Masonic charity

"Bogus Mason Was Locked Up": Masonic Impostor Duncan C. Turner

MasonicImpostor_Turner_smaller_cropped Long-time readers of our blog will know that every May we return to the topic of our very first blog post: Masonic impostors. This year we focus on a man named Duncan C. Turner (born ca. 1847), who was featured in the 1903 booklet, Album of Masonic Impostors. He was previously published in the Masonic Relief Association's Official Warning Circular No. 147. The Album of Masonic Impostors' description of Turner is brief and to the point:

"Alias McNeill. Acacian Lodge No. 705, Ogdensburg, N.Y. Served time in prison."

An article published in the Buffalo Courier newspaper on November 14, 1897 makes it clear that the circulars published by the Masonic Relief Association worked. The newspaper recounts how Turner's profile was published in recent issues of the monthly Official Warning Circular - first showing up in the July 1897 issue. The article continues, noting that a "more recent letter announced that he [i.e. Turner] had been arrested in Cleveland and sentenced to the workhouse for sixty days, for working his swindle in that city. He recently regained his liberty and a still later [note in the Association's] circular stated that he was on his way East, all Relief Boards being instructed to keep a sharp lookout for him."

The article also reports how it was that Turner was apprehended in Buffalo by a Mason who had, indeed, kept a sharp lookout for him. After having met a local Mason, Henry Cutting, in town, Turner claimed that he had just arrived in Buffalo and had "fallen into a little ill luck." Cutting gave him the business address of Charles F. Sturm, who ran a furniture store in Buffalo and was the secretary of Buffalo's Masonic Board of Relief, which coordinated Masonic charity in the city. Turner made his way to Sturm's furniture store and "told Mr. Sturm a pitiful tale, which he concluded with an appeal for enough money to take him to New York." The article continues, noting Sturm's reaction to having a known impostor present himself to him: "On hearing the man's name, Mr. Sturm almost leaped from his seat in surprise." The article notes that Sturm called the police, who arrested Turner, "who was charged with being a tramp."

The Buffalo Courier reported about Turner's appearance in court on November 14. At that hearing, it was revealed that Turner had defrauded Masons in Briar Hill, NJ, Toronto, and Cleveland. The judge noted that Turner had already served sixty days in the Cleveland Workhouse for "obtaining money from Masons in that city by fraudulent pretense. The judge in the Buffalo courtroom sentenced Turner to sixty days in the penitentiary. At the sentencing, the judge declared that Turner "was the greatest liar with whom he had come in contact during his career as a dispenser of justice."

Want to read more about Masonic impostors? Be sure to check out all of our previous posts on the topic.

 


10 Years of Blogging - and Masonic impostors!

A1980_013_011DS_webToday, we celebrate ten years of blogging! Returning to the subject of our very first blog post—Masonic impostors—we highlight a circular letter issued in February 1872 by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts to all of the lodges under its jurisdiction. The circular letter warns lodges against admitting non-members into the lodge and and that care should be taken to enforce the Grand Lodge’s regulations for verifying whether visiting Masons are genuinely Masons and not impostors. Additionally, the circular warns lodges of three men in particular – John H. Bean, George Downes, and Asa Smith.

Many Masonic impostors, especially during this time period, pretended to be Freemasons in need of relief or charity and defrauded lodges by scamming them out of money. These three individuals, however, were doing something different. They were said to “communicate the Degrees in Freemasonry to any one who will pay him a small sum of money.” The word “communicate” has a special meaning in Freemasonry. To communicate a degree means to simply verbally describe the degree to the candidate as a form of initiation, as opposed to the more familiar form of initiation (known as conferring), in which the candidate participates in a ceremony conducted by lodge members.

The circular was reprinted in the April 1, 1872 issue of The Freemasons’ Monthly Magazine as part of an article entitled “A Caution Against Impostors,” in which the writer notes that John H. Bean began his Masonic impositions in New Hampshire, before coming down to Massachusetts. Two years later, Bean was still being reported in Masonic circles as an impostor. The February 1874 issue of The New England Freemason quoted the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, who colorfully referred to Bean as "a pestilent fellow who ingloriously fled from Massachusetts," and went on to describe Bean as a person “who has figured so extensively in different parts of the United States humbugging the people by palming upon them a spurious Masonry.” The Grand Master also reported that a photograph of John H. Bean had been obtained and distributed in order to help stall his efforts to further defraud Masons.

