George E. Elwell, Jr.

Digital Collections Highlight: Check Signed by President Garfield and Albert Hawkins

Hawkins check frontThe G. Edward Elwell, Jr., Autograph Collection contains around one hundred documents collected by G. Edward Elwell, Jr., 33°, a member of Caldwell Consistory (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania), a professional printer and Scottish Rite Mason. In 1898, the 12-year-old Elwell wrote a letter to Admiral George Dewey (1837–1917), a hero of the Spanish-American War. Dewey’s reply became the first signed document in Elwell's collection. The items in the collection span nearly 500 years of history (1489-1960), and each contains the signature of a well-known figure from American and European history.

One of the items that has always caught my eye is this check, dated June 30, 1881. President James A. Garfield (1831-1881) signed this check, which was issued to Albert Hawkins, the White House's coachman, two days before the President was shot. The sixty-dollar check was Hawkins' monthly salary. After the death of President Garfield, his widow, Lucretia Garfield, gave the check to the historian Edward Everett Hale, who notes the history of the check on the reverse.

Hawkins check backThere is little doubt that Elwell collected this item because of its association with President Garfield, but today, we can see that it helps tell a more complete story, that of Albert Hawkins, a Black man who served as the White House's coachman under six U.S. presidents. The White House Historical Association, in writing about Hawkins, states that “Albert Hawkins was a coachman who began his service under Ulysses S. Grant. By the 1880s, he was among the most celebrated of Washington’s African American community…”

You can see a high-res image of this check at our Digital Collections website.

Check issued to Albert Hawkins, 1881 June 30. Gift of Caldwell Consistory, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, A74/002/043.

Digital Collections Highlight: The 1817 Presidential Inauguration and the Scottish Rite

James Madison letter to David Daggett 1817The Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website contains a rich collection of digitized documents from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library. As we approach Inauguration Day on January 20, it seems worth taking a look at a 200-year-old document in our collection (pictured here), which is related to both Scottish Rite Freemasonry and Inauguration Day. 

In this letter, dated January 1, 1817, President James Madison requests the presence of Connecticut Senator David Daggett (1764-1851) at a special session of the Senate held on March 4, 1817. At this session, Vice President elect Daniel D. Tompkins was sworn into office, just prior to the official inauguration ceremony of President-elect James Monroe. (Inauguration Day used to be in March, until the passage to the 20th Amendment in 1937, which moved it to January.) Tompkins was governor of New York from 1807 until 1817 and then served as Vice President under Monroe from 1817 to 1825. Tompkins’ name may also be familiar to you because of his Scottish Rite connection. He served as the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s first Sovereign Grand Commander from 1813 until 1825.

The Madison letter is among items digitized from the Library & Archives’ G. Edward Elwell, Jr., Autograph Collection which consists of documents collected by G. Edward Elwell, Jr., 33°, (1886-1969) a member of Caldwell Consistory (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania) and a professional printer. The items in the Elwell Collection, which was generously donated to the Museum & Library by the Caldwell Consistory, span nearly 500 years of history (1489-1960), and each contains the signature of a well-known figure from American or European history.

Admiral George Dewey Inspires the Autograph Collection of a Young Mason

Dewey_002 Dewey_003

In December of 1898, twelve-year-old George E. Elwell, Jr., received this letter from Admiral George Dewey. Elwell, who had been inspired by the Admiral’s victory at the Battle of Manila Bay, had written to the Admiral earlier in the year asking for a souvenir from the war, a common practice of the day. This letter from our collection here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library  is Admiral Dewey’s response to the young boy’s request, and it served as the inspiration for Mr. Elwell’s life-long hobby. Soon afterward,  and over the course of more than half a century, Mr. Elwell began to assemble an impressive collection of over 100 letters or documents, each containing the signature of a well-known figure from American and European history.

In 1958, the “Elwell Autograph Collection” was donated to the Caldwell Consistory (Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania) which in turn was donated to the newly established Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in April of 1974. Among the Elwell Collection’s many highlights is an appointment letter signed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain (1489), a document signed by Queen Elizabeth I (1559), an Oath of Office signed by the Council of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (1650), the passport of a ship’s captain signed by Louis XIV of France (1701), three documents signed by George Washington (1783, 1789, and 1792), a payroll order signed by Major General Alexander Hamilton (1781), a letter signed by Queen Victoria (1843), a thank-you note signed by Winston Churchill (1945), and a letter signed by United States Senator John F. Kennedy (1959).

Scan_2015-01-12_19-39-43 George Edward Elwell, Jr., 33°, was born in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, on April 19, 1886. A graduate of Trinity College, Mr. Elwell received the Scottish Rite degrees in the Valley of Bloomsburg in 1909. During the course of Elwell’s life and career, he actively served his community and the fraternity of Freemasonry until his death in May of 1969.


Correspondence File from George E. Elwell, Jr. and Caldwell Consistory, Folder USM 009 [no date], Archive Control Files, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library.


Letter from Admiral George Dewey to Twelve-Year-Old George E. Elwell, Jr., December 9, 1898. Gift of Caldwell Consistory, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, USM 009.