Freemasonry and Judaism

Newly added to Digital Collections - Jacob Norton letters

A2011_017_717_webThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently added a selection of letters to its Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. The digitized letters are selected from the over 700 that are in the Jacob Norton Papers collection, which consists of Norton's incoming correspondence from well-known nineteenth-century Freemasons, such as Rob Morris (1818-1888) and Enoch Terry Carson (1822-1899).

Jacob Norton (1814-1897), of Polish ancestry and Jewish faith, was born in Middlesex, England. He was a furrier by trade. He was raised to the degree of Master Mason in Joppa Lodge (London, England) on August 5th, 1839.

Norton took his business to the United States, and in 1842, demitted from Joppa Lodge. In 1844, after taking up residence in Boston, Massachusetts, Norton joined St. Andrew’s Lodge, and was made a member on November 14th. He remained a member of this lodge for almost eight years until his petition to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for the revision of its ritual and removal of overt Christian allusions was denied in June 1852. The committee members who denied this petition also recommended that he and the other petitioners had to withdraw from St. Andrew’s. He subsequently resigned from St. Andrew’s Lodge and became increasingly discontent with American Freemasonry, writing critical articles until his death. Due to this, Norton was considered to be argumentative and opinionated by the Masons of the Massachusetts jurisdiction, and beyond. He collected some of these articles and new writings in a book called Masonic Fiction Exploded: Including the Pretended Grand Mastership of Henry Price, published in 1896.

Norton did not remove himself from Freemasonry altogether, however, as he continued to attend the meetings of Joppa Lodge in England when his trade took him there and also corresponded with Masons until his death. Additionally, he joined the Correspondence Circle of Quatuor Coronati Lodge in London in November 1887.

In his personal life, Norton was married to Miriam Norton (born 1829), and had three children, Edward, Rachel, and George. Sometime between 1852 and his death he renounced his Jewish faith and considered himself an atheist. He lived in Boston until his death in March 1897, aged 83.

In addition to the letters in the Jacob Norton Papers, the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website includes a number of different collections of letters and correspondence, including the Armand P. Pfister Masonic Papers, 1840-1846 and the G. Edward Elwell, Jr., Autograph Collection.

Caption:
Letter from William P. Mellen to Jacob Norton, 1856. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Museum Purchase, A2011/017/717.

 


New Acquisitions: Contextualizing the Lives of Early Jewish Scottish Rite Masons

At the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, we are conscious of the fact that Freemasonry does not take place in a vacuum. It is, and always has been, a part of a person's life. Freemasonry is one of many groups that a man belongs to - one that might overlap with family, business, religion, or friendship. To look at Freemasonry in its historical context then, is to understand how it fits into a person's life.

This year marks the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Scottish Rite's Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. On August 5, 1813, the Jurisdiction's first Supreme Council was formed by Emanuel De La Motta (1760–1821), in his capacity as the Southern Jurisdiction's Grand Treasurer General. The Council consisted of six members - Daniel D. Tompkins (1774–1825), Sampson Simson (1780–1857), John James Joseph Gourgas (1777–1865), Richard Riker (1773–1842), John Gabriel Tardy (1761-1831), and Moses Levi Maduro Peixotto (1767–1828).

Of these seven men, three were Jewish - De La Motta, Simson, and Peixotto - and, just as Riker and Tompkins were politically associated outside of Freemasonry, these three men were culturally and religiously connected through their faith. For example, Simson and Peixotto were both members of New York's Congregation Shearith Israel. Is it possible to learn more about the communities that these men lived in and how their faith may have played a role in their lives?

In addition to De La Motta, Simson, and Peixotto, other prominent Jews involved with the establishment and founding of the Scottish Rite include Moses Michael Hays (1739–1805), as well as three of the Southern Jurisdiction's founding members - Abraham Alexander (1743-1816), Israel Delieben (1740-1807), and Moses Clava Levy (1749-1839). The library recently acquired the books below in an effort to help researchers contextualize the lives of  Jewish men who played key roles in the founding of the Scottish Rite.

OnceJewsFrontCovJosette Capriles Goldish. Once Jews: Stories of Caribbean Sephardim. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2009.

Emanuel De La Motta and Moses Levy Maduro Peixotto were both born into Sephardic families in the Caribbean (San Croix and Curaçao, respectively) before moving to the United States. Although this book does not mention either man specifically, there is useful information about Dutch trade and Sephardic Jews in the Caribbean, which is essential to understanding the movement of pre-Scottish Rite degrees from their arrival with merchants in the West Indies in the mid-eighteenth century to their movement out of the West Indies to New Orleans, Charleston, and Albany later in that century. The book contains useful information about the common usage of "double names" among Caribbean Sephardim, specifically mentioning the persistence of the double name Levy Maduro.

James William Hagy. This Happy Land: The Jews of Colonial and Antebellum Charleston. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993.

I was surprised to find that, although published twenty years ago, this book was not yet in our collection. Four of the first Supreme Council members of the world's first Supreme Council, founded in Charleston, South Carolina in 1801, were drawn from its Jewish community. This book is a great genealogical resource. For example, it led me to an obituary for Emanuel De La Motta that I have not seen referenced elsewhere. Although Freemasonry is only mentioned on two pages, the author notes that "Perhaps the best example of Jewish participation in life in Charleston is provided by the Masons."

NewIsraelMichael Hoberman. New Israel/New England: Jews and Puritans in Early America. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2011.

In addition to contextualizing the lives of Jews and Puritans in early America, this book devotes an entire chapter to Moses Michael Hays. Hays is remembered for many important roles that he played - both within Freemasonry and without. Within Scottish Rite Freemasonry is best remembered as having been deputized by Henry Andrew Francken (ca. 1720–1795) to spread the Order of the Royal Secret, which eventually led to the founding of the Scottish Rite.

 

  Messianism-Secrecy-bookLaura Arnold Leibman. Messianism, Secrecy and Mysticism: A New Interpretation of Early American Jewish Life. Edgware: Vallentine Mitchell, 2012.

In addition to containing information about Freemasonry, this book also features analysis of how symbols shared between Freemasonry and Judaism might have been viewed by Jewish Masons in the eighteenth century. Also contains interesting speculation and analysis about the use of the Mosaic pavement (black and white checkered floor) in Sephardic synagogues and homes in the colonial Caribbean and the relationship to its use within a Masonic context.

William Pencak. Jews and Gentiles in Early America, 1654-1800. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005.

The chapters in this book are arranged by important, early Jewish communities in America: New York, NY; Newport, RI; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; and Philadelphia, PA. Among other topics, the author looks at how colonial-era Jewish communities interacted with the larger gentile community, as well as how the Jewish communities in the Americas were connected to one another.