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
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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