Freemasonry in Maine 1762 - 1945

Author:  Ralph J. Pollard

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CHAPTER VI. The Morgan Affair and Anti-Masonry.

The Administration of Robert P. Dunlap (1830-1831); Nathaniel Coffin (1832-1834); Reuel Washburn (1835-1837); Abner B. Thompson (1838-1840); Hezekiah Williams (1841); and Thomas W. Smith (1842-1844).

 

In the year 1826, a worthless itinerant named William Morgan was living in Batavia, New York. He was a man of questionable character, always in debt, and frequently intoxicated. There is no record that he was ever lawfully made a Mason, but he had imposed upon certain credulous and gullible brethren, had visited Lodges, and had actually received the Royal Arch degree in a regular Chapter. When denied membership in a new Chapter at Batavia, he turned against the Fraternity, and entered into a conspiracy with one Miller, the village printer, to publish an exposure of the Masonic secrets.

Certain hot-headed and ill-advised brethren determined to prevent the publication by separating Morgan from Miller and running him out of the country. Morgan was then in the county jail for debt. The Masons concerned in the matter paid his bills, secured his release, loaded him into a carriage and drove off in the direction of Canada. Morgan was never seen again. The Masons claimed that he had gone willingly, that he had been paid a sum of money, and told to get going and stay gone. Miller claimed that his partner had been abducted and murdered. Miller's claim would have gone unheeded, had it not coincided with the plans of an unscrupulous politician. Thurlow Weed, of infamous memory, was then bent upon effecting the political ruin of the great DeWitt Clinton, Governor of New York. Clinton was a prominent Mason, and Weed figured that by discrediting Freemasonry he could also discredit Clinton. He, therefore, took up Miller's charge and made the most of it. The public press accused the Masons of murdering Morgan, and denounced the Fraternity as a menace to Democracy, and as a sinister combination which bound its members by bloody and unlawful oaths, and which set itself above the law. Clergymen raved against the Order as anti-Christian, and denied the Sacrament to any church members known to be Free Masons. Nineteen anti-Masonic conventions were held in New York State alone. A body was discovered in Lake Ontario. It was hailed as that of Morgan, and given an imposing funeral by the Anti-Masons. It proved to be the body of Timothy Munroe, and was turned over to his wife, but the cynical Weed commented that, " It was a good enough Morgan until after election." The political campaigns which followed were the most savage and vituperative in American history. The Anti-Masonic Party achieved some local successes, particularly in New York and Pennsylvania, where it enjoyed the leadership of the notorious Thaddeus Stevens. In 1832, it went so far as to nominate a candidate for President of the United States. He carried the single state of Vermont. Most Worshipful Brother Andrew Jackson, Past Grand Master of Tennessee, won the election by an overwhelming majority. By the next year the Anti-Masonic Party, as such, was officially dead.

Governor Clinton and the duly constituted authorities were active in attempting to find out the truth. Those implicated in the abduction of Morgan was arrested. The murder charge could not be sustained, but they were convicted of conspiracy to abduct, and served brief jail sentences. Needless to say, no responsible Masonic organization or officer condoned their foolish and unlawful act.

The life of the Anti-Masonic Party was brief. The popular ill-will which had been stirred up against the Fraternity had a longer duration. The passions of the ignorant and the gullible were aroused. The result was the most senseless, hysterical, and unwarranted persecution in the annals of the Anglo-Saxon race. The eminent services of the Fraternity in establishing the American government were ignored. So were its many charities to suffering humanity, and its substantial contributions to the cause of education. Good and otherwise intelligent people were willing to believe the worst of an institution which had merited the life-long patronage of Washington and Franklin, and which, even then, numbered among its members the President of the United States and the reigning sovereign of Great Britain. The Masonic Fraternity was denounced as anti-Christian and as the enemy of republican institutions. Masons were expelled from their churches, driven from public office, boycotted and ruined in their businesses, and deprived of their constitutional rights. Their wives and daughters were ostracized. Their children were barred from the schools. Families were disrupted, wives estranged from their husbands, children from their parents, and brethren from each other. In these trying times, it required courage of no mean order for a man to remain a Mason. Only those of the highest courage and the sternest virtue had the fortitude to face the storm.

The Anti-Masonic movement never affected the South. But in the Northeastern States, it was a devouring flame which threatened the very life of the Fraternity. In New York, out of more than five hundred Lodges, with a membership of over twenty thousand in 1829, only fifty-two Lodges, with fifteen hundred members, remained in 1832. In New Jersey, thirty-three out of forty-one Lodges went out of existence. In Vermont, it was twice moved that the Grand Lodge dissolve. Both motions were defeated, but the Grand Lodge barely kept alive with biennial sessions of the Grand Officers alone. In Illinois, the Grand Lodge and all its subordinate Lodges ceased to exist. The same was true in Michigan.

