Masonic certificates

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.  


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”

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.     

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

Museum & Library Acquires Richard Theodore Greener's 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Certificate

Richard Greener 33rd Degree CertificateThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is pleased to announce that it has acquired the 33rd degree Scottish Rite Masonic certificate of Richard Theodore Greener (1844-1922), the prominent African American attorney, educator, diplomat, and Freemason. Among his many accomplishments, Greener was the first African American graduate of Harvard College, the dean of Howard University’s School of Law, a professor at the University of South Carolina, and the first U.S. Consul to Vladivostok, Russia.

The 33rd degree certificate was among many Greener documents discovered in 2009 in the attic of an abandoned house in Chicago by a cleanout crew preparing it for demolition. Along with the 33rd degree certificate, documents found in 2009 included Greener’s 1870 Harvard diploma (now in Harvard’s collection) as well as his law degree from the University of South Carolina and his license to practice law in South Carolina (now both at the University of South Carolina). Historians have greeted the discovery of the Greener documents – long thought lost – with much excitement. Greener’s Masonic certificate gives us a glimpse into his activities while he was in Chicago in 1896 working for the National Republican Committee’s presidential campaign efforts.

Richard Greener portraitGreener was active in Freemasonry as early as 1876, as evidenced by a Masonic speech he gave which was published that year, An Oration Pronounced at the Celebration of the Festival of Saint John the Baptist, June 24, 1876: At the Invitation of Eureka Lodge No. 1, F.A.M., in the Savannah Georgia Theatre. Twenty years later, on September 8, 1896, the United Supreme Council of the 33d Degree for Southern and Western Jurisdictions of the United States – a Scottish Rite group formed by black Chicago lawyer John G. Jones and others in 1895 – elevated Greener to the 33rd degree in their Council. (Although Jones suffers from a negative reputation within Freemasonry today, he was an activist and lawyer who fought against segregation, served in the Illinois Legislature, and was the eighth African American admitted to the Illinois bar.) The date of Greener’s 33rd degree certificate coincides with his arrival in Chicago and his involvement with the National Republican Committee’s National Colored Bureau in the 1896 presidential campaign for Republican nominee William McKinley. Within the United Supreme Council, Greener served as Jones’ second-in-command, holding the office of Lieutenant Grand Commander in 1896 and 1897. Greener was also a Shriner and held office in the Imperial Grand Council of the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, the black Masonic organization established by Jones in Chicago in 1893 during a time when the predominantly white Shriners excluded African Americans as members. The acquisition of Greener’s 33rd degree certificate strengthens the Museum & Library’s holdings related to African American fraternalism and helps tell the larger story of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the United States.


33° Certificate issued to Richard Theodore Greener, 1896, United Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree for Southern and Western Jurisdiction of the United States, Washington, D.C. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library Collection, Lexington, Massachusetts, Museum Purchase, A2016/001.

Lower right:
Schomburg General Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. "R. T. Greener" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed January 13, 2016.

A Fraternity Goes to War: The History of a Masonic Civil War Certificate

From April 1861 until the end of September 1863, the Grand Lodge of Illinois issued 1,757 Masonic war certificates to Illinois Master Masons, and eventually to the sons of Master Masons, as a type of traveling certificate, which would vouch for their good Masonic standing to their Confederate brothers whom they would meet on the battlefield.

This certificate, a gift to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library from Rushville Lodge, No. 9, A. F. & A. M., had been issued to Corporal Phineas Lovejoy of the 3rd Regiment, Illinois Cavalry on December 23, 1861. Research into his life reveals that Lovejoy had been elected Most Worshipful Master of Columbus Lodge, No. 227, and was the first cousin once removed of abolitionist editor Elijah P. Lovejoy and his brother U.S. Congressman Owen Lovejoy, a friend of Abraham Lincoln.


Masonic War Certificate for Phineas Lovejoy, December 23, 1861.

Census records for the years 1850 and 1860 document that Phineas worked as a farmer, and articles found in the Quincy Whig (provided by the Quincy Public Library) capture his very active political life, including Lovejoy’s election to town clerk for the township of Honey Creek (April 1859). The Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls documents that, like many Illinoisans, Lovejoy swiftly joined the army on August 5, 1861, less than four months after the first shots had been fired upon Fort Sumter, and that he and his regiment took part in the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Phineas Lovejoy did not survive the war, and records consulted for this blog post do not reveal the cause of his death. What we only know for certain is that Lovejoy was mustered out on August 9, 1862, and died on that same day on the Steamer “White Cloud,” somewhere offshore near Memphis, Tennessee. Having said that, after consulting the National Park Service’s website Battle Unit Details, we do know that Lovejoy’s cavalry unit was stationed at Helena, Arkansas, from July 14, 1862, until December 1863. Historian Rhonda M. Kohl explains in her article “This Godforsaken Town”: Death and Disease at Helena, Arkansas, 1862-63, the Union camp at Helena was a sickly place. It “created an unhealthy environment for residents and soldiers,” and “as soon as the Union troops occupied Helena, sickness [dysentery, typhoid, and malaria] overtook the men.” From Kohl’s account of the conditions at Helena, it seems likely that Phineas Lovejoy may have been seriously ill when he was mustered out in August and died while being transported north for medical treatment.   


Masonic War Certificate for Phineas Lovejoy, December 23, 1861. Gift of Rushville Lodge, No. 9, A. F. & A. M. (Rushville, Illinois). Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 007.

References U.S., Find a Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, USA: Operations Inc., 2012. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, USA: Operations Inc., 2009. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, USA: Operations Inc., 2009.

Bateman, Newton, and Paul Selby, eds. (1899). William Owen Lovejoy. In Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Knox County. (pp. 735-736). New York: Munsell.  16 October 2015.

