Joseph Green's 1739 Anti-Masonic Broadside
March 14, 2017
The first public procession of Freemasons in the city of Boston took place on June 24, 1737, the Masonic feast day of Saint John the Baptist. Freemasonry in the American colonies was still young. Saint John's Lodge, Boston's first Masonic lodge, was founded just four years earlier. In 1739, a third annual procession commenced, with the members of Saint John's Lodge, led by men playing instruments, paraded through the streets of Boston wearing their aprons. Beginning at the house of Brother John Waghorn, they paraded to Province House, the home of Governor Jonathan Belcher (1681/2-1757), also a Mason, who joined the procession. The parade reached its final destination at the Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street, whose proprietor, Luke Vardy (d. 1753), was a member of the lodge and let Saint John's Lodge use his tavern for their meetings.
Joseph Green (1706-1780) was, as David S. Shields has written "the foremost wit of Boston," and Green wrote a number of satires about Freemasonry from the 1730s through the 1750s. The broadside shown here, printed in 1739, is entitled "A True and Exact Account of the Celebration of the Festival of Saint John the Babtist [sic], by the Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons..." It contains Green's satirical take on the event.
The library's copy of this broadside is the only known copy in the world. We have digitized it and made it available via the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. According to Kent Walgren's 2003 bibliography, Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States: 1734-1850, Green's 1739 broadside is only the third publication in North America related to Freemasonry. It followed Benjamin Franklin's Constitutions of the Free-Masons (1734) and An Astronomical Diary, or, an Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ, 1738..., printed by Nathaniel Ames in 1737, which includes a poem with Masonic content.
If you would like to read more about Joseph Green and his satires about Freemasonry in colonial Massachusetts, we recommend David S. Shields' essay, "Clio Mocks the Masons: Joseph Green's Anti-Masonic Satires" in Deism, Masonry, and the Enlightenment: Essays Honoring Alfred Owen Aldridge, ed. J.A. Leo Lemay (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987), 109-126.
And be sure to check out a number of other interesting broadsides that we've digitized and made available at the Library & Archives Digital Collections website.