Grand Lodge of Massachusetts

New to the Collection: Master Mason Apron

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Master Mason Apron, 1800-1820, unidentified maker, United States, Museum purchase, 2014.115.3. Photograph by David Bohl.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library was very excited to purchase this apron at auction last fall.  It has a rather jaunty painted decoration on silk.  The central image includes a mosaic pavement with two columns supporting a distinctive pedimented archway, hung with pink drapery.  At each side is a taller column, one with an allegorical figure of Faith, the other with Charity.  In the center, in the midst of a blue sky, sits a figure of Hope with an anchor.  Scattered along the sides are several Masonic symbols, often included on Master Mason aprons.  Unfortunately, we do not know who made or owned this apron.

But, it does bear a striking similarity in style and design to an apron now in the collection of the Detroit Historical Society.  That apron shows the same blue and white mosaic pavement and a very similar pedimented archway with drapery, although in blue rather than gold.  It also has the allegorical figures of Faith, Hope and Charity.  According to family history, this apron was owned by Oliver Williams (1774-1834), who became a Freemason in Corinthian Lodge in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1813, but moved his family to Detroit a few years later.

Family history for that apron attributes it to a William Marshall.  And there was a William Marshall in Boston who joined the city’s Lodge of St. Andrew in 1797.  However, he is listed as a merchant on his membership card at the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.  Advertisements in the Boston newspapers from 1808 to 1815 note that Marshall specialized in wallpapers:  he “has on hand, a good assortment of new figured Paper Hangings and Borders, some of which are his own making,” as well as beds, bed ticking, mattresses and upholstered furniture.  Given this evidence, this apron may have been purchased from Marshall’s store – or there was another William Marshall who worked actively as an artist. 

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Master Mason Apron, 1800-1820, unidentified maker, United States, gift of Robert U. Brown, 85.76.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

The pedimented archway that is so prominent on this apron calls to mind the elaborate doorway pediments that were popular in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts during the mid-1700s.  Perhaps the artist of this apron was from that area, or had visited and was influenced by the doorways.  The bright color scheme was popular during the early 1800s.  Here are examples of two other aprons from our collection that employ similar colors and symbols.  The history of ownership and manufacture has been lost for each, but taken together with the one we just purchased, we can see that Freemasons of the early 1800s enjoyed bright colors and a similar rendering of central Masonic symbols.

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Master Mason Apron, ca. 1836, unidentified maker, United States, Museum purchase, 98.063.1. Photograph by David Bohl.

To learn more about our apron collection, see our new book, The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, available June 2015 at www.scottishritenmj.org/shop.

 

 


Souvenirs from Solomon's Temple

GL2004_4583DP4DBAn inscription on the lid of this silver octagonal box tells its story:

"This piece of Magnesian lime stone was broken off from the side of one of the large foundation stones on which stood the renowned Temple of Solomon. It was procured by myself with considerable difficulty, the place being guarded by an armed Turkish soldier, in the spring of 1851 in the ancient city of Jerusalem, & it is affectionately presented to Hammatt Lodge, East Boston, as a memorial —J. V. C. Smith Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. Boston. Feb. 22, 1860."

Applied to the front of the box is an open book, representing the Bible, with a square and compasses symbol. The box is lined with dark blue velvet. Inside rests the piece of white limestone.

Masonic ritual is based on the biblical story of the building of King Solomon’s Temple. The structure is described in 1 Kings 6–7, including its dimensions and the materials used in its construction. Builders erected the Temple in the tenth century BC as a sacred resting place for the Ark of the Covenant, which contained fragments of the Ten Commandments’ tablets. In 597 BC, Babylon conquered Assyria and laid siege to Jerusalem. Ten years later, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II, destroyed the Temple and stole most of the artifacts inside; the Ark of the Covenant vanished and its location remains a mystery.

