George Washington

A National Treasure

95_021T1 One of the National Heritage Museum’s treasures – and a perennial favorite with our visitors – is the large 15-star American flag that proudly hangs in our Farr Conference Center. 

Donated in 1995 by John E. Craver, the flag had been passed down in his family for generations.  Makers sewed this flag, which measures approximately 11 feet by 12 ¾ feet, to fly over a military fort (or garrison) or on a vessel, marking them as U.S. property.  Unfortunately, we do not know who made it or where it originally flew.

The flag is made of wool bunting, a lightweight, mildew-resistant, coarsely woven fabric.  The blue section, called a canton, is colored with indigo.  This dye, common during the late 1700s and early 1800s, provided a deep, permanent color that rarely faded.  The red stripes are dyed with an unknown colorant and the white stars are made out of linen.

In 1996 and 1997, conservators worked 500 hours to stabilize the flag and prepare it for display.  After it was gently cleaned and stabilized, a supportive backing was attached.  A slightly angled back board further supports the flag in its specially constructed case, and low lighting helps to preserve it for generations to come.

The 15-star flag was the official U.S. design from 1794, when President George Washington (1732-1799) signed the Second Flag Act, until 1818, when legislators adopted the 20-star flag, adding one star for each state that joined the union since 1794.  The 1794 Second Flag Act mandated 15 stars and 15 stripes – one for each state then in the union – but did not specify design details, such as the arrangement of the stars.  You may notice that the Museum’s flag has only 14 stripes.  One was removed before we received it, probably due to deterioration, or possibly by a souvenir seeker.

The National Heritage Museum’s 15-star flag is one of only a handful still in existence known to have been made between 1794 and 1818.  The most famous 15-star flag is the Star-Spangled Banner, which flew over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.  The survival of that flag during the Battle of Baltimore in September 1814 inspired Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) to write the words to what is now the American national anthem.  The Star-Spangled Banner was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1912.  That flag recently underwent a $7 million conservation project to better preserve it in the decades to come.

The National Heritage Museum holds over fifty flags in its collection.  Most are American flags of varying sizes with anywhere from 13 to 50 stars.  In addition, the Museum’s collection includes Masonic and fraternal flags, as well as a few state flags.

15-star American flag, 1794-1818.  Gift of John E. Craver, 95.021.  Photograph by David Bohl.


George Washington in Lexington

EL2006_002 Leutze GW CN Painted by lauded German American artist Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868), George Washington as a Master Mason portrays America’s first president as if he is presiding over a lodge meeting. 

The Scottish Rite Valley of Detroit purchased the painting in 1927 for display in their newly constructed and impressive Masonic Temple.  Exhibited in Detroit for decades, George Washington now watches over the National Heritage Museum’s auditorium.  A loan from the 32º Masons of the Valley of Detroit brought the painting to Lexington.

Interested in depicting inspirational moments in history, Leutze featured Washington in several compositions.  The best known of these continues to be George Washington Crossing the Delaware. Leutze first exhibited this now-iconic image to great acclaim in 1851.  Critics considered it a “great modern painting” in its day. 

But why did Leutze choose to paint Washington surrounded by Masonic tools and wearing an apron thought to have been given to him by Marquis de Lafayette?  (For more on the apron once believed the handiwork of Madame Lafayette, visit the Masonic Museum and Library of Pennsylvania.)  As far as we know, Leutze himself was not a Freemason.  New Yorker John Riston paid the princely sum of $10,000 for the large (over ten feet high) painting.  The artist likely created the work to fulfill a specific request from Riston.  Further research may help us understand the reason behind  Riston’s commission.  In the meantime, we hope you will enjoy Leutze’s celebration of one of America’s best-loved heroes in his role as a Mason on your next visit to our auditorium.

George Washington as a Master Mason, 1856.  Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1816-1868.  Lent by the 32nd Degree Masons, Valley of Detroit, Michigan, EL2006.002


George Washington’s Inaugural Bible

When Barack Obama takes the presidential oath of office next week, he will participate in a ceremony that dates back to George Washington’s 1789 inauguration. His choice to swear his oath on an historical Bible—the one that Abraham Lincoln used in 1861—is much rarer. Only four presidents have used Bibles that former presidents used, and all four chose the same one: George Washington’s.

GWBible after8 cropped

George Washington’s inauguration as the first U.S. president was held on April 30, 1789, in New York City. According to a 1908 account by New York’s St. John’s Lodge No. 1, although the ceremony was elaborately planned, at the last minute, organizers decided that the president should place his hand on a Bible when taking the oath of office. Jacob Morton, parade marshal and Master of St. John’s, quickly walked to his nearby lodge meeting room, and borrowed its 1767 King James Bible. Robert R. Livingston, State Chancellor and presiding Grand Master of Masons in New York, then administered Washington’s oath of office on it.

No one knows where the Bibles that the first fourteen presidents used came from, but we do know that in 1857, William Carroll, the clerk of the Supreme Court, procured a Bible for James Buchanan’s inauguration. Carroll and his successors provided the next half-dozen inaugural Bibles—including Abraham Lincoln’s. Then, on March 4, 1885, Grover Cleveland created a new tradition when he chose to swear his oath of office on a Bible his mother had given him when he was 15. Since then, most presidents have used family Bibles.

Freemason Warren G. Harding was the first president known to select the Washington Bible for his 1921 inauguration. Dwight D. Eisenhower followed in 1953, Jimmy Carter in 1977, and George Bush in 1989. George W. Bush intended to use it in 2001, but rainy weather changed the plan. He used a family Bible instead.

The George Washington Bible has been featured at a number of other important public and Masonic occasions, including Washington’s funeral procession in 1799; the dedication of the Masonic Temples in Boston and Philadelphia, in 1867 and 1869, respectively; the 1885 dedication of the Washington Monument, and its rededication 112 years later; a 1932 reenactment of Washington’s inauguration, commemorating the bicentennial of the first president’s birth; the inaugurations of some of New York’s governors; the installations of many of the Grand Masters of New York; and numerous exhibitions. Usually on display at New York’s Federal Hall, this Bible was on view at the National Heritage Museum for a 2005 exhibition on George Washington’s Masonic life and legacy.

Sources

Proceedings of the Sesqui-centennial celebration of St. John's Lodge, no. 1. (A.Y.M.) F. & A.M. of the State of New York: December 7th ... 5907. New York: St. John's Lodge, no. 1. (A.Y.M.) F. & A.M., 1908. Call number: 17.97751 .N1 1908 

Web site of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, http://inaugural.senate.gov/history/chronology/index.cfm

Thanks to St. John's Lodge No. 1 for their help with this entry. For more information on the George Washington Bible, please click the link "The Lodge" on the St. John's Lodge web site.


Bible, 1767. Printed by Mark Baskett, London. Photo courtesy of St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Ancient York Masons, Free & Accepted Masons, New York, New York. This Bible was opened to Genesis 49–50 when George Washington took his oath of office on it.