Posts by Stacey Fraser

John P. French's Masonic Powder Horn

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Masonic Powder Horn, 1750-1830. John P. French. Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.10

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library holds nearly two dozen powder horns in its collection. Some are from the era of the American Revolutionary War and bear carvings that reflect that use; some feature carvings of Masonic symbols. This unusual double powder horn is particularly intriguing because it exhibits both types of carvings.

Powder horns, made from animal horn (often cow or oxen), were used by soldiers in the field to keep gunpowder dry and secure. The holes at the tips of the horns were used to pour powder into a paper cartridge or directly into the barrel of a musket. Many were carved with designs that were meaningful specifically to the owner. The words “John P. French His Horn” are carved into the surface, identifying this horn’s owner. On this fascinating object, French showcased his Masonic affiliation, his interest in slogans, and possibly his personal hobbies.

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Masonic Powder Horn, 1750-1830. John P. French. Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.10

One of the slogans that appears on the horn is “Don’t Tread On Me” above a snake. This phrase was first used in South Carolina in 1775 by Christopher Gadsden, then-Lieutenant Governor of the state. It was inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s 1754 “Join or Die” political cartoon showing the colonies as pieces of a snake, indicating that union between the British colonies was necessary for survival. The slogan became well-known after it was used on naval flags during the Revolutionary War. Another phrase that adorns French’s horn is “Freedom and Victory.” While there is no one known usage of this slogan, the ideals align with the goals of the American Revolutionary War.

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Masonic Powder Horn, 1750-1830. John P. French. Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.10

The majority of the carvings on this double powder horn are connected to Freemasonry, perhaps a sign that the fraternity and its teachings held special meaning to French. The slogan “Cemented with Love” appears, which refers to the tight bonds that Masons encourage and enjoy with their brethren. In this apron in the museum’s collection, another Mason has chosen the same phrase to decorate his regalia.

Along with this Masonic slogan, French applied around two dozen symbols from the teachings of Freemasonry to his horn. Some symbols are common to all forms of Freemasonry, such as a trowel, a gavel, a coffin, a beehive, and two pillars called Boaz and Jachin. One is a stone archway often represented in Royal Arch Freemasonry, the first four degrees of the York Rite. This arch is topped by a figure identified as “Hiram.” Hiram Abiff is a significant character in Freemasonry’s third degree.

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Masonic Powder Horn, 1750-1830. John P. French. Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.10

In addition to symbols representing his political and Masonic interests, French also carved what appears to be a hunting scene, featuring a dog, a bird, a deer, a mountain lion, and a man holding a rifle. Perhaps these symbols reflect a pre-war activity.

Unfortunately, even with the helpful addition of a middle initial, the name “John French” was so common at the time of the Revolutionary War that we cannot establish the owner’s identity from military records. French appears to have been a member of the fraternity, but we cannot ascertain to which Masonic lodge he belonged. While we do not know where John P. French lived or very much about him, the symbols he chose to carve on his powder horn give us a sense of what he valued.


Two Bear's Daughter

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Two Bear's Daughter, 1878-1890. David Francis Barry, Bismarck, Dakota Territory. Gift of Richmond G. Wight, 85.79e.

In this cabinet card photograph, taken in the Dakota Territory at the end of the 1800s, a young Native American woman looks directly into the camera. Her hair and neck are decorated with dentalium shells, an adornment that was highly valued by indigenous people from the Pacific Coast to the Dakotas. The subject of the portrait is identified below the image as “Two Bear’s Daughter.”

The back of this photograph bears information about the maker, photographer David Francis Barry (1854-1934). The image of “Two Bear’s Daughter” must have been taken between 1878 and 1890, when Barry had a studio in Bismarck. During that time, he traveled around the Dakota Territory, as it was called by the United States government at the end of the 1800s, photographing Native Americans, including Sitting Bull, the famed tribal leader who was imprisoned by the government at Standing Rock Reservation after 1881.

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Two Bear's Daughter, 1878-1890. David Francis Barry, Bismarck, Dakota Territory. Gift of Richmond G. Wight, 85.79e.

