online exhibitions

A Maine Mason at Sea

In 1852, shipbuilders in Calais, Maine, near the American border with Canada, launched a ship named the Lincoln. The following year, the Lincoln would commemorate American Independence Day many miles from Maine, in the Aegean port of Smyrna, Greece (now İzmir, Turkey). Like the Lincoln, her captain that day left his Maine home to make a living in the maritime world of the nineteenth century.

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Bark Lincoln, W.H. Polleys Master Laying at Anchor in Smyrna July 4th 1853. Raffaele Corsini, Smyrna, Greece. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 85.9.

In this watercolor, acquired by the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 1985, the Lincoln is shown lying at anchor in the foreground, with the city, its castle, and surrounding hills in the background. The ship bears four flags: from bow to stern, the “Union Jack” or Navy Jack, a blue flag with a Masonic square and compasses, a masthead pennant, and an American flag. The Lincoln’s Union Jack, a blue flag with white stars flown on American ships, appears to have twenty-six stars and her American flag twenty-one stars. Given that the United States had thirty-one states by 1853, perhaps the ship’s owners or captain had not updated her flags or, more likely, the painter took artistic license with these details.

It is believed that ship’s captains sometimes raised a flag bearing a square and compasses to invite Masons in the area aboard their vessel. To local residents and other mariners, this signaled his fraternal affiliation and served as an invitation for conversation, informal meetings, and trade. The Lincoln was in Smyrna in July 1853 to purchase opium, a common ingredient in American patent medicines at the time.

The Lincoln’s captain and 1/16 share owner for her first five years was Woodbury H. Polleys. Polleys was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine in 1817 and raised in Portland Lodge No. 1 in 1844. When he took command of the ship, he had been, as he later wrote in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, “at sea as Master of a Ship since June 1848, principally trading between Europe & southern ports . . .”

After the Lincoln, Polleys went on to captain other vessels, including at least three Union ships during the Civil War. These included the USS Katahdin, USS Oleander, and USS Madgie. The latter two ships were part of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, preventing Confederate vessels from eluding the Union trade blockade. After the Madgie sank off North Carolina in 1863, Polleys traveled north to Maine for a month’s leave “to procure a new outfit and visit my family.”

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, Polleys used his knowledge of international trade to serve the new United States as Consul to Barbados and Commercial Agent to Cuba. Woodbury H. Polleys died of suicide in 1885 and is buried in Portland’s Pine Grove Cemetery. His headstone bears a Masonic square and compasses, as his ship’s flag did that day in 1853, many miles from Maine.

If you want to dive into this piece of artwork further, you can visit it and many others in our exhibition, “What’s in a Portrait?,” now on view at the Museum & Library. You can also visit the online version of the exhibition.

Further Reading:


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2022!

A1995_011_DS1_webEach year during the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library proudly displays an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter—one of several letters created by the colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It gives contemporary viewers a close-up look at the beginning of the American Revolution.

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington, which took place around daybreak on April 19, 1775. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network. Using this system, the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this version of his famous description of what happened, which was copied the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

In addition to seeing the letter in person, you can also view our online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter,” which is now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1.


Celebrate Patriots' Day With Our New Online Exhibition

Lexington Alarm letter exhibition imagePatriots' Day, a holiday well-known in Massachusetts and celebrated in other U.S. states as well, commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This year's holiday marks the 246th anniversary of the events that signaled the beginning of the American Revolution.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library invites you to explore our new online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter” now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection. Written on April 20, 1775, the letter's urgent news that war had broken out brings today's viewers to the beginning of the American Revolution.

The Museum's copy of the letter, written in the late morning of April 20, 1775, is one of several created by colonists to inform distant communities and colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England.

Interested in more online exhibitions? You can check out all of the Library & Archives online exhibitions here. Also be sure to check out the seven online exhibitions that are available at the Museum's online exhibitions website.


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.


Designing Costumes for the Scottish Rite, 1913-1920

Design SRCostume front pageAs part of their ritual, members of Scottish Rite Freemasonry perform a series of thirty degrees as morality plays. These degree ceremonies offer a shared sense of values, build a collective story, and help to create an identity for participants and audience alike. The Scottish Rite of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction made significant changes to these rituals in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The updated rituals required larger casts, elaborate sets, and new costumes. As a result, the Supreme Council—the governing body of the Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction—contracted to have 119 costumes designed in the 1910s.

