Review of Freemasonry

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by W.Bro. David Barrett
PM Ra'anana Lodge #70,PGW; PZ; 25° AASR
The Grand Lodge of the State of Israel.

This paper is a reconstituted collection of fairly accurate facts from several American Masonic sources, but especially the American Masonic Record and Albany Saturday Magazine of 1829, which is in our Lodge possession.

The actual event, which took place on American soil, occurred in 1826, but its immediate repercussions encompassed the next 19 years [to 1845.]

It affected the New England States, Massachusetts and last but not least, N.Y., where it all began.

To appreciate events one has to understand that Masonry prior to this period was flourishing. There were public processions and ceremonies and the Fraternity attracted men from far and wide.

These were the glory days of Freemasonry!


How did it start?



In 1826 a Resident of N.Y., a William Morgan was apparently abducted, disappeared and presumed murdered by Freemasons.

This event strengthened the anti-Masonry movement to the effect that an Anti-Masonry political party was formed which was so powerful that it eventually succeeded in electing 2 State Governors.

It would be apposite at this point to note that the anti-Masonic Political Party was the first in the USA to announce a platform and a nominating convention.

In 1832 they even had a party candidate for presidency, a former Mason!  More on this later.


So what was this affair?


William Morgan, born in 1774, in Culpepper County, Virginia, was probably a Mason but there is no record of his membership of a blue Lodge. He claimed to having been initiated abroad and indeed gained admittance, presumably on proof, to Lodge 282 at Batavia, N.Y. as a visitor.

He was subsequently described by several persons as envious, malicious, vindictive, a heavy drinker, neglectful  of family. He was also in debt to several persons, the last being the prime mover to what eventually transpired.


Some family history:


In 1819, having worked as a brick-layer, he married a 16 yrs old, Lucinda Pendleton of Richmond, Virginia.

In 1821 he moved to York, Canada and became a brewer. After a fire destroyed the distillery and being reduced to poverty, he moved to Rochester N.Y. and thence to Batavia in 1826.He had a common English education and was a pleasant individual by all accounts, except when intemperate, which he was to a great degree.

Now, it is documented that in 1825 he was received into the York Rite Royal Arch Degree at Leroy, N.Y. on 31/5/1825, in the Western Star Chapter no. 33.

When, subsequently, a Chapter was opened in Batavia , and despite his name being on the petition, the other petitioners rejected him.

The Chapter duly established, he then applied for affiliation and was blackballed in consequence of his intemperate and unworthy habits.


This rejection led Brother Morgan to proceed to repudiate the Order in the following manner.

As in other places Batavia had a local newspaper, the Republican Advocate [The People’s Press], edited then by a Colonel David Miller  who was, apparently, of similar disposition to Morgan but not a practicing Mason .Some say that he had been initiated but had also prevented from further advancement. He, too, was in awkward financial straits.


Morgan approached Miller with the sole purpose to publish a malicious book on Freemasonry incl. its secrets, to be entitled. – ‘An Exposition of Ancient Craft Masonry’. - in hopes, no doubt, to make a fortune from such disclosures. It was as ‘Morgan’s Illustrations of Masonry’ a best seller after the events below. [The pamphlet consisted of 125 pages at one $ per copy]. Indeed as demand outstripped supply other publishers joined the fray, the sole purpose being to destroy Freemasonry, and to cash in.


The town’s Masons, being informed made efforts to halt its progress with limited success.

Then someone set fire to the newspaper building  in September 1826,without serious damage. As a result of this stupidity four Freemasons were arrested, 3 indicted and jailed. Their actions were not ordered or condoned in any way by the Lodge. Indeed a number of Masons joined in a printed notice, offering a reward of $100 for the apprehension of the arsonists.


It is safe to say that, if this whole incident of an attempt to prevent the printing of a booklet, of a type that had already been published elsewhere, had been ignored then there would have been no sequel; Morgan and Miller would have sunk into obscurity and I would not be standing here before you today.


