"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

George Washington's Masonic Apron at Mount Vernon This Week

(This post was updated Friday, 2/22/19 at 2:15AM. After posting the original story, I went back and looked up more about the history of this apron and the controversies over it.)

Since 2011, the brethren of Mt. Nebo Lodge 91 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia have graciously permitted their 234-year old George Washington Masonic apron to be displayed to the general public during President's Week each February at Washington's Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia.

Young George Washington was initiated, passed and raised as a Freemason at the Lodge of Fredericksburg, Virginia between 1752-53. According to the story provided by the lodge, after the end of the American Revolutionary War, the Marquis de Lafayette allegedly presented his friend Washington this French-made silk Masonic apron while visiting Mount Vernon in 1784. The hand-embroidered apron features a square and compass, the crossed flags of France and the new United States, a memento mori, sprigs of acacia, and a tessellated cable-tow tied with three knots, referred to by French Masons as la houpe dentelee, which represents the mystic tie that binds all Masons in brotherhood.

(American Masons who visit lodges overseas will see this knotted rope symbolism tied with 'love knots' or 'infinity knots' commonly stretched all around lodge rooms, and it is strongly allied with the 'Chain of Union.' Brother Steve Burkle has written an excellent paper on this symbol and its relationship with the 'indented tessel' referred to in Preston-Webb ritual working. See it HERE.)

After Martha Washington’s death in 1802, this apron is believed to have been purchased for six dollars from her estate by Thomas Hammond, husband of George Washington’s niece, Mildred Washington. It was given to the Mt. Nebo Lodge in West Virginia prior to Hammond’s death in 1820.

The apron may be seen on display this week (February 15 - 24, 2019) at Mount Vernon's Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. Admission to the Museum is included with general admission to the estate.

The Watson-Cassoul Apron,
owned by Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22
This Saturday, February 23rd, the brethren of Mt. Nebo Lodge will hold a wreath-laying ceremony at Mount Vernon. The ceremony will begin at 1:30PM and will feature a prayer from their Masonic funeral service.

Of course, as with other relics alleged to have belonged to the nation's first President and most famous Freemason, the Mt. Nebo apron is not without its skeptics. It is remarkably similar to the the 'Watson-Cassoul Apron' that was presented to George Washington in 1782 by Elkanah Watson of Plymouth, Massachusetts and Monsieur Cassoul of Nantes, France.

Washington chose to wear the Watson-Cassoul Apron when he famously laid the cornerstone of the United States Capitol building in 1793. 
That famous apron is owned by Virginia's Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, and the Mt. Nebo apron looks to be almost identical in design, although of slightly rougher quality and different details (the skull and bone instead of the 'All Seeing Eye' within the triangle at the center, and the acacia instead of the radiant beams, primarily). It is possible that Mt. Nebo's is a copy or variation of the Watson-Cassoul Apron, or perhaps it was a prior prototype.

Lafayette Apron, owned by
the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania
A third Washington apron (and the best-known one) is known as the 'Lafayette Apron,' which was presented in 1784 by the Marquis de Lafayette, and is now in the Museum of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Its design is quite different from the other two. The Lafayette Apron is said to have been sewn by the hands of Madame Lafayette herself, and so it carries a more romantic legendary status. Masons often mistake this apron for the one Washington wore at the Capitol cornerstone ceremony. And the Mt. Nebo story of their apron seems to combine the histories of the other two aprons. Nevertheless, it is possible that Lafayette did in fact present two aprons to his famous Masonic brother.

That said, the curators at Mount Vernon are obviously convinced enough by Mt. Nebo's provenance to confidently display it as authentic. And there's no reason to question that Washington really did have all three aprons presented to him in the early 1780s by his Brother Masons.

See the original story I posted in 2011 about the Mt. Nebo apron's first exhibition at Mt. Vernon: "Lost" Washington's Lafayette Apron To be Displayed at Mt. Vernon

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Prince Hall North Carolina GM Takes Steps To Calm Diplomatic Amity Issues

It's a shame American history isn't properly taught in schools anymore. In Mrs. Adams' fourth grade class I first heard Thomas Jefferson's famous pronouncement; "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none."