Conditions in Maine were bad. Nowhere was the popular prejudice more excited and the opposition more intense. The first mention of the excitement in the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge is found in the report of the Corresponding Grand Secretary for 1829, in which he refers to " the unjust slanders of its enemies, and of those, who from ignorance of its principles, or from sinister motives, have arrayed themselves against it."

The next year, the Most Worshipful Samuel Fessenden, on retiring from the Oriental Chair, delivered a powerful valedictory address, in which he clearly enunciated the true principles of the Institution, and ably defended it from all the charges of its enemies. A committee, of which Most Worshipful Simon Greenleaf was a leading member, was appointed to take into consideration the peculiar duties of Masons at the present time. In their report they recommended, " that they are under no obligation, as Masons nor as men, to enter the lists of discussion and argument with political enthusiasts or heated fanatics, but ought to avoid all those things which serve only to keep alive the frenzy which threatens to lay waste the superstructure and uproot the foundations of social harmony; and therefore your committee can perceive no course so proper to recommend under the present circumstances, as that all true Masons should quietly let the tempest take its course, and fear not its consequences, while they endeavor to vindicate the sincerity of their profession by a well-ordered life and conversation, and ' by well-doing to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.' "

The effect of the Anti-Masonic movement on the Maine Lodges was paralyzing. Candidates ceased to apply for the degrees. Members ceased to pay their dues. The indifferent, the timid, and the weak deserted the Fraternity in droves. Here and there, a Lodge dared to strike back at its enemies. On Saint John the Baptist's Day, 1831, Lincoln Lodge, No. 3, at Wiscasset, marched in procession through streets lined by a jeering and hostile crowd, attended service in the House of God, and listened to an address by Past Master John H. Sheppard, in which he ably refuted the charges made against the Craft. But, as the depression deepened, even this sturdy Lodge bent before the storm.

In the administration of Most Worshipful Nathaniel Coffin, the District Deputy Grand Masters were ordered to submit detailed reports on the condition of the Lodges in their respective districts. These reports painted a dismal and gloomy picture. Everywhere the brethren were discouraged and down-hearted. The Craftsmen were scattered from the altars, and the sound of the gavel was heard no more. Yet, here and there, were gleams of light. Of Amity Lodge, No. 6, at Camden, the Deputy reported, " in as prosperous condition as could be expected in these days of adversity to the Craft. They have had but one initiate for the last three years, but their monthly communications have been as regular as in the days of their greatest prosperity." The Deputy for the Fourth District reported of Saint George Lodge, No. 16, of Waldoboro and Warren, that, " no members appear to have been dismissed or to have seceded; one died, ten candidates crafted and raised, and six members added to the Lodge."

There were some traitors. Prominent among them, according to the Deputy's report, was " Reverend N. W. Sheldon of Brownville, who was initiated and crafted in Piscataquis Lodge, has renounced and denounced it in the most bitter invectives, has created a considerable anti-Masonic excitement in the neighborhood and with the assistance of a few influential neighbors has deluged the town with anti-Masonic papers, almanacs, etc."

The Maine Lodges fell into three classes. A few collapsed without a battle, and surrendered their Charters to the Grand Lodge. Kennebec Lodge, No. 5, of Hallowell, surrendered its Charter in 1831, first putting its property in the hands of trustees. The Charter of Rural Lodge, No. 53, of Sidney, was surrendered in 1836. That of Solar Lodge, No. 14, of Bath, was recalled by the Grand Lodge in 1837, for a violation of the By-laws.

On the other hand, there were some Lodges which, through thick and thin, maintained their organization, elected officers, and transacted business. These were usually Lodges possessing substantial invested funds. The two Portland Lodges were in this class. They attempted to hold quarterly communications and held frequent joint meetings. Programs were presented and a degree of interest was maintained. Delegations from Portland and Ancient Landmark Lodge attended the centennial of Saint John's Lodge, No. 1, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Brother Benjamin Gleason, the famous Masonic lecturer and teacher of the correct " Webb Work," visited Portland and gave instruction to an interested group of brethren from these two Lodges.

Most of the Lodges, however, neither surrendered their Charters nor maintained an active existence. They simply became dormant. Some faithful brother retained custody of the Charter, jewels, and records. The hall was closed, and all meetings were discontinued. The Lodge went to sleep, like a hibernating bear, until the dark night was past and a new day dawned.

