Masonic certificates

Digital Collections Highlight: Theodore Gleghorn's 1921 Master Mason certificate

A2019_124_001DS1_web                                                                                                                                                             Theodore Gleghorn's Master Mason certificate is just one of many documents available in the African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism collection at the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. Hermon Lodge No. 21 issued this Master Mason certificate (above) to Gleghorn (1890-1978). The certificate is dated October 10, 1921, and signed by Hermon Lodge’s Worshipful Master Charles Murdock and Secretary P. B. French. Located in Sparta, Illinois, Hermon Lodge No. 21 was chartered in 1875 by the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient & Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Illinois.

Detail_of_A2019_124_001DS1_webWhat makes Gleghorn's Masonic certificate so different from the many hundreds of Masonic certificates in our collection is that it includes a photograph of the certificate's owner (at right), embossed with Hermon Lodge's seal. This, in addition to the lodge officers' signatures, and Gleghorn's own signature, helped prove the document's authenticity if Gleghorn presented it to a lodge where he was not known.

Seeing Theodore Gleghorn's portrait on the certificate makes one wonder - who was he? What do we know about him? According to the WWI registration card that Gleghorn filled out in 1917, he was born in Cutler, Illinois in 1890. In 1917, the Wilson Bros. Coal Co., in Sparta, Illinois, employed him as a miner. The 1920 and 1930 U.S. Federal Censuses also show that Gleghorn continued to work in the coal mining industry. Around 1947, Gleghorn moved north to Springfield, Illinois, where he was employed by the State Division of Local Health Services. He worked there for at least twenty-five years. A 1971 newsletter published by the Illinois Department of Health includes an article and photograph showing that Gleghorn and other long-serving employees had been honored as members of the Illinois Department of Public Health's "Quarter Century Club."

Gleghorn was married to Emma L. (Britton) Gleghorn (1907-1980) and they had a son, Emmett D. Gleghorn (1933-1987). If you know more about Theodore Gleghorn's Masonic involvement or any other details about his life, we would love to hear from you. Just post a comment below or contact us through our website.

Caption:
Prince Hall Master Mason certificate issued by Hermon Lodge, No. 21, to Theodore Gleghorn, 1921. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, Museum Purchase, A2019/124/001.


New Online Exhibition - Signed & Sealed: Masonic Certificates

A1990_036_1DS1_webThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library invites you to explore our new online exhibition, “Signed & Sealed: Masonic Certificates” now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. The twenty-one Masonic certificates featured in the exhibition are drawn from the Library & Archives' collection of hundreds of Masonic and fraternal membership certificates.

Included in the exhibition is the 1756 certificate pictured here, which one Masonic historian, writing in 1912, stated was "believed to the be the oldest American Masonic certificate." William Shute, Worshipful Master of Philadelphia Lodge No. 2, signed this hand-written certificate, which identifies James Harding as a Master Mason. You can learn more about this certificate and others by visiting the online exhibition.

If you haven't already, also be sure to visit the Museum's online exhibition website for more online exhibitions.

 

Caption:
Master Mason certificate issued by Philadelphia Lodge, No. 2, to James Harding, 1756. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, A1990/036/001.


More Content Added to Digital Collections Sites!

A2018_127_001_DSwebIf you haven't visited the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's digital collections sites before, or if it's been awhile, now is the perfect time to explore them.

Museum & Library staff are currently working from home and are using this closure period to add digitized materials to our online sites, making more of our unique collections available to you. Be sure to check out all of the places where you can access our collections and virtual exhibitions online: the Museum's online collections, the Library & Archives' online collections, the Museum's online exhibitions, and the Museum & Library's Flickr page.

Among the many interesting items that the Library & Archives has added during this period is the 16th degree "Prince of Jerusalem" Scottish Rite certificate pictured here. Historically, the Scottish Rite has issued 32nd, 33rd, and occasionally 18th degree certificates, but this 1842 certificate issued by the Grand Council of Princes of Jerusalem in Albany, NY, to John Christie is highly unusual. Christie's certificate is just one of over two hundred Masonic certificates that can be viewed on the Library & Archives' Digital Collections website.