GM Daniel L. DT Thompson
At the beginning of February, the Grand Lodge F&AM of Utah suspended recognition of the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina in protest over a number of lodges established in Africa and France over the years that encroached on established Masonic jurisdictions (see previous story HERE). The announcement was undoubtedly something of an unpleasant welcome to the new job for North Carolina's Prince Hall Grand Master Daniel L. 'DT' Thompson, who had just been installed in late December. His predecessor, Milton F. 'Toby' Fitch, had served as Grand Master for fifteen years (long grand master terms are not that unusual in some Prince Hall jurisdictions). During his tenure between 2005-2018, Fitch had issued charters for lodges that invaded longstanding Masonic jurisdictions with their own established grand lodges in Cameroon, Benin, and Congo, and even a handful of French lodges, announcing a District Grand Lodge of France for North Carolina on his way out the door. 

As a result, the MWPHGL of North Carolina has incurred the fraternal grand wrath of France, Benin, Cameroon, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, and by extension now, Utah. So far. I'm sure MW Thompson was hoping for a little more time to hang his own family photos on the wall and re-key all of the office locks before getting hit with this mess. I suspect there's probably some grand shouting going on about all of this at the annual Conference of Grand Masters of Masons of North America continuing this week in Rapid City, South Dakota. And unquestionably more to come at the analogous Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters in the Bahamas in May. (How is it that the mainstream guys meet in freezing cold February in snow belt cities, whereas the Prince Hall guys go the Bahamas this year? But I digress.)

It seems that GM Thompson is taking nearly immediate steps to try to extricate North Carolina's PHA Masons from the international imbroglio that Fitch left behind for them. On February 12th, Thompson issued a letter revoking the charter of Nicholas Blaise Adjibi Lodge 856 in Benin. The next day on February 13th, Thompson circulated an email announcing the suspension of the charters of Heart of Africa Lodge 852, Vasco Da Gama Lodge 853 and Faith Lodge 855 - all in Cameroon. The members of all of these lodges were placed in MWPHGL of NC's Tarheel Holding Lodge until a mutual fraternal recognition mitigation strategy can be satisfactorily worked out. 

(Click images to enlarge)

Letter revoking the charter of Nicholas Blaise Adjibi Lodge 856 in Benin
Email revoking three Cameroon lodge charters

The French situation is a bit stickier to try to work out. In researching my earlier post about this, I discovered references online that showed PGM Fitch and/ or his predecessors may have entered into various agreements with not one, not two, but all three of the major French grand lodges over the years. The Grande Loge Nationale Française (GLNF) is currently in amity with UGLE, all 61 of the mainstream North American grand lodges, and eight U.S. Prince Hall Affiliated grand lodges (including North Carolina since 2008). As reported previously, the GLNF sent a letter last month objecting to the consecration of the new District Grand Lodge - France by North Carolina that was to take place this month (see below).

But until recently, the MWPHGL of North Carolina webpage had previously listed recognition from the Grand Orient de France (GOF). (Note: unfortunately there is no Internet Archive capture of their fraternal recognition page prior to today, and I neglected snag a screen shot before). The GOF may be the largest grand lodge in France, but it is overwhelmingly considered irregular by the bulk of the Masonic world for regarding a Volume of Sacred Law as optional for opening lodge, accepting atheists as members, admitting women, and openly engaging in and advocating political activities (among other issues). There is no question that the GOF does not adhere to what mainstream Freemasonry regards as the most basic landmark requirements of the fraternity, regardless of its popularity.

Because the GOF is institutionally one of those organizations that's so open minded that they won't even side with themselves in an argument, some Prince Hall grand lodges 30 and 40 years ago sought their recognition when they were being shunned by the majority of the predominantly white Masonic world. But as the mainstream Masons became more accepting of Prince Hall Masonic origin and regularity in the late 1980s and early 90s, that GOF recognition became something of a diplomatic liability. And not every grand secretary in the world has always paid strict attention to the details of international regularity and recognition issues. If it wasn't a typo, that website notation may have been an artifact hanging around in the files of the MWPHGL of NC from long ago that was forgotten. Or not.

And then to put a cherry on the top of this mess, it seems that PGM Fitch had also recently worked with the Grande Loge de France (GLdF) in setting up some of his African lodges, including establishing up a brand new new PHA grand lodge in Congo in 2015. The GLdF is the odd man out in French Masonry. It is the second largest grand lodge in France, perfectly regular in origin and practice, just not widely recognized outside of the country. The mainstream world has favored the UGLE-backed GLNF for more than 60 years. 