Two Bear or Mahto Nunpa (1826-ca. 1878) was a member of the Upper Yankton Dakota tribe. He also lived in the Dakota Territory. Two Bear later made his home at Standing Rock Reservation, which had been established in 1868 by the Treaty of Fort Laramie. Two Bear and other Dakota chiefs signed this treaty, as well as the 1865 Treaty of Fort Sully. Reflecting the tumultuous nature of relations between Native Americans and the United States government, Two Bear was present at the 1863 Whitestone Hill Massacre and fought in the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn.

Two Bear had seven daughters, complicating the search for the identity of the sitter in this photograph. The daughter in this image appears to be a teenage girl. Three of Two Bear’s daughters—Atatewin, Wasacu Wastewin, and Mahpiya Bogawin (also known as Nellie “Two Bear” Gates)—were in their twenties or thirties in 1878, the earliest year that this photograph could have been taken. It is unlikely that any of them are the young woman pictured here.

The woman pictured in the museum’s photograph must have been one of Two Bear’s other four daughters. These include: AsaWin (birthdate unknown), daughter of Two Bear and Hupadutawin; Matokenapewin (b. 1867), daughter of Two Bear and Tiwcantihowin; and Tasinahinwastewin (b. 1859) and Ptesetwin (b. 1861), daughters of Two Bear and Honkakagewin. Barry also photographed one of Two Bear’s sons, Tasonkakokipapi or Young Man Afraid of His Horses.

We may never know which of Two Bear’s daughters is presented in this photograph. However, the process of elimination has allowed us to narrow the list down to four young women. Perhaps further evidence will come to light that will reveal more about the subject of the photograph and the context of its making. If you have any information about Two Bear’s family, the Dakota people in this area, or David Francis Barry’s photography, please let us know in the comments!

Related Objects:


Now on View: Michigan Rainbow Girls Memento

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International Order of Rainbow for Girls Tinsel Painting Owned by Isamay Addis, 1951. C. H. Johns, Detroit, Michigan. Gift of Isamay E. Osborne in Memory of Robert N. Osborne, 2019.011.1. Photograph by Julia Featheringill.

In 1951, Ivan and Stella Addis of Dearborn, Michigan, presented their daughter Isamay with this charming personalized keepsake. Its vibrant colors–red, blue, gold, purple, yellow, silver–shine out from a black background. This item, called a tinsel painting, showcases both an American folk art form and Isamay’s affiliation with the International Order of Rainbow for Girls (IORG).

Tinsel paintings were made by securing reverse-painted glass over a surface of different colored foil. Parts of the glass were painted with a black pigment like lampblack–finely powdered soot–to highlight the colors of the foil. These paintings were especially popular in the latter half of the 1800s, but examples from the 1900s, like this one, do exist. Many tinsel paintings featured botanical or patriotic themes.

This example features a half circle enclosing the letter R, to represent the “Rainbow” in “International Order of Rainbow for Girls,” above clasped hands and a small pot of gold. These are symbols of the organization, which was founded in 1922 and welcomes girls ages eleven to twenty with a family connection to Freemasonry. Atop the rainbow design are the letters B, F, C, and L. The B stands for the Bible, reflecting the religious nature of the order. The F represents the flag and the C the Constitution. The L stands for “lambskin,” i.e. a lambskin apron, worn by Masons around the waist and by Rainbow girls around the wrist.

Isamay Addis (1936-2023) lived with her parents Ivan (1907-1972) and Stella (1916-2000) in Dearborn. Stella was Mother Advisor for Dearborn Assembly No. 3 in the 1940s. In 1949, Isamay joined IORG at age thirteen, at Dearborn Assembly where her mother was involved. Isamay later served as Worthy Advisor of this assembly and held different roles at the state level in Michigan IORG in the mid-1950s. In 1959, she graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education and married Robert N. Osborne (1936-2008), whom she met while they were both involved in Dearborn Rainbow and DeMolay.