As for what eventually happened to George Downes, Asa Smith, and John H. Bean, it is unclear. But the story of Masonic impostors trying to defraud Freemasons and of Masonic organizations trying to spread information about known impostors by distributing circulars and photographs is a familiar one. If you'd like to read more on the topic, be sure to check out all of our posts about Masonic impostors from the past ten years.

 

Caption:

Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. Circular Warning Against Masonic Impostors, February 8, 1872. Gift of Columbian Lodge, Boston, Massachusetts, courtesy of Mrs. Godfrey S. Tomkins, MA 002.


The Fantastic Tale of George A. Gardiner

In this letter from the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, George A. Gardiner, most likely a confidence man, requests assistance from Columbian Lodge, located in Boston, Massachusetts.

(front of letter)
  A1980_013_16DS1

 


 

To the Officers and Members of Columbian Lodge.

Having lost our property by the great Earthquake of the 26th of March 1812 in Caracas, in South America, and the greatest part of the time since that period been detained by the Spaniards as prisoners, and for the last four years suffered everything but death and frequently threatened with that, and ultimately,-- during the contentions in that country, the Royalists having found themselves likely to be overcome by the –patriots, Robbed us of everything we possessed even to our clothes, and said “if the patriots should gain the place they would put me, my wife, and my two infant children to immediate and instant Death!”

Anticipating the success of the patriots we resolved to make an effort towards our escape, which we effected the same night, and arrived in Puerto Rico, where we found a friend who gave us passage to this place, where we are in the greatest possible distress, having a sick child and not wherewith to provide for it. The above facts compel me thou’ not without that diffidence and reluctance which every man of spirit must feel on such an occasion to ask from the fraternity a donation


(reverse of letter)

A1980_013_16DS2

 



for the present and immediate relief of a distressed family who have never before known want.

G.A. Gardiner

 

 

 


In 1820, two years after writing the above letter to Columbian Lodge, Gardiner published his only known literary attempt, A Brief and Correct Account of an Earthquake Which Happened in South America, an account of the 1812 Venezuela earthquake. In addition to incorrectly dating the event (Gardiner stated the earthquake took place on March 26, 1818), Gardiner greatly exaggerated the numbers of casualties and his tall tale included a fantastic description of a “subterranean channel” that “was formed by the tops of two very high mountains falling together” nearly four hundred miles from Caracas.

Gardiner's surreal description of Venezuela drew the attention of respected Venezuelan geologist Franco Urbani Patat in 1985. Urbani Patat debunked Gardiner’s work, calling it a fictitious invention possibly used to impress others. Gardiner’s account amounted to literary fraud, Urbani Patat concluded.

It is unclear as to why Gardiner, who does not appear to have been a Mason, requested aid from Columbian Lodge or whether he made the same request to other lodges. Furthermore, we may never know for certain whether Columbian Lodge ever responded to Gardiner's plea for assistance. The Museum's collection of records for Columbian Lodge is incomplete and contains several gaps that prevent this question from being answered. That said, research into Gardiner’s life provides a better, if not always clearer, picture of the man and of his life.

George A. Gardiner was born in New York State in about 1786, and married Mary Anne Headley of New Jersey sometime before 1818. The couple had at least three children together: a son George A., who was born in 1818; a son John Charles, who often used the name Carlos or John Carlos and was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1824; and a daughter whose name and birth record could not be discovered during research for this blog post. While no record of George A. Gardiner's death was found in Ancestry.com, courtroom testimony from the trial of his two sons for perjury and fraud, the infamous Gardiner trial, uncovers that senior Gardiner died in Havana, Cuba, possibly around 1840.


Caption

Letter from G.A. Gardiner to Columbian Lodge, May 6, 1818. Gift of Columbian Lodge, Boston, Massachusetts, courtesy of Mrs. Godfrey S. Tomkins, MA 002.