On 9/8/1826 a notice appeared in a local newspaper denouncing Morgan as a swindler and a dangerous man.

Two months later, September 11th 1826,  he was arrested by a legal ‘Masonic’ posse and tried for theft, accused by a Mason- Ebenezer Kingsley -  for stealing wearing apparel, but discharged.

The nature of the charge was that he had borrowed a shirt and tie, which he had not seen fit to return. He was immediately rearrested for the non payment of a debt [the princely sum of $2.69] by a member of one of the posse, a taverner, and found guilty and locked up in the Ontario County Jail.[ Canandaigua]


On 12/9/1826 he was released, the debt having been settled [by someone called Lawson] and he was never seen again in the vicinity!


Apparently the members of the posse conspired together. Immediately on his discharge, he was seized, forcibly thrust into a carriage and taken via Fort Niagara to Canada where his presence was recorded on 14/9. After that there is no recorded information about him.


It transpired, at a subsequent inquiry [Lewiston Convention] that several Masons and the sheriff at the jail had colluded to abduct Morgan and transport him safely across to Canada with a promise that he would not return  He was to have found a place to live and send for his family. Instead  he disappeared. His disappearance was noted and subsequent to an investigation four Masons were arrested, tried and convicted and sentenced to jail terms ranging from one month to three years.


Apparently they were afraid that Morgan was going to continue with his Masonic exposure. They came, so they said, to a financial agreement with Morgan, in that Morgan consented to be abducted in exchange for $500. It was the sheriff, at his trial, who confirmed that Morgan was going willingly and he actually accompanied them to Fort Niagara.


Also writes were issued against those who drove him to the border and those who held him in Fort Niagara  – all apparently Freemasons.

Indeed it seems that the whole Batavia Lodge was indicted but, nothing being proven against the majority, these  were squashed. The Grand Royal Arch Chapter [comprising 110 chapters] disclaimed all knowledge and approbation of the affair, in which they were followed by most of the Lodges  in the state.

The trial of the abduction made headline news, especially for Miller’s paper, and it was not long before rumours started that the Masons had murdered Morgan by drowning him at the Falls. There were supposed confessions but not one was  identical. However, with deliberate encouragement from the Anti-Masonry movement  and by word of mouth , Morgan’s demise became a fact, more so when, on 7th October 1827, a body was found on the shore of lake  Ontario, Oak Orchard Harbour, some 30 miles from the Niagara River. Immediately all the newspapers claimed it was Morgan. There was an inquest [accidental death being recorded by the Coroner];  the body was buried, name unknown, but a week later , after the facts of the inquest being published, the body was disinterred and another inquest arranged, at which a new person appeared , named  Thurlow Weed, a newspaper man with the Albany Register, looking for publicity. [More later]

This inquest and jury of 23 souls concluded, after denying the primary witnesses, and the fact that the description of the facial features had been somewhat altered, that indeed it was Morgan. Even Mrs. Morgan denied it being her husband , [ the clothing was not that of her husband] and the body was moved to Batavia and interred as Morgan –  ‘the ghost of Morgan was said to walk’.


Of note is the fact that, another lady, a Mrs. Monro of Clark, Upper Canada, who, claimed the body was her husband, Timothy, eventually received the remains for burial, after satisfactory proof and  identification had been established. But the feelings of anti-Masonry were so rife that people refused to accept this as it would detract from their aims to destroy Freemasonry. It was said “that he was a good enough Morgan, until after the election”.


To this very day there has never ever been any proof brought forward that Morgan was murdered despite multiple inquiries.


Many people started to complain that the original sentences had been too light because of undue Masonic influence within the Courts but the law at the time was that abduction of a white man could only be punished by imprisonment; also there was no body to cite proof of homicide.


The aforementioned Weed, seeking publicity out of his desire to wield political influence, proceeded to drive this Anti-Masonic feeling to a fury and succeeded. When the Anti-Masonic movement erupted in Le-Roy,  New York Weed became further politically active in its cause. He also shrewdly sought to align Anti-Masonic politics with the National Republican organization supporting John Quincy Adams in 1828. In this he succeeded.


