "Corner Stone Lodge".  Prominent men such as Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744), a founder of English Freemasonry, belonged to this lodge.  As well, many aristocrats, such as the Duke of Montagu (1690-1749), were members this lodge and became patrons to artists including Hogarth. Several members of Hogarth's inner circle of friends (actors, artists, lawyers, poets) also joined this lodge.  

   Interpreting a Hogarth Engraving

91_035DI1 First printed in 1724, Hogarth's engraving, The Mystery of Masonry brought to Light by ye Gormagons was reprinted several times.  The copy in the National Heritage Museum collection was not printed until 1755 (see image to the left) by Robert Sayer, a map and printseller in London.   

The figures in this engraving may express Hogarth's ambivalence concerning the change in Freemasonry from a stonemasons' guild to a more philosophical organization.  In England this change was led by James  Anderson (c.1679-1737) and Theophilus Desaguliers.   Other historians have interpreted this engraving as Hogarth's expression of social criticism.

A dispute broke out in the Grand Lodge of England.  Who would be the next Grand Master in 1724?  This dispute ended in compromise with the appointment of Desaguliers as Deputy Grand Master.  The next year, the Duke of Wharton lost by one vote, when the Earl of Dalkeith was elected Grand Master.  The Duke of Wharton stormed out of the Grand Lodge in anger and threatened to withdraw his supporters from the Grand Lodge.  To avoid any problems with the Duke of Wharton, members of the Grand Lodge published an advertisement announcing the formation of the Ancient Noble Order of Gormagons. The Gormagons denounced Freemasonry. The members of the Grand Lodge of England hoped that this publication would, by implication, discredit the Duke of Wharton and any actual competitive actions he might take.  

This engraving is pure Hogarth at his best! Starting with this historical incident, Hogarth used caricature to illustrate the tension between the Freemasons and the Gormagons.  One can read the figures of the old woman riding the donkey as representive of the ancient craft of Freemasonry and the man on the ladder as James Anderson.  The Duke of Wharton stands caricatured as Don Quixote, wearing armour and pointing toward the Chinese sages (or Gormagons).  Behind Don Quixote stands Sancho Panza, who could be intended to represent Desaguliers. Some of the people in this engraving wear Masonic aprons, which may be symbolic. Hogarth uses Don Quixote and Sancho Panza not as comic extremes, but to represent the ideal and the real.  Don Quixote appears quite dignified despite the chaos of the scene.

The Ancient Noble Order of Gormagons, the new fraternal order, had recently arrived in England from China according to a notice published in a London newspaper in 1724.  The text, or rhyme, below the engraving comments on how graceful and wise the Chinese sages look compared to the wild, mad Freemasons.  Four Chinese sages lead the procession, which is spilling out of a tavern,  the location for many Masonic meetings.  Masonic processions had just started to appear in the streets of London, in the 1720s, so this type of gathering was not unknown. 

This was William Hogarth's first Masonic engraving, though there would be many more with Masonic themes such as The Free Mason's Surpriz'd, or the Secret Discovered, (1754).


Beresiner, Yasha. "William Hogarth: The Man, The Artist and His Masonic Circle", Pietre-Stones Review of Freemasonry, 1996-2009. http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/beresiner11.html

Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. "The Gormogons", Anti-Masonry Index, 2004. http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/anti-masonry/gormogons.html

Hamilton, John.  Material Culture of the American Freemasons. Lexington, Mass.: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1994, p. 31-32.

Paulson, Ronald.  Hogarth.  New Brunswick, N.J.:  Rutgers University Press, 1992. v.1, The Modern Moral Subject, 1697-1732, p.95-155, v. 2, High Art and Low, 1732-1750, p.55-64.

"William Hogarth:  Portrait of a Mason-Artist", MQ Magazine, issue 7, Oct. 2003.  http://www.mqmagazine.co.uk/issue-7/p-07.php


Image Captions

Carte-de-visite portrait of William Hogarth, 1850-1900, Gustav Schauer, Berlin, Germany, National Heritage Museum, Gift of Patricia MacMillan, 2003.010.4.

The Mystery of Masonry brought to Light by ye Gormagons, 1755, William Hogarth (1697-1764), National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 91.035.



Franklin Opening the Lodge

81_56T1 While George Washington (1732-1799) is arguably the best-known American Freemason, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) may be a close second.  The National Heritage Museum collection includes a number of objects depicting Franklin, which recognize his Masonic membership. 

This print, Franklin Opening the Lodge, was published by Kurz and Allison of Chicago and dates to 1896.  The partnership, which extended from 1880 to at least 1899, produced a wide range of decorative prints, including a series depicting Revolutionary War battles.

