Friday, October 23, 2009

‘On this date in 1741’

This edition of The Magpie Mason is another crosspost with our friends at American Creation, the blogosphere’s premier site of thoughtful debate of historical facts and legends concerning the Founding of the United States.

Long before Freemasonry in Boston became – or allegedly became – a base of revolution in New England, the Craft consisted of Masons contentedly loyal to the Crown and its colonial governors. Remember, these are Masons descending from the Premier Grand Lodge (the “Moderns”), which cultivated close relationships with England’s nobility.

Bro. Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) was made a Mason in London in 1704, and within a year had returned to Boston (he graduated Harvard in 1699) to live and pursue work as a merchant, making him the first known Speculative Mason in the Americas. (In 1682, a Scottish Mason named John Skene had emigrated to what is now Burlington, New Jersey, but he is remembered as an Operative Mason.) Belcher was from a prominent family, was successful in business, and was appointed by George II as governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 1730, a position he held until 1741.

Which brings us to this date in 1741.

While there are clues pointing to Masonic activity in Boston c.1720, the first known Masonic lodge in Boston was named, appropriately enough, First Lodge, and was set to labor on August 31, 1733 at the Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street. It remains at labor today under the name St. John’s Lodge, and it is the oldest lodge continuously at labor in North America. (It is distinguished from Tun Tavern Lodge in Philadelphia in that it possessed a charter from the proper authorities in London, whereas the Tun Tavern brethren (Benjamin Franklin, et al.) were operating a few years earlier, but as “according to the Old Customs,” meaning without a charter or warrant.)

Governor Belcher was a member of First Lodge; I cannot find a date of his acception into the lodge, but his name appears on the lodge’s membership rolls dated 1736. As noted, Belcher exited the governor’s office in 1741. He later would become governor of the Jerseys, today’s State of New Jersey, settling, like Skene, in Burlington, and would establish Princeton University. Belcher Lodge No. 180 was chartered by the Grand Lodge of New Jersey in 1904. He was succeeded as Royal Governor by William Shirley (1694-1771) who was not a Freemason.

Which brings us to this date in 1741!

Of course the separation of Bro. Belcher from First Lodge did not go unnoticed by the brethren. The lodge records dated September 23, 1741 state (spelling hereby modernized):

Our Right Worshipful Master recommended to the Brethren that it was his opinion some particular order should be observed in toasting the health of our Right Worshipful Brother, the Honorable Mr. Belcher, and that a committee might be appointed as soon as possible to wait upon him, with acknowledgements from the Lodge of his past favors, and to return our thanks, etc.

Voted, that next after the Grand Master, the late Governor of this Province, is to be toasted in the following manner, viz: To our Right Worshipful Brother, the Honorable Mr. Belcher, Late Governor of New England with.... (There follows a shorthand description of a certain thrice hailed battery with which Masons are familiar.)

Voted, that our Right Worshipful Bro. [Thomas] Oxnard, Deputy Grand Master, [and] Brothers Phillips, Row, Price, Hallowell, Forbes, McDaniel, and Pelham, be a committee to form a speech, and wait upon the Honorable Mr. Belcher on behalf of this Society, and to make report of their proceeding the next Lodge.

The lodge records dated September 25, 1741 state (again with spelling hereby modernized):

On Friday, September 25, 1741, the Committee appointed by this Lodge waited upon the Honorable Mr. Belcher, etc., and made the following speech:

Thrice Worthy Brother,

We, being a Committee by the Mother Lodge of New England held in Boston to wait on You, take this opportunity to acknowledge the many favors You have always shown (when in power) to Masonry in general, but in a more especial manner to the brethren of this Lodge, of which we shall ever retain a most grateful remembrance.

As we have had your protection when in the most exalted station here, so we think it is incumbent on us to make this acknowledgement, having no other means to testify our gratitude but this; and to wish for Your future health and prosperity which is the sincere desire of us, and those in whose behalf we appear, and permit us to assure You we shall ever remain

Honored Sir
Your most affectionate Brethren
and humble servants.

Peter Pelham, Secretary
on behalf of the Committee.

First Lodge’s records go on to show Governor Belcher’s answer (with spelling again hereby modernized):

Worthy Brothers,

I take very kindly this mark of your respect. It is now thirty-seven years since I was admitted into the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, to whom I have been a faithful Brother and well wisher to the Art of Masonry.

I shall ever maintain a strict friendship for the whole Fraternity, and always glad when it may fall in my power to do them any services.

J. Belcher.

This reply was printed in the Boston Gazette of September 28, 1741.

Bro. Belcher has descendants who are active in New Jersey Freemasonry today.

Which brings us to this date in 1741!

First Lodge met on Friday, October 23, 1741, and the minutes of this meeting show how a new address had been drafted for the new governor. (With spelling again hereby modernized):

May it please your Excellency,

We being a Committee appointed by the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons of the Mother Lodge of America held in Boston, presume to wait upon you with the utmost sincerity, to congratulate your advancement to the Government of this Province, and to assure your Excellency that our desire is that your Administration may be successful and easy.

We have had hitherto the honor of His Majesty’s Governor being one of our ancient Society, who was ever a well wisher and faithful Brother to the Royal Art of Masonry.

