J.J.J. Gourgas

Digital Collections Highlight: An 1847 Scottish Rite Meeting Summons

A2019_178_0001DS1_webPictured here is a recently digitized handwritten summons from Sovereign Grand Commander John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865) to Edward A. Raymond (1791-1864), dated November 22, 1847. It is among a number of recently digitized nineteenth-century Scottish Rite documents that we have added to the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. By taking a closer look at the events surrounding the creation of this summons, we can gain insight into the difficult reorganization of the Scottish Rite that took place in the 1840s.

The Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction was small and geographically dispersed in 1847. Of its nine members, seven had joined the Supreme Council within the past two years. The Council was still rebuilding itself after the anti-Masonic period had brought most Masonic activity to a halt in the late 1820s and through the 1830s. In 1847, the Council was dispersed throughout two states, with four members living in the Boston area and five living in New York State. At the time, the Council was headed by J.J.J. Gourgas and his Lieutenant Grand Commander Giles Fonda Yates (1798-1859). Gourgas, who lived in New York City, and Yates, who lived in Schenectady, had kept the Supreme Council's records together during the dormant period of the anti-Masonic period and were responsible for the reorganization of the Supreme Council in 1844 and 1845, during which time they admitted the seven new members to the Supreme Council.

This 1847 summons gives us a glimpse into this period of rebirth. Written in Gourgas's unmistakable handwriting, and addressed to Edward A. Raymond in Boston, the summons directs Boston-based members Raymond, Charles W. Moore, and Reuel Baker to attend the "Stated Constitutional Meeting of the Grand and Supreme Council" to be held on December 7, 1847. The record of that meeting shows how difficult it was for Gourgas to rebuild the Council. The December 7, 1847 meeting was attended by only three people: Gourgas, Yates, and Van Rensselaer. In the published Proceedings, Gourgas notes that Raymond, Moore, and Baker provided an official excuse for non-attendance, which was accepted. Showing his frustration with members who did not attend meetings, Gourgas mentions that two members - John Christie and Archibald Bull - had not made an appearance at any meetings since they had been admitted and, in strong language, declared them "useless members, unless they come forward with admissable excuses..." In a letter, dated January 20, 1848, written in response to Gourgas's wish to hear from Bull and Christie, Bull explains to Gourgas that his absences occurred because of his poor health.

As the events surrounding this summons demonstrate, the robust Supreme Council that eventually emerged from the work of Gourgas and Yates was not easily accomplished.

Interested in reading more primary sources related to the history of the Scottish Rite? Be sure to check out the growing collection on our Digital Collections website.

Caption:
Handwritten summons from Sovereign Grand Commander John James Joseph Gourgas to Edward A. Raymond, 1847. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, A2019/178/0001.


A Mason Answers His Country's Call and Receives the Scottish Rite's Highest Award

As a somber nation mourned the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in April of 1945, Harry S. Truman, Roosevelt’s successor, received this telegram message that resides in the Archives of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library:


Telegram from Melvin M. Johnson to President Harry S. Truman
Telegram from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, [undated].

President Harry S. Truman
Washington


The God of Truth and wisdom will be with you and you will succeed in the great task to which you have been called. I shall ask you for nothing except to be of service if and when I can be helpful in the least degree. 

Shall be back in Boston Monday. 

Melvin M. Johnson


For the past two years, Johnson, the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction  of the Scottish Rite and a Masonic brother of Truman, had sought to award him with the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s highest award, The Gourgas Medal, for Truman’s work leading the Truman Committee, a Congressional oversight body which oversaw the war effort by probing into charges of corruption. And while Truman had always been flattered by Johnson’s request, Truman's sense of duty to his country and to the Fraternity had led him to decline the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s most prestigious honor.

  Senator

Letter from U.S. Senator Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, September 8, 1944.

 

“I think you are exactly right,” Senator Truman wrote Johnson on September 8, 1944, “about the postponement of the program so far as I am concerned. No matter how deserving it might be under the circumstances it would look exactly as if it were a political program.”

Now, in April of 1945, anxious to make Truman the first recipient of the Gourgas Medal, Johnson petitioned the busy President once more.

"I hope you may find it possible to attend a session of our Supreme Council on Tuesday, September 25, 1945, at 10 a.m., or the following day, in order that I may have the honor of making you the first recipient of the Gourgas Medal."

With the war concluded and the political battles of 1944 behind him, sometime during the spring of 1945 President Truman had a change of heart, which he expressed to Johnson from the White House on May 2, 1945.