John Christie (1804-1890) was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and spent most of his life there. He became a Mason in St. John's Lodge No. 1 in Portsmouth in 1826 and later served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire from 1847 to 1850. This certificate marks Christie's entry into the Scottish Rite, which began in 1842 and lasted over half a century, until his death in 1890. In addition to this certificate, we have also digitized two other certificates that document Christie's participation in the Scottish Rite. The first is a beautifully engrossed 1845 certificate declaring John Christie an Active Member of the Supreme Council for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. The second is an 1852 certificate appointing Christie as the Supreme Council's Deputy for New Hampshire, an office he held from 1851 to 1864, and again from 1878 to 1882. The Valley of Portsmouth-Dover today still honors Christie's service to Scottish Rite Freemasonry in New Hampshire; one of its three subordinate bodies is named John Christie Council, Princes of Jerusalem.

Be well, be safe, and happy online exploring from all of us at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library!

 


Digital Collections Highlight: Frederick P. Wahlgren's life-long Masonic membership

A1996_041_9aDS1_webBetween 1902 and 1909, Frederick Peter Wahlgren (1859-1935) made a lifetime commitment to Freemasonry by paying for lifetime memberships in the eight different Masonic bodies of which he was a member. Wahlgren was a 24-year-old Swedish immigrant when he arrived in the United States in 1883. He owned a house painting business and lived in the Roslindale neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1899, at age 40, he became a Master Mason in Prospect Lodge in Roslindale. A few years later he joined all four Scottish Rite bodies in the Valley of Boston, as well as Boston's York Rite bodies.

A1996_041_6aDS1_webA small collection of certificates and receipts in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection show evidence of Wahlgren's decision to become a lifetime member of his Blue Lodge, all four subordinate bodies in the Scottish Rite, as well as all three subordinate bodies of the York Rite. By becoming a lifetime member in these organizations, Wahlgren paid a larger membership fee up front, with the guarantee that he would not have to pay any other membership fees for the rest of his life. One receipt in the collection shows that in 1902 Wahlgren paid $180 to become a lifetime member of all four subordinate bodies in the Valley of Boston: Lafayette Lodge of Perfection, Mount Olivet Chapter Rose Croix, Giles F. Yates Council Princes of Jerusalem, and Massachusetts Consistory. Wahlgren received attractive lifetime membership certificates for each of the four bodies, two of which are shown here. In 1904, he became a life member of the York Rite bodies and, finally, in 1909, he became a life member of Prospect Lodge.

How were the life membership fees calculated? In 1900, the Massachusetts Council of Deliberation unanimously adopting a resolution which stated that

the minimum fee for life membership in any of the subordinate bodies shall be fifteen times the annual fee of that body, and shall in no case be less than thirty dollars in a Lodge of Perfection, a Council of Princes of Jerusalem, and a Chapter of Rose Croix; nor less than forty-five dollars in Massachusetts Consistory, provided, however, that in the Consistory, the fee for the life membership of a member who resides more than ten miles from Boston shall be ten dollars less than the fee herein established.

The 1900 resolution further mandated that the total fee to belong to all four Scottish Rite bodies in the Valley of Boston should be no less than $135. Two years later, Wahlgren paid $180. Nonetheless, it still would have made financial sense for Wahlgren to pay the fee, as he lived for another 33 years. Wahlgren died on April 30, 1935, just four days after his wife, Ida S. (Dufva) Wahlgren (1855-1935). His lifetime commitment to Freemasonry is evidenced by the life member certificates he was issued. We have digitized and made available most of the Frederick Peter Wahlgren certificates in our collection. You can view them at our Digital Collections website, along with hundreds of other documents that we have digitized and made available.

Captions:

Life membership certificate issued by Massachusetts Consistory to Fredrick Peter Wahlgren, 1903. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Gift of Mrs. Lucian D. Warner, A1996/041/009a.

Life membership certificate issued by Boston Lafayette Lodge of Perfection to Fredrick Peter Wahlgren, 1903. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Gift of Mrs. Lucian D. Warner, A1996/041/006a.


