Posts by Jeff Croteau

Imposing Upon Masons, the Grand Army of the Republic, and Odd Fellows in 1898

A2022_202_001DS1The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's blog started sixteen years ago this month, with a post about Masonic impostors. Nearly every May since then, we have returned to the topic of Masonic impostors. This year, we are doing it once again.

Although we often write about Masonic impostors, Masons were not the only fraternal group that found themselves imposed upon by people pretending to be members in order to elicit charity. Because fraternal organizations supported their members who were in need, they also became targets of either con men or those in desperate situations, who would pretend to be members and impose upon a fraternity’s inclination to be charitable.

The circular pictured here was issued in 1898 by John W. Laflin, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin. The notice was likely sent to local Masonic lodges throughout the state and warns of a potential impostor – E.L. Martin, a.k.a. David C. Morgan – who claimed to be a Mason from Missouri, and may have made his way from South Dakota to Wisconsin. Laflin also notes that, in addition to pretending to be a Mason, Martin was also pretending to be a member of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Odd Fellows. In all three cases, Martin apparently presented himself to these three fraternal organizations for charity under false pretenses.

Notices like these were intended to warn others to be aware that they might encounter someone claiming to be a member and imposing upon a lodge’s charity. Because of this, names, lodge affiliations, and a physical description were often key to providing useful, identifiable information. While no photograph accompanies the notice, Laflin paints a vivid portrait of the Martin:

About sixty years of age, about six feet in height, slightly stooped, iron-gray beard, wart on inside corner left eye, eyes blood-shot and bulge slightly, smooth talker. Some teeth are gone causing lips to be slightly sunken.

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

Caption:

Imposter announcement from Grand Secretary John W. Laflin, 1898 June 3. Museum purchase, A2022/202/001.


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2024!



Lexington alarm letterEach 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.

The letter will be on view at the Museum from April 9 - 27, 2024. (Check the museum's website for specific days and times that we're open.)

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 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. 


50th Anniversary of Cornerstone Laying of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library

Photo 29 for web

This March marks the fiftieth anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in Lexington, Massachusetts. The ceremony took place just a little more than a year before the museum opened to the public. Much to our delight, a 15-minute film of the March 10, 1974 event was made and still exists today in our Library & Archives collection.

The Museum & Library recently had this 16mm film of the event digitized and you can now watch the entire 15-minute film here.

The 1974 Proceedings of the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, included a description of the ceremony:

A little more than a year after the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Museum and Library complex occurred, the gray granite cornerstone, gift of the Scottish Rite Masons of New Hampshire, was placed officially with ancient ceremonies conducted by the officers of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, with Grand Master Donald W. Vose presiding.

Some 400 participants and spectators were on hand on a clear but blustery Sunday afternoon for these traditional cornerstone exercises. Active and Emeriti Members of the Supreme Council, who had been in Boston on the preceding days for the Mid-winter Executive Session, served as hosts for the occasion…


Photo 39 for webIn addition to Masonic dignitaries, the ceremony also included representatives of the Town of Lexington, as well as Hugh Shepley from the architectural firm Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, and Walter Creelman from Turner Construction Company.

Preceding the outside cornerstone laying event, Donald Vose, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, gave remarks in the museum's unfinished lobby. Forty-six “distinguished Masonic guests,” as well as many representatives of the Supreme Council all placed “selected items to be preserved for posterity in the cornerstone box. A wide selection of historical documents and Masonic memorabilia and artifacts were sealed inside the cornerstone…” A list of the contents of the box was printed in the 1974 Proceedings of the Supreme Council.

Following the outdoor cornerstone laying ceremony, the guests reassembled in the lobby, where Sovereign Grand Commander George A. Newbury, 33° delivered remarks. Newbury was the visionary and driving force behind the founding of the museum. In a speech he delivered at the 1972 Annual Session of the Supreme Council, Newbury spoke of his vision:

Our objective is to set up at Lexington a museum and a library devoted primarily to the visual and auditory presentation of facets of American History which will stimulate a lively interest in it and an appreciation of the tremendous achievements of those who founded our Country, established her form of government, developed her institutions and economy, and performed the miracle of bringing her from a scattered group of weak and struggling colonies to a place of World leadership in the phenomenally short period of two hundred years.