For centuries, Solomon’s Temple has captured the imagination of Freemasons. Individual Masons, as well as groups of lodge brothers (like those in the photo to the right), made pilgrimages to the site of the Temple in Jerusalem throughout the late 1800s and the 1900s. These men often brought back souvenirs made out of limestone from King Solomon’s Quarry, thought to be the source of the stone for the Temple. GL2004_11735DS1

Jerome Van Crowninshield Smith (1800–1879), who obtained the stone in this box and donated it to Hammatt Lodge, of which he was a charter member in 1860, was born in Conway, New Hampshire. He attended Brown University and Williams College, eventually becoming a physician. In 1826, Smith took the post of health officer of the port of Boston, a position he filled until 1849. He also worked as a medical journalist.

Smith became a Mason in 1822 when he joined Boston's Mount Lebanon Lodge. In 1857, he demitted from that lodge and became a charter member of Hammatt Lodge. From 1852 to 1854, he served as District Deputy Grand Master of District No. 1, and, in 1860, he was Deputy Grand Master of Massachusetts. During the early 1850s, Smith traveled, going to Jerusalem in 1851, where he procured the piece of limestone from Solomon’s Temple illustrated here. He also obtained another set of stones that he presented to Boston’s Mount Lebanon Lodge in 1852. Smith published three books about his travels: Turkey and the Turks, A Pilgrimage to Egypt, and A Pilgrimage to Palestine. He also gave lectures to Masonic groups about his trips.

When Smith returned from abroad in 1854, his fellow citizens elected him mayor of Boston; he served into 1855. He also resumed his work as a medical journalist and, in 1854, became editor of the Medical and Surgical Journal. In 1870, Smith retired and moved with his wife to New York City, where he lived until his death in 1879.

Today, this box is part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, which is on extended loan at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, Massachusetts. This box is one of more than 100 objects from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection featured in the recent book Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection.  You can order a copy here.  You can see this box and other souvenirs from Jerusalem in our current (July 2014) exhibition, “Prized Relics: Historic Souvenirs from the Collection.”

Box, 1860, unidentified maker, probably Boston. Gift of Hammatt Lodge, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.4583a-b. Photograph by David Bohl.

Massachusetts Masons at King Solomon’s Quarry, 1899, unidentified photographer, Jerusalem. Gift of King David Lodge, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.11735.

Sources:

Joseph Gutmann, “The Temple of Solomon and Its Influence on Jewish, Christian and Islamic Architectural Thought” in Companion to Contemporary Architectural Thought, ed. Ben Farmer and Hentie Louw (London: Routledge, 1993): 215-219.

Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1879 (Boston: Rockwell and Churchill, 1879), 67–68.


New Book: Curiosities of the Craft Available Now!

Curiosities CoverThe Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library have partnered to produce Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection.

On July 30, 1733, Henry Price (1697-1780), appointed by the Grand Lodge of England, gathered his Masonic brothers at a Boston tavern and formed what would become known as the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts.  Over the following 280 years, the Grand Lodge withstood wars, anti-Masonic sentiment and fires.  At the same time, the Grand Lodge amassed a collection of Masonic and historic objects, mementos and documents that tell not only its story, but also the story of Boston, New England and the United States.

Drawing on new research by authors Aimee E. Newell, Hilary Anderson Stelling and Catherine Compton Swanson, the book includes over 130 highlights from the Grand Lodge collection of more than 10,000 items acquired since 1733.  These objects represent the rich heritage of Freemasonry in Massachusetts and tell stories of life in the fraternity, in the state and around the world.  Some items were made or used by Massachusetts Masons, while others have associations with famous American Freemasons, such as George Washington (1732-1799) and Paul Revere (1734-1818).

Introduced with a history of the Grand Lodge collection, the catalog treats the themes of Traditions and Roots, Ritual and Ceremony, Gifts and Charity, Brotherhood and Community, and Memory and Commemoration.  Through the treasures of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection, this publication explores the ordinary men, craftsmen and extraordinary leaders who built and sustained Freemasonry in Massachusetts for centuries.

