Relief organizations

Masonic Impostors Redux: "sleight-of-hand and song-and-dance man"

MasonicImposter_Logsdon_smaller Our blog turns one year old this week, and we thought we'd harken back to our first post and return to the subject of Masonic impostors, by featuring another image from the Album of Masonic Impostors, published by the General Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada in 1903.

But first a little background about the organization that published the Album. In 1885, a number of Masonic organizations in North America met in Baltimore to organize the General Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada, in order “to establish a central organization for the purpose of facilitating the discovery and exposure of persons traveling about the country and imposing upon the charities of Masons.”

One of the main ways that they accomplished this was by publishing a warning circular that was distributed to relief boards in major cities throughout the U.S. and Canada. From there, the relief boards would pass on the information within their local jurisdiction. The goal of all this? To try to spread information about known frauds and impostors who were looking to bilk Masonic relief boards out of money. The Masonic Relief Association compiled physical descriptions, and sometimes photos, of known impostors into their circulars and sent the circulars to relief boards - hopefully in advance of the arrival of the Masonic impostors described within.

Shown above is Patrick Logsdon, from the Album of Masonic Impostors. He is described as follows:

Traveling showman, sleight-of-hand and song-and-dance man. Claims to have been a rough rider and wounded at San Juan Hill. Says he is a member of a Lodge in Lexington, Ky.

WarningCircular_September_1928_smaller The Album contains impostors who all originally appeared in one of the warning circulars. But what exactly was this circular and what purpose did it serve?

The Official Warning Circular (No. 503, September 1928 is shown here) was distributed by the Masonic Relief Association to the various masonic relief boards throughout the country. The hope was that by centralizing communication, word could spread faster than a Masonic impostor could travel. For example, if the relief board in Chicago discovered someone trying to defraud them, they could send a telegraph or place a telephone call to the Masonic Relief Association. The Association would include this information in the compilation of their four-page monthly circular - publishing names, descriptions, and sometimes photographs of known Masonic impostors who had been caught attempting to defraud local relief boards. The circular was mailed out to all the relief boards that belonged to the Association. By the time the Masonic impostor in Chicago made his way to Boston, the Boston relief board would already have seen his mug shot in the warning circular. (An aside: if you're interested in communication networks and how news travels, check out our post on the spread of the Lexington Alarm from last month.)

In addition to publishing newly reported impostors, the Official Warning Circular also republished old cases, reported missing persons, and gave a list of "Lost Receipts" - i.e. Masons who had lost their membership cards - cards which subsequently might have fallen into the hands of a current, or future, Masonic impostor, who might assume the name and identity from the membership card.

Suggestions for Further Reading

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

Croteau, Jeffrey. "Brotherly Deception." Cabinet, Spring 2009 (Issue 33). Brooklyn NY: Immaterial, Inc., 2009.

Halleran, Michael. "Be on the Qui Vive—Cowans, Swindlers, and Con Men, Then and Now." Scottish Rite Journal, May/June 2009. Washington, DC: Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry of the Southern Jurisdiction, 2009.

In addition, the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives also has a number of issues of the Official Warning Circular, as well as some of the proceedings of the annual meeting of the Masonic Relief Association.

A Little Secret Ritual With Your Insurance, Perhaps?

Equitable_aid_society_2_web Pictured here are two illustrations from the Ritual of the Equitable Aid Union, published in 1889. The book is similar to ritual books that Masonic and other fraternals organizations have either published or used, and which were especially in abundance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If you're unfamiliar with a ritual book (also often called a cipher, since they are/were often written in code), one can think of ritual books as scripts to plays, in a way – they contain the text of various ceremonies and dramatic, performance-based rituals that are performed, or enacted, at the official meeting of a fraternal group (like a Masonic lodge). Ritual books are used by those who are going to be performing the ceremonies as a script to memorize. As with plays, they aren’t used when the actual ceremonies are enacted.

This ritual is particularly interesting because it contains illustrations. Although many of the ritual books from this time period contain charts such as those that illustrate the layout of a room where ceremonies are to be performed, not many contain colorful illustrations that depict various parts of ceremonies.

The Equitable Aid Union was organized at Columbus, Warren County, Pennsylvania on March 22, 1879, and they appear to have taken the word “equitable” quite literally by admitting both men and women equally. The organization was only around for eighteen years, dissolving in April of 1897 (you can read the New York Times article about the dissolution here). Mutual benefit societies flourished during the period of 1870 and 1900, during a time when millions of Americans derived no benefits from their employers. By joining a mutual benefit society, a person could obtain health, life, and/or burial insurance. (See our earlier post on how some folks tried to defraud Masonic relief agencies, by impersonating Freemasons.) According to the Cyclopaedia of Fraternitities, the Equitable Aid Union “sought to bring men and women into its Unions to promote benevolence, charity, social, and mental culture, to care for the sick and needy, to aid one another in obtaining employment, and to assist each other in business.”

Equitable_aid_union_3_webThe Equitable Aid Union included four Masons among its founders. Its ceremonies, like many other fraternal organizations’ at the time, were patterned after Freemasonry. Mutual benefit societies not only provided relief in times of need, but, like Freemasonry, they also offered members the chance to participate in self-improvement activities, secret rituals, and social functions. Mutual benefit societies also promoted ideas tied to a self-reliant work ethic, as well as the idea that support (financial, social, etc.) might be more easily achieved when a group comes together, rather than by each individual working in isolation.

Here’s an excerpt from the Ritual of the Equitable Aid Union which, I think, gives a good sense of the ethos of the organization:

Chancellor: Conductor, what say you of Equity?