And as it has been the custom for men in the most exalted station to have had the door of our Society’s Constitutions always opened to them (when desired) we think it our duty to acquaint your Excellency with that custom, and assure you, that we shall cheerfully attend your Excellency’s pleasure therein, and as we are conscious that our Society are loyal and faithful Subjects to His Majesty, so we may reasonably hope for your Excellency’s favor and protection, which is the request of

Your Excellency’s
most obedient humble servants.
Peter Pelham, Secretary
on behalf of the Society.

Governor Shirley replied to the lodge. The lodge records show:

I Return the ancient and honorable Society my Thanks for their Address, and Invitation of me to the Mother Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in America. And they may rest assur’d that their Loyalty and Fidelity to his Majesty will always recommend the Society to my Favour and Protection.

W. Shirley.

This reply was printed in the Boston Gazette of November 3, 1741.

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The Freemasonry of the Colonial era was a very complicated institution. The lodges existing in America at this particular time were spin-offs of the Grand Lodge of England founded June 24, 1717. As noted above in the Philadelphia instance, where Masons did not possess a lodge charter (or warrant) from that authority in London, they met anyway, as was done in the British Isles prior to 1717. However, in 1751 a second grand lodge was formed in England, and its membership was open to a wider segment of English society, including not only the elites of nobility, academia, and the military, but also successful professionals, artisans, and merchants. These were the so-called “Ancient Masons,” a nickname they gave themselves to describe their adherence to the rituals and laws of Masonry as they existed before 1717, when those Masons they dubbed the “Moderns” arose and made themselves known to the public.

By the time of the American Revolution, both of the English grand lodges were in competition throughout the colonies (indeed around the globe). The Ancients, with their more inclusive membership, grew larger and, in America, became recognized with the patriot cause, where the Moderns were firmly allied with the Tories/Loyalists. As the War of Independence ebbed and flowed throughout the colonies, lodges met in accord with the political fortunes of the moment. When British forces took New York City in 1776, Masonic lodges of Patriot sympathies ceased meeting, and lodges of “Moderns” flourished. Conversely, upon the British evacuation of New York, the Modern Masons were supplanted by Ancients. Arguably the most dramatic example of this rift arose upon the death of Benjamin Franklin in 1790. Ten thousand citizens paid their respects to this Founding Father, who was elected Grand Master of Masons of Pennsylvania on June 24, 1734. But the Freemasons of Pennsylvania declined to give Bro. Franklin any Masonic funerary rites. You see, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania by the time of Franklin’s death had become Ancient Masonry. Alas, Benjamin Franklin was of Moderns stock.

The point of all this is to demonstrate that Freemasonry has a long history of courting the favor of civil government, and that the common association of Freemasonry with revolution (American or otherwise) is not as simple as some claim. Masonry’s professed obedience to civil authority is not cynicism, but is a desire to enjoy the freedom of association necessary for Masons to meet in their lodges. Some historians trace this to 1425, when Henry VI (age three!) and Parliament enacted the Statutes of Laborers. These post-Plague laws regulated both the wages to be paid laborers and merchants and, in the case of Masons in particular, their ability to meet together. Excerpted:

“First, whereas by the yearly Congregations and Confederacies made by Masons in their general Chapiters assembled, the good Course and Effect of the Statutes of Laborers be openly violated and broken, in Subversion of the Law, and to the Great Damage of all the Commons; our said Lord the King willing in this Case to provide a Remedy, by the Advice and Assent foresaid, and at the special Request of said Commons, hath ordained and established that such Chapiters and Congregations shall not be hereafter holden; and if any such be made, they that cause such Chapiters and Congregations to be assembled and holden, if they thereof be convicted, shall be judged for Felons; and that all other Masons that come to such Chapiters and Congregations, be punished by Imprisonment of their Bodies, and make Fine and Ransome at the King’s Will.”

I, for one, would not want to see the inside of a 15th century English “gaol.” This statute was repealed during the reign of Elizabeth I, but its legacy lived on as late as 1723, when the Rev. James Anderson authored Freemasonry’s first Book of Constitutions, which admonishes Masons:

“A Mason is a peaceable Subject to the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concern’d in Plots and Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation, nor to behave himself undutifully to inferior Magistrates....”

Submitted for your approval.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

‘DaVinci at labor’

The charter members of DaVinci Council No. 477 of Allied Masonic Degrees met last night for the new council’s organizational meeting. DaVinci is one of four new AMD councils set to labor in New Jersey this year.

Councils of Allied Masonic Degrees are the hottest ticket in New Jersey Freemasonry at present. The AMD is a tiny, honorary order within the York Rite. I’ll say 99.999 out of 100 Freemasons have never heard of the AMD.

So, how could so small and obscure an order become so attractive and popular?

I attribute that to the AMD’s specific missions: to bring Light to the brethren by researching topics befitting Masonic conversation and presenting those findings at our meetings; and to preserve a corpus of fascinating, obscure degrees, some of which are known to pre-date modern Craft Masonry.

