Freemasonry

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.


The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History

Collage left 10-6-01The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library presents “The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History,” a new exhibition that showcases inspiring American Freemasons and introduces visitors to the history of Freemasonry in the United States. The exhibition opens to the public on November 1, 2021 and runs through October 2024. 

Throughout the exhibition, visitors will meet extraordinary Masons who, through their outsized contributions to Freemasonry, government, the arts, and social justice, made a profound impact on their world and ours. Ten Hall of Fame inductees will be featured this year. More will be added in 2022 and 2023. This year’s inductees are:

  • Benjamin Franklin
  • George Washington
  • Prince Hall
  • Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
  • Mark Twain
  • Harry Truman
  • John Lejeune
  • Irving Berlin
  • John Glenn
  • John Lewis

Drawing on images and objects from the Museum & Library’s collection, the exhibition also looks at the history of Freemasonry in the United States from its beginnings in the 1700s to the present day. “The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History” illuminates some of the ways that the United States and Freemasonry have grown, thrived, and changed together.

Throughout the exhibition visitors will encounter both remarkable and everyday Freemasons who helped to build communities, establish charitable institutions, and shape American society.

The Museum & Library is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 to 4:00pm. Have questions or comments? Leave a comment below or email info@srmml.org. 


The Shaving Mason

2001_072aeS1cropped for blogIn 1904, American innovator and Freemason King Camp Gillette (1855-1932), first a member of Adelphi Lodge in Quincy, Massachusetts, who later belonged to Columbian Lodge in Boston, began manufacturing a safety razor with disposable blades. While some form of a safety razor had been in use for decades, Gillette patented the first disposable blades with a double-edged safety razor. This innovation made shaving easier—men no longer needed to sharpen their blades. In the late 1800s and early 1900s tastes and styles in men's facial hair changed. A growing number of men preferred to be clean-shaven and Gillette's new razor dovetailed with this trend. 

In this same period, membership in fraternal societies was at an all-time high. Manufacturers, including the Gillette Company, made products decorated with Masonic and fraternal symbols, appealing to the high number of Masonic and fraternal consumers in the United States. This shaving kit, with a two-piece double-edged razor and a box for disposable blades, features a Masonic emblem at the center—a square and compasses with the letter G.

Other shaving related products gained in popularity with this clean shaven trend, including shaving mugs, soaps, and brushes. Ernest Price EPrice shaving mug 2016_044_3 for blog(1892-1966), a carpenter from Watertown, Massachusetts, had this standard shaving mug personalized with his name and Masonic symbols. Price, a member of Sydney No. 84 in Nova Scotia, emigrated to Massachusetts in 1920. in 1945 he affiliated with Pequossette Lodge, in Arlington, Massachusetts. The Museum has several examples of personalized fraternal shaving mugs in the collection. These mugs illustrate the connection between consumer goods and fraternalism in the early 1900s.

To see more shaving related material from the collection visit our online collections site here: https://bit.ly/3iSJxfw

Captions:

Shaving Kit, 1920-1950. Gillette, United States. Gift of Richard W. Parker, 2001.072a-g. Photograph by David Bohl.

Shaving Mug, 1920-1950. United States. Gift of Mabel P. Mills, 2016.044.3.

References:

Robert Blake Powell, Occupational & Fraternal Shaving Mugs of the United States Catalog, (Hurst, TX: Publications Company Hurst, 1978).

Massachusetts Grand Lodge of Masons Membership Cards 1733–1990. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts. Ancestry.com. Accessed July 27, 2021.


Charleston’s Best Friend: A Freemason Provides an Intimate Look into the Development of the American Railway System

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection of correspondence from Moses Holbrook (1783-1844) to John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865) provides researchers with a wealth of insight into early nineteenth-century American Freemasonry, as well as an intimate look at daily life in Charleston, South Carolina, as seen through Holbrook's eyes. During the 1820s and 1830s, Holbrook, the Southern Jurisdiction's fourth Sovereign Grand Commander, corresponded with the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s John James Joseph Gourgas. Gourgas served as the NMJ's Grand Secretary General from its founding in 1813 until 1832, and then as Sovereign Grand Commander from 1832 until 1851. Holbrook served as Sovereign Grand Commander of the Southern Jurisdiction’s Supreme Council from 1826 until 1844. Holbrook’s letters touch upon a variety of subjects, from outbreaks of yellow fever to the political victory of Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) in the Presidential election of 1828. However, one passage in particular stands out for its contribution to our understanding of transportation history: a passage in Holbrook’s January 1, 1831, letter to Gourgas regarding Charleston’s Best Friend, the first American-built passenger steam locomotive. Holbrook writes,

A2019_178_0060aDS1Letter from Moses Holbrook to John James Joseph Gourgas, 1831 January 1.