To purchase the catalogue for $44.95 (plus sales tax and shipping), contact the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts at 617-426-6040 or order online at www.massfreemasonry.org.

 


Keeping Cozy: A Masonic Fireback

Joseph Webb fireback 83_26As autumn takes hold, keeping warm reemerges as a daily concern.  One of the most fashionable and intriguing heating-related objects in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library is this fireback, made for and sold by merchant and ship’s chandler Joseph Webb (1734-1787) sometime between 1756 and 1787.

In Webb’s day, people installed thick cast iron plates like this one into the back of their fireplaces.  They could be set into or rest against the rear of a fireplace.  Called chimney backs at the time, these plates served a dual purpose.  The iron protected bricks in the fireplace from heat and flame.  The substantial metal slabs also trapped heat that helped extend the warmth of the fire. 

Webb’s fireback, with its bow-shaped top and exuberant folliate decoration, would have brought style into its setting.  Its iconography would have said something about the values and interests of its owner.  Webb belonged to the Lodge of St. Andrew's in Boston.  Perhaps seeking clients among his Masonic brethern, he had a large version of the arms of the Massachusetts Grand Lodge (derived from the arms of the Grand Lodge in London) cast into this fireback.  Along with the arms, the Massachusetts Grand Lodge's motto, "Follow Reason," ornaments this fireback. Webb held several offices at the Masschusetts Grand Lodge and served as the Grand Master from 1777-1783 and again from 1784-1787.  The symbols on this fireback certainly spoke to Webb's identity and likely resonated with Masonic consumers.  When a homeowner displayed this fireback in his domicile, he proclaimed himself not only fashion conscious, but also allied with Freemasonry.  

Joseph Webb had a flair for advertising.  To promote his business, he had a message cast into the bottom edge of this fireback:  "Sold by Joseph Webb, Boston."  In 1765 he commissioned fellow entrepreneur and St. Andrew’s Lodge member, Paul Revere (1734-1818), to engrave a splendidly ornamented trade card (view a copy in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society).  The card listed and depicted many of Webb’s products and let shoppers know where to find him.  As noted on his trade card, Webb sold household necessities such as pots, kettles, spiders (a kind of skillet with legs), window sash weights and chimney backs.  He also provided more specialized iron goods to craftsmen like “Fry Kettles for Whaling” and “Hatters Basons & Irons.” 

Researchers have suggested that the enterprising Revere may have cast firebacks for Webb.  He owned a furnace in Boston and paid craftsmen to carve the kinds of wooden patterns used in producing firebacks.  A 1793 receipt from Revere to David Greenough  shows that Revere did sell firebacks.  Greenough purchased three “Iron backs” as well as some “Window Weights” from Revere.  A receipt or other documentation would help clarify if Webb ordered this and other firebacks he sold at his shop from Revere.

Another of Webb’s firebacks decorated with arms and motto of the of Massachusetts Grand Lodge survives.  It forms part of the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and came out of a Cape Cod home.  A similar example, with a history of having been taken from the cargo of a British trading vessel captured during the American Revolution and installed in the John Cabot House in Beverly, also survives.  Decorative and intriguing, these objects offer clues about both business connections and domestic life in the 1700s.

Photo credit:

Fireback, 1756-87.  Boston, Massachusetts.  Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Howard W. Johnson, 83.26.  Photo by John M. Miller.

References: 

Donald L. Fennimore, Iron at Winterthur, The Henry Francis DuPont Winterthur Museum, Inc., Winterthur, Delaware, 2004, page 53-54, 400.

Morrison H. Hecksher and Leslie Greene Bowman, American Rococo, 1750-1775:  Elegance in Ornament, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1992, page 51, 220-222.

D. A. Massey, History of Freemasonry in Danvers, Mass., C. H. Shepard, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1896, page 48.

