Friday, February 18, 2011

"Lost" Washington's Lafayette Apron To be Displayed at Mt. Vernon


A French-made silk Masonic apron was famously presented to George Washington by General Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette in 1784 at Mount Vernon. It is believed to have been worn by Washington at the cornerstone ceremony for the U.S. Capitol building in 1793. And then it went missing. Sort of.

It turns out the apron has been hiding in plain sight on the wall of Mt. Nebo Lodge No. 91 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, ever since the early 1800s.

From "Masonic apron worn by George Washington found in Shepherdstown" by Richard Belisle at herald-mail.com:

Thomas Hammond, who married Mildred Washington, George Washington's niece, bought the apron from Martha Washington's estate for $6. The couple moved to Charles Town, W.Va., in 1810, and Hammond joined the local lodge.

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George Alwin, Mt. Nebo master, said Hammond gave the apron to the lodge before he died in 1820.

When Mt. Nebo celebrates its 200th anniversary on Dec. 11, the apron will be on public display in the lodge meeting room all day, Alwin said.

"It was never a secret that we've had the apron all these years," he said.

Like many of the nation's Founding Fathers, Washington was a member of the free masons, and the aprons were worn by members during various rituals and public events.

Lodge members, through their own research in recent years, had come to believe that Washington wore their apron when he laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol in 1793, six years before his death.

"We read through 200 years of minutes," said Ed Calhoun, a former Mt. Nebo master.

Alwin said the early lodge minutes were lost during the Civil War. Mount Vernon historians have always known about a second French-made apron that was given to Washington. The Watson-Cassoul Apron is named for the two men who gave it to the general — Elkanah Watson, a fellow Mason, and M. Cassoul, his French business partner.

Mount Vernon curator Susan P. Schoelwer said it was that apron, not Mt. Nebo's, that Washington wore at the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the U.S. Capitol.

In 1812, Washington's nephew Lawrence Lewis, donated it to the Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge No. 22.

Schoelwer said Mount Vernon researchers determined that the Mt. Nebo apron was worn at the cornerstone ceremony for the Washington Monument in 1848.

It also showed up at cornerstone ceremonies in 1850 in Richmond attended by President Zachary Taylor and in 1866 in Maryland attended by President Andrew Johnson.

In 2009, Mt. Nebo Lodge members contacted Mark Tabbert, curator of the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, for help in authenticating their apron.

"They wanted me to look at it to verify their stories," said Tabbert, who supported Mount Vernon's version of its provenance.

"It's quite likely that Washington received it when Lafayette returned to the United States in 1784," he said. "Mount Vernon knew about the lost apron, and they're pretty convinced this is the second one owned by Washington."

On Monday, the Mt. Nebo Masons will be at Mount Vernon for the ceremony officially unveiling their apron. It will be on display there for three months, after which, Alwin said, "We're taking it back."


Hopefully, the brethren of Mt. Nebo Lodge will have a copy made and see that the original is placed in a more secure, climate controlled environment.

Photo from "Masonic apron worn by George Washington found in Shepherdstown" by Richard Belisle at herald-mail.com

2 comments:

TheHolySeay said...

I'm no expert on Masonic regalia - but a couple of odd things come to mind when examining the photographs of both piece.

What stands out as peculiar is similarity to peculiar motifs that were first seen employed by the Watson and Cassoul apron that are then seen in the Mount Nebo made apron. An image of the Watson and Cassoul apron can be seen here:

http://www.phoenixmasonry.org/masonicmuseum/images/GWWatsonCasoulApron1.jpg

When looking at both aprons we can compare the American, & French flags crossing, and the knotted Cable-tow and gavel in a very distinctive design at the top of the apron.

The shape of the apron shows similarities too - but that is a very common shape of that period.

Were these common patterns employed by other French apron manufacturer's pieces, exactly as they are seen on BOTH aprons that were reported to be Washington's? Are there any other aprons with crossed American flags and uniquely designed cable-tows being manufactured by unrelated parties In this period? No.

it is worth pondering, why this "gift" was intentionally created to be modeled after his preexisting apron?

It seems obvious too that the West Virginian apron too, is of noticeably far less quality and detail than the one produced for General Washington by Watson and Cassoul. It seems highly unlikely that if the Marquis De Lafayette's interpretation of Washington's Cassoul's apron, would be a product inferior to the detail of the original embroidery as seen in the Watson and Cassoul apron.

It sounds to be a strange scenario that the wife of the LaFayette couldn't find a decent embroiderer! - France would've have had plenty of decent manufactures of this period, and certainly anyone associated with the Marquis would have access to the best. I have seen better aprons made by blink kids in China.

If this was a contemporary reinterpretation of Washington's Watson & Cassoul apron, an opinion I might buy - why is it so much worse than the original that they would have had to have familiarity with to create the new one?

For these points, I would argue that the apron could likely have been an apron, created in the style of Washington's apron . I believe in the years following we don't know where it is!

I would like know more about how we can identity the place of its manufacturing DEFINITIVELY to French to begin with. Have there been test on the fibers, metal pieces, etc that we could relate to
other pieces made in the same area?

Richard said...

I, too, was taken aback by the claim that this is the apron given to Washington by Lafayette in 1784 since the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania has long claimed that they have been in possession of that apron since 1829. (See http://www.pagrandlodge.org/mlam/apron/index.html as well as http://www.freemasonry.bcy.ca/art/washington_apron.html)

the one on display in Philadelphia looks nothing like the one in this article, and many other authorities have concurred that it is the Lafayette apron. Until now, I was totally unaware that anyone thought that apron had been "missing." I have seen reproductions of that apron in The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, and other locations, all claiming it to be the Lafayette apron. So, I wonder, why did so few think it was lost until now?