As for Light, we all know the typical Craft lodge isn’t getting the job done. In New Jersey we are fortunate to have Alpha and Nutley lodges, both of which distinguish themselves this year by providing the brethren first rate lecturers and other education programs for the brethren’s enlightenment. Atlas-Pythagoras Lodge and Union Lodge are making impressive strides in this direction, and I’m told will expand these efforts in the coming year. Peninsula Lodge is planning a classroom-like program of Masonic education for 2010. Of course there also is Sons of Liberty Lodge (which could, would and should be New Jersey’s answer to Garibaldi Lodge, if not for our stifling bureaucracy). That’s six out of about 160 lodges, not counting our lodge of research and education, so as a whole, our jurisdiction does not live up to its own ritual’s admonishment about the Beehive symbol:

He who will not endeavor to add to the common stock of knowledge may be deemed a drone in the hive of nature, a useless member of society, and unworthy of the care and protection of Masons.

Those of us who worry about this problem have been taking one of two courses of action. Most quit the fraternity in frustration. (I received an e-mail this morning from a local Mason pretty well known for his lectures on psychology and philosophy who informed me he is no longer a Freemason.) Others, like myself, retreat to the research lodges, the AMD, and other bastions of Masonic culture, frequently traveling outside the jurisdiction to find that which was lost. Or discarded, as the case may be.

DaVinci Council has been created to satisfy those in search of further Light in Masonry. It was very interesting to listen to the brethren discuss and write their by-laws. They are very serious about not only “guarding the West Gate,” about making sure only deserving and capable Royal Arch Companions are invited to join, but also about upholding standards and maintaining performance. This means DaVinci members will attend meetings and partake in the research and education functions of the council... or else find their memberships revoked.

Extending membership only to the worthy, maintaining attendance standards, and making Masonic education central to the brethren’s purpose are things merely talked about in Craft ritual. In the Allied Masonic Degrees however – especially in this council – these are the defining characteristics.

And the brethren are responding. The enthusiasm I witnessed took the following forms: Only one member was absent from this meeting, and that’s only because he was becoming a father that night. Another brother contributed $500 to help the council get started financially. Two papers were presented, by Bro. Mohamad and Bro. Brian; both were well written, advanced important theses, and sparked animated discussions.

DaVinci Council’s brethren know they have created something very special, and I wish them the greatest success.

Remember: Guard the West Gate!

Left: a close-up of DaVinci’s altar cloth.

Right: the charter.

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I mentioned there are other new AMD councils in New Jersey.

In July, Cushite Council No. 474 held its inaugural meeting.

Next Friday, Alexandria Council No. 478 will receive its charter from MV Thurman C. Pace.

Also next week, Daniel Coxe Council will be chartered.

Brethren, please mark your calendars for Saturday, July 17, 2010, which will be the day of the annual Voorhis Ingathering. In deference to these new councils, we will confer the St. Lawrence the Martyr Degree, which is considered the entry degree of the AMD. And a selection of research papers will be presented. This will take place at J. William Gronning Council No. 83 in Freehold, at Olive Branch Lodge No. 16.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

‘Rededication and remembrance’

The only image of J.J.J. Gourgas extant is this portrait by F. D’Avignon in New York City, a lithograph on paper c.1850.

From the collection of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington.

The gravesite memorial marking the burial place of John James Joseph Gourgas was completely rehabilitated during the course of many months. Earth was moved; intrusive trees and vegetation were removed; eight headstones were returned to their original placements; the monument was sandblasted to look like new; brickpavers were laid; and curbstones were set. Bayview-New York Bay Cemetery in Jersey City also is home to dozens of Masons, including five Grand Masters of New Jersey, and several notable Scottish Rite figures.

More than a year in the making, yesterday was the occasion of the rededication of the gravesite memorial where John James Joseph Gourgas was laid to rest in 1865.

Known as the “Conservator of the Scottish Rite,” it was Gourgas who safeguarded the rituals and records of the AASR during the darkest days of the scandal following the “Morgan Affair.” Spanning from 1826 to about 1840, this period saw the AASR go dark, and most grand lodges nearly collapse, as the American public rejected Freemasonry, fearing it was ruling the country from the shadows. Gourgas, as Sovereign Grand Commander, personally took charge of keeping administrative matters current and maintaining contact with Masonic leaders around the world until whenever the controversy finally would end.

A brief biography of Gourgas was researched and written by Ill. Mike Lakat, 33° of the Valley of Southern New Jersey. Excerpted:

His Masonic life began when he became an Entered Apprentice on May 19, 1806 at Lodge L’Union Francaise No. 14 (now No. 17) and was listed as member No. 207 on the lodge rolls. He received both his Fellowcraft and Master Mason degrees on June 9, 1806 and in 1807 became Custodian of the Seals and Records for the lodge. On May 16, 1808 he demitted, and there is no further record of his membership in any lodge. This situation was not uncommon at the time insofar as lodge records were not maintained as they are today. Regardless of his status with the lodge, he was recognized as an active and full-fledged Mason. In fact, in tribute to his Masonic career in 1864 his lodge elected him to honorary membership.

On July 26, 1806 he was initiated into the Sovereign Grand Chapter of Rose Croix d’H-R-D-M of Kilwinning at New York City and became the Chapter’s secretary. On August 4, 1806 he was elevated by Antoine Bideaud, 33° to Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret 32°. Two days later Bideaud established the Sublime Grand Consistory 30°, 31°, 32° and Gourgas was named its secretary. On November 12, 1808 John Gabriel Tardy appointed Gourgas Deputy Inspector General of the Rite of Perfection. According to the register of Abraham Jacobs, published in Folger’s The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (1881), Gourgas also received the degree of Select Masons of the Twenty-seven and the Dublin Royal Arch.