A declaration of independence from the Masonic code was adopted involving 18 charges against Freemasonry. The declaration stated specifically that the candidates for governor and Lt.-Governor be anti-Masonic. One of the main signatories to this charter, apart from Weed, was a Rev.David Bernard. This ‘gentleman’ was a Pastor of the Baptist Church in Warsaw, New York who, on the announcement of Morgan’s disappearance, renounced Freemasonry and spent the next 20 years vilifying and organizing all the anti-Masonic conventions. It was he who insisted that Masonic clergymen resign or be dismissed from their posts.


Anti-Masonry spread more or less extensively into all the states. It denounced first the system, and then the men, as unfit for any office, and unworthy of any countenance. It not only denounced the men, but denounced those who would not denounce them! Anti-Masonic committees were established. Masonic meetings were disrupted. Weeds support of anti-Masonry made him an influential staunch supporter of Abraham Lincoln .He became an advisor to the new president on political appointments as well as serving as an unofficial envoy, during the Civil  War, to Britain and France.


Weed and others claimed that there had been a cover up. At that time Masons were considered by many to be  above the law, a secret cabal. Jealousy .coupled with greed by those not able to gain membership, together with those denied membership, were factors which fueled Anti-Masonry. Society abounded with politicians seeking popularity, like Weed. There was the clergy who saw souls to be saved [see above] and finally the press – news created equals money, as we well know to our cost today. Nothing changes.


Charges of illegal and immoral activities were rife; Masons were accused of subverting political and religious institutions. Women and the church joined in against Freemasonry but for the movement to progress they had to become a political animal and in this they  eventually  succeeded .


In 1840 an Anti –Masonic President was elected, supported by Thurlow Weed who had failed in a previous election [1832].  William H. Harrison was set to enact the Whig programme but he died 31 days later, in office, from pneumonia.   


In 1860 Weed failed to secure the presidential Republican nomination for his friend William Seward, a veteran  and active Anti-Mason politician of the 1830s, and as a result Weed then lost his political influence.


The Anti-Masonic political party had now lost all its potential, but I must note here that its decline really started in 1932 after the Presidential election in which Anti-Masonic candidates took a beating; only Thurlow Weeds presence gave it a semblance of respectability.


Former Masons, who were prominent politicians, made anti-Masonic statements to curry favour. These included President Quincy Adams, Thaddeus Stevens and Daniel Webster who may be better known to our American Brethren. To quote the former,” Masonry should be abolished; it is wrong- as seed of evil, which can never produce any good. This order is a foul blot on the community.”


The anti-Masonic press printed the following, “Freemasonry is the step that leads down to hell, the path of  perdition, conclaves of corruption, protection of fraud and villainy and the academy of tipplers.”


Despite all the above, it is of interest that Andrew Jackson, a former Grand Master of Tennessee, was twice elected President, in 1828 and 1832 before the anti-Masonic Party eventually merged into the new Whig Party, the fore-runner of the Republican Party. However, 4 Anti-Masonic State Senators and 17 Assembly men were elected during the 1830-45 period.


Yes, much damage was done. The number of Masons dropped from 100,000 to 40,000 in 10 years!

N.Y., alone, went from 20,000 to just 3,000, down from 480 lodges to 82. Some Grand Lodges ceased to  meet- indeed the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania had to surrender its charter in 1834 having conveyed its  property to trustees. It was 1859 before it was reincorporated.

The Masons were identifiable – the well dressed leaders of community and business. Masonic clergy were  dismissed from their churches. Lodges were burnt. Public Masonic ceremonies ceased. The Craft was discredited as an intellectual society – no longer did someone try to join in order to be socially conscious.

However the Anti-Masonic Party led to other challenges – Prohibition, Women’s Suffrage etc – in that they felt the ends justified the means. It was only after the Civil War that Freemasonry began to stage a significant comeback.

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