As of today, the MWPHGL of NC webpage now lists the Grande Loge de France as the one they currently recognize in France, which clearly has casual observers scratching their collective noggins. It certainly conflicts with the GLNF's record keeping. 

However, given the vicissitudes of web page designers and the minefield of French Masonic bodies (on top of the three large ones, there are at least a dozen more grand lodges in France at work currently – lock nine French Masons in a room and you'll wind up with three new grand lodges), I'm willing to believe someone may simply have gotten confused at the keyboard, especially in light of the letter from GLNF outlining their recognition status from 2008. (Which is why web pages need to be finely proofread by knowledgable brethren whenever changes get made, instead of just saying "Let Poindexter do that Internet stuff. He's real good at it...")

The upshot of all of this is that PGM Fitch had danced with at least two, and maybe all three, of the main grand lodges in France during his tenure, along with sticking his own flag in the ground and chartering new PH lodges in that country. All of this on top of the messes in Africa. Now, MW Thompson is stuck with trying extricate himself from those entangling alliances, which he seems to be doing so with admirable speed. His biography shows a background in military intelligence and law enforcement, and with a Masters degree in Homeland Security. I suspect he's just the guy for the job.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Piers A. Vaughan Announced As 2019 Blue Friar

The Society of Blue Friars was founded in 1932 for the express purpose of recognizing outstanding Masonic authors. Authors like Arthur E. Waite, Harold V.B. Voorhis, Arturo de Hoyos, Thomas Jackson, Mark Tabbert, Robert G. Davis, Alton Roundtree, Michael R. Poll and Josef Wäges are just a few prior Blue Friar honorees. They even inducted this Dummy as Friar No. 101 back in 2012. Since 2004, the Grand Abbot of the Society has been Dr. S.Brent Morris, Masonic author, and editor of the Scottish Rite Journal and the Scottish Rite Research Society's annual Heredom collection.

Breaking with prior, longstanding tradition of announcing the Blue Friar at their annual meeting during Masonic Week, the Grand Abbott has announced the 2019 Blue Friar ahead of time as Piers A. Vaughan.

Worshipful Brother Piers Vaughan has one of the most diverse and fascinating backgrounds for the study and understanding (and explanation) of Masonic, appendant, and other esoteric orders you will ever encounter. Originally, he is from England, and he belongs to lodges in England, Canada, and the U.S. Throughout his life he has lived in several European countries, Canada, and now resides in New York. He has a Master's degree in Divinity and another in Experimental Psychology; experience in both the Anglican and Catholic denominations and traditions; an MBA in Business Studies; a teaching diploma in Music; and much, much more. 

Piers has made extensive studies in history, alchemy, language (he has translated many texts from French to English), symbolism, cultures—truly what anyone would acknowledge to be a "Renaissance Man." Appropriately, one of his most recent books is 2017's outstanding Renaissance Man & Mason.

He is also is the proprietor of Rose Circle Publications that is a source of other fascinating books along similar explorations of esoteric thought that mirror his eclectic mind and interests. 

Upon being named a new Friar, each inductee is expected to present a short paper at the Masonic Week gathering. Piers' topic will be "Did St. Martin Influence the RER Rituals?" 

If you are at Masonic Week on Friday February 22, 2019 be sure to stop in for 10:30 AM-11:45 AM - All are welcome to attend.

For info on Masonic Week go to: Masonic Week 2019

Saturday, February 02, 2019

GL of Utah Suspends Recognition of Prince Hall North Carolina


Oh, the troubles that arise when grand lodges dabble in foreign lands. 

The Grand Lodge F&AM of Utah has voted at its annual communication this past week to suspend recognition of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina over its chartering of lodges in foreign countries. 

(NOTE: My original headline was slightly misleading, as recognition was suspended by Utah, not completely withdrawn, as I originally stated.)

Utah recognized the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in North Carolina back in 2009, and in fact, extended recognition before it was even requested. The current issue is one of irregular activity that North Carolina's new Grand Master has undertaken in Africa and France.

The current website of the MWPHGLofNC lists among its chartered lodges: My Brother’s Keeper Lodge #847 in Lille, France; , Lafayette Lodge #851 in Paris; Heart Of Africa Lodge #852 in the Republic of Cameroon, Africa; Nelson Mandela Lodge #854 in Paris; and The Faith Lodge #855, also in Cameroon. 

