Jonas H. Brown

New Acquisition: First Masonic Almanac Published in the United States

Free Mason's Calendar title pageThe Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives recently acquired The Free Mason's Calendar and Continental Almanac for the Year of Our Lord 1793. It was the first Masonic almanac published in the United States.

According to Kent Walgren's descriptive bibliography Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry, and Illuminism in the United States, 1734-1850 only nine other libraries own a copy of this almanac. The addition of this almanac to the library's collection makes ours the tenth known copy.

Samuel Stearns (1741-1809), the author whose name appears on the cover of The Free Mason's Calendar, was a physician and astronomer. In addition to the Free Mason's Calendar, he issued other almanacs, including the North-American Almanack, published annually from 1771-1784, as well as the first American nautical almanac, The Navigator's Kalendar, or Nautical Almanack, for 1783.

The copy of The Free Mason's Calendar that we acquired has a fairly detailed provenance (i.e. a list of previous owners of the book). Starting with the first owner, Thomas Noyes, there are eight known previous owners of this book. The most recent owner, Edward B. Jackson, who had owned the book since 1997, generously donated it to our Library & Archives this year.

The previous owner that I'm choosing to focus on in this post is Jonas H. Brown (1821-1897), who wrote a presentation inscription opposite the title page. Although the text indicates that Brown was presenting this to someone else, the recepient is not named. Brown's inscription reads:

Presented by Jonas H. Brown, Warren, Mass., No. 1 Carl street, late of 34 regt. Mass. H Company, Vol. Infantry. [Indecipherable] of Post 65 Clara Barton, Department of Mass., G.A.R. 1894.

Brown's inscription provides a lot of biographical information - where he lived, that he was a Civil War veteran, and that he later joined the Grand Army of the Republic. As the inscription notes, Brown served in Company H of the 34th Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry. Following this lead, I was able to discover that Brown served with the 34th Regiment for the for the entirety of its existence. Brown volunteered as a Private on July 23, 1862 (at the age of 41) and was discharged on June 16, 1865. Following the war, Brown was active in his G.A.R. Post - he was named Commander of Clara Barton Post 65 at the end of 1879. Brown died in 1897 at the age of 81.

And although this is a Masonic almanac, it's not clear whether Brown was a Mason. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts has no record of him being a Massachusetts Mason, and it appears that Brown was a lifelong Massachusetts resident. The 1850 Census names his place of birth as Massachusetts and all subsequent censuses place him in that state. If you know more about Jonas H. Brown, feel free to drop us a line in the comments section below.

The Free Mason's Calendar and Continental Almanac for the Year of Our Lord 1793. New York: Printed and sold, wholesale and retail, by Samuel Campbell, no 37 Hanover Square, [1792].
Call number: RARE 01 .S799 1792
Gift of Edward B. Jackson