Research Department, Beverly Historical Society, Beverly, Massachusetts.


Celebrating a Past Master

76_33_1T1This silk needlework picture from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection is one of my favorite pieces.  It shows allegorical figures of Wisdom (Athena wearing a helmet), Strength (Hercules wearing a lion skin and holding crossed keys) and Beauty (Venus trailing a rose vine) and commemorates the service of Benjamin Russell (1761-1845) as Master of Boston's Rising States Lodge in 1808.

The silk background fabric has been painted with watercolors to create the blue sky with white clouds and the grassy ground.  An all-seeing eye at top, symbolizing watchfulness, and the faces of the figures have also been painted onto the fabric, likely by a professional artist.  The unidentified maker of this picture, probably a young woman, then used silk thread to stitch the central monument.  Masonic symbols and an inscription complete the picture.  Pictures like this one were expensive to make and required a stitcher to have skill with the needle.  If the stitcher made mistakes and stitches had to be pulled out, it could cause holes in the fabric, ruining the piece.

The design for the needlework comes from a Masonic Past Master's Certificate, originally engraved by John Hawksworth, active in England between about 1815 and 1845.  The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library holds eight examples of the printed certificate.  One, for Richard Colton of Northfield, Massachusetts' Harmony Lodge is dated 1818, but the other seven were presented during between 1896 and 1954, suggesting that the design remained popular for a long time and was restruck at least once.  The collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, on extended loan to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, also includes two examples of the certificate, one dated 1821 and one dated 1916.

The inscription on the needlework picture reads: "To all regular Lodges / The Rt. Worshipfull presiding and / past Masters / thereof / The / Members of / Rising States Lodge / situate in th[e] Town of Boston / No. under our jurisdiction / Elected Bror. / Benj. Russell / the bearer Most Worshipfull Master / A.L. 58 In which / station he was a Light to his / Brethren and an ornament to the / Craft / This testimonial of his meritorious / service recommends him to / the hospitality A.L. / and protection due to a faithful overseer / 5808 / by order of the Most Worshipfull Grand Ma[ster] / John Proctor Grand Secretary."

Benjamin Russell, who published Boston's Columbian Centinel newspaper from 1784 until 1829, joined the city's Rising States Lodge in the 1790s, later affiliating with Boston's St. John's Lodge in 1811.  From 1814 through 1816, Russell served as Grand Master of Massachusetts.

The picture is currently (August 2012) on view at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in our exhibition, Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles (see our previous post about the exhibition and this post about related gallery talks).  We hope you will plan a visit soon to see this picture in person!

Masonic Needlework Picture, 1808, Unidentified Maker, Massachusetts, Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.33.1.  Photograph by John M. Miller.


A Tax Protest Relic

GL2004_1868a-e Vial of Tea croppedWhat is in this little vial, only 2½ inches tall?  Its contents are a carefully preserved relic; one that harkens back to a celebrated tax protest in Revolutionary-era Boston.  The material collected in this container is tea, said to have been caught in the boots worn by one of the participants in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773.  It is on view in the exhibition "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution."

In the 1700s, Britain fought a number of wars in the colonies--in particular, the French and Indian War (1756-1763)--at huge expense. These wars, in part undertaken to preserve and protect these settlements, effectively doubled Britain’s national debt. To pay this debt, the British parliament instituted new taxes on the American colonies. Used to setting and collecting taxes at the town and colony levels through their own elected representatives, residents balked at the change.  Many felt the new taxes went against their basic rights as Englishmen.  Protests greeted the first taxes in the 1760s and continued as the British government tried different ways to generate tax revenue from the colonies.

Boston’s port-town economy relied on trade, so taxes on imported goods especially pained city residents.  The 1767 Townshend Act taxed imported glass, paper, paint and tea. To voice their objections to it, colonists harassed the customs commissioners and boycotted the taxed goods. These protests, coupled with the high cost of enforcement, prompted the British government to repeal the act in 1770.  However, parliament retained the tax on tea in the act that followed because, as David Hackett Fischer has stated, it was “so small that British ministers believed even Boston might be willing to swallow it.” 

