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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

5 comments:

  1. Brethren,
    A slight correction. The wreath laying will occur at 1:30pm, not 12:30pm. Fraternally, Paul Bisher, Secretary, Mount Nebo Lodge # 91.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the correction. I made the change in the posting.

      Delete
  2. Does anyone sell a reproduction of this apron? i would be interested.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Travis, 'The Craftsman's Apron (TCA)' at craftsmansapron.com does good quality Custom Work and may be able to help you.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm curious. Does anyone have a reason why the Mr. Nebo apron uses Fellow Craft Square and Compass rather than Master Mason symbolism?

    ReplyDelete

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