Freemasonry and Colonialism

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.

Symposium Keynote Speaker Jessica Harland-Jacobs to Bring New Perspective to the History of American Freemasonry and Fraternalism

On Friday, April 9, 2010, the National Heritage Museum will host an academic symposium, “New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism,” presenting the newest research on American fraternal groups from the past to the present day. As the repository of one of the largest collections of American Masonic and fraternal objects, books and manuscripts in the United States, the Museum is proud to foster innovative research on American fraternalism.


JH-J_2 Our keynote speaker will be Jessica Harland-Jacobs, Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida and author of Builders of Empire: Freemasonry and British Imperialism, 1717-1927. Ms. Harland-Jacobs has chosen to speak on “Worlds of Brothers”, emphasizing how many fraternities, and Freemasonry especially, are conceived and operate as global institutions. While fraternalism has, by and large, been investigated from the perspective of the nation state, the talk will demonstrate how framing the history of modern-era Freemasonry on a world scale pays great dividends for our understanding of the phenomenon. In fact, as the speaker will explain, taking a global perspective can benefit contemporary American brotherhoods.


In addition to the keynote speaker, six scholars have been selected to present their research at the symposium. Look for an upcoming blog post that will describe the full program. Mark your calendars for a day of new discoveries and unexpected conclusions about how we interpret the history of American society and culture.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Harland-Jacobs.

New to the Collection: An Ancient Maul

2008_015T1 Recently, National Heritage Museum staff began to review the extended loan objects that had accumulated under their roof.  Many of these loans dated back to the early years of the Museum, before its own collection could support exhibitions and research projects.  After three decades, the time seemed right to assess each loan for its relevance to the Museum’s mission and core priorities.  In many cases, the objects on loan were determined to be one of a kind, offering fascinating possibilities for research, exhibits, and public programming.  So, Museum staff began to ask their owners whether they might consider turning these loans into gifts for the permanent collection.  One of the first generous lenders to accept this proposal was Occidental Lodge in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. 

Back in 1977, shortly after the Museum opened, Occidental Lodge placed a maul on loan to the Museum.  As you can see in the picture, a maul is a heavy wooden-headed hammer, often used to drive wedges.  This maul has an applied metal band that helps to tell the story of its significance, inscribed “Ancient Egyptian Maul Presented to Occidental Lodge by R.W. Brigadier General C.S. Wilson CB, CMG, DSO, District Grand Master of Egypt and Sudan.”  In Freemasonry, the setting maul is a symbol of untimely death.

Occidental Lodge was formed in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in June 1870 when the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts granted the petition of twenty-three Masons from that town.  These men set the purpose of the lodge, “to promote and diffuse the genuine principles of Freemasonry; for the convenience of our respective dwelling, and other good reasons.”  The lodge grew steadily during the late 1800s and early 1900s, initiating members, pursuing charitable activities and meeting regularly. 

During these years, Occidental Lodge received a number of gifts, which they preserved as treasures.  In addition to their officers' jewels, a set of Receiving Tools and several ceremonial gavels, in July 1928 the Lodge received the maul.  The previous fall, at an October 5, 1927 Special Communication, the Lodge was visited by its presiding District Deputy, along with Brigadier General Charles S. Wilson, then-District Grand Master of Egypt and Sudan for the Grand Lodge of England.  Unfortunately, lodge records do not reveal the occasion for Wilson’s visit to western Massachusetts, or what prompted him to make this gift.  Instead, the gift of the maul is recorded as “a token of his esteem.”  Wilson was the fifth District Grand Master after the District Grand Lodge of Egypt and Sudan formed in 1899.  He succeeded his predecessor in 1926, after that man was assassinated on a Cairo street.  Wilson served as District Grand Master until his death at sea in 1933.

According to Wilson, this setting maul was found in the funeral temple of Pharoah Djoser (also known as Zoser), whose reign extended from about 2630 B.C. to 2610 B.C.  The funeral temple is part of the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, Egypt.  Built under the direction of Pharoah Djoser during his reign, by the architect Imhotep, the pyramid was the largest building of its time, standing 204 feet high with six stepped layers.  The structure was intended to hold the Pharoah’s mummified body after his death.  The Museum is pleased to add the maul to its collection – it becomes the oldest item in the collection.

Maul, 1300-2000 B.C., Egypt. National Heritage Museum, gift of Occidental Lodge A.F. & A.M. in memory of those who served our country from Occidental Lodge, 2008.015.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Amir Habibullah Khan: Afghan Reformer and Freemason

In a previous post, we talked about the spread of Freemasonry throughout the world, and the means by which it got there, in most cases by colonialism.  Today, we're taking a look at how one man in Afghanistan decided to become a Freemason in India in the early 20th century.

Habibullah Khan (1872-1919) succeeded his father to the throne of Afghanistan in 19 01.  In his coronation speech he announced his interest in pursuing policies of national unity, resistance from foreign aggression, and reform.  His goal was to achieve an absolute Afghan central government.

In 1904, Habibullah Khan founded the Habibya school for boys.  Students were taught math, geography, calisthenics, as well as English and Urdu.  He also established a military college where officers could get training. Between 1901 and 1904, Habibullah Khan bought equipment for local industry.  He also continued to improve communication and trade.  He built new roads and demonstrated that travel was important.