A DeMolay Certificate Signed by Two Presidents

Doyle DeMolay certificate smallerOn October 14, 1922, a special ceremony took place in Washington, D.C. at the Scottish Rite’s Southern Jurisdiction’s headquarters building, known as the House of the Temple. Although Scottish Rite members attended, the gathering was, in fact, a DeMolay event. A uniformed degree team of twenty-eight boys from Kansas City Chapter—the original DeMolay chapter—had traveled from Missouri in order to institute Robert LeBruce Chapter of DeMolay, Washington D.C.’s second DeMolay chapter. The Kansas City contingent also included a number of adults, among them DeMolay’s founder Frank S. Land (1890-1959). Those present in the room included 107 boys chosen to receive the degrees, as well as the boys’ fathers. Members of the Southern Jurisdiction’s Supreme Council, who were already in town for their own meeting, also attended.

Among those receiving the two DeMolay degrees that evening was nineteen-year-old Robert Emmet Doyle, Jr. (1903-1988). His DeMolay certificate is pictured here. In anticipation of the institution of the chapter, members had unanimously elected Doyle as the first Master Councilor of the Robert LeBruce Chapter. The founding of the Robert LeBruce Chapter in 1921 was part of a larger trend. DeMolay experienced tremendous growth in its first few years. Although originally located only in Missouri, where it began, by 1922, after only three years in existence, DeMolay boasted chapters in nearly every U.S. state.

Doyle followed the tradition of many Masons, by having his certificate autographed by nearly thirty Masons hailing from California, Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Texas, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C. Among these signatures, those of two U.S. presidents, Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) and William H. Taft (1857-1930), stand out. Harding autographed and dated the certificate on April 24, 1922, while he was president. Because he was a Scottish Rite Mason, he added a “32°” after his name. Taft did not date his signature, but did include the name of his lodge, Kilwinning Lodge No. 356. All of the dated autographs are from 1922 and 1923, so it seems likely that Taft’s is also from around this time. In the early 1920s, the former president served as Chief Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. Based in Washington, D.C., Doyle also collected signatures from various Scottish Rite Masons from the Southern Jurisdiction, including the long-serving Sovereign Grand Commander, John Cowles (1863-1954).

Just a few years after joining DeMolay, Doyle was raised a Master Mason in his father’s lodge, Lafayette Lodge No. 19. Doyle became a Scottish Rite Mason in the Southern Jurisdiction as part of a fifty-five member class upon which the 14th degree was conferred on October 28, 1924, at the Washington D.C.-based Mithras Lodge of Perfection No. 1. By the 1940s, Doyle had moved from Washington D.C. to California, where he lived until his death in 1988. His certificate, now in our collection, helps illustrate the deep connection between DeMolay and Scottish Rite Freemasonry.

Caption:
DeMolay certificate issued to Robert Emmet Doyle, Jr., 1922. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, Museum Purchase, A2017/024/001.


Another Masonic Certificate by Doolittle and Parmele

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Master Mason Certificate, ca. 1818-1821. Issued to Charles Otis Nye, Moriah Lodge No. 195, DeRuyter, New York, Engraved by Amos Doolittle (1754-1832), New Haven, Connecticut, Published by Henry Parmele (d. 1821), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, GL2004.8765.

A few months ago, we posted about a certificate for the mark degree engraved by Amos Doolittle (1754-1832) that was published by Henry Parmele (d. 1821) and, previously, about an apron engraved from the plate the Parmele used for another certificate.

Though many aspects of Parmele’s biography are, as yet, unknown, the engraved and printed material he produced speaks to his interest in selling material to the Masonic community.  Along with the certificate for the mark degree and the Royal Arch apron, Parmele also produced at least two certificates for the Royal Arch, a Masonic handbook called Key to the First Chart of the Masonic Mirror that was meant to be used in conjunction with an engraved Masonic chart and a Master Mason certificate.

Parmele’s Master Mason certificate (at left) shared an inspiration with or was based on certificates used and produced in Massachusetts in the early

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Reverse, Master Mason Certificate, ca. 1818-1821.Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, GL2004.8765.

1800s.  You can see an example of one of these earlier certificates in this past post.  As was the case with Parmele and Doolittle’s mark degree certificate, Parmele, who census-takers recorded as living in Philadelphia in 1820, worked with printers and engravers in different East Coast cities to retail his certificate.  A line engraved at the bottom of this document (see below, at left) notes that it was sold by G. Fairman in Philadelphia, A. Doolittle in New Haven, Samuel Maverick in New York and by I. W. Clark in Albany.  Gideon Fairman, Doolittle and Maverick were all engravers.  Israel W. Clark was a publisher, printer and editor.  The note also identifies all the men as “Brothrs,”or Freemasons.

