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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Albert Pike's Civil War Era Sword Donated to House of the Temple

Arturo De Hoyos at the Scottish Rite SJ House of the Temple in Washington, D.C. reports that an incredible artifact has just been rescued thanks to the due diligence of Louisiana Freemasons, particularly in the New Orleans area:

In August 1861, a month after the beginning of the Civil War, Albert Pike was commissioned a Brigadier General in the Confederate States of America.
M.W. Bro. Benjamin B. French, Past Grand Master of Washington DC (who also served as Commissioner of Public Buildings, under Presidents Franklin Pierce and Abraham Lincoln) presented his friend Albert Pike with this beautiful sword in commemoration. It's a testament of the powerful bonds of fraternal esteem, in spite of political differences (if only we all had that type of mutual respect today).

The sword was recently purchased at an auction by the Freemasons of Louisiana (and in particular New Orleans) and was donated to the House of the Temple on Thursday, May 23, 2019.

Albert Pike was born and raised in Boston, but he and his family were living in Arkansas before and during the Civil War. He had lived among Indian tribes in the West in prior years with whom he was sympathetic. That's why he was compelled by the Confederacy to enlist and command Indian troops. He was commissioned in November 1861, but resigned March 1862 in disgust, disgraced by their savagery in the wake of the Pea Ridge catastrophe that he had been unable to control. 

He was a Confederate officer for less than six months.

Benjamin Brown French (1800–1870) was originally born in New Hampshire, and serve in the New hampshire Legislature. Ultimately, he would relocate to D.C. for nearly 40 years, holding several appointed positions in the government. He was appointed and served as Clerk of the United States House of Representatives from 1845-1847. From 1847-1850, he served as president of Samuel B. Morse's Magnetic Telegraph Company overseeing the expansion of telegraph communications throughout the United States. And in 1853, he was appointed Commissioner of Public Buildings By President Franklin Pierce. During his time as Commissioner under both Pierce and Abraham Lincoln, he played a major role in extending the U.S. Capitol and building the Capitol Dome. He also oversaw a number of historical events including the Gettysburg Address and the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. 

Republican Lincoln and his Vice Presidential running mate, Tennessee Democrat Andrew Johnson, had hoped their combined National Unity Party would heal the divided nation as the war ended. But after Lincoln's assassination in 1867, angry Reconstruction Republicans in the Senate decided to impeach President Johnson. As a sympathetic member of both Lincoln and Johnson administration's vision for reunification, French was punished by the Republicans for standing by Johnson. They dissolved the Commissioner of Public Buildings office and created what we have today, the office of Architect of the Capitol. 

French was an incredibly enthusiastic Freemason. He joined the fraternity in New Hampshire in 1826, serving three years as Master of his lodge. He then affiliated in National Lodge 12 in D.C. in 1846. In that same year, he was elected as Grand Master of the Grand lodge of the District of Columbia, a position he would hold for seven years. As Grand Master, French laid cornerstones of the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol extension, and countless churches and other public buildings. 

He also served as the Grand Recorder for the Grand Encampment of the Knights Templar. Brother French became a Scottish Rite Mason and on September 15, 1859 he became the first 33rd Degree Mason from the District of Columbia. He was elected Grand Chancellor of the Supreme Council for the Southern Jurisdiction.

Benjamin B. French Lodge No. 15 of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia was chartered in 1852, and is thought to be the only U.S. Masonic lodge named after a sitting Grand Master. Benjamin Brown French, Grand Master of the District of Columbia from 1846 to 1853, reluctantly signed the charter establishing his namesake lodge in late 1852.

Pike's VERY brief time in the CSA frequently gets trotted out by anti-Masons in an effort to gin up controversy over him. And the ebb and flow of political fashion usually erupts every two decades or so over his statue in Washington D.C. For much, much more than you'll ever want to know about Albert Pike, his statue in Judiciary Square, his time in the Confederate Army, and of course, his views on slavery and its related topics, see Albert Pike, Statues, History and Hysteria from 2017.

But what makes the story of Benjamin B. French's gift of the sword to Pike so poignant is that it was such a deliberate act of Masonic Brotherhood and honor. Here was a Yankee Republican, from an anti-slavery party and part of the country, giving his Masonic Brother a sword as he went off to battle against his own nation for a cause both men knew to be wrong. And the sword was Masonically decorated with the All Seeing Eye of the Grand Architect, and the 'Lion of the Tribe of Judah.' Both men were following the code of defending their homes and the honor of their respective sides in the conflict that was tearing the country in two. 

And then, when the war ended and Pike was found to be a traitor against the Union for his six months as a brigadier general, Benjamin B. French himself, the man who gave him that sword, would draft an appeal in July of 1865 for acquittal from President Andrew Johnson. Numerous other Brethren across the country did the same, and Albert Pike was granted a presidential pardon on April 23, 1866.


  1. http://www.knightstemplar.org/pgeo/mepgm/6.html

    Past Grand Master of the Grand Encampment; not a Representative from NH, but a civil servant!
    A good man!

    1. Thanks for the catch. He was a Representative, but in the state Legislature, not the US Congress. Always the danger of quick postings. Fixed now.


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