In 2019, Isamay generously donated a group of Rainbow and DeMolay material to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in memory of her husband, who was a Past Grand Master and Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Michigan, a 33rd degree Scottish Rite Mason, and Past Deputy for Michigan. Isamay passed away on May 15, 2023. Her obituary noted that she was “an extremely talented crafter.” She was also a longtime friend and supporter of the Museum & Library. This tinsel painting–a lustrous example of the form and an excellent memento of Isamay’s time in Rainbow–is currently on view in our exhibition “The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History.”


Mighty Monarch Lodge Member Badge

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Monarch Lodge No. 45 Member Badge, I.B.P.O.E.W. Gift of Ursula Endress, 2006.012.378.

This striking purple and gold badge belonged to a member of Monarch Lodge No. 45, Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World. The badge is composed of a pin bar showing the name of the lodge and a medallion with an elk and key principles of the organization–Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love, Fidelity–atop a double-sided silk ribbon with both lodge and organization name printed in metallic ink.

Badges were worn on the member’s left lapel for meetings, conventions, and other gatherings. The reverse side of the ribbon is black - this side would have been worn on the occasion of a fraternal funeral. These activities helped Monarch Lodge Elks fulfill their stated aims to “promote and encourage manly friendship and kindly intercourse, to aid, protect and assist its members and their families . . .”

The Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World, or IBPOEW, was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1898. The group is now considered the largest Black fraternal organization in the world with over 500,000 members in over 1,500 lodges. Monarch Lodge No. 45 was one of the most influential IBPOEW lodges in New York state. The chapter was founded in New York City in 1907. From their inception until 1918, they met in the Odd Fellow’s Hall on West 29th Street. In 1918, the lodge purchased a new home for themselves in a brownstone at 245 West 137th Street in Harlem. They maintained a presence at this address until at least 1983.

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Monarch Lodge No. 45 Member Badge, I.B.P.O.E.W. Gift of Ursula Endress, 2006.012.378.

When the first statewide convention for New York members of the IBPOEW was held in June 1923, Monarch Lodge hosted their Elk brethren in New York City. The lodge planned events and activities for visiting Elks, held at the lodge’s Harlem address and the 22nd Regiment Armory in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. The lodge’s baseball team, the Mi-tee Monarchs, played at the Dyckman Oval, a ballfield known for Negro league baseball in the Inwood neighborhood which existed from about 1915 through 1937, as well as other baseball parks in the city. The Monarch Lodge band, known as the Mitee Monarch Marching Club or the Monarch Symphonic Band, was considered the premiere band in “Elkdom” from the 1920s through the 1950s. They played at the lodge’s much anticipated and well-attended annual ball, as well as at parades, band competitions, summer concerts in the park, and more.

Belonging to the “Mighty Monarch Lodge” was important to its members. In a February 1928 New York Age article, a member of Monarch Lodge named Mr. Saulters writes that he was “devoted to his lodge and band, and expects to remain always a member of that lodge.” An attractive ribbon badge like this one in the museum’s collection would have identified him as a member of this renowned lodge to fellow Elks and the public.

More IBPOEW Regalia:


Wesleyan Grove and African American Tourism on Martha’s Vineyard

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Wesleyan Grove Camp Ground, 1868-1877. C.H. Shute & Son. Edgartown, Massachusetts. Gift of William Caleb Loring 88.38.106.

In this evocative stereographic image in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Martha’s Vineyard tourists sit on the stoops and porches of a row of small cottages. These fanciful nineteenth century cottages–many of which are still standing–were located at Wesleyan Grove campground, part of a Methodist retreat resort that eventually became the town of Oak Bluffs. This image shows an interesting view of Wesleyan Grove, but there is even more to the story of these cottages. Oak Bluffs has a strong history as an African American summer resort, from the 1800s to the present day.

The campground at Wesleyan Grove was established in 1835 in a "venerable grove of oaks.” Early lodgings were tent sites that could be reserved in advance by summer visitors. Starting in the late 1850s, local carpenters built small cottages at the campground whose simple layouts evoked the spartan design of the tents. Later variations of these cottages were decorated with ornate architectural details. By 1880, there were around five hundred of these cottages. Today around three hundred remain.