 

The only subject of public attention that occupies us at present is the Rail Road and “Charleston’s Best Friend” (the name given to a little locomotive engine of six horse power that has been built for an experiment and put upon the small portion – about five miles or a little over – of the Rail Road which has been completed for the purpose of trial.) The “Best Friend” when on the trial by the Rail Road Company’s Committee to ascertain whether the machinery - &c - answered the contract which Mr. Miller the inventor had entered into. The “Best Friend” dragged after it near ten tons besides itself and the wood and water necessary – at the rate of about 15 miles an hour with perfect ease and safety. Several pleasure cars are now attached to it and it runs at stated periods of the day to carry passengers only – and Bachelors, Maids, Matrons & Madams all are anxious to make trial of a ride at the speed of about 20 miles an hour. I tried it the other day and went the five miles and back again in thirty minutes and this time included the turning about taking in water &c. 

I remain respectfully your friend and well wisher,

M. Holbrook

Built at the West Point Foundry in New York in 1830, Charleston’s Best Friend was hailed by the Charleston Courier as an experience that “annihilate[ed] time and space,” a technological achievement that demonstrated the potential of steam powered rail travel. Until this time, travel had been limited by road conditions, the weather, and river navigability. After the short, but great, success of Charleston’s Best Friend, which was destroyed by operator error six months after its maiden voyage, six new locomotives were constructed for the Southern Railway System, including the Phoenix, which was constructed from the remains of Charleston’s Best Friend.  Its short life had completely revolutionized America’s transportation system, and towns across the country shifted their sights from building canals to building railroads.

As for Sovereign Grand Commander Holbrook, ravaged by several illnesses, worn thin by the incessant battles with Anti-masonry and the “lukewarmness” of those within the Fraternity, William L. Fox in Lodge of the Double-Headed Eagle reported Holbrook longed to leave Charleston and relinquish his responsibilities as Sovereign Grand Commander. When the United States Government offered settlers to Florida 160 acres of free land on condition they defend it against the Seminoles, Holbrook applied for and received a plot of land under the auspices of the Armed Occupation Act on April 16, 1843, and settled in St. Lucie, Florida. Remembered as a recluse by the settlers, Holbrook lived in his one room, palm-thatched cabin stuffed with hundreds of books brought from Charleston, and served as the settlement’s only doctor. His “many misfortunes over the years” had robbed him of his “once brilliant intellect,” another settler William Henry Peck (1830-1892) remarked in one of his articles for the Florida Star regarding the Indian River settlement. His only solace was his books and a flute “on which he became a virtuoso.”

Best FriendCharleston's Best Friend: An image from Popular Science Monthly.

On September 11, 1844, Moses Holbrook died and was buried near his cabin on the bluff overlooking the Indian River. He was 61 years old.

 


Captions

Letter from Moses Holbrook to John James Joseph Gourgas, 1831 January 1. Records and Correspondence of the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 300.002.


"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.


Digital Collections Highlight: WWI Masonic Roll of Honor

A2013_010_1DS1_webThis Veterans Day, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is highlighting how one local Masonic lodge honored its members who served during World War I. We recently digitized the item seen here and added it to our Digital Collections website.

Both during and after World War I, a number of Masonic and fraternal organizations assembled rolls of honor to recognize the service of their members. Constellation Lodge, which was located in Dedham, Massachusetts, issued this Roll of Honor, which listed the names of twenty-nine of its members who served during World War I.

The location of each man's wartime service varied widely. Those who served stateside included Masons like Edward J. Ziegler, who served as a Yeoman at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in New Hampshire, and Edward S. Colburn, who served in the Gas Mask Department in Philadelphia. Many on the list served overseas, including a number of men whose location is simply listed as "Somewhere in France."

Constellation Lodge mailed this particular copy of the Roll of Honor to one of the Masons honored. William Crawford, Jr. (1896-1987) received the Roll of Honor while he was still serving at the Aerial Station in Chatham, Massachusetts, a town located on the elbow of Cape Cod. The Chatham Naval Air Station was only in existence from 1917 until 1922 and served an important role during the war, by patrolling for German U-boats off the coast of the United States. The air station was also involved in defending against the only attack on U.S. soil during WWI. The Chatham Historical Society has a number of images related to the Chatham Naval Air Station digitized and available on their website.

The Roll of Honor pictured here is one of nearly 900 digitized items that can be found at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Digital Collections website. Also, be sure to check out our previous blog posts related to WWI.

Caption:
Constellation Lodge Roll of Honor, 1918. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, Gift of William Douglas Crawford, A2013/010/1.


New Online Exhibition - Signed & Sealed: Masonic Certificates

A1990_036_1DS1_webThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library invites you to explore our new online exhibition, “Signed & Sealed: Masonic Certificates” now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. The twenty-one Masonic certificates featured in the exhibition are drawn from the Library & Archives' collection of hundreds of Masonic and fraternal membership certificates.

Included in the exhibition is the 1756 certificate pictured here, which one Masonic historian, writing in 1912, stated was "believed to the be the oldest American Masonic certificate." William Shute, Worshipful Master of Philadelphia Lodge No. 2, signed this hand-written certificate, which identifies James Harding as a Master Mason. You can learn more about this certificate and others by visiting the online exhibition.

If you haven't already, also be sure to visit the Museum's online exhibition website for more online exhibitions.

 

Caption:
Master Mason certificate issued by Philadelphia Lodge, No. 2, to James Harding, 1756. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, A1990/036/001.


Digital Collections Highlight: An 1847 Scottish Rite Meeting Summons

A2019_178_0001DS1_webPictured here is a recently digitized handwritten summons from Sovereign Grand Commander John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865) to Edward A. Raymond (1791-1864), dated November 22, 1847. It is among a number of recently digitized nineteenth-century Scottish Rite documents that we have added to the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. By taking a closer look at the events surrounding the creation of this summons, we can gain insight into the difficult reorganization of the Scottish Rite that took place in the 1840s.

The Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction was small and geographically dispersed in 1847. Of its nine members, seven had joined the Supreme Council within the past two years. The Council was still rebuilding itself after the anti-Masonic period had brought most Masonic activity to a halt in the late 1820s and through the 1830s. In 1847, the Council was dispersed throughout two states, with four members living in the Boston area and five living in New York State. At the time, the Council was headed by J.J.J. Gourgas and his Lieutenant Grand Commander Giles Fonda Yates (1798-1859). Gourgas, who lived in New York City, and Yates, who lived in Schenectady, had kept the Supreme Council's records together during the dormant period of the anti-Masonic period and were responsible for the reorganization of the Supreme Council in 1844 and 1845, during which time they admitted the seven new members to the Supreme Council.

This 1847 summons gives us a glimpse into this period of rebirth. Written in Gourgas's unmistakable handwriting, and addressed to Edward A. Raymond in Boston, the summons directs Boston-based members Raymond, Charles W. Moore, and Reuel Baker to attend the "Stated Constitutional Meeting of the Grand and Supreme Council" to be held on December 7, 1847. The record of that meeting shows how difficult it was for Gourgas to rebuild the Council. The December 7, 1847 meeting was attended by only three people: Gourgas, Yates, and Van Rensselaer. In the published Proceedings, Gourgas notes that Raymond, Moore, and Baker provided an official excuse for non-attendance, which was accepted. Showing his frustration with members who did not attend meetings, Gourgas mentions that two members - John Christie and Archibald Bull - had not made an appearance at any meetings since they had been admitted and, in strong language, declared them "useless members, unless they come forward with admissable excuses..." In a letter, dated January 20, 1848, written in response to Gourgas's wish to hear from Bull and Christie, Bull explains to Gourgas that his absences occurred because of his poor health.

As the events surrounding this summons demonstrate, the robust Supreme Council that eventually emerged from the work of Gourgas and Yates was not easily accomplished.

Interested in reading more primary sources related to the history of the Scottish Rite? Be sure to check out the growing collection on our Digital Collections website.

Caption:
Handwritten summons from Sovereign Grand Commander John James Joseph Gourgas to Edward A. Raymond, 1847. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, A2019/178/0001.


Newly added to Digital Collections: Harry S. Truman Letters

A2019_001_016DS_webDid you know that President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) was in correspondence with Melvin Maynard Johnson (1871-1957), the head of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Supreme Council during the 1940s and 1950s? A number of recently digitized letters, written from Truman to Johnson on White House stationery are available through the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. They reveal a friendly relationship, with President Truman beginning his letters to Johnson by addressing him "Dear Mel."

Truman became a Freemason in 1909. By 1940, he was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri. In 1945, Truman was created a 33rd degree Sovereign Grand Inspector General in the Scottish Rite's Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction. That same year, the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, awarded Truman its first Gourgas Medal, the Supreme Council's highest honor.

The letters in this collection include both those from Harry Truman as well as one written by his wife, Bess Truman (1885-1982). The majority of the correspondence in this collection consists of letters written by President Harry S. Truman to his friend and fellow Freemason, Melvin Maynard Johnson (1871-1957). Johnson served as the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Sovereign Grand Commander from 1933 to 1953.

For more about the friendship between Truman and Johnson, have a look at one of our earlier blog posts, A Mason Answers His Country's Call and Receives the Scottish Rite's Highest Award.

There are now over 750 items in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. Be sure to visit and check them all out!

Caption:
Letter from President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, 1948 August 3. Collection of Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts. SC069.


Newly added to Digital Collections: Scottish Rite Documents

A2019_178_0262_webDo you want to take a closer look at how the Scottish Rite developed during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently added a selection of new documents related to Scottish Rite history to its Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. There are now over fifty primary source documents related to the history of the Scottish Rite available through our digital collections website. Viewing the documents is easy - clicking on an image will open a high-res image of the document or, in the case of some multi-page documents, a PDF.

The digitized Scottish Rite material includes some of the founding documents of both the Northern Masonic and Southern Jurisdictions, as well as official documents that show the various schisms within the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction in the nineteenth century, especially with regard to groups founded by or inspired by Joseph Cerneau.

Do you have a question about Scottish Rite history? We'd love to hear from you. Head over to the Library & Archives page on the museum's website to get in touch with us.

Caption:
Announcement of the Union of the Hays and Raymond Supreme Councils, 1863. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, A2019/178/0262.