Interestingly, this certificate does not seem to have been given to a Master Mason.  Though a name, Charles Nye Otis, and lodge, Moriah Lodge No.  120 (recorded as No. 195) of De Rutyer, New York, are written in ink on the front of the certificate, a handwritten note on the back of the document (at right) shows that Parmele used it as an example of his work.  In a note signed “H. P,” (initials thought to stand for Henry Parmele), the writer discussed how he provided this certificate, or diploma, as a sample.  He also thanks the unknown recipient of the note for his “influence in obtaining subscribers” for another publication, Parmele’s Masonic charts.  Parmele planned to publish two charts to go with his Key, which came out in 1819, but likely only issued one before he died in 1821.  From the wording of Parmele’s note, it is difficult to tell if the recipient had already helped Parmele gain subscribers or if Parmele just wanted to let the recipient know that any help in the future would be appreciated.  This certificate offers some tantalizing clues about how publishers and engravers undertook their business in the early 1800s at the same time it prompts questions about their endeavors.

Reference: 

Kent Logan Walgren, Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States: 1734-1850: a Bibliography (Worcester, Massachusetts: American Antiquarian Society, 2003).

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Detail, Master Mason Certificate, ca. 1818-1821.Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, GL2004.8765.

An Intriguing Masonic Certificate Engraved by Amos Doolittle for Henry Parmele

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Mark Master Mason Certificate Issued to William Gordon, ca. 1820. Engraved by Amos Doolittle, New Haven, Connecticut. Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, GL2004.1101.

On March 4, 1820, the officers of a mark master lodge, possibly Mark Master’s Lodge Gloria Mundi, signed and issued a certificate to William Gordon.  This document attested that Gordon had received the Mark Master Mason degree and that the lodge officers recommended him “to all Free and Accepted Masons on the Globe.”

This colorful certificate with its charming portrayals of a lodge master at the bottom of the page is an intriguing one.  In the early 1800s many grand lodges, such as the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, began issuing certificates for all newly made Master Masons.  Many were issued and saved.  Today they are fairly common. However, certificates for the Mark Master Mason degree in any American state in the early 1800s are rare.  This one, preserved in the collection of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, appear to be the only example in that collection and there aren't any in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's collection.

Adding to this document’s interesting features, the information printed on the bottom edge of this certificate, which says, Engraved by Brother Amos Doolittle New Haven: for H. Parmele Diaploma of the 4th Degree. The above may be had of Br’s [scratched out] Phild. Saml Maverick New York, A. Doolittle New Haven, and I. W. Clark Albany…, suggests that production and sale of the certificate was conceived of as a coordinated effort by several entrepreneurs. 

Amos Doolittle (1754-1832), a New Haven artisan, engraved the certificate. He did so for Henry Parmele (d. 1821), an author and publisher who also sold engraved Masonic aprons. From the brief information noted on the certificate, Parmele seems to have arranged that colleagues in different parts of the country offer the certificate, or diploma, to customers.  Doolittle made the certificates available in New Haven. Samuel Maverick (1789-1845), an engraver and printer, sold them in New York City.  Israel W. Clark (ca. 1789-1828), a printer, publisher and editor in Albany, had them for sale in that city.  Parmele, according to census records, lived in Philadelphia by at least 1820, sold copies there. The scratched out name likely read “Wm McCorkle,” possibly William McCorkle (ca. 1776-1826) a Philadelphia editor and publisher.  

Given that we have found only one record of another copy of this certificate, it seems that few copies were sold--it is hard to imagine that this multi-state business venture met with success.  Adding to the mystery, research in proceedings of the Grand Chapters in the New England states, Pennsylvania and New York, has not turned up a mark lodge with the words “Gloria Mundi” in its name.  It is possible that the phrase near the top of the certificate, rather than the name of a mark lodge, is an abbreviated version of the motto “Sic transit gloria mundi(Thus passed the glory of the world), often used in Freemasonry.  Compounding the mystery, to date we have not been able to identify the recipient of the certificate—William Gordon—or any of the lodge officers who signed this certificate.