According to recent research from the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, African Americans started leasing tents and cottage lots beginning in at least 1862, when the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association first began keeping records. Doctor Samuel Birmingham, for example, who identified himself as both African and Native American, leased a tent lot in 1862 and owned a cottage at 3 Forest Circle from 1865 to 1870. This cottage was one of the first fifty cottages built in the campground and is on the same site in 2023.

Another historic Oak Bluffs cottage began life in 1903 as a laundry operated by Henrietta and Charles Shearer. In 1912, the Shearers opened the building as an inn for African American guests. Throughout the twentieth century, Shearer Inn and other lodging establishments like Aunt Georgia's House and Dunmere by the Sea served as gathering places for African American visitors to the island in the summer months.

Martha’s Vineyard cottages have hosted African American politicians like Adam Clayton Powell and Barack Obama, religious leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson, and authors like Dorothy West and Maya Angelou. As Vernon Jordan–a twentieth-century civil rights leader and MV summer resident–once declared, “It was the very essence of the black community gathered for vacation.”

Reference and Further Reading:


Now on View: From Head to Foot: Fraternal Regalia Illustrations

In the 1800s and 1900s selling regalia and costumes to fraternal groups became big business. Regalia companies seeking to attract customers produced richly illustrated catalogs and colorful advertising material to highlight the costumes and uniforms they manufactured. The artwork and advertising material in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library’s new exhibition, “From Head to Foot: Fraternal Regalia Illustrations,” were produced by the Cincinnati Regalia Company (1895-1998), of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Ihling Bros. Everard Company (1869-1995), of Kalamazoo, Michigan. These regalia makers, along with others, produced uniforms, regalia, and accessories for Masons, Shriners, Elks, and additional fraternal groups. These items can help us better understand how companies marketed and sold fraternal regalia between 1900 and 1980.

98_041_138DS1 5 of 5The number of Americans who were members of fraternal groups grew to millions by the beginning of the 1900s. Regalia companies attempted to outfit this large consumer base with everything they needed, from head to foot, as advertised in this flyer. Ihling Bros. Everard Company offered many types of Shrine regalia to appeal to two national Shrine organizations, the Ancient Arabic Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, with 87,000 members by 1904, and the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, which had established more than sixty temples across the US by the start of World War I. Shrine organizations took inspiration from traditional Middle Eastern clothing for their ritual and regalia. That taste is illustrated in this flyer by the turban, wide-leg pants, and curved-toe shoes worn by the model.

98_0003_121DS1Some of the artwork displayed in this exhibition was created to be reproduced in catalogs. This illustration, for example, appeared in an Ihling Bros. Everard Company catalog, printed around 1970, that featured costumes and accessories for the Knights Templar. This group, part of the York Rite of Freemasonry, draws inspiration from the crusading knights of medieval Europe. This model is presented in a “Pilgrim Warrior” costume, which, in addition to a pointed helmet, a sword, and a cape, included a full suit of what Ihling Bros. Everard Company called “armor cloth.” This cloth was patterned to look like scale mail, protective metal clothing worn by medieval knights and soldiers. These catalogs, printed in black and white, featured a variety of items, including hats, shoulder braid, jackets, pants, robes, tights, and shoes. Catalogs were used by fraternal groups to order uniforms and regalia for their members to wear for meetings, ritual work, parades, and other activities.

88_42_156_6DS1Some of the colorful illustrations, like the one shown here from the Cincinnati Regalia Company, were sent to customers to present color and design variations to supplement the black and white images in catalogs. Regalia companies served both women’s and men’s organizations and produced catalogs specifically designed for women’s organizations which displayed the regalia and costumes of particular orders. Because of the distinct American flag-inspired design of this costume, it was likely created for a group with a patriotic agenda, such as the Daughters of America, a Junior Order of United American Mechanics women’s auxiliary.

These attractive advertisements offer insight into the vibrant regalia industry during the 1900s. This exhibition will be on view at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library until July 26, 2024.