This law, the 1773 Tea Act, brought tensions between the colonists and the British government to the breaking point.  The almost bankrupt East India Company asked the British government for assistance with their dire financial situation. The Tea Act granted the company the right to sell tea in the colonies tariff and duty free.  As a result, the company representatives’ tea was cheaper than that sold by local merchants. Both Boston’s merchants and people concerned about principles of representation and liberty—two groups that had not always seen eye-to-eye—were moved to protest.  

Some colonists, like the residents of Lexington, Massachusetts, expressed their views about the tax by agreeing as a community to not use tea in their homes.  They declared anyone who did “an Enemy to this Town & to this Country.” Residents promised that those who purchased and drank tea, “…shall by this Town be treated with Neglect & Contempt.”  To underscore their views Lexingtonians, as it was reported in the Boston papers, “brought together every ounce [of tea] contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire.”  You can read more about the bonfire in a previous post.

Some Bostonians chose to protest in a more violent manner. On December 16, 1773, about 150 men disguisedBoston Tea Party from the LOC as Native Americans dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston harbor.  Interestingly, the protesters—even as they destroyed the East India Company’s product—took care to respect others’ property and public order.  Organizers punished one protester who purloined tea for his own use.

The British government took a dim view of this protest.  A government investigation of the event called it a, “…crime of high treason, namely to the levying of war against His Majesty.”  The government retaliated for these, “violent and outrageous Proceedings at the Town and Port of Boston” by passing what the colonists called the Intolerable Acts in 1774.  Just sixteen months later, Massachusetts militia members and British Regulars exchanged the first shots of a civil war at Lexington and Concord. 

Did participants know they had taken part in a history-shaping protest?  Perhaps. Several people collected and later preserved relics of the event, such as another sample of tea found the next morning on the shores of Dorchester Neck that is part of the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.  In 1973, as the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and other organizations in the commonwealth prepared for the American Bicentennial, Paul Fenno Dudley (1894-1974) donated this vial of tea to the Grand Lodge’s Museum.  The Grand Lodge's collection is now housed at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in Lexington and you can see this vial of tea and other relics in "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution."

Photograph:

Vial, 1800s or 1900s. Unidentified maker.  Tea, 1700s.  Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts Collection.  Gift of Paul F. Dudley, 1973, GL2004.1868a-c.  Photograph by David Bohl.

“Americans Throwing the Cargoes of the Tea ships into the River, at Boston.” Engraving from W.D. Rev. Mr. Cooper. The History of North America. London: E. Newbery, 1789. Library of Congress.

References:

Theodore Draper, A Struggle for Power:  The American Revolution (New York: Times Books, 1997), 415.

David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (New York:  Oxford University Press, 1994), 25-26.

Charles Hudson, History of the Town of Lexington, Vol. I, (Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913), 84.

Massachusetts Historical Society, “Object of the Month: ‘Boston Harbor a tea-pot tonight.’” http://www.masshist.org/objects/2006february.cfm (accessed on May 22, 2012).

Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, exhibition labels from “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution,” 2007 through the present.

Anita P. Worthen, The First Tea Party Held at Lexington? (Lexington, Massachusetts:  Lexington Bicentennial Committee, 1973).


Commemorative Pitcher Mystery

GL2004_1570 view oneIn the late 1700s and early 1800s, American consumers could choose from a variety of types and styles of earthenware produced in England and imported to the former colonies.  This summer the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library will feature a few earthenware commemorative pitchers in the lobby and hallway display areas. 