“I hope it will be possible for me to attend the meeting to receive The Gourgas Medal," Truman wrote Johnson.

Johnson wrote back to the President in September of 1945, “If it is agreeable to you, I should like to make the presentation [of the Gourgas Medal] at The White House, or wherever else you may select. I hope, however, we can make arrangements far enough in advance so that invitations may be extended to the members of Congress who are also members of our Supreme Council . . . .”

On November 21, 1945, President Harry S. Truman received the Gourgas Medal for his service to country and humanity. After the ceremony on the White House lawn had concluded, a subdued President Truman led the delegation back to his office where the President “looking down at the medal” said quietly, “I appreciate this more than anything I have received.”

 

Letter from U.S. President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, May 2, 1945.
Letter from U.S. President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, May 2, 1945.
Presentation of Gourgas Medal to Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°
Presentation of Gourgas Medal to Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°

Captions

Telegram from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, [undated]. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Letter from U.S. Senator Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, September 8, 1944. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Letter from U.S. President Harry S. Truman to Melvin M. Johnson, May 2, 1945. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Presentation of Gourgas Medal to Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°, page 136. Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite (1945). Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°, President of the United States, Received the Gourgas Medal. In Abstract of Proceedings of the Supreme Council, (pp. 136 – 140). [Boston: Supreme Council].

References

Letter from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, April 26, 1945 [copy]. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Letter from Melvin M. Johnson to U.S. President Harry S. Truman, September 19, 1945 [copy]. Assistant to the Sovereign Grand Commander: Subject Files. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, SC 069.

Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite (1945). Illustrious Harry S. Truman, 33°, President of the United States, Received the Gourgas Medal. In Abstract of Proceedings of the Supreme Council, (pp. 136 – 140). [Boston: Supreme Council].

 


Happy 200th Anniversary N.M.J.!

5.2 SC001_018DP1DB_webToday marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Scottish Rite's Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, in New York City on August 5, 1813, the date of the warrant, or charter, shown above.

In 1813, the Charleston Supreme Council (today’s Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction), tasked its Grand Treasurer General, Emanuel De La Motta, to sort out which of the competing Scottish Rite bodies in New York City was legitimate. He ruled in favor of the group headed by Antoine Bideaud — stating that group members were the "legal and lawful founders of the sublime degrees." De La Motta drafted this charter, or warrant, which states that he does "hereby duly and legally form, constitute and establish" Bideaud’s group as the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s first Supreme Council on August 5, 1813. Although signed by De La Motta, the document is in the handwriting of J.J.J. Gourgas, who served De La Motta in a secretarial capacity during the formation of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction in 1813 and served as the first Grand Secretary General and third Sovereign Grand Commander for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Supreme Council.

You can learn more about the creation of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's first Supreme Council and about the six men that comprised the Council by reading "The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's First Supreme Council" on pages 11-15 of the May 2013 issue of The Northern Light [pdf].

The actual charter itself is currently on view in the exhibition "A Sublime Brotherhood: 200 Years of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction" here at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, Massachusetts.

Caption:

Charter/Warrant for the Northern District of the United States of America, 1813.
Issued by Emanuel De La Motta, New York, New York. SC 001.018, Photograph by David Bohl.


Rare J. J. J. Gourgas Manuscript Book Conserved

130015B000BT005In honor of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, Scottish Rite, a rare manuscript book written by J. J. J. Gourgas (1777-1865) was conserved at Northeast Document Conservation Center. J. J. J. Gourgas was one of the earliest founders and charter members of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, was Secretary of the organization for over 20 years, and then served as Sovereign Grand Commander from 1832 until 1851. 

The photograph on the left shows the condition of the manuscript before conservation. According to the conservator's report, the manuscript pages were dirty, discolored, and acidic, yet flexible. There were tears on many pages and detached pages with paper seal had a major tear.  The text block consisted of support leaves of laid paper with entries in iron gall inks. The manuscript book's boards (or front and back covers) were worn at the corners.     

According to the treatment report from the conservator, the manuscript document was washed in filtered water and then alkalized or deacidified with calcium hydroxide.  Tears were mended and folds guarded where necessary with Japanese kozo paper and wheat starch paste.  Buffered barrier sheets were inserted where clippings, paper seals, or heavy ink deposits were causing discoloration on adjacent pages.  The board corners and edges were stabilized using wheat starch paste.  The detached manuscript pages (shown at the right) were placed in a buffered folder.  The volume and folder were housed in a custom drop-spine box. 130015B000AT005 

This document will be featured in the upcoming exhibition opening on June 15, 2013, "A Sublime Brotherhood:  200 Years of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Northern Jurisdiction" for all to see.   The exhibition staff will turn the pages of the manuscript every month so that the inks do not fade from the light in the gallery. 

This conservation has ensured that the manuscript will have a long life and can safely be used and handled by staff and future researchers.

 For more information on the contents of this manuscript book, see our earlier blog post.

Captions:

Photographs of Gourgas Manuscript before and after treatment by Northeast Document Conservation Center by NEDCC staff, 2013.


The Earliest Record and Minutes of the Scottish Rite’s Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction

Minute_book_NMJ_inside_cover_webIn 2013, the Scottish Rite’s Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (NMJ) celebrates its bicentennial. Among the important treasures in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is a ledger book that contains the earliest record and minutes of the meetings of the NMJ’s governing body, the Supreme Council, from 1813 until 1851. The inside cover of the ledger book (at left) notes that these are the:

Records [of the] Sovereign Grand Lodge of R[ose Croix] of H-R-D-M. of the 18th; Sovereign Grand Consistory (30th, 31st and 32d degrees) of Sublime and Valiant Princes of the Royal Secret, and of the Grand and Supreme Council of the most Illustrious and Puissant Sovereigns, Grand Inspectors General of the 33d degree, sitting at New York City, State of New York, for the Northern Masonic District and Jurisdiction of the United States of North America, by 40° 42' 40" North Latitude.

As stated above, not only does the book contain records of the "Grand and Supreme Council...for the Northern Masonic District and Jurisdiction," but also contains information related to Masonic bodies in the lineage of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction and which pre-date its founding in 1813.

The ledger book was kept by and is in the handwriting of John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865), who served as the NMJ’s first Grand Secretary General and was its third Sovereign Grand Commander, serving from 1832 until 1851. Gourgas is often referred to as the “Conservator of the [Scottish] Rite” not only because he collected and kept safe the important early documents of the Scottish Rite, but because he also revived the Scottish Rite in the 1840s after it had nearly died out completely, owing mostly to an anti-Masonic movement in the late 1820s and 1830s. The bottom half of the page above shows Gourgas's elaborate, armorial book plate and, to the right of the plate, lists "Dates of [Masonic] powers granted me at various times," and begins with July 9, 1806, when Gourgas was initiated into the Grand Chapter of Rose Croix d'H-R-D-M of Kilwinning at New York City.

The earliest records in the ledger book are not minutes of meetings, but consist more of a general overview of the earliest days of the formation of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, which appear to have been written by Gourgas at a later date, as a way of preserving the history of the formation of the organization and tracing the organization's Masonic lineage. In addition to recording the formation of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, Gourgas also includes handwritten copies of various patents, excerpts from registers, and other material that provides a foundational background for the Masonic legitimacy of the group that, in 1813, became the “Northern Masonic Jurisdiction and District” (later called the “Northern Masonic Jurisdiction”).

The first recording in Gourgas’s ledger of what could be properly termed “minutes,” are for the June 15, 1844 meeting of the Supreme Council, the beginning of what might be called the revival of the Scottish Rite’s NMJ.

The NMJ’s Supreme Council recognized the importance of publishing these minutes as early as 1872 and the entirety of the ledger was published in 1876. The introduction to the 1876 book reads, in part, “The early Proceedings of the Supreme Council never having been published, and many that were published being out of print, a proposition was made at the session in 1872 to reprint them.” In addition to the Gourgas ledger book, the 1876 publication also includes reprints of the Supreme Council Proceedings from 1851 to 1863, the years directly following Gourgas’s leadership of the NMJ. The volume is also indexed, which makes this an especially useful tool for researchers.

If you are interested in reading this primary source material, you don’t have to leave your house to gain full-text access to these minutes. Because a copy of these published Proceedings is in the collection of the University of Michigan's libraries, one of the contributors to the Google Books project, a fully digitized copy can be accessed online, and downloaded as a PDF.

Here's the citation for the Proceedings published in 1876:

Proceedings of the Supreme Council of Sov. Gr. Inspectors General 33°, for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States: Gourgas Body, 1813-1851; Raymond Body, 1851-1860; Van Rensselaer Body, 1860-1862. (Portland, [ME]: Stephen Berry, printer, 1876)
Call number:
17.9735 .Un58 1781-1862

Photo caption:
Record and Minute Book, 1806-1846
John James Joseph Gourgas
New York, New York
Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, SC 011