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Masonic Research : Scottish Rite
two extraordinary documents were re-discovered
by W Bro Alain Bernheim 33°

Fifteen years ago, in 1997, I wrote (‘An Introduction to Joseph Cerneau’s and his Biographers’. Heredom 6 (Washington D. C.): 21-34):


The hitherto unknown document Heredom has the pleasure to reproduce in its present issue was presented by the Sovereign Grand Consistory of the United States of America to Joseph Cerneau, November 10, 1827, on the occasion of his return to France. It was recently discovered in the shop-window of an antiquarian in Paris by Pierre Mollier, Director of the Library, Archives and Museum of the Grand Orient of France, who recognized immediately its unusual interest and was kind enough to put an excellent diapositive at Heredom‘s disposal.


There are so few authentic documents directly pertaining to Joseph Cerneau that the discovery of a new one is a milestone in masonic history. Until then, Cerneau was a person one spoke about. Badly.


A melly-mellowshy anonymous broadsheet published in French at Philadelphia in January 1810 under the pretence of calling him “Brother” accuses him of behaving in a most disgraceful way since he arrived in New York. In August 1813, Grand Commander John Mitchell mentions to La Motta “the man you say is called Mr. Joseph Cerneau” and for Frederick Dalcho, Cerneau is “a certain individual”. One month later, Emanuel De la Motta meets “Mr. Joseph Cerneau” in New York but drops the “Mr.” in the Manifesto he drafts shortly after that meeting for Charleston’s approval which wil be made public in the last days of January, 1814. The expelled object, is therein reduced to the condition of “a certain individual of the name of Joseph Cerneau”. A few days later, he and his masonic body are described as “Joseph Cerneau and his company” in a joined letter addressed to Charleston by Gourgas, Tardy and Simson.


We never hear Cerneau speak for himself. We never hear his voice because we do not have a single letter he wrote or a single document issued by him alone, in his own name. And we still don’t.


But in this recently discovered document, we read —for the first time— about Bro. Joseph Cerneau as a completely different person. The document mentions “his zeal for the interests of the Order”, his “perseverance and ability”, “his useful talents”. We meet with brethren who wish to express their “highest esteem and regard for his person, virtues and services”.


Who was he actually ? What did he really do and why ? And what was his authority for acting the way he did, if any ? The time may have come to ask such questions and see if the previous answers we are all too well aware of were biased or not. At least, it may be worth a try


In October 2009, at the annual meeting of the Scottish Rite Research Society in Washington (D. C.) I said :


You know of course that along the 19th Century up to the present day, Cerneau is described with rather unflattering words such as impostor of the first magnitude, irregular, spurious… However, what you may not know is something you will not find in Masonic books. Namely that Grand Commander Dalcho, in December 1821, suggested to the Cerneau representative in Charleston that Cerneau’s Grand Consistory in New York and Dalcho’s Supreme Council in Charleston should divide the whole territory of the United States between them. This Dalcho’s offer stays in the Minutes of Cerneau’s Grand Consistory. Was Cerneau such a bad person after all ?


Then a new piece of information and two extraordinary documents were re-discovered within a matter of months. The new information was provided by Mr. Gilles Lorillon who found in the local archives of Villeblevin Cerneau’s birth certificate showing he was born on 14 November 1765 as well as his death certificate: Joseph Cerneau died in Melun, 3 February 1848. I published them in Heredom 18 in 2011 together with an analysis of the second Minute-Book (178 folios) of Cerneau’s Grand Consistory in New York which covered the years 1816-1826.


However the other most fascinating re-discovered document was the Minute-Book of the Grand Council of Princes of the Royal Secret from the day it was founded in Charleston on 17 August 1815 by a Warrant of Cerneau’s Grand Consistory up to May 1825. It brought an entirely new light on the relationship between the leaders of that body – all of them were Grand Masters, Past Grand Masters, Grand Officers or Past Grand Officers of South Carolina Grand Lodge – and Frederick Dalcho, the then Grand Commander of the Charleston Supreme Council since John Mitchell’s death in 1816. It also showed the part played by Joseph M’Cosh (the author of Documents upon Sublime Free-Masonry published in Charleston in the Summer of 1823) and Moses Holbrook who was to become Grand Commander of the Supreme Council in Charleston after Isaac Auld’s death in 1826.


It was a major discovery to ascertain that the Instituts and Statuts copied in-extenso at the beginning of the Register were identical with the Instituts and Statuts included in the Recueil des Actes du Suprême Conseil de France, a book printed in 1832 in Paris ; and that the Extrait des Instructions of the Register was identical with article 12 of the Instructions sur les Principes Généraux de la Haute Maçonnerie of the Recueil. The constitutional laws of the high degree bodies founded by Joseph Cerneau in the United States have always been ignored and no historian ever realized that they were printed in the Recueil des Actes.


This Minute-Book will be copied in parts and its significance analysed in Heredom vol. 21 which will appear at the end of 2012.



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Masonic Exposures: 

1723 The "Post Boy" Sham Exposure 
1724 The Whole Institution of Masonry 
1725 The Whole Institutions of Free-Masons Opened 
1725c. Institution of Free Masons 
1725 The Grand Mystery of Free-Masons Discovered 
1727c. The Mason's Confession (Dundee Manuscript) 
1730 Masonry Dissected by Samuel Prichard 
1760 Three Distinct Knocks 
1762 Jachin and Boaz 
1802 Finch's Masonic Treatise 
1826 Morgan's Exposure of Free Masonry 
1831 Manual of Freemasonry by Richard Carlile

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