Of course the Grand Lodge shared the sufferings of its subordinates. That it did not utterly succumb was due solely to the courage, loyalty, and wisdom of a little group of devoted Masons whose names should ever be held in grateful remembrance by their brethren of Maine. Through all the trying years the Grand Lodge of Maine never failed to meet in annual communication, to transact its business, to dispense its charities, and to elect its officers, although on one occasion not a single subordinate Lodge was represented.

Grand Master Samuel Fessenden retired in 1830. He was succeeded in office by Most Worshipful Robert P. Dunlap, one of Maine's most distinguished sons, for many years prominent in the political life of the State and Nation. During the years of the anti-Masonic excitement Brother Dunlap served as President of the Senate, Governor's Councillor, and Governor of Maine. His Masonic affiliation might well have ruined his political career but he never allowed this consideration to influence him. Not only did he adhere to the Fraternity, but he accepted its highest office and piloted it safely through the breakers which threatened its destruction.

Another giant of the evil days was Major General Abner B. Thompson, of Brunswick, to whom, more than to any other individual, is due the fact that continuous sessions of the Grand Lodge were held. He was District Deputy Grand Master in 1834, Junior Grand Warden from 1835 to 1837, presided over the Grand Lodge in the absence of the Grand Master in 1838, served as Grand Master from 1838 to 1840, and was thereafter a Trustee of the Grand Lodge Charity Fund. He was a tower of strength, and his zeal and fidelity gave inspiration to his brethren.

Other devoted brethren, who led the Craft during the worst years of the trouble, were Most Worshipful Nathaniel Coffin, Grand Master from 1832 to 1834, and Most Worshipful Reuel Washburn, Grand Master from 1835 to 1837. Their names and services to the Grand Lodge of Maine should never be forgotten.

Another stalwart was Right Worshipful Asaph R. Nichols, of Augusta. He was Grand Secretary from 1832 to 1835, Trustee from 1836 to 1837, Senior Grand Warden pro. tem. in 1838, and Deputy Grand Master from 1838 to 1843, and again in 1845.

After his retirement as Grand Treasurer, Brother Joseph M. Gerrish continued to serve the Craft in various pro. tem. capacities. Brother James B. Cahoon, of Portland, served as Grand Treasurer from 1831 to 1833, and Brother Benjamin Davis, of Augusta, from 1834 to 1843. Brother Philip C. Johnson, of Augusta, was Grand Secretary from 1836 to 1844.

Mention must also be made of certain devoted brethren who served the Grand Lodge faithfully and well in some of its inferior capacities. Among these were Right Worshipful Isaac G. Reed, of Waldoboro, D. D. Grand Master and Corresponding Grand Secretary; Zina Hyde, of Bath, D. D. Grand Master and Corresponding Grand Secretary; Amos H. Hodgman, of Warren, D. D. Grand Master; David Shepherd, of Sebec, D. D. Grand Master, and John C. Humphreys, of Brunswick, D. D. Grand Master and Grand Marshal.

In 1831, the Grand Lodge moved its annual communications from Portland to Augusta, in the belief that the more central location and the sittings of the State Legislature would benefit attendance. The old custom of quarterly communications, inherited from Massachusetts, was abandoned. Despite the move, attendance steadily declined. Thirty Lodges were represented at the 1830 Communication. In 1831, there were twenty; in 1832, sixteen; in 1833, ten; in 1834, seven; in 1835, six; in 1836, four; and in 1837 one lonely Lodge, Hermon, No. 32, of Gardiner. In 1838, there were four Lodges represented; in 1839, four; in 1840, six; in 1841, two; while in 1842, not a single Lodge was represented, and the business was transacted by the Grand Officers and Permanent Members alone. However, by that time, the worst was over. Five Lodges showed up in 1843, and in 1844, the delegates of nineteen Lodges were present. The depression was at an end.

As the Grand Lodge is dependent on its subordinates for its revenue, its financial condition was most unhappy. All dues from subordinate Lodges were remitted. It was necessary to borrow from the Charity Fund in order to pay the current expenses of the Grand Lodge. During the blackest days, the Trustees of the Charity Fund continued to dispense charity, although, before the evil days ended, they found it necessary to use part of the principal of the Fund.

At last the storm blew over. The fires of prejudice died down. New interests and issues absorbed the attention of the American people. Slavery, Texas, and the Oregon boundary occupied the public's thought. Here and there, a few lodges ventured to appear in public to conduct the funeral services of some departed brother. A trickle of candidates began to knock timidly at the doors of long-deserted Lodge rooms. Soon the trickle became a stream. The Anti-Masonic era was ended.