References

Barthel, Thomas (2010). Abner Doubleday: A Civil War Biography. Jefferson: McFarland.

Gardiner, G.A. (1820). A Brief and Correct Account of an Earthquake Which Happened in South America. Poughkeepsie, New York: P. Potter.  

Moore, John Bassett (1898). United States and Mexican Claims Commission: Convention of April 11, 1839. In History and Digest of the International Arbitrations to Which the United States Has Been a Party, (Vol. 2, pp. 1209-1359). Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. Accessed: 5 March 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=s10QAAAAYAAJ

United States. Congress. Senate (1854). Reports of the Committees of the Senate of the United States for the First Session, Thirty-third Congress, 1853-’54.  (Vol. 708, pp. 1259-1260). Washington, D.C.: Beverley Tucker. Accessed 5 March 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=qWxHAQAAIAAJ

Urbani Patat, Franco (1985). George A. Gardiner (1812-1820). Accessed 15 March 2018.
http://www.acading.org.ve/info/comunicacion/criterioopinion/sillon_XXVI/Notas_biograficas_George_Gardiner-Urbani-1995.pdf

 


"William Maxwell": One of the Most Dangerous Frauds at Large

MasonicImposter_Maxwell_smaller
Portrait of "William Maxwell" from Album of Masonic Impostors, 1903.

Each year in May, we return to the topic of Masonic impostors, which we covered in our first blog post back in 2008.

This year we present a man called William Maxwell, who was featured in the 1903 booklet, Album of Masonic Impostors. He was previously published in the Masonic Relief Association's Official Warning Circular No. 209. The Album colorfully describes him as having changed "his name and the Lodge he claims membership in, as easy as a rapid change artist in a vaudeville show." The description also suggests that Maxwell knew what cities and towns to avoid, stating, "Since we first published him he did a big business where our circulars do not reach."

George Fleming portrait
Portrait of George Fleming from January 23, 1898 edition of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

 

In January 1898, Maxwell - whose real name appears to have been George Fleming - was arrested in Seattle, Washington, and convicted of obtaining money under false pretenses. He was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The January 23, 1898 edition of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer carried a front-page article about Fleming titled "Bled Masons for Eight Years: George Fleming Confesses to a Long Career of Crime." In the continuation of the article, on page 7, an illustration of Fleming makes it clear that the "William Maxwell" pictured above and the George Fleming convicted in Seattle are the same person. Fleming claimed a number of different aliases and boasted of having made of career out of defrauding Masons and taking their money. By way of showing how successful he was at posing as a Mason, Fleming claimed to have duped Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who was then the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England out of $150 while dining with him in Paris.

Although the article mentions various aliases used by Fleming during his eight years of swindling, one name, "William Maxwell," is conspicuously absent. It seems likely that this was a new alias that Fleming began using after having been released from prison. If Fleming served the entirety of his two-and-a-half-year term, he would have been released in the summer of 1900. Existing evidence suggests that it did not take him long to resume his career as a Masonic impostor.

For example, the 1903 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska mention Maxwell and their encounter with him, calling him "one of the most dangerous frauds at large." A brief entry in the Omaha Daily Bee for January 28, 1903 reads, "William Maxwell, the alleged Masonic fraud, has left for parts unknown." It is unclear where Fleming/Maxwell went after leaving Omaha or when he died.

If you want to read more about Masonic impostors, be sure to check out all of our previous posts on the subject.


Masonic Impostors, or, You've Been Warned: "Beware of This Moocher"

Fred Coopey November 1946 BulletinThe Album of Masonic Impostors was the subject of our very first blog post, back in May 2008. Each May, we revisit the subject of Masonic impostors to celebrate another year of blogging at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

This year, we feature the front page of The Bulletin of the Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada, No. 630, from November 1946. The entire page focuses on Fred Coopey, a Masonic impostor with at least seventeen aliases listed. As with many Masonic impostors, what little I was able to find about Coopey suggests that he was living a hard knock life early on. The 1920 U.S. Census lists a Fred Coopey, born the same year as the Bulletin's Coopey, as being a 17-year-old inmate at the New Jersey State Home for Boys in Jamesburg.