Benjamin Franklin became a Freemason when he was initiated in St. John’s Lodge in Philadelphia in 1731.  His involvement with the fraternity extended over the next fifty years, during which time he held several leadership roles.  He served as Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1734 and Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1749.  While in Paris during the American Revolution, Franklin became a member of the Lodge of Nine Sisters (La Loge des Neuf Soeurs), serving as its Venerable Master from 1779 to 1781.  (For more on Franklin's Masonic activities, see this previous post on our blog.)

In this print, Franklin wears a Masonic apron and a Master’s jewel around his neck.  He stands in a lodge room, surrounded by a number of Masonic symbols.  Presumably, this print appealed to Freemasons around the country and was considered appropriate as decoration in the lodge and in the home.

This print is pictured in the Treasures section of our website, which includes information on approximately 100 objects from our collection.

Franklin Opening the Lodge, 1896, Kurz and Allison (partnership 1880-1899), Chicago, Illinois, National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 81.56.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Calling All Masonic and Fraternal Scholars!

91_033T1 The National Heritage Museum announces its first symposium, to be held at the Museum on Friday, April 9, 2010 - New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism

We are now seeking proposals for papers to be presented at the symposium.  As one of the largest repositories of American Masonic and fraternal objects, books and manuscripts in the United States, the Museum aims to foster new research on American fraternalism and to encourage the use of its scholarly resources.

The symposium seeks to present the newest research on American Masonic and fraternal groups from the past through the present day.  By 1900, over 250 American fraternal groups existed, numbering six million members.  The study of their activities and influence in the United States, past and present, offers the potential for new interpretations of American society and culture.  Diverse perspectives on this topic are sought; perspectives on and interpretations of all time periods are welcome.

Possible topics include:

• Comparative studies of American fraternalism and European or other international forms of  fraternalism
• Prince Hall Freemasonry and other African-American fraternal groups
• Ethnically- and religiously-based fraternal groups
• Fraternal groups for women or teens
• Role of fraternal groups in social movements
• The material culture of Freemasonry and fraternalism
• Anti-Masonry and anti-fraternal movements, issues and groups
• Fraternal symbolism and ritual
• The expression of Freemasonry and fraternalism through art, music, and literature
• Approaches to Freemasonry – from disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transnational perspectives;  the historiography and methodology of the study of American fraternalism

Proposals should be for 30 minute research papers; the day’s schedule will allow for audience questions and feedback.

To submit a proposal: Send an abstract of 400 words or less with a resume or c.v. that is no more than two pages.  Be sure to include full contact information (name, address, email, phone, affiliation).

Send proposals to: Aimee E. Newell, Director of Collections, National Heritage Museum, by email at anewell[at]monh.org or by mail to 33 Marrett Road, Lexington, MA  02421. 

Deadline for proposals to be received is August 15, 2009.  For questions, contact Aimee E. Newell as above, or call 781-457-4144.

Masonic checkerboard, ca. 1890, Collection of National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisition Fund, 91.033.  Photograph by David Bohl.

First Masonic book published in America

Franklinconstitutions Among the many gems in the library's collection is the first Masonic book printed in America. The book is called The Constitutions of the Free-Masons and was printed in June 1734 by Benjamin Franklin.

Why did Franklin print this book? It seems likely that Franklin had perceived that copies of the first edition of the Constitutions (which was published in 1723 in London)  were not easily available in the British colonies and, businessman that he was, he decided to print a new edition.

Franklin’s Constitutions was printed when Franklin was only 28 years old, almost exactly at the time that Franklin became Grand Master of Pennsylvania. Interestingly, Franklin did not give himself credit anywhere within the book for being the printer.  How do we know then that Franklin printed this item? One way we know is that scholars have attributed this book to Franklin’s press on the evidence of the type used – a sort of typographical forensics. There is also further, secondary evidence, such as the series of advertisements for Franklin’s Constitutions which first appeared in Franklin’s newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette in May 1734, all explicitly stating that the book is “Reprinted by B. Franklin.” It's interesting to note that Franklin called his edition a "reprint" (and didn't give himself credit as the printer anywhere in the book). In fact, if you compare his "reprint" to the 1723 edition, you can see that he tried to mimic the look of the original. (Speaking of mimicking the look of the original, a very well done digital (but not digitized) copy of Franklin's 1734 Constitutions is available here.)

