Grand Lodge of Massachusetts

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 anewell@monh.org.  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.


New to the Collection: St. John's Lodge Officers Photo

2008_001DS1 The National Heritage Museum photograph collection is a treasure trove with images of people, places and events from the 1840s to the present.  We often include photographs from the collection in our exhibitions and they can be invaluable when we are researching a particular person or fraternal group.

This photo, which was donated to the Museum recently by Harriet Dinsmoor Parish, depicts the officers of Boston’s St. John’s Lodge.  Mrs. Parish had kept this photo because her father, Clyde M. Dinsmoor (b. 1888), appears at far left in the back row.  The Masonic regalia that he wears indicates that he was the lodge’s Tyler.  In Freemasonry, the Tyler guards the entrance to the lodge room during meetings, allowing members and non-members to enter at the appropriate times.  By checking the records of St. John’s Lodge, we were able to narrow down the date of the photo to the late 1930s.  The picture was probably taken between 1936 and 1940, shortly after the lodge officers were elected for the coming year.

In addition to documenting the lodge officers, the photograph also helps us understand how the lodge room was decorated in the late 1930s.  In addition to three Masonic chairs, there are two flags visible and a stand with two bunches of carved grapes.  These grapes are a prized possession owned by St. John’s Lodge.  Formed in 1733, just after Henry Price established the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, St. John’s Lodge is the oldest duly constituted lodge in the United States.  The grapes have a history of hanging outside Boston’s Bunch of Grapes tavern where St. John’s Lodge first met.  The tavern opened in 1712 and played host to Henry Price when he constituted the first Masonic bodies in America.  Hanging outside the tavern’s entrance, the grapes identified it at a glance to passersby.

Officers of St. John’s Lodge, 1936-1940, Boston, Massachusetts.  National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Harriet Dinsmoor Parish, 2008.001. 


Freemasons in the Civil War

2009_021_25T1 Recently, the National Heritage Museum was given two silver Civil War identification badges.  The story goes that soldiers wore these to identify themselves in case of injury or death, but also to convey their status as Masons.  Numerous anecdotal stories of northern and southern Freemasons who were injured or captured during the Civil War, but received aid and comfort from Masonic brothers on the opposing side, have been told since those battles.  Being somewhat of a skeptic, I always wondered whether these stories were true.

Now, the question has been answered.  In his recently published book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Freemasonry in the American Civil War, Michael A. Halleran explores Freemasonry during the Civil War.  Halleran found sufficient evidence in letters, reminiscences and regimental histories to provide a documentary background for objects like these badges.  As a historian and curator, I feel much more confident in sharing these items with our visitors, using them to tell the story of Masons during the Civil War.2009_021_24T1

Both of these examples show the Masonic square and compasses symbol, signifying reason and faith.  If you look closely at the acorn-shaped one, you can see that the year 1888 was added to the “stem” well after its presumed initial use in the 1860s.  We think that the “G.A.R.” and “B. of L.E.” initials were also added later – they indicate the original owner’s membership in fraternal groups the Grand Army of the Republic and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. 

AW Lewis CDV Also in the collection, we have a number of carte-de-visite photographs of men in their Civil War uniforms.  Most of these photos show the subjects with a Masonic symbol or badge on their chest.  Indeed, the cover of Halleran's book shows two photographs from an album in the collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts (now housed at the National Heritage Museum).  The men in these images wear their military uniforms and a Masonic pin.  Both men were members of the 43rd regiment, Massachusetts Infantry, and of McClellan Army Lodge No. 6, which was chartered by the Grand Lodge during the war. 

Another example, the CDV shown here from the Museum's collection, is a portrait of Albion Wesley Lewis (1828-1903) of Westfield, Massachusetts.  He wears a square and compasses pin on his coat (although it is hard to make out).  Indeed, the membership records at the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts tell us that Lewis was a member of Mt. Moriah Lodge in Westfield and that he received the first three degrees in June 1861.  Various biographical sketches fill in details of Lewis’ life.  He went to California during the gold rush in 1849 and stayed there for four years.  When he returned, he married Caroline H. Loomis in 1855 and established himself in the business of manufacturing whips.  During the Civil War, Lewis was a member of the 46th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers, and of the 30th Company Unattached Artillery.  After the war, he went into the clothing business, forming the partnership Loomis, Lewis and Company.  Albion Wesley Lewis died on March 28, 1903.