...We plan to tell a thrilling story--the story of America.

Were you at the cornerstone laying event or otherwise involved with the founding of the Scottish Rite Museum & Library? We’d love to hear from you!

Captions:

Photo 29, Museum and Library cornerstone laying photograph album, 1974, Gift of the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., A1992-175-001

Photo 39, Museum and Library cornerstone laying photograph album, 1974, Gift of the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A., A1992-175-001


Now on View: 300 Years of Anderson's Constitutions

RARE 31 .A547 1723
The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, 1723. London, England. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, RARE 31 .A547 1723, c.2

This year, 2023, marks the three hundredth anniversary of the printing of The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, a book that codified the earliest rules and regulations of organized Freemasonry. To mark the occasion, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library has brought together seven editions of the Constitutions in a reading room exhibition, "300 Years of Anderson's Constitutions."

The Grand Lodge system of organized Freemasonry can be traced back to the 1717 founding of the Grand Lodge of England in London. The group published its first Constitutions in 1723. This work contained a mythologized history of Freemasonry, as well as the group’s Charges and Regulations, a set of rules governing lodges and the expected behavior of Masons. Although often referred to as “Anderson’s Constitutions,” after one of its authors, today, the 1723 Constitutions is viewed as the work of three people—the Reverend James Anderson (1679-1739), the Reverend Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744), and George Payne (ca. 1685-1757).

The 1723 Constitutions begins with a “traditional history” of Freemasonry, written by Anderson. This narrative fancifully traces Freemasonry back to the biblical Adam in the Garden of Eden. Anderson’s history was intended—and should be read—as literary hyperbole, created to burnish the young organization by giving it a place within a well-known narrative. Following this is a section setting out rules and regulations governing who could join, as well as the Enlightenment principles of meritocracy and egalitarianism governing Freemasons. The ideas behind these rules and regulations still guide Masons today. They include civic responsibility, emphasis on personal merit above wealth or social standing, civility and morality, as well as a belief in a Supreme Being. Payne, who served as the Grand Lodge’s Grand Master in 1718 and 1720, wrote the General Regulations, which laid out the governance and operation of the Grand Lodge and its subordinate lodges.

RARE 31.A547 1784
Constitutions of the Antient Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, 1784. London, England. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, RARE 31.A547 1784

The Constitutions were not a static document. They have been revised and reprinted many times. On view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room are three editions that were printed during the 1700s, along with two reprints of the 1723 edition published during the 1800s. The most recent copy on view is a century old—a reprint of Anderson’s Constitutions published in 1923, to mark the two hundredth anniversary of its publication.

Three centuries after its publication, the Constitutions still contain ideals and sentiments that Masons look to today. Although the United Grand Lodge of England’s Constitutions have undergone extensive revisions over the years, its Constitutions, as well as those that help govern Grand Lodges throughout the world, can still be traced back to Anderson’s 1723 Constitutions

300 Years of Anderson's Constitutions is on view at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives through March 8, 2024.


The Blog Turns 15! (And Yet Another Masonic Impostor)

John J. McGettigan June 1924The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's blog started fifteen years ago this month, with a post about Masonic impostors. Nearly every May since then, we have returned to the topic of Masonic impostors. This year is no exception. Pictured here is a detail from the June 1924 issue of the Official Warning Circular of The Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada.

The Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada began publishing the Official Warning Circular in 1886. The primary function of the circular was to try to prevent non-Masons from imposing on the charity of Masonic organizations and defrauding them out of their money. This was accomplished by a type of crowdsourcing: local Masonic organizations would share information about known imposters with the Masonic Relief Association who then, in turn, would share that information in their circulars throughout the U.S. and Canada, in an attempt to stay one step ahead of those who would travel from state to state, presenting themselves as Masons in need.

Chicago Police Take 5 Alleged Confidence MenIn some cases, these Masonic impostors appear to have fallen on hard times and were defrauding Masons out of desperation. In other cases, the impostors appear to be well-practiced con artists who presented themselves as Masons and told a convincing story in each new town and city.

This is quite evident with case number 7413, John J. McGettigan, pictured above. The description of McGettigan notes that he had used at least three different aliases and had been published in the circular before under different case numbers which cast light on earlier successful swindles. The description also contains details of some of McGettigan's previous brushes with the law, and that he was, at the time that the circular was published, wanted by the Solicitor General of Atlanta, Georgia.