In just a few words, the Masonic Relief Association's Bulletin paints a picture of a man who has traveled far and wide, using a number of different aliases, and who has imposed on the charity of Freemasons along the way. The inclusion of fingerprints suggests prior criminal behavior on the part of Coopey.  

If you want to learn more about Masonic imposters, including an answer to the question why would someone impersonate a Freemason?, be sure to check out our previous posts on Masonic imposters.


How to Catch Masonic Impostors Using Index Cards

MSA BulletinThe Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's blog turns seven years old this month! As in years past, we celebrate the anniversary of our blog by revisiting the topic of our very first post: Masonic impostors.

Pictured above is the back page of the November 1933 (No. 552) Bulletin of the Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada, which explains how the Masonic Service Association distributed index cards of people known to impose upon Masonic relief boards for charity under false pretenses so that local boards of relief could compile an index of known "crooks and impostors."

Be sure to read all of our previous posts on Masonic impostors for more information about why someone would impersonate a Mason and how the Masonic Service Association and local Masonic relief boards attempted to detect those trying to defraud them.

 


Five years of blogging - and another Masonic impostor

MasonicImposter_Engle_smallerOur blog turns five years old this month and, in keeping with our previous anniversary posts, we take yet another look at a Masonic impostor.

This year we feature Albert B. Engle. The brief description under his photograph in the Album of Masonic Impostors reads, in part, "It was with the greatest of difficulty we obtained even this picture. In his tramping about, is accompanied by two sons. He has served several sentences for obtaining money from Masons by false pretences."

The October 1902 issue of the Quarterly Bulletin of the Iowa Masonic Library featured a short article on Engle, titled "An Imposter in Iowa," which reported that Engle had been active in Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. The Bulletin article reports that he was arrested and charged with obtaining money under false pretences. (You can read the whole article here.)

Engle appears to have been active - and on the move - for quite some time. A Los Angeles newspaper item from 1909 - seven years after the Iowa article mentioned above - reported that Albert B. Engle and his sons, Henry and William, had been sent to the county workhouse for vagrancy. The article states that "According to Detectives Boyd and Jones, who made the arrests, the trio have been beating their way from eastern cities to Los Angeles on the plea that they are Masons who had been held up and robbed of all their money and playing upon the sympathies of Masons for financial reasons. (You can read the whole article here.)

If you want to learn more about Masonic impostors and the Album of Masonic Impostors, just check out our previous posts on the topic, which we link to in the first paragraph above.

Caption:
[Portrait of Albert B. Engle, in] General Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada. Album of Masonic Impostors. New York: Press of Eclipse Printing Co., 1903.
Call number: 19.78 .A345 1903


"Tramping about, victimizing Masonic lodges"

A2002_118_1_Imposter_posters_web Our blog turns two years old this week. In celebration of that anniversary, we invite you to take a look at our very first post, which discusses early 20th century Masonic impostors. While you're at it, also be sure to take a look at our follow-up post from a year ago, Masonic Impostors Redux: "sleight-of-hand and song-and-dance man."

Keeping with that theme is today's object - a broadside that was sent out to local Masonic boards of relief in 1877, warning them of a man posing as a needy Mason, and attempting to take advantage of Masonic charity. It is, essentially, a wanted poster for a Masonic impostor.

The broadside warns of a man going by the name "Herbert Sydney," and claiming to be an English Mason, supposedly left destitute by the huge fire in St. John's (Quebec) in June 1876. As the poster reports, the Masonic Lodge at St. John's reported that they knew of no Mason by that name.

As we discussed in earlier posts, the success of Masonic impostors during the late 19th and early 20th centuries relied on staying one step ahead of Masonic relief boards spreading the word. This broadside mentions that "Herbert Sydney" swindled relief boards in Baltimore and that he then went to Washington, DC. It's unclear where he went next, but no doubt he was hoping to reach Masonic relief agencies in cities that had yet to receive this "Caution!" broadside.

The broadside closes by warning that the man going by the name of Herbert Sydney is, like many Masonic impostors at the time, thought to be "tramping about, victimizing Masonic lodges."

