Freemasonry and Poetry

New to the Collection: Ancient Order of Foresters Frog Mug

Frog Mug front Freemasonry is often acknowledged as the first fraternal organization to come to American shores.  But, it is far from the only group that crossed the Atlantic.  This mug, marked “Ancient Order of Foresters,” also represents a group that started in England and came to America.

The mug, which the National Heritage Museum recently acquired, was made in England in the 1830s or 1840s.  Known as a “frog mug,” the vessel has a ceramic frog inside that would surprise the drinker as he drained his beverage.  This charming joke was put on by a number of pottery manufacturers during the 1800s.

The Ancient Order of Foresters dates back to 1790 in England, when it was known as the Royal Ancient Order of Foresters.  According to the group, their object was “to unite the virtuous and good in all sects and denominations of man in the sacred bonds of brotherhood so that while wandering through the Forest of this World they may render mutual aid and assistance to each other.”  Initially, members had to prove themselves in combat before gaining admittance, but in 1843 the group dropped this requirement.  Scholar Victoria Solt Dennis has suggested that this may have served as a “primitive health check" since "a candidate who could acquit himself creditably in a mock fight was probably reasonably fit to work and support himself.”

In 1834, the group had a schism and changed its name to the Ancient Order of Foresters.  It also changed its ritual and introduced new signs and passwords.  Although the Order came to the United States in 1832, it did not take strong hold until the 1860s.  Today, the group remains active in England as the Foresters Friendly Society.2009_012DP3

Despite the prominent inclusion of the Foresters name on the mug, it bears a verse from a decidedly Masonic song: 

Ensigns of state that feed our pride,
Distinctions troublesome and vain,
By Masons true are laid aside,
Arts free-born sons such toys disdain.
Ennobled by the name they bear,
Distinguished by the badge they wear.

This verse is part of “The Fellow-Craft’s Song,” which appeared in Anderson’s Constitutions, a governing document for Freemasonry, when it was published in 1723.  Did the potter make both Masonic and Forester mugs and just make a mistake about which verse belonged on this piece?  Or did the Foresters appropriate the song?  We may never know, but it does seem strange that such a clearly Masonic verse would appear on a mug for a non-Masonic fraternal group.


Victoria Solt Dennis, Discovering Friendly and Fraternal Societies: Their Badges and Regalia (Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications Ltd., 2005), 114-123.

Albert C. Stevens, The Cyclopedia of Fraternities (New York: E.B. Treat and Company, 1907), 221-229.

Ancient Order of Foresters Frog Mug, 1834-1850, England, collection of the National Heritage Museum, Museum purchase, 2009.012.  Photographs by David Bohl.

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.