Chattanooga Communication Souvenir

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Prince Hall Temple Souvenir Pin, 1914. Chattanooga Button & Badge Manufacturing Company, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Gift of Valley of Columbus, Ohio, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, 99.013.29.

On August 2-7, 1914, the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Tennessee celebrated its forty-fourth annual meeting, or Communication, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This souvenir badge in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library was created to commemorate that meeting and connects the stories of emancipation and African American Freemasonry.

The annual Communication was a chance for African American Masons from all over Tennessee to meet and visit. The larger Chattanooga African American community found other ways to convene. On January 1, 1914, leaders in the city hosted an “emancipation celebration.” As reported by the Chattanooga Daily Times, “the fifty-first anniversary of emancipation was celebrated yesterday by the colored population of Chattanooga under the auspices of the Colored Boosters' Club of this city.” The observance included speeches, banquets, musical performances, and a parade “nearly a quarter of a mile long.”

This anniversary celebration seems to have been tied to the original Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863. However, Lincoln’s Proclamation depended on the Union winning the Civil War to take effect in the South. Hence June 19, 1865–the day when news of the war’s end and the resulting emancipation of enslaved people reached the African American community in Galveston, Texas–is celebrated as the end of slavery in the United States. Five years after that momentous date, on August 31, 1870, the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Tennessee was founded.

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Prince Hall Temple Souvenir Pin, 1914. Chattanooga Button & Badge Manufacturing Company, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Gift of Valley of Columbus, Ohio, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, 99.013.29.

The pin at the top of this commemorative item shows the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge building in Chattanooga. This three-story brick building was built in the 1800s as a commercial building and renovated by the local Masonic community between 1903 and 1908 to house seven Prince Hall Affiliated Masonic lodges, three women’s auxiliaries, and one Knights Templar commandery. The building was located on East 9th Street, the same street as the City Auditorium where many events that were part of the 1914 Communication were held. The use of the Masonic Temple on the Annual Communication pin reflects the pride of Chattanooga Masons and celebrates the progress of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Tennessee.

The ribbon is marked on the back with the name of the maker, Chattanooga Button & Badge Mfg. Co. This company was founded around 1911 and located on East 4th Street in Chattanooga, a few blocks from East 9th Street where the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge was.

In preparation for inclusion in The Masonic Hall of Fame: Extraordinary Freemasons in American History, this souvenir badge was conserved in 2021. This souvenir, a compelling symbol of African American identity in the South after emancipation, will be on view at the Museum & Library until October 2024.

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Similar examples at Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture:


A Shrine Beach Parade

2001_070_6DS1 cropped smallIn this photograph from the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, a line of men in bathing costumes and swim caps march across the beach in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This unusual sight was photographed on the morning of July 13, 1904, when the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine hosted their annual meeting in the resort city.

This two-day event was the thirtieth annual gathering since the founding of the order in 1873. Thousands of Shriners and their families traveled to the Jersey shore and participated in a variety of activities and programs. According to the Annual Proceedings of the AAONMS, this session hosted 276 representatives from eighty-nine temples throughout the United States. During the meeting, the secretary of the group, called the Imperial Recorder, reported a net membership gain of 8,545 in 1904, and a total national membership of 87,727.

In addition to business meetings and evening parties, members of the AAONMS took part in an activity for which their group later became renowned–parades. The 1904 Annual Session, or meeting, opened with a parade that differed from the norm. A Shrine unit called the Arab Patrol, hailing from Moslem Temple in Detroit, Michigan, took part in a beach parade at 10:00 AM on Wednesday, July 13.

Accompanied by the first regiment band of Michigan and a bugle corps of twenty-nine men, they “marched from the Grand Atlantic Hotel in bathing suits to the beach between Young's Pier and the Steel Pier, and plunged into the ocean,” according to the Camden, New Jersey Morning Post. The front page of the local paper, the Atlantic City Daily Press, clarified that the men were dressed in “bathing suits, specially prepared for the occasion” and called the whole affair “one of the most unique and picturesque incidents of the gathering of the Shriners here.”