McGettigan, it turns out, may have been part of a larger confidence game - that is, an attempt to defraud people after first gaining their trust. In 1925, McGettigan's capture was front page news in the June 4, 1925 edition of the Sioux City Journal. In the article, pictured above, McGettigan is described as having been one of five "leaders in confidence games of national scope" who was captured as part of a coordinated effort in Chicago, Illinois.

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


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online in 2023!

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.

The letter will be on view at the Museum from April 10 - 21, 2023. (Check the museum's website for specific days and times that we're open.)

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 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. 


Digital Collections Highlight: 1768 Lodge Summons Printed & Signed by Paul Revere

Revere summons for webPerhaps best remembered today as the messenger who brought word to his fellow colonists that the British Army had left Boston and were headed west toward Lexington and Concord, Paul Revere (1734-1818) was much more than that. He was a talented silversmith and engraver, a political organizer, a forward-thinking entrepreneur, and a Freemason. This document from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Digital Collections website helps illustrate many of these roles. It is a lodge summons, a notice which was sent from the Lodge of St. Andrew to its members to inform them of an upcoming meeting.

Raised a Master Mason in 1761 in the Lodge of St. Andrew, Revere held a number of offices between 1762 and 1765 - first as Junior Deacon, then Junior Warden, and Senior Warden. From 1767 to 1769, Revere served as Secretary of the lodge. His duties would have included sending out notices summoning members to the lodge's next meeting. This particular summons has many interesting connections to Revere.

The bottom right hand corner of the lodge summons makes it clear that it was "Engrav'd, Printed, & Sold by Paul Revere. Boston." Yet what makes this particular copy of the summons special is that it is also signed by Revere in his capacity as Secretary of the lodge. This summons is dated February 10, 1768, during the time that Revere held that office. The summons directs the member to a meeting at "Freemason's Hall," which is the how the lodge referred to their meeting place - the famous Green Dragon Tavern - beginning in 1764.

This summons was produced quite early in Revere's time as a Mason. In 1794, over twenty-five years after this summons was issued, Revere was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. During Revere's three years in office as Grand Master, he chartered 23 new lodges, almost doubling the number of lodges in the state, which left a lasting mark on Freemasonry in Massachusetts.

If you’d like to take a closer look at this summons, visit the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections site.

Caption:
Paul Revere. Masonic Summons issued by the Lodge of St. Andrew, 1768. Museum Purchase with the assistance of the Lodge of St. Andrew and the Kane Lodge Foundation, MA 001.243.


Digital Collections Highlight: Killian H. Van Rensselaer’s 1845 Petition

KVR Petition A2019_178_0002DS1The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Digital Collections website features nearly a thousand documents in twelve different collections. This week we’re highlighting a 177-year-old document from the Scottish Rite Documents collection.

"I most humbly beg leave to offer myself as a candidate for admission into your Illustrious and Puissant Council..." reads this petition addressed to the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, and signed by Killian Henry Van Rensselaer (1800-1881), a 44-year-old Mason from New York, in 1845. This petition was the first step toward Van Rensselaer becoming an Active Member of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s Supreme Council. In less than twenty years, Van Rensselaer would become its sixth Sovereign Grand Commander, serving from 1861-67. The process by which Van Rensselaer received the 33rd degree is very different from how it works today.

Portrait of Killian Van Rensselaer for webVan Rensselaer’s petition documents the activities of the Supreme Council at the time. Viewed in a broader context, this slip of paper shows the work of John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865), the NMJ’s Sovereign Grand Commander from 1832 through 1851, and helps tell the story of the rebirth of the NMJ in the 1840s.

Gourgas, living in New York City, along with Schenectady-based Giles Fonda Yates (1798-1859), had essentially kept the Scottish Rite’s NMJ alive from 1826 through the early 1840s. During this time, a social and political movement, now known as the Anti-Masonic Movement, curtailed much Masonic activity in the Northeast of the United States and brought the Supreme Council’s official activities to a standstill. During these years, Gourgas and Yates were effectively a Supreme Council of two people, preserving the organization’s records and corresponding with one another about the plight of American Freemasonry from the late 1820s through the early 1840s. When the social climate changed and members began to rebuild Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the early 1840s, Gourgas and Yates sought to find brothers, like Van Rensselaer, who could help revive the Council, starting in 1844. Van Rensselaer’s petition is part of that story. With the exception of Van Rensselaer’s signature, the petition is entirely in the handwriting of John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865). Gourgas wrote out this petition—Van Rensselaer needed only to sign it.

