Freemasonry and Food & Drink

Digital Collections Highlight: 1855 Masonic Festival Notice

A2010_015_1dDS_webThe Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives' Digital Collections website features a rich collection of digitized documents from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. This week, we highlight a Masonic festival notice from 1855.

Montgomery Lodge, located in Milford, Massachusetts, sent this invitation out to a number of Masonic lodges, inviting them to a St. John's Day celebration that they were planning for Saturday, June 23, 1855. This particular notice was sent to Richard Colton, Master of Harmony Lodge, inviting him, the officers and members of the lodge to the Masonic festival hosted by Montgomery Lodge. A handwritten notice at the bottom of the invitation reads "Fare on B.W.R.R. reduced one half. Please send date of your charter." While it is not clear why Montgomery Lodge was requesting the charter date for lodges that it invited, it is clear that they had arranged for half-fare tickets for those invitees traveling on the Boston & Worcester railroad line.

detailed, 8-page account of the day's events was published in the August 1855 issue of Freemason's Monthly Magazine. The event was large - "probably between four and five hundred Brethren in the procession" - and the food and drink clearly left a lot to be desired. The article was hardly without editorial comments. While praising the day's events - "We heard but one expression among the audience, — that of hearty approval and gratification" - the writer also had a few choice words about the meal that was served after the church services, while also making it clear that he doesn't usually expect much in the way of good food on "such occasions":

After the Benediction the procession was again formed and marched to the new Town Hall, where the tables were spread with the worst dinner we ever sat down to; and we have often been severely tried in this interesting particular, — albeit we are not usually very fastidious on such occasions. Experience has pretty effectually cured us of all such nonsense; but there is a point at which the gastronomic organs revolt! We give the caterer for this occasion, the credit of having reached that point of physical sufferance!

Making dinner speeches on empty stomachs, and drinking toasts in turpentine water, is a rather hazardous experiment! Nevertheless, some of the Brethren present had the courage to attempt it, and under the able presidency of Col. Thompson, succeeded to great satisfaction, and, probably, to their own astonishment! Among the number was the M. W. Grand Master, Dr. [Winslow] Lewis [Jr.], who, in response to a complimentary toast to the Grand Lodge, spoke substantially as follows...[Curious readers may read Lewis's speech here.]

St. John's Day, the June celebration of the birth of St. John the Baptist, has a long tradition in Freemasonry. As early as 1739, the day was well-known enough that Joseph Green (1706-1780) published a satirical anti-Masonic poem about it. A broadside publication of that poem can also be found on our Digital Collections website.



Masonic Festival Notice, 1855. Milford, Massachusetts. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Gift of Maria Rogers, MA 001.392.

New to the Collection: A Masonic Punch Bowl

2012_019DP2DBThis colorful punch bowl, which the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library recently acquired at auction, includes Masonic symbols in its decoration. It seems likely that it was used in a lodge, or by a Freemason at home, during the early 1800s. “It was the custom in those days,” one member of Saint Paul Lodge in Groton, Massachusetts, reminisced, “to drink to the health of every candidate who was initiated, crafted or raised.” The pursuit of sociable fellowship has guided Freemasonry since its beginnings in the 1600s and 1700s. The Museum has two more punch bowls from the early 1800s in its collection (which differ in shape and decoration), suggesting that they were popular sellers at the time. 2012_019DP5DB

This bowl commemorates the “Cast Iron Bridge over the River Wear,” which opened on August 9, 1796. A scene printed on the outside of the bowl shows the bridge (see above - the scene is repeated inside the bottom of the bowl). Two pitchers in the Museum’s collection (see one example below) also depict the bridge. The pitcher shown here includes Masonic symbols, while the other is decorated with Odd Fellows emblems. The Wearmouth Bridge was located in Sunderland, where this bowl (and the pitchers) were made, providing easily accessible subject matter. Before the bridge was built, the only way to cross the River Wear was by ferry. The 1796 bridge was repaired and reinforced several times until 1927, when construction on a new bridge began around it. In 1929, when the new bridge was completed, the old bridge was demolished. The 1929 bridge is still on the site today.