Many surviving historic commemorative pitchers are creamware, decorated with transfer prints and further ornamented with gilding or colored enamel paint, you can see an example here.  This blue one, which will be on display starting mid July, is a little different.  Once decorated with black paint and gilding, this pitcher is made of what is now called pearlware, an earthenware with a white, as opposed to cream or buff, color.  To achieve the blue band of color around the pitcher, makers decorated it with slip—clay with color and water added to it.  This method of adding color and pattern to ceramics took less time and did not cost the manufacturer as much to produce as transfer-printer wares.  This presentation pitcher would have been a not-quite-as expensive alternative to transfer-printed or hand-painted creamware.  In fact, as collector Jonathan Rickard has written, this kind of slip-decorated ceramics were “the cheapest imported decorated wares available in American during the federal period.”GL2004_1570 view two

Makers called this pottery dipped ware, referring to the way the color was applied, by dipping the pot into slip.  Rickard has noted that many dipped wares with a blue field, often accompanied with a black and white checkerboard band, survive. They were likely popular with consumers.  This example is further decorated with black paint and gilding.  Over time some of the paint and gilding on this jug, which did not adhere to the glazed surface of the vessel, has flaked off.  Rickard has suggested that some owners may have scrubbed off the incomplete decorations as soon as the paint and gilding started to show signs of wear.  As a result, dipped wares with any remaining gilding are uncommon survivals.

This example retains enough gilding and paint to show a legible inscription under the spout, “Plymouth 1792,” and discernible images of a cod fish, a ship flying the British flag and a square and compasses with the letter G.  These decorations turned the pitcher into a presentation object. This jug is part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, but its early history is unknown. 

The images on the pitcher offer some tantalizing, if inconclusive, clues.  The year 1792 is an important GL2004_1570 view threeone in the history of Massachusetts Freemasonry, when two competing grand lodges united to form one.  Plymouth was also a community involved in shipbulding and trade.  As well, the cod fish has played an essential role in the economic history of the commonwealth, so much so that a wooden one has hung in the state house since the early 1700s.  When the state legislature moved from the Old State House to Beacon Hill in 1798, members wrapped the cod in an American flag and carried it at the head of their ceremonial procession to the new building.  This important spot in the procession signaled the symbol’s importance to all who witnessed the parade.

In spite of the intriguing clues offered by the decorations on this object, the event commemorated with this pitcher is a mystery.  If you have any ideas, please be sure to leave a comment, we would be happy to hear from you!

Pitcher, 1790s.  England. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.1770. Photographs by David Bohl.

References:

Jonathan Rickard, Mocha and Related Dipped Wares, 1700-1939 (Hanover, New Hampshire:  University Press of New England), 2006, quote from page 81, see also 34-42, 76-82.

S. Robert Teitelman, Patricia A. Halfpenny and Ronald W. Fuchs, Success to America:  Creamware for the American Market (Woodbridge, Suffolk:  Antiques Collectors’ Club, 2010), page 288.

Mass Moments, “The Sacred Cod Moves to New State House,” http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=1.


The Sprague Family: An American Story

“William Sprague was the youngest of three brothers…who arrived in Salem in 1629, and from thence removed to Charlestown (then called Mish-a-wam by the natives) where they, with a few others, were the first to form an English settlement.” –Marcia A. Thomas, 1835

Sprague_Photo_1Thus begins the story of the Sprague family, an enduring, historically-significant group that calls New England home. The history of the Sprague family can be seen in a new collection at the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives. Through letters, manuscripts, genealogical charts, official documents, and photographs, a clear picture of the Sprague family develops—from their arrival in the 17th century up until the middle of the 20th century.

At the center of the collection is Harold W. Sprague, who assembled much of the material. Harold was an extremely active member in fraternal and civic organizations during his lifetime, being appointed Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1952, as well as being recognized by the Sons of the American Revolution. Harold’s involvement in these organizations demonstrates his sense of community and speaks to his interest in history and tradition. Much of the information gleaned from the collection comes from Harold’s own research into the Sprague family history. His investigations led him down a road of various Sprague relations, including the Burt, Taylor, and Adams families, among others.