Masonic Imposter broadside. D.K. Osbourne & Co., Baltimore, MD, 1877. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, A2002/118/1.  


Stricken with Palsy in the early 1800s!

A2008_16_ephemera_scan_web2

What would a man do if he was stricken with "palsy" in Dorchester in 1808?  How would he support his family?  There was no medical insurance at this time and no life insurance.  What would you do if you were "unfortunate in business" so you had to claim bankruptcy in 1803?  What would you do if you were a grieving widow in 1809? You might write a letter to your local Masonic lodge.

The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives recently acquired a very large collection of materials that document the history of Union Lodge, Dorchester (meeting in Norwood, MA) from its founding in 1796 until 1950. The collection was a generous gift from Union Lodge itself. This collection is now cataloged (MA 054) with a 20 page finding aid that contains detailed information about the collection. The Union Lodge collection is open to the general public for research. Using these primary sources, we can learn a lot about the history of this lodge. Below are just a few examples of Masonic charity that are recorded in the documents of the Union Lodge collection.

In 1808, William Lepear wrote a desperate letter to Union Lodge saying that he had been "smitten with a stroke of the palsy which rendered his right arm and leg entirely useless, an in a great measure deprived him of speach [sic]" (see image below). He had been living off his family land since 1804.  By 1808 he had depleted his funds and turned to his Union Lodge brethren for charity.  According to a Union Lodge minute book, on November 1, 1808, William Lepear's request was voted on by the members.  It is clear that the members voted in favor of helping out Lepear, because they collected $10.50 for this Brother and his family.A2008_16_Lepear_Letter_to_Union_Lodge_scan

Masonic charity comes in many forms. In a July 1803 letter to Union Lodge, Victor Blair of Charlestown petitioned for charity relief funds because his business had gone bankrupt. Blair described the early part of his life as devoted to the "services of his country in the American army." On August 2, 1803, the Union Lodge met and reviewed Blair's letter and decided to take up a collection to help out this Masonic Brother, according to a minute book of Union Lodge.  The lodge collected $3.73 for Victor Blair.  Though this may seem like a small amount, in the  1800s it would be considered a good sum.

Joseph Howe wrote a letter to Union Lodge in 1812, asking for charity relief.  He had been captured by the British on November 11, 1812 , during the War of 1812, and had surrendered all of his "tools and fruits of his labor for many months."  He asked Union Lodge for fraternal relief and to save him "from the last fatal act of desperation!"  That is, he was asking for relief funds to get his trade going again so that he could support his family.  On January 12, 1813 Union Lodge collected $8.10 for Howe as recorded in the minutes of the Union Lodge.  The secretary of Union Lodge was asked to give the money to Brother Joseph Howe.

As well as charitable relief to many, the Union Lodge also consoled many grieving widows of fellow Masons.  The minutes of July 1, 1809 record that the lodge had a special meeting to discuss the death of Joseph Gardner, Senior Warden. They held a procession to the cemetery and gave him a Masonic burial.  As noted in the minutes, "a procession was formed under the care and direction of the R. W. Brother Henry M. Lisle and W. Brother Sam B. Lyon Marshall of the lodge marcht witih solem musick from Union Hall to the House of Mourning and from thence to the Place of enternment, where the masonick solemenities were performed [sic]".   A committee was formed to write Mrs. Ann Gardner a proper letter of condolence.  A copy of the sent letter was kept by the lodge and it was recorded in the July 25, 1809 minutes that this letter was sent and that Mrs. Gardner responded. The letter of July 1, 1809 from Union Lodge, is a beautiful one that is three pages long!

Union Lodge was chartered in 1796 and still exists today.  Their charter was signed by Paul Revere (Grand Master), William Scollay (Deputy Grand Master), and Isaiah Thomas (Senior Grand Warden) on June 16, 1796.  Only 13 lodges predate Union Lodge in Massachusetts.


Image Captions

Detail from Program of Union Lodge, 1906, Union Lodge, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2008/16.

Letter from William Lepear to Union Lodge, 1808, Union Lodge, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2008/16.