Rhode Island

Dr. John Warren's Medical Trunk

GL2004_2055DP1DB
Trunk, 1770-1815. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2055. Photograph by David Bohl.

This leather and wood trunk decorated with brass studs is thought to have belonged to Dr. John Warren (1753-1815) of Massachusetts. Its side handles and manageable size (11-7/8” x 13-1/2” x 24-1/2") made it both portable and practical. Through the service of its dynamic owner, this trunk may have seen military action during the American Revolutionary War.

Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Dr. John Warren was the younger brother of Dr. Joseph Warren, whose death at the Battle of Bunker Hill made him a martyr to the Patriot cause. John Warren studied medicine at Harvard, graduating in 1771. He became a surgeon with a militia regiment commanded by Colonel Timothy Pickering in 1772 and in that capacity, responded to the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775.

In 1775, Warren was practicing medicine in Salem, Massachusetts. He traveled with his regiment to the various battles in which he was involved. Like many Massachusetts militia members who were called out for the Lexington Alarm, Warren remained in the Boston area into the month of May. Warren likely brought his own medical supplies with him when he traveled. He owned two amputation kits. Based on the dimensions of these amputation kits, both items could have been carried inside this trunk.

By June 1775, Warren had returned home to Salem and received news of the start of the Battle of Bunker Hill. He hurried down to Cambridge in the early hours of the following morning to treat wounded soldiers. At the same time, Warren fretted about his brother Joseph who had fought during the battle. At one point, Warren left the medical area in Cambridge and went to Bunker Hill to find his brother, asking any and all soldiers he encountered about Joseph’s whereabouts. One of these was a British sentry, and Warren received a bayonet wound to his side in response to his inquiry. Unfortunately, Joseph “fell on the field,” as John later wrote in his diary.

His fervor for the Patriot cause and his brother’s death motivated Warren. According to Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, “He enjoyed helping repulse the raid at Lechmere Point, and, case in hand [emphasis mine], took his post on Cobble Hill at night hoping for another Bunker Hill.” The “case” mentioned in this quote was likely a medical case, possibly this trunk. Cobble Hill was a colonist-fortified hill in Charlestown with an excellent view of Boston Harbor. Warren may have carried his medical supplies in this trunk during the early days of the Revolutionary War when the action was focused in Massachusetts.

It's also possible that Warren brought this trunk with him when the action moved away from Massachusetts. The nascent Continental Army struggled to provide uniforms, firearms, and other supplies to its soldiers. Warren’s medical tools and supplies would have been highly valued and were likely brought with him when he left for New York in May 1776, after the British evacuated from Boston.

Warren later served as Surgeon General of the army hospitals in Long Island, New York and Bethlehem, New Jersey in 1776. In the latter location, he – and possibly this trunk – saw action at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. Warren also participated in the Rhode Island campaign in 1778, perhaps due to his 1777 marriage to Abigail Collins, the daughter of Rhode Island Governor John Collins.

Dr. John Warren was a knowledgeable and dedicated surgeon, who put his medical skills to use in service of the American cause. This trunk, both substantial enough to hold needed medical supplies and portable enough to carry into battle, is an apt symbol of his service.


Overseas Lodge No. 40

2001_029S1cropped betterIn 1919, in Coblenz, Germany, a group of American military officers serving during World War I, formed the Masonic Club of the Third American Army. Members of the club eventually founded Overseas Lodge No. 40 in Rhode Island.  The club was open to Masons and members of welfare organizations who were wives, daughters, sisters or widows of Masons. Along with regular meetings, the club organized social activities and gatherings, as well as memorial programs for those who died in service. The meetings were held at the German Masonic Temple, the local high school and a German officers club in Coblenz.

A number of Rhode Island Masons had organized the club. They sought to establish a Masonic lodge in Germany and on March 15, 1919, the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island granted dispensation to the group to form Overseas Lodge No. 1. This decree allowed the lodge to “elect, initiate, pass and raise candidates without the usual formalities and requirements of chartered Lodges, provided that such candidates shall be selected only from citizens of the United States serving in the army or navy of the United States, or in any organizations associated with said army or navy.” Between April and July of 1919, the group impressively held eighty meetings and raised 517 candidates. The lodge operated in Germany alongside the Masonic Club until July 31, 1919, when the last American soldiers returned home to the United States.  

The first meeting of the lodge in the United States was held in Freemasons Hall in Providence, Rhode Island, on January 13, 1920. In May of 1920 the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island granted a charter to the lodge, named Overseas Lodge, No. 40, F. & A.M. Members conducted Masonic meetings wearing the uniforms they wore while in service. The photograph above shows officers of the lodge in Cranston, Rhode Island, in 1923. Masonic guests from other lodges in Canada and Britain are also pictured.

This token (at right) is from Overseas Lodge No. 40 and belonged to John A. Marshall (1877-1966). Described as a “devoted and ardent Mason” by his nephew, Marshall belonged to Strafford Lodge No. 29 in Dover, New Hampshire. It is still unknown if Marshall was a member of Overseas Lodge No. 40 or if the token was a gift from a fellow Mason. One side of the token shows Masonic symbols. On the other side is the emblem of the Overseas Lodge which includes an "A" at the center of a circle,  the insignia of the Third United States Army (the United States Army Central). Both sides token overseas lodge

Overseas Lodge No. 40 is still active today in Rhode Island and is open to military veterans or active duty members. They hold an annual meeting and reunion on Armistice Day. It is the only military lodge chartered by the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island.

In writing about the formation of the club and Overseas lodge at its close in Germany in 1919, District Deputy Grand Master Lieutenant Colonel Winfield S. Solomon (1876-1954), Past Master of Morning Star Lodge No. 13 in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, stated: “These officers and men alike had experienced in practice the meaning of that spirit of brotherhood and equality which we had been taught at home. Through this experience the great truths of Masonry for which our fraternity stands were brought home to us as never before.”

Visit our previous blog posts to learn more about other military lodges. Do you have any items related to Overseas Lodge No. 40? Let us know in the comments below.

Captions: 

Officers of Overseas Lodge No. 40, 1923. Cranston, Rhode Island. Museum Purchase, 2001.029.

Overseas Lodge No. 40 Token, 1919-1966. United States. Gift of the Supreme Council, 33º, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, U.S.A. from Mr. Clarence Hayfield, SC79.2.

References:

History and Roster of the Masonic Club of the Third American Army and Rhode Island Overseas Lodge (Providence, RI: Press of E. L. Freeman Company, 1919).

Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island, 1919 (Providence, Rhode Island: Grand Lodge, 1919) 32-35.