Monday, August 31, 2009

Lord Timothy Dexter and the "mesonek Order"

"I am the first in the East, the first in the West, and the greatest philoshopher in the known world"
- Lord Timothy Dexter

Alice is doing last minute cleanup on her manuscript, which takes place in Salem, Massachusetts after the Barbary Wars. In doing so, she has been fact checking, which means pouring over stacks of books in search of arcane minutiae right up until I drag her and the Kinko's box, screaming and kicking, to the Post Office. In her reading, she came across a curious eccentric character named Lord Timothy Dexter.

Timothy Dexter was born in 1747 in Malden, Massachusetts. He had few skills and very little formal education, but he was blessed with the ability to fall into manure and come out smelling of roses. During the War of Independence, Dexter was on the side of the Loyalists, but began buying up colonial currency, which most people regarded as worthless. When the war ended, the new federal government redeemed the money for substantially more than he paid for it, which yielded him a large fortune. Dexter had the Midas touch. With his new pile of loot, he purchased two ships. Most would have thought it was madness to send a load of coal to Newcastle in England, but Dexter's ship arrived just in time for a coal strike. He sent a load of bed warming pans to the West Indies, where the beds were plenty warm year round. But the local molasses producers bought them, ripped the lids off and used them as ladles. He collected a shipload of stray cats and sent them off to the Indies, where they were quickly purchased to catch rats and mice. A shipment of woolen mittens sent to the islands were purchased by Asian merchants who exported them to Siberia.

Dexter eventually moved to Newburyport, Massachusetts, where the social set didn't exactly take him to their hearts. He purchased a large house, which he referred to as a 'palace,' added 'Lord' to his name, and began the sort of project guaranteed to win over the neighbors: the installation of gaudy yard art. He fenced the property, and installed more than 40 large pillars, each eventually topped with life-sized, wooden sculptures of famous international figures, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon Bonaparte, English Prime Minister William Pitt (the Elder), and, naturally, himself.

He married the widow Elizabeth Frothingham in 1769, but their relationship became strained over the years. So strained, in fact, that began telling visitors that she had died, and that the drunken, nagging woman seen in the house was merely her ghost. His son, daughter and step-children were regarded with similar disdain.

Dexter became curious about the world's potential reaction to his own death, and so he did the logical thing. He staged his own demise and threw himself a funeral service, hiding in the next room to eavesdrop on the comments of the bereaved. The mourners discovered the ruse when he and his wife began arguing in the kitchen.

Dexter is best remembered today for his literary achievement, a small book called, "A Pickle for the Knowing Ones; or Plain Truths in a Homespun Dress." It contains his personal views on life and society, his town, his home, and his family—all without regard for spelling, grammar or punctuation. The book became so popular that it was reprinted in eight editions. And no, no one has ever really figured out the title.

He was ridiculed so much over his writing style that, in the second edition, he added a complete page of periods, commas, quotation marks and other punctuation, and a message for his detractors:

" fouder mister printer the Nowing
ones complane of my book the fust
edition had no stops I put in A Nuf
here and thay may peper and solt it
as they plese


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I like it.

What any of this has to do with Freemasonry is a small note in this second edition of Dexter's book. Apparently, Dexter was forbidden by his wife (the Ghost) to join the Masons. He describes the episode, then goes on to explain that he attempted to get her off of his estate by paying her off with a substantial amount of silver. It reads:

Forbid by the Ghost of his Wife to become a Mason; Makes a contract with the Ghost to quit his estate.

TO MANKIND AT LARGE: I Never had the honor to be Long to that onerable mesonek Order. I Noked once, twise, three times, & the gohst Apeared, sade, ‘thou shalt not enter,’ be Cose I have toue much noledge in my head; I sopose had I bin one then should bin to keep open Dors for thivs & Robers; I have Rougs plentey without keeping taven; I Dont want Noe Abrahams, Nor Aney of the order; only fict Ladeys mared, and grat gintel men that belongs out of the town: mared people and fine widders I wish to see, with pleasur, for I wants to marey a fine wider, for I hant had Noe wife for thirteene years next orgest. I gave the gost fore hundred wate of silver to quit the state; grat lawyer passons, the gient of the law, Rote the Contract; the Cose of it was, that mis Dexter, that was, would have my Dafter marey to A bishup --- Cosed the agrement --- the sole Cose, she has two trousteays, which have the money, to deal out the intress, and she is so ginress shee bys hur Neadls; I bys the pins & sifers & all things Else; shee leaves the intress in the hands of the trosteys, I must have a Companon four good by all, at present with glorey.


Dexter's book can be read in its peculiar form, side by side with a "translation" (described as the "Split Pickle") at The Official Virtual Seat on the "Noue Systom of Knollege & Lite" Assigned the Notable and Most Noble Lord Timothy Dexter.

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