Camera operators of various sorts took advantage of the picturesque quality of the plunge. Alfred Camille Abadie (1878-1950) of Thomas Edison’s company Edison Films captured this beach parade on a 35mm motion picture camera. Per Edison’s September 1904 advertising circular, the 2.5-minute film showed “the entire body drilling on the beach and entering the surf” and could be purchased for $21.75.

This photo is one of two of this parade in the museum’s collection. Both are marked on the back: “Fred Hess, Photographer, 2506 Arctic Avenue, Atlantic City, NJ.” Hess (1858-1932) was a commercial photographer in Atlantic City from around 1893 until his death. Hess’ home studio was located about a mile from the spot where he took the beach parade photos.

This beach parade photograph–in addition to being a surprising and captivating image–depicts the details of a unique and intriguing event. It also provides information about Atlantic City, the AAONMS, and commercial photography and cinematography in the early 1900s.

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Further Reading:


Heavy Impact: British Cannonball Fired in Lexington on April 19, 1775

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Cannonball (fired in retreat from Lexington), ca. 1775. Gift of Harvey B. Leggee, 75.34a.

Its surface is pitted and its usefulness long gone, but this six-pound iron ball tells an intriguing story of the first military battle of the Revolutionary War and its effect on the town of Lexington, Massachusetts.

According to an accompanying plaque, this cannonball was “fired in 1775 by ‘British regulars’ under command of Captain Earl Perry [sic] during their retreat from Lexington Green.” On April 19th of that year, the first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought in Lexington, now the home of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.

Tensions had been high between Massachusetts citizens and the British government–represented by its royal troops–since the soldiers had landed in Boston in 1769. This friction had already led to such events as the 1769 Lexington Spinning Protest, the 1770 Boston Massacre, and the 1773 Lexington Tea Burning and Boston Tea Party.

These tensions and other events led to an armed conflict between Lexington’s Training Band and British troops on April 19, 1775. A contingent of British soldiers headquartered in Boston were deployed on an overnight mission to retrieve stolen cannon and ammunition hidden in Concord. After a short engagement at dawn in which eight Lexington men were killed and ten wounded, the British troops continued to Concord where they found themselves in a pitched battle at the Old North Bridge with militia members from Concord and surrounding towns. Eventually, the order to retreat was given and the British soldiers began a long and harrowing march back to Boston.

Local militias reengaged British troops many times along the route back–now called “Battle Road"–but the fighting took a different tone as the troops marched back through Lexington. By this time, relief troops from Boston had positioned two six-pound cannon at a rise east of the town center to provide covering fire for the soldiers on foot.

This bombardment led to cannonballs smashing through both the Lexington meetinghouse on the Green and one of the houses west of the Green on Harrington Road. According to SRMML’s records, the museum's cannonball was excavated in 1956–181 years after the battle–by local Mason Harold L. Worth (1909-1993) from the “south side of Merriam Hill.” This ball was found within the range of the British cannon that day. The location of the find supports the message on the cannonball’s plaque–that it was fired by British soldiers.

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Cannonball (fired in retreat from Lexington), ca. 1775. Gift of Harvey B. Leggee, 75.34a.

To confirm this information, SRMML staff measured the cannonball. The British were using six-pound field pieces that day and a six-pound cannonball is usually around 3.58 inches in diameter. As you can see on the right, this cannonball is 3.52 inches, which is within the expected range for historical examples. Using historical accounts, maps, and munitions specifications, we feel confident that this cannonball was fired during the conflict between Massachusetts citizens and British soldiers.

The cannon and troops are long gone, but the town of Lexington is still deeply tied to the events of April 19, 1775. Its landscape and people were profoundly marked by the attack. Evidence of that impact remains in the military detritus left behind. It is also on display in the reenactments and commemorations of the battle held annually in Lexington. See the links below for more Revolutionary War items in the museum’s collection!