80_49_2S1The bowl also bears several inscriptions. Lines reading “The Flag That’s Braved a Thousand Years / The Battle and the Breeze,” refer to the English flag and come from a poem written by Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) in 1800. The poem, “Ye Mariners of England,” was set to music and appeared in a number of song books during the 1800s. Campbell was inspired to write the poem by an older song called “Ye Gentlemen of England,” which praises the achievements of the English Navy.

Another verse on the bowl reads “When tempest’s mingle sea and sky, And wind’s like lion’s, rage and rend, Ship’s o’er the mountain water’s fly, Or down unfathom’d depth’s descend, Though skill avail not, strength decay, Deliver us good Lord we pray.” These lines come from a hymn written by James Montgomery (1771-1854). Montgomery wrote more than 400 hymns, while also editing the Sheffield Iris newspaper for thirty-one years. Montgomery’s spiritual hymn offers an interesting counterpoint to another verse on the bowl: “Women make men love, Love makes them sad, Sadness makes them drink, And drinking sets them mad.” 2012_019DP6DB

Masonic Punch Bowl, 1800-1825, Sunderland, England, Museum Purchase, 2012.019. Photograph by David Bohl.

Details of punch bowl, photographs by David Bohl.

Masonic Pitcher, 1800-1825, Sunderland, England, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James DeMond in memory of Gertrude and John D. Lombard, 80.49.2. 

Sources consulted:

“Wearmouth Bridge (1796), site of,”

“Broadside Ballad Entitled ‘Ye Mariners of England,’”

“James Montgomery,”

Which Way to the Masonic Lodge?

92_003T1 Ever since I started working at the Museum, Masonic signs along the roadways have jumped out at me.  Once you understand the significance of the square and compasses, you start to see them everywhere – along your town’s roads and on lodge buildings themselves.  At a glance, they signify the existence of a lodge in a town, provide its name and indicate its location.

Today’s signs tend to be painted on metal, or sometimes feature neon or electric lights, but they are just the modern version of a Masonic tradition.  Looking back to the 1700s and 1800s, Masonic signs were painted on wood and could often be found outside the local tavern.  Virtually every town had a tavern in the 1700s and 1800s.  They began by providing accommodations for travelers, but evolved into important community institutions providing food and drink, beds, stables and meeting space.

During the 1700s, few buildings were devoted exclusively to lodge meetings and activities.  Many American Masons met in coffee houses or taverns, which were conveniently located in town centers near major roadways.  This makes it tempting to assume that a Masonic symbol on an antique tavern sign means that a lodge met in that building; however, research has shown that this was not always the case.

A tavern sign in the National Heritage Museum collection shows the common style of the 1800s.  The dark-colored oval sign has gold decoration with a prominent square and compasses symbol in the center.  Around the symbol, lettering reads “Entertainment by J. Healy 1819.”  Jesse Healy’s (1769-1853) tavern was located in the Trapshire, New Hampshire, area.  Healy was raised a Master Mason on May 7, 1800, in Hiram Lodge #9 of Claremont, New Hampshire.  When Faithful Lodge #12 was chartered in Charlestown, New Hampshire, the next month, Healy was appointed Senior Warden.  He continued his service in that lodge as Master from 1802 to 1803, Chaplain from 1812 to 1814 and Senior Warden in 1815.

Although Healy’s tavern sign includes a Masonic symbol, it does not mean that the tavern hosted Masonic meetings.  Sometimes a Masonic symbol on a tavern sign merely indicated the owner’s membership.  During the early 1800s, a man's Masonic involvement was often understood as a sign of prestige.  Travelers saw the symbol and knew that the owner was a Mason who could be relied upon to provide good service at an honest price.  Additionally, the use of Masonic symbols in such a visible way allowed lodges and members to generate interest in the lodge within their community.  In a sense, these signs offered publicity, allowing the fraternity to continue to grow and prosper.