If you have seen other early 1800s mark degree certificates or have ideas about this one, we’d love to hear from you—leave us a comment below. 

Reference:

Mantle Fielding, American Engravers Upon Cooper and Steel (New York: Burt Franklin [1964]) vol. 3, 93.


Annin & Smith, Masonic Certificate Engravers

In 1801 the bylaws of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts specified that Master Masons be provided with a “diploma, printed on parchment, with a device emblematical of, and suited to, the Genius and Design of Masonry….” As described in this regulation, the document would also mention that the holder’s lodge had been authorized by the Grand Lodge and would bear the signatures of the Master Mason, his lodge’s officers and the Grand Secretary. This diploma, when presented at another lodge, helped prove the holder was a Mason in good standing—a brother entitled to a warm welcome, hospitality and, in some cases, charity. 

From surviving examples dated after 1801, it appears that Boston artisan Samuel Hill (c. 1765-c. 1809) engraved a version of the diploma outlined in the 1801 bylaws. His design featured allegorial  figures, representing faith, hope, and charity, surrounding a globe resting on a plinth. On the globe, the details about the Master Mason and signatures of lodge officers were filled in.  The Grand Secretary attested to the lodge’s status on lines printed for that purpose on the face of the plinth. 

Lodge No 28 J R Smith
Master Mason certificate issued to Richard Colton, Harmony Lodge (Northfield, Massachusetts), 1815. Designed and engraved by John Reubens Smith (1775-1849), Boston, Massachusetts, 1812. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, MA 007.

By 1811, a committee of the Grand Lodge “were of the opinion” that the distribution of new diplomas “requires some new regulations.” The following year the Grand Secretary noted that the engraved plate from which the certificates were printed was “so worn that fair and legible impressions could no longer be taken from it.”  At the same meeting a committee was appointed to “order such repairs on the plate…, or procure a new engraving, as they may deem expedient….” That year an English artist working in Boston, John Reubens Smith (1775-1849), engraved a fresh plate  (pictured at left) based on Hill’s earlier design. 

Only five years later, in 1816, another committee recommended that the diploma plate be repaired or a new one ordered.  In 1817 this committee developed a “new form for a Master’s Diploma.”  The Grand Lodge approved the form and gave permission for the committee to have it “engraved and made ready for use.” To undertake the engraving work, the Grand Lodge turned to the partners, George Girdler Smith (1795-1878) and William B. Annin (1791-1839). The pair likely met as fellow apprentices with the Boston engraver Abel Bowen (1790-1850). They went into business together around 1816.  John Ritto Penniman (1782-1841), a Boston artist, designed the new diploma with an artist identified only as Mills.

In 1819 both Annin and Smith received their Masonic degrees in Boston; Smith at Columbian Lodge, Annin at The Massachusetts Lodge. Smith became an active Mason, both holding offices at the blue lodges he belonged to and at the Grand Lodge. As partners, Annin and Smith engraved certificates for many organizations: the Grand Chapter of Massachusetts, fire companies, missionary societies and other associations.  They also produced illustrations and maps for numerous publications. The pair dissolved their partnership around 1833. Annin died by suicide six years later.

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Master Mason certificate issued to Walton Felch, Fayette Lodge (Charlton, Massachusetts), 1825. Designed by John Ritto Penniman (1782-1841) and Mills (dates unknown), engraved by William B. Annin (1791-1839) and George Girdler Smith (1795-1878), Boston, Massachusetts, ca. 1819. Collection of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, GL2004.2546.

Based on signed and dated surviving examples, the Grand Lodge began using Annin and Smith’s diploma in 1819. After his partnership with Annin ended, it appears Smith retained the plate for the diploma and produced copies for the Grand Lodge as requested.  In 1857, prompted by a query about a bill from the Grand Lodge, Smith described his long-standing arrangement with the organization: “The Master Mason’s Diploma belonging to the Gd Lodge of Mass. was to the best of my recollection, engraved about the year 1820.  The price of Diplomas was then I believe 75 cts., including parchment of course….”  Annin and Smith's engraving enjoyed a long run as the Grand Lodge's diploma. The Grand Lodge issued it to new Master Masons through the 1850s.

For more examples of Masonic certificates and diplomas, see the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website.