On May 1, 1813, Emanuel De La Motta, of the Supreme Council at Charleston, initiated J.J.J. Gourgas and Sampson Simson into the 33°. Then, on August 5, De La Motta, acting as the Grand Commander in a “special sitting,” initiated four others, and the Grand and Supreme Council of the Most puissant Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the Thirty-third Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States was organized. Daniel Decius Tompkins was chosen first Sovereign Grand Commander. Within seven years Gourgas went from Master Mason to a coroneted 33°. On that day, he was also named the first Grand Secretary and served in that position until 1832.

On March 7, 1832 the second Sovereign Grand Commander, Ill. Bro. Sampson Simson, resigned and Gourgas became the third Most Puissant Sovereign Grand Commander, a position he held until September 4, 1851....

Ill. Bro. Gourgas died in New York City on Tuesday February 14, 1865 and was buried in New York Bay Cemetery (now Bayview-New York Bay Cemetery) in Jersey City. He was buried by his family with little or no notice or recognition from his brethren. Since his death he rested in virtual anonymity along with seven other members of his family. The gravesite was neglected, but was rediscovered and rededicated by Supreme Council in 1938 during the 125th anniversary year of Supreme Council.

This shot of the top of the monument was taken
on a sunny day recently, before the restorative sandblasting.

Why bury the New York City resident across the Hudson in Jersey City? One brother of the Valley of Northern New Jersey discovered why:

In 1852, the Common Council of New York City, then consisting solely of Manhattan Island, passed a resolution that banned further burials within the city limits in response to public fears stemming from cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1849, which were believed to have contaminated the well water supplying the city. Entrepreneurs quickly bought up land in Queens, the Bronx and New Jersey to establish new cemeteries. The New York Bay Cemetery was a scant six miles from the Bedford Street home of Ill. Gourgas. Maps from that era show how it would have been a short ride from St. John’s Chapel to the waterfront, where the coffin would be loaded onto a ferry bound for Paulus Hook on the Jersey side of the Hudson River, to be transported a few miles overland to Greenville and the cemetery overlooking the bustling harbor of New York....

St. John’s Chapel was built as an uptown annex by Trinity Church in 1803 to serve those parishioners who moved from crowded lower Manhattan to more fashionable residences near today’s Washington Square Park and Canal Street areas. The Gourgas residence on Bedford Street would have been located about one half mile north of the chapel. Having worked in lower Manhattan in my younger days, I knew that no such church existed on Varick Street. I later learned that the chapel had been razed in 1918 for the widening of Varick Street and for the construction of the Holland Tunnel. The entrance to the tunnel, in fact, occupies the land where St. John’s had stood.

I always wondered why there is a St. John’s Lane right outside the Holland Tunnel near Canal Street. St. John’s Lodge used to meet way downtown, in today’s Financial District, but not really near this St. John’s Lane.

This ceremony of rededication was very impressive. The NMJ Deputy for New Jersey, MW William H. Berman, Grand Master of New Jersey (and 33°), and Ill. John William McNaughton, 33°, Sovereign Grand Commander of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction all consecrated the monument with the ritual elements of Corn, Wine, and Oil, respectively.

Elements of consecration – Grand Master Berman, left, pours the wine. Grand Commander McNaughton, right, pours the oil.

Memorial wreaths bearing the inscriptions Deus Meumque Jus (God and My Right) and Spes Meo in Deo Est (My Hope is in God) flanked the monument. These are the mottos, respectively, of the 33° and 32°.

Awarded only 35 times previously in its 71-year history, Grand Commander McNaughton presented the Gourgas Medal to the New Jersey Scottish Rite brethren, the first time the honor was conferred upon a group. (We are going to take turns wearing it!)

SP Mike Porter contributed much to the solemnity
of the ceremony.

Before the ceremony, Supreme Council opened at Peninsula Lodge No. 99 in nearby Bayonne. Here Thurman Pace, left, greets Mark Tabbert of the George Washington Masonic Memorial. (Peninsula is the Magpie Mason’s mother lodge.)

Here is one of the prize possessions of my lodge. This is a Korberger Bible. A generation after Gutenberg revolutionized communications with his printed bible, Anton Korberger (sometimes Koberger) started printing his own bibles in Nuremberg. It is bilingual, with text in Latin and German, and dates to the 1470s. This has been in the lodge’s possession since 1901, and has been the VSL on which Masters of Peninsula are obligated.

SP Moises Gomez, 32° researched the Masonic VIPs interred at this cemetery.

MW Bro. Roland Joseph Behrens (1907-1986) – Grand Master of Masons in 1964; Trustee of the Masonic Home of New Jersey and the Masonic Charity Foundation of New Jersey; and Assistant Manager of the New York Stock Exchange.

MW Bro. Herbert Rupert Cruse (1879-1949) – Grand Master of Masons in 1927; coroneted 33° in 1928; Trustee of the Masonic Home of New Jersey in 1928; Active Member of Supreme Council, AASR-NMJ in 1943.

MW Bro. William Louis Daniels (1862-1927) – Grand Master of Masons in 1919; coroneted 33° in 1920; Director of George Washington National Masonic Memorial in 1921; namesake of William L. Daniels Lodge No. 269, warranted in 1927.

Bro. Edward I. Edwards (1863-1931) – U.S. Senator and 37th Governor of New Jersey.

Ill. Allen H. Fish (1897-1944) – Coroneted 33° in 1938; Commander-in-Chief of New Jersey Consistory, 1940-44; also served as Treasurer-Secretary of the Valley of Jersey City.

Ill. James W. McCarthy (1872-1939) – Commander-in-Chief of New Jersey Consistory, 1924-39; U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, 1928.

Bro. Arthur Harry Moore (1879-1952) – U.S. Senator and three-term Governor of New Jersey.

RW Bro. Jacob Ringle (1835-1917) – The “Father of the Masonic Home,” and District Deputy Grand Master of the 11th Masonic District.

Ill. John Sheville (1824-1882) – Founded Jersey City Lodge of Perfection in 1866; Deputy for New Jersey in 1866 and again 1870-76.

MW Bro. Fred Emory Tilden (1860-1930) – Grand Master of Masons, 1913; Grand High Priest of Royal Arch Masons, 1924-25; coroneted 33° in 1913. Son of MW Thomas West Tilden, and his father’s successor as Superintendent of this cemetery.

MW Bro. Thomas West Tilden (1838-1905) – Grand Master of Masons, 1891-92; Grand Commander of Knights Templar, 1884-85; namesake of Tilden Lodge No. 183, warranted in 1906; father of MW Fred Emory Tilden; Superintendent of this cemetery.

York Lodge No. 197, F&AM, State of New York – The lodge purchase burial plots for its brethren, accounting for a great many of the Masonic headstones in this cemetery.

Chronology of events

c.1650 – Gourgas family flees religious persecution in France, settling near Geneva, Switzerland.

1717 – Revival of Freemasonry in London, founding of Premier Grand Lodge of England.

1737 – Ramsay’s Oration introduces the idea that “Higher Degrees” exist, involving knighthoods and Templar lineage. In the next two decades, more than 1,100 Masonic degrees proliferate in France alone.

1740 – Loge la Française (French Lodge) constituted in Bordeaux. This lodge made Stephen Morin a Mason, and was among the first Craft lodges to begin working the “Scottish Degrees.”

1758 – Rite of Perfection, a system of 25 degrees, established by Chapter of Clermont in Paris.

1761 – Morin travels on business (he was a wine merchant) from France to the West Indies.

1762 – Morin introduces Rite of Perfection degrees to the West Indies.

1767 – First Lodge of Perfection forms in the Americas at Albany, NY.

1770 – Various rites consisting of 33 degrees proliferate in France and are exported elsewhere.

1777 (May 23) – J.J.J. Gourgas born at Lake Geneva.

1786 – Grand Lodge of New Jersey formed at New Brunswick.

1786 – Grand Constitutions of 1786 published in Prussia. Attributed to Frederick the Great, this founding document establishes the system of Supreme Councils recognizable today.

1801 – Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite formed at Charleston, SC.

1803 – Gourgas emigrates to the Boston area.

1806 – Gourgas initiated Entered Apprentice (May 19) at Lodge L’Union Française No. 14 (now No. 17) in New York City. Passed/Raised June 9.

1806 – Gourgas initiated into the Sovereign Grand Chapter of Rose Croix d’H-R-D-M of Kilwinning at New York City and became the Chapter’s secretary. On August 4, 1806 he was elevated by Antoine Bideaud, 33° to Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret 32°. Two days later Bideaud established the Sublime Grand Consistory 30°, 31°, 32° and Gourgas was named its secretary. On November 12, 1808 John Gabriel Tardy appointed Gourgas Deputy Inspector General of the Rite of Perfection.

1807 – The Cerneau Supreme Council is formed. This is another of several Supreme Councils that would vie for authority over the Scottish Rite in the northeastern United States.

1813 – The 33° conferred upon Gourgas by the Mother Supreme Council. Northern Masonic Jurisdiction created by a patent issued by the Mother Supreme Council. Daniel D. Tompkins, governor of New York, named Sovereign Grand Commander. Gourgas named Secretary, and serves in that capacity until 1832, when he becomes Sovereign Grand Commander.

1826 – Capt. William Morgan abducted and presumed murdered at Batavia, New York.

1826-40 – The “Morgan Affair,” the fear of Masonic conspiracies to rule America via a shadow government of Freemasons, nearly destroys the fraternity. In New Jersey, by 1840 only eight lodges remained (down from about 60), with a combined membership of approximately 40 brethren, essentially returning to the original size of 1786.

1845 – Northern Masonic Jurisdiction recovers sufficiently to issue a patent to the Ancient and Accepted Rite in Britain (with appended document urging the British to reserve the 18° and above to Trinitarians).

1851 – Gourgas retires as Sovereign Grand Commander.

1865 – (February 14) J.J.J. Gourgas dies in New York City. He was buried in a nondescript grave at Bayview-New York Bay Cemetery in Jersey City, New Jersey. Hardly any recognition from the brethren.

1867 – The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction we know today is formed upon the consolidation of several competing Supreme Councils.

1938 – Supreme Council dedicates the Gourgas gravesite memorial on the 125th anniversary celebration of Supreme Council’s founding.

2009 – NJ Council of Deliberation re-dedicates the gravesite memorial.

What is the Gourgas Medal?

Prompted by the first memorial service to Gourgas in 1938, Sovereign Grand Commander Melvin M. Johnson secured Supreme Council’s approval for the establishment of a special decoration to be known as the Gourgas Medal, which could be awarded by a vote of Supreme Council, or on the individual initiative of the SGC, upon any Scottish Rite Freemason of any Jurisdiction, for “notably distinguished service in the cause of Freemasonry, humanity or country.” The award was not given for several years thereafter, but in 1943 was voted to Senator Harry S. Truman, who did not actually receive the Medal until November 21, 1945, by which time he had succeeded to the Presidency of the United States. Recipients of the Medal are:

1945 Harry H. Truman
1946 Melvin M. Johnson
1949 His Majesty King Gustav
1952 Kaufman T. Keller
1952 Roscoe Pound
1953 Winfred Overholser
1954 Mark Wayne Clark
1956 George E. Bushnell
1959 Christian A. Herter
1963 Edward W. Wheeler
1964 Richard A. Kern
1968 George A. Newbury
1971 John W. Bricker
1973 Norman Vincent Peale
1974 Gerald R. Ford, JR
1975 Robert P. Taylor
1978 Stanley F. Maxwell
1978 George E. Gardner
1980 Robert H. Felix
1981 Louis Williams
1982 John H. Van Gorden
1983 Edmund F. Ball
1984 Warren N. Barr, Sr.
1986 Raymond C. Ellis
1988 Thomas F. Seay
1989 Francis G. Paul
1990 Charles E. Spahr
1995 Richard B. “Red” Skelton
1998 Carl H. Lindner, Jr.
1998 Robert O. Ralston
1999 John H. Glenn, Jr.
2002 W. Clement Stone
2003 Samuel Brogdon, Jr.
2006 Walter E. Webber
2006 Ronald A. Seale
2009 New Jersey Council of Deliberation

N.B. On Monday, November 9, the Valley of New York City will assist the U.S. Daughters of 1812 in unveiling the restored gravesite of the first Sovereign Grand Commander, Daniel D. Tompkins. 131 East 10th St., Manhattan.

Friday, October 16, 2009

On this date in 1646...

On this date in 1646, renowned scholar, antiquarian and public official Elias Ashmole was reportedly initiated into Freemasonry. According to his diary:

Oct. 16, 1646 at 4:30 p.m.

“I was made a Free Mason at Warrington in Lancashire, with Coll: Henry Mainwaring of Karincham in Cheshire. The names of those that were then of the Lodge: Mr. Rich Penket, Warden, Mr. James Collier, Mr. Rich. Sankey, Henry Littler, John Ellam, Rich. Ellam & Hugh Brewer.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Heather Calloway to speak

The terrific series of lectures hosted by Nutley Lodge No. 25 continues next month with Heather Calloway visiting to speak on Buildings of Masonic Significance in the United States. Appropriately, the lecture will take place at a dinner-fundraiser to benefit the lodge’s effort to make capital improvements to its own home. Calloway is director of Special Programs at the House of the Temple, the headquarters of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. She has been published in the Scottish Rite Journal and Heredom and elsewhere I’m sure.

The announcement above speaks for itself. See you there.

Willermoz on Wednesday

The evening long had been billed as VW Bro. Piers Vaughan to speak on “Willermozism” Wednesday at Alpha Lodge, but our lecturer was kept away unavoidably at the last minute, leaving Worshipful Master David Lindez (at right) having to, if not fill the shoes of the world renowned but absent authority on Willermoz, then at least to appease the usually diverse crowd of Alpha brethren and visitors assembled.

What is “Willermozism?” Frankly, I’m not convinced that’s a real word, and I have my doubts that Jean-Baptiste Willermoz would have used his own name to brand the rituals and teachings of the Scottish Rectified Rite, but as a rhetorical device to quickly express the magnitude of the history of Willermoz and Martinez de Pasqually; and of Strict Observance, Elu Cohens, and Les Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la Cité Sainte, it’ll have to do.

I’m not inclined to relay what David discussed tonight, mostly because I don’t possess a comprehensive understanding of these subjects and I’m liable to make mistakes, but also because I respect the privacy of CBCS, and I actually dread the inevitable inquiries, replete with feigned discretion, made by the usual grand rank cronies who think they need to join everything, regardless of their understanding of what and who they join.


Suffice to say it was a wonderful night. W. Bro. Lindez spoke with great enthusiasm, knowledge, and respect for his topic and for his audience, and did so for more than 90 minutes. He also displayed some of the pertinent regalia, including collars, jewels, and garments. It is hard not to envy David for the obvious pleasure and purpose he finds in that tiny corner of Freemasonry where Christian mysticism, secret histories, and esoteric Masonry combine, especially knowing how his family history practically foreordained (pun) him for this work.

But I do want to hear more about those vampires on St. Mark’s Place!

Monday, October 12, 2009

We Three or Three Such As We

I wrote this book review for the previous (Spring 2009) issue of Alchemy Journal, the theme of which was “The Alchemical Feminine,” but due to space limitations the editor said he was keeping it on file until the Fall issue, but it didn't make the cut there either. Hmmmmph! So I'll stick it on the Magpie.

We Three or Three Such As We
By Judith Rasoletti and Emile Lancée
LeesMijnBoek, 2008, 217 pp., 32.50EUR
(no ISBN)

The authors of the books we read – any books – presumably are professionals motivated by not only experience and knowledge of their subjects, but also hopefully a love for the same. In this particular book, we have it all.

This book’s subject is one that most Freemasons do not hear discussed with much accuracy or kindness: women in Masonry. Co-authors Judith Rasoletti and Emile Lancée have mixed together a trilogy of biographies with vivid descriptions of Freemasonry’s rituals, symbols and teachings. (And frankly we don’t hear those three subjects discussed regularly in most lodges either!)

The biographical subjects are Aimée Bothwell-Gosse, Marjorie Cecily Debenham, and Charlotte Jones. Not household names, and not found in Masonic reference books, but what makes their stories memorable is one night in 1949 at Lodge Castalia in Yorkshire. Jones, a widowed mother of two, was to be initiated; Debenham served as Worshipful Master; and Bothwell-Gosse, founder of the lodge, was seated with the dignitaries in the East. No one could have known it, but in time, these women and others will have built two “co-ed” Masonic jurisdictions in Great Britain and one international organization.

There are other actors who set this stage earlier. The book tells how Elizabeth St. Leger was initiated in a regular lodge in Ireland in 1712. Annie Besant entered Masonry in the French Co-Masonic circles at the fin de siècle. Maria Deraismes was a suffragette with a reputation for writing, oratory and political organizing who was initiated by a French lodge that suffered suspension by its grand lodge in retribution. These names do appear in popular Masonic references and other books. Before proceeding, it also must be noted that the United Grand Lodge of England acknowledged (not to be confused with recognized) Masonry for women. In a statement published more than a decade ago, UGLE explained how two grand lodges in Britain that admit women are “otherwise regular in their practice,” and while inter-visitation is not possible, discussions do take place between UGLE and the women Masons “on matters of mutual concern.” So we’re not talking about science fiction here. Furthermore, please know that co-author Rasoletti delivered a paper of these three biographies at the Second International Conference on the History of Freemasonry in Scotland last May.

As regards the symbolism of Masonry explained in this book, the authors let their biographical subjects do the talking. The results are splendid. Freemasonry is described glowingly, respectfully, as a cultural institution that advances moral truths and psychological understandings. This is the European model at labor – not a raffle ticket nor bowl of chili to be found. Big ideas are topics in lodges from the beginning of the Masonic journey. The Entered Apprentice does not Pass to Fellowcraft until he/she presents a “Piece of Architecture” to the lodge. In other words, the new Mason authors a paper demonstrating an understanding of a symbol. It repeats after the Fellowcraft Degree, and throughout the Mason’s career after the MM° and beyond. In fact, this very book is dedicated as a Piece of Architecture.

Marjorie Cecily Debenham, who would rise to become Grand Commander of her jurisdiction, the Order of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masonry for Men and Women, says this of Working Tools (in language that perhaps Alchemists can appreciate):

Now the journey continues, which for the Mason is a constant attempt to polish his stone, that Rough Ashlar which needs attention day and night. Masons polish the roughness with their Working Tools, the Chisel and the Mallet, alternating between the active and passive poles of their personality. The hidden aspects of their psyche are revealed with each blow of the mallet, chiseling another fine line that can be incisive or divisive, or smoothing, just as the relationships in their lives out there mirror the progress in here.

Those two sentences are but a tiny clue of how Freemasonry is regarded by Masons in some jurisdictions the mainstream does not recognize. I don’t want to turn a book review into a “their way is better” essay, but the differences between the two systems are very significant. Mainstream Masons attempt to memorize and recite 18th century prose, while the Masons in this book themselves speak in style and content worthy of ritual use.

In keeping with the theme (The Alchemical Feminine) of this issue of Alchemy Journal, I must relate the bold thinking behind Chapter 5, titled ‘Mixed Masonry Worldwide: Blueprint for the Future.’ An essay within, written by Maarten Zweers, says:

We really need the woman’s spiritual as well as concrete input from the feminine point of view to avoid missing the connection with the new time we live in and falling into the pitfall of non-fertile rigid thinking.

This aspect is much more fundamental than men realize. The bigger dramatic works that describe the transfer from the old to the new culture, they all point in the direction of the rescue of the masculine by the feminine. Countless plays by Shakespeare, Goethe, Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio,’ works of Wagner, Von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss, everywhere the male gets stuck at the end because of the old cultural habits. The relief comes from the feminine world. The petrifaction of the masculine that loses all creativity and power to act manifests itself to a terrifying degree in our society and the masculine Lodges.

The back of the book provides several very useful appendices, listing timelines that quickly chart the histories of the several feminine and mixed Masonic obediences that comprise the historical aspects of the book.

Honorable Fraternity of Antient Masonry (HFAM), founded in 1904, which became the Order of Women Freemasons in 1958.

Honorable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF), founded in 1913

The Order of Ancient Free and Accepted Masonry for Men and Women (AFAM), founded in 1925.

The Order of Ancient Free Masonry for Men and Women (AFMM&W), founded in 1979. Its first Grand Master was Charlotte Jones, formerly of AFAM.

Little information about these organizations is available outside the organizations themselves, and this book could have done the valuable service of shedding more light. For example, the departure of Jones from AFAM that led to the creation of AFMM&W is glossed over as just a typical splintering that “seems to happen so often in Freemasonry.” The reader is told only that Jones and several other members left AFAM over a disagreement concerning “a constitutional matter dealing with secret ballots that was seriously mishandled.” The reader can pardon the authors for protecting privacy, but the reader also has cause to wonder if candor and objectivity are possible when an author is personally involved with the subject.

There are other flaws in this book, but most are stylistic. First is the layout. In short, this book looks like it was designed in Microsoft Word with margins that are too wide. The typeface is a sans serif that implies a levity that this serious work does not deserve. There are plenty of terrific graphics, but captions are absent, and space is wasted by the huge margins surrounding them. The Introduction explains the captions are found in the back of the book to prevent distraction from the illustrations, and yet these illustrations are frustratingly small, again due to the layout, which defeats the purpose of isolating many of them.

On the editorial side, 16 pages are devoted to a facsimile of Bothwell-Gosse’s ‘A Short Sketch of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite,’ when instead the text could have been typeset efficiently so that space could be devoted to other purposes. In addition, a poor choice was made to allow many repeated uses of the Masonic punctuation called the triple period. This triangle of dots appears on many official and ceremonial Masonic documents. It is distracting in this book. For example, twice on page 135 the title “Most Illustrious Brother” is presented as an abbreviation that actually mutates the triple period, and it’s not a matter of secrecy because the abbreviations guide in the back of the book decodes it all. A simple style would have benefited the reader, or at least this one.

We Three or Three Such as We is, on the whole, an important book because it tells of people and events in Freemasonry that are little known. The stories of these women and their lodges deserve to be recorded and read and understood, and hopefully one day embraced as a standard part of the endlessly diverse story of Freemasonry.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Grand Master’s Day at Tappan

DeWint House, located in Tappan, New York, is owned and operated by the Grand Lodge of New York. During the Revolutionary War, it repeatedly served as a headquarters of Gen. George Washington.

Today was the big day at Tappan, where the Grand Lodge of New York hosted its annual Grand Master’s Day at DeWint House, the historic site preserved by the brethren in New York for its significance as a repeated headquarters of General George Washington during the Revolution.

Most notably, this modest home was used by Washington during the trial of Major John André, to whom General (and Freemason) Benedict Arnold had passed secret information to help the British capture the American garrison at West Point, the strategic artery that gave its owner control of the Hudson River. André was captured, tried, and, on October 2, 1780, executed. Arnold would escape capture, be commissioned a brigadier general in the British army, and lead British troops in Virginia and Connecticut.

RW Vincent Libone, Deputy Grand Master, at far right, presided over the reception today in lieu of Grand Master Edward Gilbert, who is recovering from an ailment.

The colors were presented by the Masonic War Veterans, led by RW John Borycki, Commander General.

Bro. Karl Best receives an honor from Grand Lodge. From left: Deputy Grand Master Vincent Libone, Bro. Karl Best, and RW Manuel Abad, vice president of the Board of Trustees of the Masonic Hall.
One of the more enjoyable moments of the day was the presentation of a proclamation from the Grand Lodge to Bro. Karl Best, who serves DeWint House as assistant superintendent. Best and his wife work with RW Harold Jones, superintendent, and his wife, to keep everything operational at the historic site. From greeting visitors to managing the priceless property, the two couples work hard in the service of Freemasonry and the public.

RW Dom Grippo is a trustee of the Masonic Hall,
and was secretary of Garibaldi Lodge No. 542 for many years.

There were many different aprons worn by the VIPs today. Plenty of purple and gold, and a diversity of styles and symbols. I had to get a shot of this one, worn by RW Bill Maurer, chairman of the DeWint House Committee.

Anyway, the attractions of DeWint House are numerous, and vary from the architecture of the house itself, which is Dutch Colonial; to the beautiful landscape, with its diversity of trees, and historic embellishments; and the many historical artifacts on display in the museum.

The earliest owners of this property owned slaves. These headstones once were in a cemetery several miles away, on land where the Palisades Parkway now stands. They are marked only with one to three letters.

This flag is a reproduction of the personal flag of Gen. Washington,
as commander-in-chief, during the Revolution.

This Japanese Maple is one of many exotic trees on the grounds.

A copy of the historic print titled ‘The Unfortunate Death of Major André.’

An antique painting of the house as it looked long ago.

A scale model of the HMS Perseverance,
a 36-gun frigate built in Britain in 1781.

I suspect the face on this clock is not original, because I have seen it on others, but there is no denying the beauty of the case of this clock. A marvelous example of craftsmanship, in, I think, mahogany.

Wall space is maximized with artworks of various kinds and vintages.

There are many more items on display at DeWint House, too many to show here. The site is closed Mondays, but is open the other six days a week for visits. Highly recommended.