Grand Lodge of Illinois (1861). Returns of Lodges: Columbus Lodge, No. 227. In Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Illinois, (pp. 227). Springfield, Illinois: Steam Press of Bailhache and Baker.

Grand Lodge of Illinois (1863). War Certificates. In Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Illinois, (pp. 15). Springfield, Illinois: Steam Press of Bailhache and Baker.

Historical Data Systems, comp. U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, Utah, USA: Operations Inc., 2009

Kohl, Ronda M. “‘This Godforsaken Town:’ Death and Disease at Helena, Arkansas, 1862-63.” Civil War History 50, no. 2 (June 2004): 109-144.

State of Illinois. “Lovejoy, Phineas.” Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls Database. Accessed: 16 October 2015.

United States National Park Service. “3rd Regiment, Illinois Cavalry.” Battle Unit Details. Accessed: 16 October 2015.

New Book: Curiosities of the Craft Available Now!

Curiosities CoverThe Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library have partnered to produce Curiosities of the Craft: Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection.

On July 30, 1733, Henry Price (1697-1780), appointed by the Grand Lodge of England, gathered his Masonic brothers at a Boston tavern and formed what would become known as the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts.  Over the following 280 years, the Grand Lodge withstood wars, anti-Masonic sentiment and fires.  At the same time, the Grand Lodge amassed a collection of Masonic and historic objects, mementos and documents that tell not only its story, but also the story of Boston, New England and the United States.

Drawing on new research by authors Aimee E. Newell, Hilary Anderson Stelling and Catherine Compton Swanson, the book includes over 130 highlights from the Grand Lodge collection of more than 10,000 items acquired since 1733.  These objects represent the rich heritage of Freemasonry in Massachusetts and tell stories of life in the fraternity, in the state and around the world.  Some items were made or used by Massachusetts Masons, while others have associations with famous American Freemasons, such as George Washington (1732-1799) and Paul Revere (1734-1818).

Introduced with a history of the Grand Lodge collection, the catalog treats the themes of Traditions and Roots, Ritual and Ceremony, Gifts and Charity, Brotherhood and Community, and Memory and Commemoration.  Through the treasures of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts collection, this publication explores the ordinary men, craftsmen and extraordinary leaders who built and sustained Freemasonry in Massachusetts for centuries.

To purchase the catalogue for $44.95 (plus sales tax and shipping), contact the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts at 617-426-6040 or order online at


Addison Putnam: A Genealogical Quest


Who was Addison Putnam?  What information can a researcher find from studying Putnam's Masonic certificate?  In this case, the answer is quite a bit of information! For a recent workshop on genealogy and Masonic records, we used a Masonic certificate from our collection in order to demonstrate how one might use a document like this as a starting point for learning more information about the person named on the certificate. In this case, we used a Royal Arch certificate issued to Addison Putnam in 1855 (see image on left).

From examining Addison Putnam's Masonic certificate, a researcher can discern where Putnam's Royal Arch Chapter was located - which was Lowell, Massachusetts - and make an educated guess that Putnam himself likely lived in Lowell. The certificate also gave the name of Putnam's Royal Arch Chapter - Mount Horeb Chapter - and the date he joined Mount Horeb, which  was 1855.

A quick check of the Massachusetts Grand Royal Arch Proceedings (the annual record of the business of this organization), 1856-1867, mentions Mount Horeb Chapter in the 1850s-1860s, but  does not mention Addison Putnam.  Evidently he was not active at the state level of Royal Arch.

Since Mount Horeb is a Royal Arch chapter, we know that Putnam must have joined his local (i.e. Blue/Craft/Symbolic) lodge first, before proceeding to the York Rite. In that case, time for a call to Cynthia Alcorn, Librarian at the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, to see if she had a membership card for Putnam. She does!  Putnam's membership card gives his local lodge as Ancient York Lodge (where he was a member from 1855-1868, until he demitted), and later Kilwinning Lodge (1867-), both meeting in Lowell.  The card also establishes Putnam's death date as April 28, 1905.

A search of the Library's online catalog tells us that we have a lodge history called By-laws And List of Members, Kilwinning Lodge, 1866-1907.  Exactly the time period we are looking for!  In a list of former members of Kilwinning Lodge is Addison Putnam's name.  With this information confirmed we move on.

Next we go to the database and put in the information that we know: name, place lived, and death date. [a subscription database] yields loads of information.  First I try the Federal Census material from 1860, then 1900.  I find Putnam's birthdate, November 1824, that he lived in Lowell, the members of his household (Hannah B., wife, children, Lilias, Addison, and Frank, plus two maternal relatives, Emily and Matilda Puffer).  I find that he married Hannah in 1848.  By 1900, his children are grown and not living with him except for one son, Addison Putnam, Jr. and his wife.

Next I check the New York Times obituaries.  Putnam's obit shows up in the April 29, 1905 Times, with his death date listed as April 28, 1905.  Now I know for sure that I am dealing with the same man that the Masonic certificate was issued to.  However, the New York Times does not mention that Putnam was a Mason.

I check Lowell Sun newspapers and find out his home address which was Nesmith Street in Lowell from the 1894 issue.  In another issue of the Lowell Sun from 1938, I find that Addison Putnam was a very prominent citizen of Lowell.  He had been given the title of "Grand Old Man of Lowell" and the title was just being passed on to someone new.

Finally, I check directories from Lowell, 1889-1890 and have some important information confirmed.  The Federal Census form simply read "merch. clothing" [perhaps merchant] for occupation.  Putnam was, in fact, a clothier in Lowell in 1889 and his business was located on Central Street and was named Putnam and Son. This directory confirms his home address as well.

Our quest is successful!


Royal Arch Certificate of Addison Putnam, 1855, Engraving on paper, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, A78/042