 

 References:

Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1792-1815 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Caustic-Claflin Company, 1905) 193, 415, 504, 529.

Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1815-1825 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Caustic-Claflin Company) 58-59, 74-75, 126.

 Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1856-1864 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Caustic-Claflin Company) 71, 100-103.

 

 

 

 


The Intriguing and Peripatetic Life of Adolphe Minski

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Masonic Certificate, 1849. Issued to Adolphe Minski, Prudente Amitié, Lons-le-Saunier, France. Lithographed by Brother Marin, Marseille, France. Gift of Mrs. H. Heinze, A71/002/002

In 1971 a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, Mrs. H. Heinze, wrote to an officer at the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin about six antique documents that had been discovered in her late uncle’s effects.  Though her uncle, Arthur H. Spoerer (1893-1971), had not been a Freemason, these documents—dating from 1849 to 1875—had to do with Freemasonry, in particular with the Masonic career of a man named Adolphe Minski, unrelated to the uncle.  The documents are now in the archives collection at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Born in Poland, Minski (1819-1886) immigrated to the United States around 1850.  With him he brought a certificate (illustrated at left) attesting he had been made a Mason at Prudente Amitié, a lodge in Lons-le-Saunier, France, in 1849.  Freemasonry played an important role in his life in America.  Minski joined Masonic organizations in many of the towns where he resided while earning a living as a hairdresser.  Putting together pieces of information from Minski’s preserved Masonic documents and other records, a picture of Minski’s life emerges.    

For over twenty years Minski collected inked demits (declarations that he left a lodge in good standing) and notes related to Masonic lodges he visited on the back of his 1849 certificate.  For example, as recounted on his certificate, in 1850 he demitted from L’Union Francaise, a French-speaking lodge, in New York City.  The same year a census taker counted him as a resident of New Jersey. Records of land purchases, as well as the Iowa state census, put him in Dubuque, Iowa, in the mid-1850s.  He did not stay there for long.  In 1856 the lodge secretary of Dubuque Lodge No. 3 certified that “Bro. Adolphe Minski was permitted to demit and the Secretary authorized…the same…” on the back of his 1849 certificate. 

By 1858 Minski had moved to Tyler, Texas, where he joined Tyler Chapter No. 24.  His certificate, issued by the group, survives (illustrated at lower left).  Two years later a census worker noted that Minski lived at a hotel in Tyler.  Ten years later, Minski had relocated to Omaha, Nebraska, where he advertised in a city directory as a “French Hair Dresser,” barber and wig maker.  A census worker recorded he was an American citizen in 1870.  He applied for a U. S. passport the following year. 

In 1876 a directory publisher listed Minski as a Milwaukee resident.  Around the same time, he became involved with the Freie Gemeinde of Milwaukee.  The Freie Gemeinde, or free thinkers, was a progressive group with German roots whose members explored philosophy, science, music and education.  Though the group shared some elements with mainstream religions, such as holding ceremonies and meeting in congregations, it privileged a person’s right to seek his or her own truth.

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Royal Arch Certificate, 1858. Issued to Adolphe Minski, Tyler Chapter, No. 24, Tyler, Texas. Printed by Galveston Civilian and Gazette Book and Job Office, Galveston, Texas. Gift of Mrs. H. Heinze, A71/002/003

Minski's connection with the the Freie Gemeinde continued for the rest of his life.  His will, written about a month before his death in Milwaukee in 1886, offers insight into what Minski valued as he outlined his wishes for the division of his estate and his funeral arrangements.  Minski stated he had’ “no near kin or relation of blood in this country…. Consequently I am at liberty to dispose of my earthly possessions according to the dictates of my own better convictions….” Among his will's provisions, Minski forgave an 1872 mortgage owed to him by the Scottish Rite Masonic Bodies in Lyons, Iowa, noting that he was a Scottish Rite member and deisred to give “material aid to [the group] to carry out and practice the lofty philosophical teachings and charity of the beloved order….”  He  left the majority of his estate—just over $13,000—to the Freie Gemeinde of Milwaukee.  He earmarked the bequest for “the dissemination of liberal views, scientific lectures and the education of the younger elements belonging to the congregation in a progressive and enlightened spirit.”       