United Lodge, No. 8, of Brunswick, took the initiative in suggesting that the two Portland Lodges call a Masonic Convention to meet in that city. This was done, and a circular letter was issued over the signatures of a joint committee of Portland Lodge, No. 1, and Ancient Landmark Lodge, No. 17.

The Convention met on October 4-5, 1843. Eighty brethren were present, representing twenty-three communities. Among the prominent Masons in attendance were Past Grand Masters Charles Fox and Abner B. Thompson, Past Grand Treasurer Joseph M. Gerrish, Grand Chaplain John H. Ingraham, and Grand Marshal John C. Humphreys. Brother Thomas S. Bowles, of Bath, was elected President of the Convention. The condition of the Fraternity in Maine was thoroughly discussed, means for its rehabilitation considered, resolutions adopted, and committees appointed.

The two Portland Lodges were also active in endeavoring to secure the return of the Grand Lodge to Portland. In this, they were at length successful, the Grand Lodge returning to Portland in 1844.

On April 17, 1844, the Grand Lodge met in special communication for the purpose of conducting the obsequies of Grand Steward Jeremiah Haskell.

For the first time in many years, Saint John the Baptist's Day, in 1844, was observed in the ancient manner. We can do no better than to copy from the official Proceedings :

' Notice having been given that the other Masonic Bodies who purposed to unite in the Masonic Festival, were in readiness to move in procession to the Reverend Doctor Nichols' Church for the purpose of hearing an Oration delivered by Right Worshipful John H. Sheppard, of Boston, the Grand Lodge was formed under the direction of the Marshal and proceeded, accompanied by the Grand Chapter of Maine, and several subordinate Chapters, Portland and Ancient Landmark Lodges, and a large concourse of Brethren, through the several principal streets of the city to the Church, where the following services were performed:

Voluntary — Organ

Anthem — " Glory be to God on High."

Prayer by Reverend Cyrus Cummings

Hymn — " Light and Truth "

Reading of Scriptures by Reverend William A. Drew

Ode — " When darkness veiled the hopes of man "

Oration by Right Worshipful John H. Sheppard, of Boston

Hymn — " Mark Where Friends United Stand "

Benediction

The services were all of a very high order, and commanded the unqualified approbation, not only of Masons, but all others who were auditors on the occasion.

On the conclusion of these exercises, the procession was reformed and proceeded to the Exchange Hall, where the brethren partook of a sumptuous dinner, provided by O. P. Thorp, of the Elm House. This was truly a warm-hearted, cold water celebration and seemed unusually happy."

After the banquet, additional speeches were made by Right Worshipful James L. Child, D. G. M., Most Worshipful Abner B. Thompson, P. G. M., Right Worshipful George K. Tuelon, Past Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas, and Worshipful C. Gayton Pickman, Master of Saint John's Lodge, Boston, the oldest Lodge in the United States.

It was eminently fitting that Right Worshipful Brother Sheppard should have been the orator on this occasion. He had delivered the Oration at the consecration of the Grand Lodge of Maine in 1820. In the darkest days of the anti-Masonic Crusade, he had defended the Fraternity in a public address at Wiscasset. As an officer of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, he was one of those principally responsible for the successful resistance of our Mother Grand Lodge to the anti-Masonic frenzy. His published reply to the anti-Masonic letters of John Quincy Adams was generally regarded as the ablest defense of the Fraternity. Of his Oration on this occasion, the official record states:

' The Address occupied nearly two hours, and yet was so full of interesting facts, couched in language so elegant, accompanied by a manner so eloquent that none seemed weary, and all went away highly delighted."

Another Maine man who distinguished himself during the dark days was Right Worshipful Charles W. Moore, Grand Secretary of Massachusetts, who was made a Mason in Kennebec Lodge, No. 5, Hallowell, in 1822. He was the author of " the Declaration of the Freemasons of Boston and Vicinity " (1831) and a Memorial to the Legislature (1834), which documents broke the back of the anti-Masonic movement in the Commonwealth.

The Anti-Masonic persecution was a terrible experience. Yet, there is no denying that its ultimate effect on the Fraternity was salutary. The Order was cleansed of all its unworthy members. Those who remained had been tried and not found wanting. Their sincerity, courage, and loyalty had been proven by a terrible testing. The Masonic Fraternity emerged from its time of affliction, purged of its dross, and refined as by fire.

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