After an official state visit to India in 1907, Habibullah Khan expanded his reforms.  What happened during this visit to India?   

In 1907, at the request of the British government, the Amir of Afghanistan was invited to visit the Indian frontier.  Lt. Col. A. Henry McMahon, Chief Commissioner of Baluchistan, accompanied the Amir and was in charge of the entire visit.

Mcmahon_habibullah_khan After a few days in India, the Amir expressed interest in becoming a Freemason. McMahon was surprised because he did not understand the Amir's motives and didn't think that the Amir wanted to bring Freemasonry to Afghanistan. 

McMahon finally realized that the Amir was very earnest about his request to be initiated into Freemasonry. Habibullah told McMahon that he had met good men who were Masons and that he knew Freemasonry to be a good thing.

In the name of diplomacy, McMahon received permission for the Amir's initiation from Lord Kitchener, District Grand Master of the Punjab and Grand Master, the Duke of Connaught.  In the facsimile letter shown here (from a book published in 1936), Lord Kitchener votes to accept the Amir into the lodge. 

His Majesty Habibullah Khan, Amir of Afghanistan, was initiated into Freemasonry in Calcutta, India.  This occurred at Lodge Concordia, No. 3102 which had a small exclusive membership, restricted to British civil and military officers of high standing.  The first, second, and third degrees were all conferred upon the Amir. The ceremony was conducted in English, with Henry McMahon interpreting the entire Masonic ceremony into Persian for the Amir.  He took his Masonic oaths on a Koran that is now at the Library of the Grand Lodge of England.

Because knowledge of his Masonic affiliation could be used against him by his enemies in Afghanistan, the Amir's membership had to be kept a secret from his staff, soldiers, entire entourage, and the public. Although secrecy about his Masonic membership was kept in India, when the Amir returned to Afghanistan rumors about the Amir being a Freemason started to surface.  The leading mullahs seized on this opportunity to make trouble for the Amir.  Finally, the Amir announced publicly that he was a Freemason, that he was proud of being a Freemason, and that he had become one to benefit Afghanistan.

Habibullah Khan was impressed by Western (British) techonology he had seen in India, and when he returned to Afghanistan he made further attempts to Westernize the country. For better or worse, he saw Westernization as a step toward modernization for his country.  It seems that, to Habibullah, becoming a Freemason may have been a personal manifestation toward Westernization as well.

Today's illustration comes from the following book in our collection:

McMahon, Henry A.  An Account of the Entry of H. M. Habibullah Khan Amir of Afghanistan into Freemasonry.  London: Favil Press, Ltd., 1936. 
Call number:  16.8.H116 M167 1936

Freemasonry Throughout the World

Proceedings_gl_of_egypt_detailIf you look today at where Freemasonry exists in the world, you might initially be surprised. The National Grand Lodge of Togo? The Grand Lodge of India? The Grand Lodge of the Philippines? The Grand Lodge of New Zealand? How did Freemasonry spread to so many corners of the world?

Most of Freemasonry's travels through the world not only followed the same routes as colonialism, but, in fact, spread throughout the world via colonialism. This might seem surprising at first, until you realize that two of the major colonial powers of the 18th and 19th centuries - England and France - were also places where Freemasonry originated and flourished. And where colonial powers traveled, Freemasonry traveled with it. Wonder how Freemasonry ended up in the United States? That's right - colonialism. Freemasonry was established in what is now the United States in the 1730s - in what were then the British colonies. Some excellent scholarship on Freemasonry has been published recently, including a book that came out just last year on the topic of Freemasonry and British colonialism - Jessica L. Harland-Jacobs's Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927 [Call number: 17.942 .H37 2007].

Pictured above is a detail from the cover of the Proceedings of the National Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Egypt, 1922-1923, published in Cairo in 1923 [Call number: 17.962 .E32 1923]. The book is printed both in English and in Arabic. Freemasonry in Egypt began in the early 19th century with the first warrants for lodges coming from France and Germany. Later, in the 1860s, a number of other lodges were chartered by England, Scotland, and the Grand Orient of Italy. Eventually the National Grand Lodge of Egypt became the predominant Masonic body in Egypt. Its lodges conducted their ceremonies and business in Arabic, Greek, French, Italian, Hebrew, and German. When Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power in 1954, Freemasonry in Egypt started being suppressed and was eventually abolished by President Nasser in 1964. Although Nasser died in 1970, Freemasonry is still essentially non-existent in Egypt today, something that is true in many countries in the Middle East. As with many countries where Freemasonry is outlawed (or effectively banned through intimidation), there are lodges that practice in exile in other countries. Egypt is no exception to this - one example is Lord Kitchener Lodge No. 3402, a lodge that was founded in Cairo in 1909, but which is now located in Cyprus.

If you'd like to learn more about Freemasonry throughout the world, a great place to start is the two-volume set listed below. Volume 1 covers the Americas and volume 2 covers Africa, Europe, Asia, and Oceania. Also listed below is the book by Harland-Jacobs mentioned above.

Kent Henderson and Tony Pope. Freemasonry Universal: A New Guide to the Masonic World. 2 volumes. Williamstown, Australia: Global Masonic Publications, 1998 & 2000.
Call numbers: REF 01 .H496 1998 (vol. 1) and REF 01 .H496 2000 (vol. 2)

Harland-Jacobs, Jessica L. Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
Call number: 17.942 .H37 2007