Healy Tavern Sign, 1819, New Hampshire, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Special Acquisitions Fund, 92.003.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Masonic Banquets & Feasts

Saint_andrews_menu_web Part of what makes a library and archives collection interesting is being able to see beyond the obvious uses for the material in the collection. By thinking outside the box, you can sometimes see that there may be other uses for material that, on the surface, seems intended for one use. I'm thinking here of Masonic lodge histories and the banquet menus that are sometimes contained within them.

If one takes even a cursory glance at the history of Freemasonry, one will see  that the banquets and feasts that continue to be a part of Masonic tradition today have taken place since the earliest days of organized Freemasonry.

Masonic banquets and feasts are held for many different occasions. One of these occasions is an anniversary - often the anniversary of a lodge being chartered. In our collection we have a number of individual lodge histories, historical accounts usually published by the lodge itself based on its own records. These are very useful for researchers interested in the history of a particular lodge, its members, and its activities over the years. In addition to historical information about a lodge, many of these books also publish information about the various anniversary celebrations that took place, often coinciding with the publication of the lodge history itself. One of those activities was usually a large, formal banquet dinner.

Some of the books include the actual menu of what food was served at the banquet dinner.  These menus can not only give a more specific sense of what an event was like, but I think that they also serve to illustrate that one can bring various interests to a topic - and that different researchers can get various uses from one book. For instance, a researcher interested in food and culture might find a lodge history that includes a menu of the anniversary banquet of interest for very different reasons than a historian interested in the charter members of a Masonic lodge. Yet both will use this book. A researcher interested in food and culture - or perhaps even specifically Masonic banquets - might ask:

How are food shortages during wartime reflected in the menus?

How are now-commonplace technological advances (the ability to freeze foods, for example) reflected in these menus?

How do the menus reflect the availability or popularity of various ingredients or dishes?

Or perhaps, like me, one might just get enjoyment at looking at a menu from a banquet dinner held over a hundred years ago, and seeing both familiar and unfamiliar items on the menu.

And now, for your imaginary dining pleasure, I'm posting the menu for the banquet dinner held on June 10, 1901 for the Centennial of Mt. Lebanon Lodge in Boston, Massachusetts. It's from the book Centennial of Mt. Lebanon Lodge, A.F. and A.M. Boston Mass. 1801 - June 10 - 1901:

Lobster a la Newburg                                              Radishes
Stuffed Lamb Chops                                  Asparagus Points
Chicken Croquets and Peas
Apricot Fritters Glace
Potato Delmonico
Sardine Salad
Cold Tongue                                           Aspic Jelly
Salted Almonds
Assorted Cake
Frozen Pudding         Harlequin Ice Cream         Biscuit Glace
  Illuminated Fancy Ices
Crackers                                                Cheese

You can compare this menu to the one pictured at the top of this post, which is the menu from the banquet served for the 150th Anniversary of the St. Andrews Royal Arch Chapter in Boston on October 1, 1919. If you're interested in this topic, we have more menus in our Archives collection, in addition to those that might be found in our book collection.  Those menus in our Archives collection are generally found with a group of Masonic Dance Cards (MA 015).  These elaborate menus occur frequently on "Ladies Night". Bon appetit!

Both books mentioned in this post (including their delectable menus) may be found in our collection:

Centennial of Mt. Lebanon Lodge, A.F. and A.M. Boston Mass. 1801 - June 10 - 1901. Boston: Printed for the Lodge, 1901.
Call number: 17.97631 .B747 1901

Exercises Commemorating the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Organization of St. Andrews Royal Arch Chapter, Boston, Massachusetts, October the First, Nineteen Nineteen. Boston: Published by the Chapter, 1920.
Call number: 17.97631 .B747 S134 1920
Gift of Wallace M. Gage