References:

William Richard Cutter, Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of the State of Massachusetts.  New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1910.

“Albion Wesley Lewis,” Lewisiana or the Lewis Letter 13 (May 1903): 162-163.

George Harlan Lewis, Edmund Lewis of Lynn, Massachusetts and Some of His Descendants.  Salem, Massachusetts: Essex Institute, 1908.

Top Left: Masonic ID Badge, ca. 1861, American.  National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Jacques Noel Jacobsen Jr., 2009.021.25.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Right: Masonic ID Badge for Jos. W. Perry, ca. 1861, American.  National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Jacques Noel Jacobsen Jr., 2009.021.24.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Bottom: Albion Wesley Lewis, 1861-1865, T.P. Collins, Westfield, Massachusetts.  National Heritage Museum collection, gift of Jacques Noel Jacobsen Jr., 2009.021.4. 


"Don't Fire Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes!": Remembering Bunker Hill

2008_021_6DP2 In 1876, the United States celebrated its centennial anniversary with great fanfare.  As part of the celebration, souvenirs of all types were available for purchase – including this glass platter that was recently donated to the National Heritage Museum.  At the center is a depiction of the Bunker Hill Monument, which is actually located on Breed’s Hill, in Charlestown, Massachusetts.  The cornerstone for the monument was laid in a Masonic ceremony on June 17, 1825, the 50th anniversary of the famous battle.  Taking part in the festivities was the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), who was making a tour through the United States at the time.  The monument was completed in 1843.

The famous battle, fought against the British on June 17, 1775, was one of the earliest of the Revolutionary War.  Although it was a British victory, the American forces killed or wounded almost half of the 2,200 British soldiers fighting that day.  The platter memorializes the names of four of the American military leaders: Israel Putnam, John Stark, William Prescott and Joseph Warren.  How many of these names do you know?  Here’s a short guide:

Israel Putnam (1718-1790) was born in Massachusetts, but spent his adult life in Connecticut where he was a farmer.  After military service during the French and Indian Wars, Putnam helped organize the Sons of Liberty in eastern Connecticut.  In 1775, he was appointed a brigadier general and eventually became second in rank to George Washington.  As field commander of the troops at Bunker Hill, Putnam reportedly gave one of the most famous orders in military history, “Don’t one of you fire until you see the white of their eyes” (although some accounts attribute this to William Prescott, also named on the platter).

John Stark (1728-1822) was a native of New Hampshire, where he made his living as a farmer and a miller.  Like Putnam, he also served in the French and Indian Wars.  After the fighting at Lexington and Concord, Stark traveled to Cambridge and was appointed colonel.  At Bunker Hill, he deployed his men between Bunker Hill and Breed’s Hill to defend the army’s left flank.  He was able to encourage his inexperienced soldiers to cover weak spots in the American defense that day.

Like Putnam and Stark, William Prescott (1726-1795) was also a farmer, tending the land left to him by his father in Groton, Massachusetts.  Also like Putnam and Stark, Prescott gained military experience in the French and Indian Wars.  The night before the Battle of Bunker Hill, Prescott, a commissioned colonel, was ordered to command the expedition to fortify Bunker Hill.  With 1,200 men, he instead entrenched Breed’s Hill.  He was able to defend against British General Sir William Howe’s advances twice.  Although the British broke through on their third advance, Prescott achieved a symbolic victory, suffering only 441 dead and wounded compared to the over 1,000 casualties on the British side.

Perhaps the best-known name on the platter belongs to Joseph Warren (1741-1775).  Warren, a Boston physician, had been elected President Pro Tempore of the Provincial Congress on April 23, 1775.  Just three days before the Battle of Bunker Hill, on June 14, Warren was elected a major general of the provincial army.  Sadly, he died at the end of the battle when Howe’s forces finally broke through.  At the time, Warren was also Grand Master of Massachusetts Provincial Grand Lodge. After recovering Warren’s body from the battlefield, members of both active Massachusetts Grand Lodges honored him with a Masonic funeral service.

Bunker Hill Platter, 1876, collection of the National Heritage Museum, gift of Robert and Edith Zucker, 2008.021.6.  Photograph by David Bohl.