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More Revolutionary War items at SRMML:


A United Order True Sisters Anniversary Medal

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United Order True Sisters Medal, ca. 1946. Gift of Clara W. Gnerre on behalf of Noemi No. 11. 91.032.1

The face of this round medal bears an embossed wreath which curves around the black enamel letters U, O, T, and S. These initials represent Unabhängiger Orden Treue Schwestern or United Order True Sisters, a German Jewish fraternal group which was the first independent national women’s organization in the United States. The group – sometimes known as the United Order of True Sisters - was founded in New York City in 1846 and became known for their charitable fundraising for cancer patients and children’s hospitals after World War II. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library cares for a small collection of UOTS items, including this medal, which is connected to a fascinating Massachusetts woman.

The items in this collection were donated by Clara Cecile Wagner Gnerre (1920 - 2005) on behalf of her UOTS chapter, Noemi No. 11. This chapter was founded in 1878 in Boston, Massachusetts – the eleventh UOTS lodge in the country - and like its sister chapters in other states, sought to provide Jewish women with a sense of identity, purpose, and community. Due to anti-German sentiment during World Wars I and II and American antisemitism throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, women who joined UOTS may not have felt welcome in other fraternal orders. As past museum Assistant Director Barbara Franco has written of Jewish fraternal orders, “The rites, regalia, and mottoes of these organizations, based on Freemasonry and Odd Fellowship, offered an American aura that might be denied Jews elsewhere.”

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United Order True Sisters Medal, ca. 1946. Gift of Clara W. Gnerre on behalf of Noemi No. 11. 91.032.1.

The reverse of the medal reads “PRESENTED AT THE CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY 1846-1946”. To commemorate their one-hundredth anniversary, UOTS chapters produced souvenir medals like these, as well as centennial calendars and other ephemera. A February 1946 article from the Daily Argus (Westchester, New York) shows the kind of activities UOTS chapters were involved in that year. Activities included mahjong games, luncheons, educational lectures, and Red Cross sewing drives. The United States Treasury Department awarded a citation to Westchester No. 34 for raising nearly a quarter of a million dollars in war loan drives. After the war, in 1947, the UOTS formed a National Cancer Service initiative. This program funneled members’ fundraising skills and largesse towards medical charities.

Clara Wagner – later Clara Gnerre - was a member of Noemi No. 11 for forty years. She graduated from Girl’s Latin School in 1937 and attended Radcliffe College, where she graduated cum laude with a degree in chemistry in 1941. If she was a member of Noemi in 1946, she may have received this souvenir UOTS medal when it was first issued, when she was 26 years old.

She worked first for Carbon Black Co. as a rubber chemist and was employed there in 1950 when she married her husband C. Gerald “Jerry” Gnerre. A January 1954 Boston Globe article described her as a “research chemist and rubber technologist” at Godfrey L. Cabot, Inc. Research Laboratories on Cambridge’s “Research Row.” Gnerre was, at the time, one of few women working in industrial materials research and development, a growing field post-World War II in Cambridge.

In the 1980s, Gnerre became more active in Noemi No. 11, serving as its Recording Secretary in 1986 and President from 1987 to 1988. At this time, the chapter focused on fundraising for cancer services and children’s care at Boston’s Children’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals. At Noemi’s 110th Annual Luncheon, Gnerre was praised for her “warmth, encouragement, and good humor.”

After 111 years as a United Order True Sisters chapter, Noemi No. 11 dissolved in 1989. Perhaps inspired by a 1983 chapter visit to the then-eight-year-old Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Gnerre first donated a collection of material from the chapter to the museum in 1991. This medal was the first item that she donated. Over the next five years, Gnerre and other women from Noemi No. 11 donated UOTS material to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, as well as to other historic repositories (see link below).

Clara Cecile Wagner Gnerre died in August 2005. Her Boston Globe obituary reads: “In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The United Order of True Sisters, Inc. . . . where she was a member for 40 years and past President of a local chapter (Noemi Chapter 11) or to a cancer organization of your choice.” Gnerre ably represented the United Order True Sisters and their philanthropic goals to the last.

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Further Reading: