Saturday, December 31, 2022

‘Scottish Freemasonry Symposium, Part III’

One of many slides, packed with dazzling facts, on the screen.

I’ll wrap up an enjoyable year with this overdue post on the George Washington Masonic National Memorial’s Scottish Freemasonry in America Symposium (the title seems to vary here and there, so I’m going with what’s on the front cover of the program) eight weeks ago. An enjoyable year mostly because of the more-than-the-usual travel, compensating, I guess, for the period of pandemic lockdown. There was Masonic Week in Virginia in February; Royal Arch Grand Chapter in Utica in March; the Railroad Degree in Delaware in April; Masonic Con in New Hampshire in June; and back to Virginia for this conference on November 5—which happened to have been the twenty-fifth anniversary of my Master Mason Degree. That whole weekend was the perfect way to celebrate the milestone.

This actually is the third in a series of Magpie posts about the events, and there are sidebars also, if you care to scroll through the posts from November. Pardon the poor quality of the photographs. So, here we go.

At the Washington Memorial, introductions, welcomes, and remarks were tendered by Executive Director George Seghers, President Claire Tusch, and Director of Archives and Events Mark Tabbert. The roster of presenters was a balance of Masonic and non-Masonic speakers who gave explanations of how Scots impacted British North America by emigrating to the colonies and bringing their Freemasonry with them. I think it is a neglected subject thanks to our anglocentric understanding of early American history. We think of things “Anglo-American” at the exclusion of the Scottish people, philosophies, religion, and more that also came to the American colonies.

Professor Ned Landsman
Professor Emeritus Ned Landsman, of SUNY-Stony Brook, discussed “Mobility and Stability in Scottish Society and Culture in the Eighteenth Century.” The Scottish influx into North America was not as large as England’s, he explained, mostly because the Scots were as likely to emigrate to Ireland and other destinations, and many who did cross the Atlantic were apt to return home after earning some money. But shifting economic and political fortunes in Scotland prompted enough to make the journey to find work, to trade, and to secure greater freedom. In the eighteenth century, it was Highlanders mostly, representing a “broad segment of intellectual life” (including a number of medical doctors) who established in America societies for sociable, charitable, and convivial pursuits.

Professor Hans Schwartz
Professor Hans Schwartz of Northeastern University in Boston presented “Migration and Scots Freemasonry in America, from the Stamp Act to the Revolution.” Schwartz is a Freemason and, more importantly, he is the liveliest and funniest lecturer I possibly have ever seen. I don’t know his availability to travel to lodges, but if you can book him, you’ll be a hero in your lodge. He explained how Scots lodges in British America were fewer than English lodges, but the Scots were influential beyond their numbers. George Washington’s lodge, Fredericksburg, was a Scottish lodge, as were others in Virginia, such as Port Royal and Blandford. The rolls of their memberships in the 1700s and beyond are filled with Scottish names. In Boston, Lodge of St. Andrew, which met in the Green Dragon Tavern, was the first lodge in British North America chartered by the Grand Lodge of Scotland. In only Fredericksburg and St. Andrew, you have George Washington, Hugh Mercer, Paul Revere, Joseph Warren, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and a host of lesser known revolutionary patriots and local heroes. And there were Scottish lodges on the length of the Atlantic seaboard, even down into the Caribbean.

Bro. Bob Cooper
Bob Cooper was next, but sadly his talk was cut short. We learned later that he was in pain (his bad knee) and had to get off his feet. From what I can recollect about his talk from eight Saturdays ago, he spoke of the importance of there being a Grand Lodge of Scotland after the union of Scottish and English parliaments as Great Britain in 1707, and that the Grand Lodge served as something of an extension of Scottish nationhood, particularly when it issued warrants to lodges in America.

Next up was Jim Ambuske from the Center for Digital History, Washington’s Library, at Mount Vernon, who brought to light an aspect of American Revolution history unknown to most. He explained the War of Independence as a civil war among Scots living in America. Citing a family named McCall as an example, Ambuske explained how Archibald McCall settled in Virginia in the 1750s and became a successful merchant and farmer. Politically, he sometimes sided with Washington and Jefferson, but he also supported the Stamp Act. When the war started, he placed himself on the side of the Loyalists, and so the rebels deemed him a traitor and eventually seized his properties. McCall appears to have been a supporter of Lord Dunmore who, of Scottish heritage, was colonial governor of Virginia and a very active agent of British policy. (When Patrick Henry said “Give me liberty or give me death,” he was speaking at Dunmore.) This was bad enough, but it also put him in the uniquely shameful position of asking the Crown for financial relief due to the loss of his wealth and income. As I understand it, he spent the rest of his life trying to square away these financial disasters, but, in death, he was able to bequeath his daughter two plantations.

Bro. Gordon Michie
The fifth speaker was Gordon Michie, another Mason, who spelled out the migration of Freemasonry to the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. I scribbled some notes, but most of what he told us is well known Masonic history so I won’t transcribe it here. I think the important historical information from Michie’s talk comes from Scottish Masonic Records, 1736-1950 by George Draffen, if you can lay hands on it.

And that was it for Saturday. There was a black tie banquet with a whisky tasting later, but I skipped it, preferring to get downtown for a meal and to duck into John Crouch Tobacconist, Alexandria’s oldest cigar and pipe shop, established 1967. I haven’t been there in ages, and somehow it looks like a smaller shop now that all the floor space is cleared of the Scottish souvenirs and tchotchkes. I bought some pipe tobacco: two ounces of Virginia Currency and, keeping with the Scottish theme, two ounces of Hebrides, a Latakia-heavy mixture that I’m smoking right now.

The conference resumed Sunday morning with Heather Calloway, Executive Director of Indiana University’s Center for Fraternal Collections and Research, who spoke on “Aye, Right Beyond the Haggis Dinners, Old Nessie, and Yonder in America.”

Dr. Heather Calloway
Speaking from not only a Masonic perspective, but from a broader American fraternalism outlook, she told of how Scottish culture was filtered into America through certain fraternal orders, like the Benevolent Order of Scottish Clans, the Daughters of Scotia, and others. (Back in the day, there were more than 300 fraternal societies in this country, with aggregate membership of about 6 million, she said.) Heather shared a few anecdotes, including one of a visit to Federal Lodge 1 in the District of Columbia, which invited her to look at some “cool old stuff.” The lodge didn’t know it had one particular item they found in a closet: the Bible used at George Washington’s funeral.

Bro. Ewan Rutherford
And the final presentation brought to the lectern Ewan Rutherford, Deputy Grand Master of the Royal Order of Scotland, who gave a Scottish history of Freemasonry. Beginning in 1475, with the incorporation of masons in Edinburgh, and continuing through more familiar facts about William Schaw, the Mary’s Chapel minute book, and to the Royal Order of Scotland, Rutherford brought the affair to a tidy conclusion, making clear how Scotland has been central to the identity of Freemasonry.

It was a great event that Claire Tusch, the Memorial Association’s President, said he hoped could be the first of more such conferences. And I agree! (Easy for me to say. I don’t have to do any of the work.) But I’ll be back in Alexandria in February for the Memorial’s centennial anniversary celebration. More on that later.

I’m sorry for the lack of content and detail on the presentations, and, as always, any errors or omissions are attributable to me.

Happy New Year!

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