Conductor: Worthy Chancellor, if Equity in all its benevolent workings were to pervade the various ranks of our social life, rulers would not oppress their people, nor masters act unjustly towards their servants; nor would the people or servants refuse to submit to just and equitable laws, but all would act their part in this great moral machine, with harmony and delight, and every station in life would contribute to the prosperity and happiness of the other.

And here are more complete citations for the books mentioned in this post:

Ritual of the Equitable Aid Union for the Use of Subordinate Unions, Under the Jurisdiction of the Supreme Union ; Adopted at the Annual Meeting of the Supreme Union, held at Columbus Warren Co., Penn'a., March 1889. Titusville, PA: Equitable & Union Herald Printing House, 1889.
Call number: HS 1510 .E8 1889

Stevens, Albert C. The Cyclopaedia of Fraternities: A Compilation of Existing Authentic Information... of More Than Six Hundred Secret Societies in the United States. New York: Hamilton Printing and Publishing Company, 1899.
Call number: 00 .S844 1899

Moses Dickson and the Order of Twelve

Moses_dickson_web Pictured here is Moses Dickson, from the frontispiece illustration of the 1879 book A Manual of the Knights of Tabor and Daughters of the Tabernacle. In 1872, the Rev. Moses Dickson founded the International Order of Twelve of Knights and Daughters of Tabor, an African-American fraternal order focused on benevolence and financial programs. Dickson was born a free man in Cincinnati in 1824, was a Union soldier during the Civil War, and afterwards became a prominent clergyman in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dickson showed an interest in progressive fraternal organizations early on - in 1846 Dickson, with others, founded a society known as the Knights of Liberty, whose objective was to overthrow slavery; the group did not get beyond the organizing stages. Dickson was also involved in Freemasonry - he was the second Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Missouri.

Dickson's International Order of Twelve of Knights and Daughters of Tabor - or Order of Twelve, as it's more commonly know - accepted men and women on equal terms. Men and women met together in higher level groups and in the governance of the organization, although at the local level they met separately - the men in "temples" and the women in "tabernacles" (akin to "lodges" in Freemasonry). The Order of Twelve was most prominent in the South and the lower Midwest. The major benefits to members - similar to many fraternal orders of the time - was a burial policy and weekly cash payments for the sick.

What many people today remember about the Order of Twelve is an institution founded in Mound Bayou, Misssissippi in 1942 - the Taborian Hospital. Michael Premo, a Story Corps facilitator, posted his appreciation for the impact that the Taborian Hospital had on the lives of African-Americans living in the Mississippi Delta from the 1940s-1960s. The Taborian Hospital was on the Mississippi Heritage Trust's 10 Most Endangered List of 2000, and an update to that list indicates that the hospital still stands vacant and seeks funding for renovation. Here are some photos of the Taborian Hospital today.

Want to learn more about the Order of Twelve? Here are a few primary and secondary sources that we have here in our collection (with primary sources listed first):

Dickson, Moses. A Manual of the Knights of Tabor and Daughters of the Tabernacle, including the Ceremonies of the Order, Constitutions, Installations, Dedications, and Funerals, with Forms, and the Taborian Drill and Tactics. St. Louis, Mo. : G. I. Jones [printer], 1879.
Call number: RARE HS 2259 .T3 D5 1879

----. Ritual of Taborian Knighthood, including : the Uniform Rank. St. Louis, Mo. : A. R. Fleming & Co., printers, 1889.
Call number: RARE HS 2230 .T3 D5 1889

Beito, David. From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social services, 1890-1967. Chapel Hill, N.C. : University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
Call number: 44 .B423 2000

Skocpol, Theda, Ariane Liazos, Marshall Ganz. What a Mighty Power We Can Be : African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality. Princeton : Princeton University Press, 2006.
Call number: 90 .S616 2006

Album of Masonic Impostors

Masonicimposter_web_2 Why would someone impersonate a Freemason? And why would someone publish a book showing some of the supposedly more nefarious characters who have impersonated Masons?

Pictured here is a page from a book called Album of Masonic Impostors [Call no.: 19.78 .A345 1903], which was published by The Masonic Relief Association of the United States and Canada, an organization which was a sort of clearing house for improving the methods for providing relief by various Masonic organizations, as well as a central organization for disseminating informaton throughout North America about men known to have tried (or, in many cases, succeeded) in defrauding various Masonic relief agencies by claiming membership in various Masonic bodies.

Especially during a time when receiving benefits in the workplace was uncommon, one of the benefits of joining a fraternal organization was just that - receiving benefits. Death benefits and various types of insurance were some of what you received for paying your dues. (In fact, many non-Masonic fraternal organizations went on to primarily become life insurance companies, many of which still keep "fraternal" in their name, although the fraternal aspect of many of these organizations has been de-emphasized, or disappeared altogether.)

Because there was money to be had by members of a fraternity who were genuinely in need, a brisk business grew of con-men who traveled around posing as Masons and trying to get relief (in the form of money) provided by various Masonic organizations in the different towns and cities they visited. The Masonic Relief Association published an "Official Warning Circular" on a regular basis (a number of which we also have in our collection), that warned various Masonic relief organizations about some of the con men that might come their way. The Album of Masonic Impostors is a bit of a rogues' gallery of some of these men.

Call me soft-hearted, but when I see these photos, like the one of C.S. Salisbury above, I wonder what desperate circumstances drove men like him to resort to becoming "Masonic Impostors."

If you want to learn more about the role of Masonic and fraternal organizations in providing "relief" and social services, we've got a number of great resources. A great place to start is:

Beito, David T. From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967. Chapel Hill, N.C. : University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
Call number:44 .B423 2000