Becoming a 33° Member

Today, no one petitions to become a 33° Member or to join the Supreme Council. Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret (i.e., 32° Members) are nominated, elected, and then created Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the 33rd degree. Most 33° Scottish Rite Members are non-voting Honorary Members, a rank of 33° that the Supreme Council created in 1865. The Supreme Council itself is comprised of Active Members who serve on various committees and have voting privileges within the Council. When a seat opens on the Supreme Council, an Honorary Member is elevated to the rank of Active Member to fill it.

In 1845, the category of 33° Honorary Member did not exist, so any Sublime Prince who was crowned a 33° was automatically an Active Member of the Supreme Council. Van Rensselaer was among the seven new members who Gourgas and Yates selected to expand the Supreme Council in 1844 and 1845. These additions turned the Supreme Council into a nine-member group, as prescribed by the Constitutions. If not for Gourgas and Yates, it is unlikely that the NMJ’s Supreme Council would have survived. Not only did they keep safe the documents of the Supreme Council, NMJ, during the Council’s inactivity, but, when Freemasonry came back to life in the 1840s, they recruited enthusiastic Masons like Van Rensselaer to help rebuild the Scottish Rite fraternity in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Van Rensselaer’s petition, visit the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections site.

Captions:

Handwritten petition for Killian H. Van Rensselaer, 1845. Gift of the Supreme Council of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite, SC 300.002.

Killian H. Van Rensselaer in Proceedings of the Supreme Council, 1883. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 17.9735 Un58 1882. Photograph by David Bohl.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 issue of The Northern Light.


Now on View: Scottish Rite Reunion Programs

Valley of Grand Rapids 1936 program for webCurrently on view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room through January 27, 2023, are fifteen Scottish Rite programs, dating from 1880 to 1980. These programs are from a large collection of printed Masonic programs that are part of the Museum's Library & Archives collection. These programs, created for members attending an event, help document a long tradition of Scottish Rite activities known as Reunions.

Founded in 1813 in New York City, the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, is the governing organization for Scottish Rite Freemasonry in fifteen states in the Northeast and Midwest of the United States. These states are divided into smaller jurisdictions known as “Valleys.” Similar to a Masonic lodge, Valleys are local groups of Scottish Rite Masons, but typically draw members from a region considerably larger than a city or a town. Each Valley is composed of up to four Scottish Rite bodies, and each body confers a set of staged ritual initiation degrees. In the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, the bodies are the Lodge of Perfection, Council of Princes of Jerusalem, Chapter of Rose Croix, and Consistory.  

Valley of the Genesee 1880 program for webReunions

In Scottish Rite Freemasonry, a “Reunion” is a gathering most Valleys hold for members once or twice a year, typically in the spring or fall. At the Reunion, some of the degrees of the Lodge of Perfection, Princes of Jerusalem, Chapter of Rose Croix, or Consistory are conferred on a class of candidates. The reunion also provides the opportunity for social fellowship. A typical Scottish Rite Reunion today occurs on one or two days over a weekend. At the event, candidates and members witness eight to ten degrees. Reunions in the 1880s could last as long as five days, with all 29 Scottish Rite degrees being conferred.

A Long Tradition

The many printed programs, which are on view in the reading room July 11, 2022 - January 27, 2023, are from the collection of the Library & Archives. They were originally distributed to members attending Scottish Rite Reunions. While the text of the pamphlets help document a long tradition of Scottish Rite activity, their various covers attract the eye and often reflect the time in which they were made.

Captions:

Valley of Grand Rapids Program, Fall Reunion and Business Meetings, 1936. Grand Rapids, Michigan. Scottish Rite Programs Collection, SC 088.

Valley of the Genesee Program, Fourteenth Annual Grand Reunion, 1880. Rochester, New York. Scottish Rite Programs Collection, SC 088.

 

 

 


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.