It was through these familial connections that Harold was able to piece together the links between his ancestors and two great political families of the 18th and 19th centuries. William Sprague, who came to Salem in 1629, had numerous children with his wife Millicent Eames. Among these was Samuel (Harold’s ancestor) who remained in Massachusetts, and William, who moved to Rhode Island around 1664. William (the younger) established the Rhode Island line of Spragues that included two prominent leaders. The first, William Sprague III, was the 14th Governor of Rhode Island (1838-1839). William also served in Congress both before and after he was governor, first as a Representative (1835-1837) and then as Senator (1842-1844). His nephew, William Sprague IV, was greatly influenced by him and followed him into the political realm at an early age. In 1860, William IV was elected the 27th Governor of Rhode Island (1860-1863). He was only 30 years old at the time, making him one of the youngest governors in U.S. history. Like his uncle, William IV was also a member of Congress, serving two terms as Senator (1863-1875).

While the Sprague family in Rhode Island was certainly notable for their political power, it was through Harold Sprague’s mother that the family is connected to its most influential relatives. As Harold learned through his research, his mother’s side of the family could trace their lineage all the way back to Joseph Adams (1654-1736). Joseph was the uncle of founding father and statesman, Samuel Adams. Even more directly, Joseph’s grandson was John Adams, 2nd President of the United States. John Adams served as vice-president under George Washington from 1789-1797 before being elected president in 1797, serving one term. He was greatly influential as a political thinker and was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence. His political legacy was carried on by his son John Quincy Adams, who served as the 6th President of the United States from 1825-1829. He then had a long career as a representative in Congress (1831-1848), winning reelection eight times!

Numerous letters, notes, and genealogical charts in the collection show the familial links between the Adams and Sprague families. In addition to these documents, the collection includes autograph books containing a variety of signatures, including those of John Quincy Adams and his son Charles Francis Adams. The presence of these signatures shows just how close the families were. In fact, numerous letters between prominent members of the two families can be seen in the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Adams Family Papers. A quick search through the MHS Online Adams Catalog reveals dozens of letters between the Adams and Sprague families.

Sprague_Photo_3

The story of the Sprague family is a familiar one in American history. Beginning with a long voyage across the sea, three brothers set forth to explore and establish a new land. They made their home among the wilds of North America and built towns, cities, and families along the way. As time passed, the Sprague family expanded, and the founders of towns gave way to founders of countries and leaders of states. Theirs is certainly an American story, one that can be discovered in the collections at the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives.

If you want to learn more about the contents of this collection, we've made the Sprague Family Papers finding aid available online.

Photos from the Sprague Family collection, USM 077, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives


A Memorable Gift

GL2004_10165DP1 side view At almost two feet high, this pitcher stands out from the crowd of transfer-printed jugs made in the late 1700s and early 1800s.  During this time, English pottery manufacturers designed and sold great quantities of light beige-to-white earthenware, called creamware, to Americans.  Much of it was plain or minimally decorated tableware, but consumers who wanted to splash out could order transfer-printed designs with gilded or enamel-painted decorations to embellish jugs, bowls or platters. 

Some of these surviving objects celebrate accomplishments, GL2004_10165DP4 inscription both individual and national.  This monumental pitcher, personalized with an inscription that says, “From John Walton to St. Paul’s Lodge,” may have marked either the founding of the Groton, Massachusetts, lodge in 1797 or Dr. John Walton’s (1770-1862) term as master from 1806-1808.  Much bigger than typical examples, which are large enough for 2-3 transfer prints, this pitcher features over a dozen different Masonic and floral transfer-printed designs.  Hand-applied gilding decorates the top and base and also highlights elements of the printed decoration. Walton most assuredly gave his lodge a lavish gift.

GL2004_10165DP5 detail cropped Unlike the majority of transfer print-decorated pitchers, this one bears a maker’s mark, WEDGWOOD, impressed on the bottom.  This mark identifies the famous Staffordshire pottery company founded by Josiah Wedgwood as the pitcher’s maker.  Unfortunately, none of the transfer-print designs on the pitcher are signed.  A few of the transfer prints, such as a stanza that begins “The World is in Pain/our Secrets to Gain,” and an image thought to have been derived from different Masonic membership certificates (see illustration), are fairly common on antique creamware pitchers decorated with Masonic themes.  Many other designs on the jug relate to English Royal Arch Freemasonry.  They are less common in the Museum or the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collections, but do appear other collections.  For example, a 1925 history of the Grand Lodge of Ireland includes an illustration of a 1797 pitcher of the same size and maker with a very similar decoration as the Walton gift. 

How St. Paul’s Lodge used this enormous vessel is an open question.  A rough calculation estimates 75_46_11bDI3 Union Lodge pitcher that, if filled, the jug would hold about four-and-a-half gallons of liquid and weigh nearly 40 pounds.  The secretary of the Union Lodge of Dorchester, Massachusetts, left a clue as to how his lodge used their pitchers.  He described a pair of smaller (11" high) transfer-print-decorated pitchers (see illustration) given to the lodge in 1811 as “punch pitchers.” In 1802 St. Paul’s Lodge comprised 42 members.  If they filled this pitcher with punch (and could lift it!), every member could certainly have a serving. Regardless of its use, this monumental presentation piece ensured the donor was long remembered. 

Part of the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts housed here at the Museum, John Walton's gift to St. Paul's Lodge is currently on view in Curators' Choice. If you know about other monumental pitchers associated with Masonic organizations, we'd love to hear about them! Please get in touch or leave a comment.

Pitcher, 1797-1810.  Wedgwood, Staffordshire, England. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.10165.  Photographs by David Bohl.

Pitcher, 1811. England. Gift of Union Lodge, Ancient Free & Accepted Masons, Dorchester, Massachusetts, 75.46.11a-b.

Sources

John Heron Lepper and Philip Crossle, History of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Ireland, Vol. 1, Dublin:  Lodge of Research, 1925.

John D. Hamilton, Material Culture of the American Freemasons. Lexington, Massachusetts:  Museum of Our National Heritage, 1994.

S. Robert Teitelman, Patricia A. Halfpenny and Ronald W. Fuchs II, Success to America:  Creamware for the American Market. Woodbridge, Suffolk:  Antiques Collectors’ Club, 2010.


Have you explored our online collection?

GL2004_6181a-bT1 Last winter, we unveiled a new way to browse selections from the National Heritage Museum collection online.  A new interface allows web visitors to search for specific names, dates, descriptive terms and more.  Each record has a photograph of the object, along with a brief description and information about its origin and history, if known.

In August 2010, we added almost 100 records, which join the initial 125 records.  The new batch includes a variety of highlights from our object collection, along with a selection of treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection, on long-term loan to the Museum.

Included among the items from the Grand Lodge collection are this wooden gavel and tray, presented to Grand Master Arthur D. Prince in 1921 when he visited Canal Zone Lodge in Panama.  In 1912, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts granted a dispensation for Canal Zone Masons, many of whom were Americans working to build the canal, to establish Sojourners Lodge.  Today, there are four lodges in Panama that operate under the authority of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.  The Grand Master first visited the Panamanian lodges under his jurisdiction in 1914.  Subsequent Grand Masters usually visit once during their three-year term of office.

To access the online collection, visit our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org, and click on the “online collection” link.  We appreciate all comments and feedback.  Please feel free to contact Dr. Aimee Newell, Director of Collections, at [email protected].  And, remember to check back as new records are added.

Gavel and Tray, 1921, Panama, Collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum, GL2004.6181a-b.  Photograph by David Bohl.