The Museum features thirty-two of these costume designs in the online exhibition "Designing Costumes for the Scottish Rite, 1913-1920." These commissioned designs, created by Walter B. Tripp (1868-1926) and Warren A. Newcombe (1864-1960), respectively, included a colored rendering of the costume and a typewritten description of the various costume elements followed by a list of the sources consulted in developing its design (see below). These sources included American, German, French, and British published works about historic costumes, Biblical writings, paintings, and archaeological discoveries. Tripp's sources dated from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.

 

Captain of the Guard
Costume Design for Captain of the Guard ( Council of Princes of Jerusalem, 15th and 16th Degrees), 1915-1920. Walter B. Tripp, Boston, Massachusetts.

The online exhibition organizes the designs by degree group and briefly explores what these illustrations can help us to learn about the fraternity. Each design is identified by the character name it was meant for. Several of the designs were intended to be used for multiple characters. These designs were given to the Museum by the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A. To see all 119 costume designs, visit the Museum & Library website here.

Parts of this exhibition are taken from Aimee Newell's 2017 article, "Masonic Pageantry: The Inspiration for Scottish Rite Costumes, 1867-1920," featured in the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's quarterly publication, The Northern Light.


Online Exhibition - Illustrated Patriotic Envelopes of the American Civil War

A1985_012_0733The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library invites you to explore our new online exhibition, “Illustrated Patriotic Envelopes of the American Civil War” now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. The objects in the exhibition are from a collection of over 1,000 Illustrated patriotic envelopes of the American Civil War that were donated to the museum by William Caleb Loring, 33° (1925-2011).

Following the November 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) as President of the United States, seven states in which slavery was legal individually seceded from the Union. They did so because of Lincoln’s opposition to the expansion of slavery in the western United States. South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas declared themselves the Confederate States of America (C.S.A.), and established a capital first in Montgomery, Alabama and then in Richmond, Virginia. After the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April 1861, four more slave-holding states joined the Confederacy. The C.S.A. was never officially recognized by the United States or any foreign government. The American Civil War, fought between the Union and the Confederate South, lasted until 1865. Casualties on both sides, from death, disease, and wounds, totaled over one million.

Shortly after the war began, publishers began printing illustrated envelopes (also known as covers) related to the war. The designs treated a variety of subjects, such as soldiers, battles, and patriotism. Publishers released 3,000-4,000 individual Union designs and no more than 160 individual Confederate designs of this form of wartime propaganda. Americans quickly began collecting these envelopes and, as early as 1861, manufacturers marketed albums that consumers could fill with examples that they had acquired. Soldiers also put these envelopes to practical use, using them to mail letters home to their families. These envelopes offer an immediate view on the bold rhetoric and political passions of the American Civil War.

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

 


"What's in a Portrait?"

Portrait
Members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Patriarchs Militant, 1870-1900 United States Gift of Jacques Noel Jacobson Jr., 86.60.4.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library invites you to explore our new online exhibition, “What’s in a Portrait?,” now available on our website. This exhibition includes paintings, prints, and photographs from the gallery exhibition, "What's in a Portrait?," which will be opening at the Museum & Library in the coming months.

Since the formation of organized Freemasonry in the early 1700s, many men have taken pride in their association with it and other fraternal groups. In the 1800s and 1900s, many Masons commissioned portraits of themselves and, in them, chose to be presented as members of the fraternity, wearing jewelry or regalia that identified them as Masons. Some of these portraits marked personal achievements, such as election or appointment to a lodge office. Other images celebrated lodge events, like a new slate of officers or a summer excursion. "What's in a Portrait?" features portraits from the collection that help tell the story of the many people who participated in and shaped Masonic and fraternal organizations in the United States for over two hundred years.

The Museum & Library is currently closed to the public due to a state mandated stay-at-home advisory. We will keep you posted about Museum re-opening dates via our website, Facebook, and Instagram. In the meantime, visit our website to see more online exhibitions and collections.  If you have any questions or comments about "What's in a Portrait?," let us know in the comment box below or email us at [info@srmml.org]--we would love to hear from you!