Minski specified his funeral arrangements in his will, noting that he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes housed at the Freie Gemeinde of Milwaukee in an urn bearing this inscription:  “A-Minski of the City of Milwaukee, who—although born in superstition—lived and died a free man.”  At the time, cremation was a relatively new and uncommon burial practice.  Minski’s remains were transported to Buffalo, New York, home of one of the few crematories in the United States.  Perhaps because of the novelty of process, Minski’s cremation was reported in the New York Times on July 28th.  A reporter recounted this detail, “Fifty minutes were consumed in reducing the body to ashes." The reporter added information about the deceased, relaying that "Mr. Minski was a prominent Free Thinker and a delegation of three men and three women representing the society…came here with the body….  The reporter concluded his article with this statement: "The cremation was perfectly successful.” 

Nearly a hundred years after  Minski’s death, his Masonic certificates had been preserved by Arthur Spoerer and his neice, Mrs. Heinze.  The link between Mrs. Heinze's uncle and Minski was through the Spoerer's work.  For many years Spoerer had worked as a custodian at Jefferson Hall in Milwaukee—the former home of the Freie Gemeinde of Milwaukee. Why he saved the certificates is not known, but we are grateful that he did for a glimpse they offer of Adolphe Minski's intriguing life. Three of the certificates are on display in the exhibition, “Signed and Sealed: Masonic Certificates” through December, 2018.

Many thanks to Kamel Oussayef, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library; Larissa Watkins, Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, SJ, USA; Debbie Galli, Grand Lodge of Nebraska and Erika Miller, Grand Lodge of Wisconsin.  

References:

Berenice Cooper, “Die Freien Gemeinden in Wisconsin,” Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, vol. 53, 1964, 53-65.

 


Now on View: “Signed and Sealed: Masonic Certificates”

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Master Mason Certificate, 1832. Issued to Sidney Hayden (1813-1890), Rural Amity Lodge, No. 70, Athens, Pennsylvania. Engraved by Charles Cushing Wright (1796-1854), Homer, New York. Museum Purchase, A78/018/001.

Masonic lodges in the American colonies began issuing credentials to new initiates in the mid-1700s.  These documents, when presented at another Masonic lodge, helped prove the holder was a Freemason in good standing—a brother entitled to a warm welcome, hospitality and, in some cases, charity.  A selection of historic Masonic certificates from the collection dating from the 1700s and 1800s is now on view in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library’s corridor exhibition area.   

The signatures of lodge officers and of the certificate’s owner helped make these documents official, as did an impression of the issuing lodge’s seal (see example of a lodge seal below).  Certificates from the handful of lodges that met in the mid-1700s, if issued at all, were handwritten on long-lasting parchment.  In the late 1700s and early 1800s, lodges commissioned artists to design printed certificates.  Many artists modeled their certificates on English examples; others designed entirely new creations. In the early 1800s engraved certificates featured, along with the text, images that related to Freemasonry’s teachings, what the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts described, in 1801, as “device[s] emblematical of, and suited to, the Genius and Design of Freemasonry.” 

Some engravers created certificates specifically for individual lodges; others crafted flexible or “open” certificates with spaces that allowed different lodge names and locations to be filled in along with the Master Mason’s name and the date he received the degree, like this one (at left) engraved by Charles Cushing Wright (1796-1854) at the beginning of his career. 

John Kern certificate Van Gorden Williams Library
Royal Arch Mason Certificate, 1823. Issued to John F. Kern, Jr. (1800-1874), Laurens County, South Carolina. Engraved by Charles Cushing Wright (1796-1846) and Daniel H. Smith, Charleston, South Carolina. Museum Purchase, A85/030.

Wright, a peripatetic craftsman, also had a hand in designing this Royal Arch certificate in the 1820s (at right).  He and his partner based this design on certificate issued by the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of England in 1792. Regardless of when and where the certificates displayed in “Signed and Sealed:  Masonic Certificates” originated, each tells a story of how the issuing organization wished to be perceived and bears the name of a Freemason who was proud of his membership.

Interested in Masonic certificates?  You can explore the Museum’s holdings not only in the exhibition but also using the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website which provides access to images of an exciting selection of documents in the collection.     

91_044DS2
Lodge Seal, ca. 1799. New Hampshire. Gift of William E. and Arthur D. Taylor in memory of William E. Taylor, Sr., 91.044.