Franklin’s Constitutions is an exceedingly rare book. Three fairly recent bibliographic censuses have been done for this book – in 1971, 1974, and 2003 (see the end of this post) – each of which counted less than twenty existing copies of this book in the world.  That being said, there may be more copies of the book in private hands. Our copy was described in the 1971 census by Harold V.B. Voorhis as follows. You will notice that many aspects of marks in this book are noted:

14 – Academy-Borneman Copy
I found this unbound copy in the Academy Bookshop in New York in 1933. It was purchased with a library in Long Island, New York, bound with other items and removed after purchased by the bookshop. It was sold to Brother Borneman of the Committee on Library of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania for $500. After his death it was sold at auction in the Parke-Bernet Galleries to an unknown bidder for $500. It is now rebound. On page 30 is the signature of “Lewis Evans” and on page 86 there is an unidentified word at the bottom. Several pages of the book contain circular water-marks about the size of a silver dollar. The circle is quartered by diagonal lines and in the quarters are the letters “S-P-D-S” starting at the top, reading left to right.

I will briefly address the watermark mentioned above, if only to say that while this is certainly evidence of a very interesting kind (although I’ve not been able to trace which paper maker used this watermark), it does not give evidence of who owned the book, but rather who had a hand, in a way, in making the book.

I'm interested in "marks in books" - those traces of evidence that tell us more about a book's past (for example, who owned a particular book before it came to reside in our library), and so I was excited to find out that, as mentioned above, our copy of Franklin's Constitutions contains the signature of a former owner of the book, Lewis Evans, as well as the date 1741. Lewis Evans was an important early mapmaker, draftsman, and geographer. He was an associate of Franklin's as well - and Franklin published the book that accompanied Evans's famous 1755  A General Map of the Middle British Colonies (another item in our collection, that we'll address in a future post).

A question that I'd like to answer, but haven't yet, is why did Lewis Evans purchase Franklin’s reprint of the Constitutions? I haven't found evidence that Evans was a Freemason. Also, why did Evans obtain this book in 1741, as he presumably did, seven years after the book was published? Franklin most likely printed the Constitutions with the hope that members of various colonial Masonic lodges would buy up the edition. As late as 1750, though, Franklin was still advertising remaindered copies for sale.

Did Evans buy his copy out of curiosity about Freemasonry? Or, because he was a business associate of Franklin, did Evans obtain the book at a reduced cost or possibly even receive it for free, since Franklin was clearly not having an easy time selling out the edition he printed? These are questions I don't have answers for yet. I'm hoping that, with further research, more answers may possibly come to light.

Sources for censuses of Franklin's Constitutions:

Voorhis, Harold V.B. "Benjamin Franklin's Reprint of Anderson's Constitutions of 1723: The First American Masonic Book." Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, Volume 84 (1971), pp. 69-74.

Miller, C. William. Benjamin Franklin's Philadelphia Printing, 1728-1766: A Descriptive Bibliography. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1974. Cat. no. 80, pp. 39-40

Walgren, Kent Logan. Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and IIluminism in the United States, 1734-1850: A Bibliography. Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society, 2003. Vol. 1, cat. no. 1, p. 3.

George Washington’s Inaugural Bible

When Barack Obama takes the presidential oath of office next week, he will participate in a ceremony that dates back to George Washington’s 1789 inauguration. His choice to swear his oath on an historical Bible—the one that Abraham Lincoln used in 1861—is much rarer. Only four presidents have used Bibles that former presidents used, and all four chose the same one: George Washington’s.

GWBible after8 cropped

George Washington’s inauguration as the first U.S. president was held on April 30, 1789, in New York City. According to a 1908 account by New York’s St. John’s Lodge No. 1, although the ceremony was elaborately planned, at the last minute, organizers decided that the president should place his hand on a Bible when taking the oath of office. Jacob Morton, parade marshal and Master of St. John’s, quickly walked to his nearby lodge meeting room, and borrowed its 1767 King James Bible. Robert R. Livingston, State Chancellor and presiding Grand Master of Masons in New York, then administered Washington’s oath of office on it.

No one knows where the Bibles that the first fourteen presidents used came from, but we do know that in 1857, William Carroll, the clerk of the Supreme Court, procured a Bible for James Buchanan’s inauguration. Carroll and his successors provided the next half-dozen inaugural Bibles—including Abraham Lincoln’s. Then, on March 4, 1885, Grover Cleveland created a new tradition when he chose to swear his oath of office on a Bible his mother had given him when he was 15. Since then, most presidents have used family Bibles.

Freemason Warren G. Harding was the first president known to select the Washington Bible for his 1921 inauguration. Dwight D. Eisenhower followed in 1953, Jimmy Carter in 1977, and George Bush in 1989. George W. Bush intended to use it in 2001, but rainy weather changed the plan. He used a family Bible instead.

The George Washington Bible has been featured at a number of other important public and Masonic occasions, including Washington’s funeral procession in 1799; the dedication of the Masonic Temples in Boston and Philadelphia, in 1867 and 1869, respectively; the 1885 dedication of the Washington Monument, and its rededication 112 years later; a 1932 reenactment of Washington’s inauguration, commemorating the bicentennial of the first president’s birth; the inaugurations of some of New York’s governors; the installations of many of the Grand Masters of New York; and numerous exhibitions. Usually on display at New York’s Federal Hall, this Bible was on view at the National Heritage Museum for a 2005 exhibition on George Washington’s Masonic life and legacy.


Proceedings of the Sesqui-centennial celebration of St. John's Lodge, no. 1. (A.Y.M.) F. & A.M. of the State of New York: December 7th ... 5907. New York: St. John's Lodge, no. 1. (A.Y.M.) F. & A.M., 1908. Call number: 17.97751 .N1 1908 

Web site of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, http://inaugural.senate.gov/history/chronology/index.cfm

Thanks to St. John's Lodge No. 1 for their help with this entry. For more information on the George Washington Bible, please click the link "The Lodge" on the St. John's Lodge web site.

Bible, 1767. Printed by Mark Baskett, London. Photo courtesy of St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, Free & Accepted Masons, New York, New York. This Bible was opened to Genesis 49–50 when George Washington took his oath of office on it.

Rob Morris's Poetic Allusions to the Battle of Lexington

Morrismasonicodes_web_3 As blogs go, you won't find much opinion at ours, but I'm going to break that just for a moment to say that, as a poet, Rob Morris is no Charles Simic. Yet while Morris may not be to everyone's poetical tastes, that doesn't make him any less interesting as a historical figure.

Like Simic, Rob Morris (1818-1888) is - or, rather, was - a poet laureate. While Simic is the current poet laureate of the United States (news-flash: Kay Ryan was recently named the new poet laureate, but she doesn't start until the fall), Morris was the Poet Laureate of Freemasonry. When first hearing this, I thought that perhaps Morris was a self-styled poet laureate, but, no, in fact, he was officially recognized as such at a ceremony that took place on December 17, 1884 at the Grand Lodge of New York in New York City. Only one other poet had been dubbed the Poet Laureate of Freemasonry before - Robert Burns. Yes, the Robert Burns. Most folks who don't read poetry have likely heard of Burns, and even if you don't think you know Burns's work, you do: he wrote Auld Lang Syne ("Should auld acquaintance be forgot..."). Burns, a Freemason, was made the Poet Laureate of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2, Edinburgh, Scotland in February of 1787.

In an article entitled "A Successor to Robert Burns," the New York Times described the crowning of Morris as the new poet laureate of Freemasonry at a ceremony which included a procession marching to the William Tell Overture, as well as an actual crowning of Morris with a laurel wreath. Of course, succeeding Burns is, some might say, no small task, but if anyone was going to be crowned poet laureate of Freemasonry at the time, Morris seemed like the man to pick.

Morris wrote and lectured extensively on Freemasonry. He also founded the Order of the Eastern Star and wrote its ritual. Morris's Masonic accomplishments are vast and it's difficult to understate his involvement with Freemasonry. His various affiliations and accomplishments are too many to list here.

Pictured above is the cover to the 1875 edition of Morris's Three Hundred Masonic Odes and Poems, published by William T. Anderson's Masonic Publishing Company in New York in 1875 [Call number: 63.1 .M877m 1875]. The book was published eleven years before Morris became poet laureate, illustrating, perhaps how the choice of Morris as poet laureate was, to many, a no-brainer. (If not Morris, who?)

Among the three hundred odes and poems, I found one that seems perfect for those of us writing from an American history museum founded by Freemasons and located in Lexington, Massachusetts. So, for your enjoyment and edification, I include the first stanza of Morris's poem "Lines to Lexington Lodge, No. 310, at Brooklyn, NY," from Three Hundred Masonic Odes and Poems, a poem in which Morris alludes to the Battle of Lexington, the presumed namesake of the lodge:

A fire was kindled on the plain
Of Lexington that gloweth yet;
Each blood-drop from a patriot's heart
A lasting horror did beget,
Of tyrant's chain and despot's rule,
With which our sorrowing world is full.

We have many works by and about Morris in our collection, far too numerous to list here. You can see what titles we have by searching our online catalog.