This all came up at the Conference of Grand Masters of North America in Indianapolis last year in the 2018 meeting of the Commission on Foreign Recognition. They were informed that the sovereign jurisdictions of the Grand Lodges of the Congo, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast had been invaded by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina. It's gone a bit further now.

According to a report given in Utah by Past Grand Master Glenn Cook:
On December 28, 2018, the new Grand Master of Prince Hall North Carolina announced intent to consecrate the “Grand Lodge Prince Hall – France” and to “inaugurate the temple of Prince Hall Benin’s Lodge.” This announcement has met with resistance from the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free & Accepted Masons, Republic of Liberia, describing the conduct of Prince Hall North Carolina as unmasonic. Not surprisingly, the Grand Lodge of Benin has described the behavior as irregular. The Grande Loge National Francaise has been equally strenuous in their objection to Prince Hall North Carolina forming a grand lodge in their territory without consent.
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina has clearly violated the jurisdiction of sovereign grand lodges, and is no longer practicing regular Freemasonry. It is therefore the recommendation of your Committee that this Grand Lodge suspend recognition of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of North Carolina until they remedy their illegal actions.
Indeed, on the MWPHGLNC website, there is a 'District France' web page with little information on it HERE.

If the issues are not resolved, there will be further brouhaha over it in the coming year. The Grande Loge Nationale Française will present more objections at the COGMMNA later this month, and at the very least, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Liberia will certainly be bringing it before the Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters in May.

I have written to Grand Master Daniel L. Thompson for some sort of statement or clarification that might shed some light on this matter, and will post it when or if he chooses to respond. 

Interestingly, their grand lodge website quotes John Donne, saying "No man is an island entire unto itself..."  Neither is a grand lodge when it comes to territorial claims. Why any American grand lodge or grand master would dip their toe into French Masonic territory,  much less the patchwork quilt of competing territorial claims throughout the various African nations already carved up by various foreign Masonic bodies or that have their own grand lodges, escapes my comprehension. It would just be a shame if the Prince Hall brethren of North Carolina lost amity with more U.S. grand lodges over some quixotic foreign experiment. 

Lest anyone attempt to claim Utah is acting out of some other ulterior motives concerning Prince Hall Freemasons, bear in mind that they recently achieved amity with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Texas, and just extended an invitation for recognition with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in the District of Columbia.  No, this is about regular Masonic conduct that is expected of all Masonic bodies that are in amity with each other and seek to remain so.

(Supporting documents below. Click to enlarge.)

A question asked elsewhere is whether the GLNF or Liberia (or both, or any others) have withdrawn recognition of the MWPHGLofNC prior to Utah taking this action, which is a very fair question. I myself wonder if Utah jumped the shark by taking this action before the two aggrieved grand lodges involved did so. If so, this seems to be an unduly rash action on Utah's part, based on essentially two letters that were presented without any subsequent answers or statements by the PHGL of North Carolina or their Grand Master. Undoubtedly, there will be more information forthcoming.


More documentation has been forwarded to me, and can be seen below. Click images to enlarge.

• Invitation to upcoming consecration ceremony of a new "Prince Hall Grand Lodge - France"  by Grand Master Thompson of the MWPHGL of North Carolina to be held in Paris, set for February 16, 2019:

Former Grand Master of MWPHGLofNC
Toby Fitch (left), declaring Samuel D.
Badinga as the new GM of the Prince Hall
Grand Lodge of Congo (est. 2015).

• An expelled Freemason named Samuel Badinga (expelled in 2017 by the Nationale Grand Loge du Congo) appeared in North Carolina in early summer 2018, and requested authority from the MWPHGL of North Carolina to charter a new lodge in the West African nation of Benin. Apparently, GM Thompson's predecessor, PGM Toby Fitch, was unaware of Badinga's expelled status, and granted the charter. 

Badinga shows up on Facebook pages in July 2018 as the Grand Master of a recently established (2015) 'Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Congo,' which was consecrated by none other than the immediate Past Grand Master of the MWPHGL of North Carolina, Toby Fitch. 

It was PGM Fitch who first embarked on these African expansion plans, and GM Thompson appears to simply be following his lead. (Thompson was elected GM in December 2018.)

The Grand Lodge of Benin's (Grande Loge du Benin) Grand Master Benoît A. K. Kouassi subsequently expressed his strong objections in the following letter to Thompson last month: