Masonic Misinformation

Jerry Marsengill

"The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it."

"Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam"

Thus it is written in the quatrain attributed to the "tent-maker," Omar Khayyam, in the late 11th century.

It is only human nature to want events to occur in the manner in which we would prefer them. However, too many times, our desires and our dreams are not in accord with the actual facts. In these instances, regardless of our daydreams and our plans, we must admit to the certainty of the facts and revise our plans to make them fit.

In regarding events for future generations we must be especially careful that the facts are recorded as they are, rather than as we might wish them to be.

Many times a mistake is made or a statement is not checked by an author. It is often copied by another author, and the mistake is perpetuated in a number of books or research papers.

A good case in point is the story which Rudyard Kipling told of himself. In later years, his memory failed him, and in 1925, 40 years after his initiation, he made the statement that he had been "initiated by a Hindu, passed by a Mohammedan, and raised by an Englishman."

Naturally, with Kipling's having told the story of himself, no one took the trouble to check the records, and for many years this story was copied by publications, even including the Masonic Service Association's "Short Talk Bulletin" for October, 1964. Harold V. B. Voorhis, present dean of Masonic students, finally checked the records of the "Lodge Hope and Perseverance" No. 782 of Lahore, India, and found that Kipling had in fact, been initiated and raised by G. B. Wolseley, then master of the lodge. and passed by Colonel Oswald Menzies.

Earlier however, in his "Facts for Freemasons" even Brother Voorhis had used Kipling's story without bothering to check it. Certainly none of these brethren can be criticized for believing a story which a man told of himself.

Another good example of mistakes being copied. in this case deliberate alteration of facts, concerns the usually accepted story of Prince Hall and Negro Freemasonry in America.

William H. Grimshaw, Past Grand Master (1907) of Prince Hall Grand Lodge in the District of Columbia, wrote an "Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People of North America." This was an historical treatise and, though many students thought his data somewhat untrustworthy, it was used extensively as background reading. Recently, it has become apparent that, rather than making honest errors, Grimshaw filled in the gaps in his knowledge and his documentary evidence with an overactive imagination.

W. H. Upton, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Washington (white), published "Negro Masonry (formerly "Light on a Dark Subject") in 1899. In this work he used Grimshaw as background history and perpetuated many of that author's errors.

Brother H. V. B. Voorhis published a history in t940 called "Negro Masonry in the United States." but upon learning that some of his facts were in error, took the book from the market and has since published a smaller history titled "Our Colored Brethren," being the section covering "Alpha Lodge No. 116 F. & A.M." in Newark, New Jersey, the only regular lodge in the United States composed of colored brethren.

When engaged in doing research for a paper, "Negro Masonry in Iowa." I used both Grimshaw and Upton as well as Voorhis as secondary research sources and, in the first chapter, had many of the same errors which these authors had. Fortunately, I wrote Brother Voorhis for help and he, very generously, edited my material, corrected my mistakes, and insured that I did not fall into the same snare which had trapped many others who had attempted to chronicle Negro Masonry.

Brother Voorhis is in possession of records which prove that "so far as is known, by documentation, no lodges were chartered by either Prince Hall nor "African Lodge No. 459" in Boston, and they had no authority to do so." Consequently, the generally accepted story of Negro Masonry in America must be assumed to be erroneous.

Recently, while researching the Mormon lodges in Iowa, I found in the "History of the Grand Lodge of Iowa" (Vol 1) the statement that the Mormon lodge at Keokuk, Iowa, under dispensation was known as "Eagle Lodge U.D." Having recently sat in "Eagle Lodge No. 12" at Keokuk, I checked the proceedings of the Grand Lodge for that period and found that the lodge of Keokuk was called "Keokuk Lodge U.D." I also wrote to the Grand Lodge of Iowa for confirmation and the Grand Secretary's office confirmed that the lodge was thus called. Since then, however, I have found no less than four Masonic books which refer to the Mormon lodge at Keokuk as "Eagle Lodge."

Had Brother Joseph Morcome, the author of the Grand Lodge history, merely taken the trouble to check with these easily available proceedings, he could have corrected his error; and Brother Tom Throckmorton, Past Grand Master of Iowa and author of "Morgan, Mormonism, and Masonry," as well as many other authors, would not have perpetrated his mistakes.

Then consider the Masonic myths and would-be historians who write their Masonic histories as they think they should be written. It all started with the imaginative Dr. Anderson, who made a list of all the men throughout history whom he would have liked to identify as members of the Masonic fraternity, beginning with Adam and ending with the founding of the Grand Lodge in 1717.

In this history he lists such names as Euclid, Abraham, Moses, Charlemagne, etc. and presents a regular succession of Grand Masters from the beginning of the world down to his own time. Dr. Anderson would seem to have covered completely the fanciful history of Freemasonry and to have left no place for the work of others. But, the myth-makers, fable-fabricators, and legend-lovers who have followed Brother Anderson have made his poor efforts at historical fabrication and prevarication look feeble indeed.

A few — and these are very few — of the Masonic myths which have endured through the ages will be considered next. These have endured because of the gullibility of the fraternity in accepting almost anything which would tend to place the fraternity in a favorable light. One man writes an untruth, another quotes it, without bothering to check its authenticity and it becomes one of the supposedly true incidents of Craft history and is perpetuated again and again. Let us consider some of these myths.

  1. In 1896 Sir William Flinders Petrie, an archaeologist, excavated a city by the name of Oxyrynchus, where he claimed he found written proof of a guild with masters and wardens which operated as a Masonic institution.

    No documentary proof of this, other than Petrie's writings, exists.
  2. When the obelisk, called Cleopatra's Needle, was found among a forest of similar obelisks in Heliopolis, on its surface were inscribed designs of Masonic emblems and tools.

    These carvings may or may not be Masonic tools, but even if they are there is absolutely no proof that masonic symbolism is intended.
  3. When the tomb of King Tutankhamen was opened, the mummy of the king was wearing what appeared to be a Masonic apron.

    If King Tut wore one, so did Hiawatha. A covering for the genitals is not necessarily a Masonic symbol.

    The Late Dr. O. J. Kinnamon and Dr. James C. Hollenbeck, two of the greatest Masonic frauds and premier prevaricators of the century, lectured upon Masonic evidences found in ancient Egypt, and obtained from both gullible Freemasons and the equally gullible public a very comfortable living from their lecture fees.
  4. August LePlongeon, in a series of imaginative books, set forth the theory that there were sacred mysteries among the Mayas and Quiches which dated Freemasonry back 11,500 years, probably to ancient "Mu." "The Lost Continent of Mu" by Colonel James Churchward, and other equally imaginative books also advanced this same theory.

    Neither of these men offers an iota of documentary proof, and even though illustrations are given showing alleged Masonic attitudes, there is no way of proving these signs are intended to be masonic.

    Since neither of these men could distinguish a stylized drawing of a toucan from a mastodon (See "The Lost Continent of Mu" AND "Queen Moo and the Egyptian Sphinx"), we may be forgiven for doubting their ability to pick out Masonic signs from a maze of hieroglyphics.
  5. Many Masonic Historians have written that the American Indians had a form of Freemasonry.

    Wm. R. Denslow has shattered this theory in his "Freemasonry and the American Indian." There simply was no "Indian Freemasonry."
  6. It has been stated that Richard I, King of England, obtained the Masonic degrees from Salah-ed-din (called Saladin) and that he brought the degrees from the East to England. (This has also been credited to the Knights Templar, who were supposed to have obtained them from the Assassins.)

    No proof of either of these theories has ever been advanced.
  7. The Druses of Mt. Lebanon are supposed to be descendants of the builders of King Solomon's Temple and are supposed to practice a form of Freemasonry.

    Unfortunately, no witness to their ceremonies has ever been found, and we are left with a statement which cannot be substantiated.
  8. Miss Elizabeth St. Leger (later Aldworth) was supposed to have been initiated into Freemasonry in 1710 or 1712 (no exact date can be given). Most of the supposed facts are based on a memoir published in 1811 (100 years after the occurrence) and a portrait which was painted about the same time, showing her in Masonic regalia.

    Although it makes an interesting story, there is absolutely no definite proof that she was a Freemason. The documentary evidence is very scanty, and those who have testified to her membership based their evidence on hearsay. Until proof is forthcoming this must be assumed to be merely another Masonic legend.
  9. Supposedly, Mary Sproule, a Canadian lady, was initiated into Freemasonry in Zion Lodge at Kingston, Kings County, New Brunswick. A Masonic gravestone is said to have been erected in her honor.

    The secretary of Zion Lodge No. 21 advises that there is no record of such an initiation and that no gravestone is in existence at the present time which might tend to confirm this story. In the absence of any substantiation we must assume this story to be merely another legend.

    A number of stories of alleged initiations of women have been told. Actually, investigation of each and every case has shown no proof which will stand up under historical research. There is a group of purported Masons with headquarters at Larkspur, Colorado, six miles from Denver, which calls itself the "Federation of Human Rights," commonly called "Co-Masonry," which supposedly initiates both men and women into Masonry. The men who belong to this group have no standing in regular Masonry. With the known facts before us we may safely assume that the women who have been initiated into groups of this kind compose the only known "Women Freemasons."
  10. A piece of fiction, current for many years. states that in the possession of N. H. Gould Esq. in Massachusetts, there was a document stating that "Ths ye (day and month obliterated) 1656 or 8 (not certain which. as the paper was stained and broken; the first three figures were plain) Wee mett att y house off Mordecai Campunnall and affter Synagog Wee gave Abm Moses the degrees of Maconrie."

    In 1870 M. W. Bro. W. S. Gardner, G. M. of Massachusetts wrote to Brother Gould requesting a detailed account of these documents. Brother Gould replied that the document was so broken he was unable to have it photographed and that he had misplaced it among some papers in his house. Apparently, there was no such document. Even if there were it must be assumed to be false as in 1656 there were no such things as the degrees of Masonry. Freemasonry at that time was merely one degree.
  11. In 1606, Dr. Charles T. Jackson discovered on Goat Island in Nova Scotia a stone bearing the date 1606 and a supposed Square and Compasses. Although photographed, the stone was later inserted into the wall of the Canadian Institute of Toronto and presumably plastered over and lost. If the photograph is to be believed, this stone might have been some type of gravestone.

    The photograph shows the date clearly but the S & C are certainly not plain and might be many things: Even if they were the S & C, there is no reason to believe that they signify Freemasonry. This might possibly have been a gravestone for some stonecutter or even a carpenter.
  12. In the "Illinois Enlightener" of 1965 appeared an article stating: "In the old Masonic graveyard at Fredericksburg, Virginia. an admirer of Julia Marlowe made an astonishing discovery. This friend found that there was there buried Edward Heldon who was one of Shakespeare's pallbearers. The following is the inscription on the old gravestone. 'Here lies the body of Edward Heldon, practitioner in Physics and Chirurgery. Born in Bedfordshire, England in the year of our Lord 1542. Was contemporary with and one of the pall bearers of William Shakespeare of the Avon. After a brief illness his spirit ascended in the year of our Lord 1618, aged 76.'

    Franklin J. Anderson, assistant editor of "The Royal Arch Mason," searched the graveyard mentioned and no such grave was there. However, a book, "Major Sketches of Minor Folk" by Dora C. Jett published in Richmond, Virginia, by the Old Dominion Press, 1928, gives the answer. It is just another case of overactive imagination. An Edmond Helder was buried on Fredericksburg, but no mention of Shakespeare was on his tombstone.
  13. According to many supposed Masonic authorities, most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons. Consequently, we get the usual Masonic assertions that Freemasonry founded the United States of America and that Masonic principles are of necessity embodied in the framework of our revered documents.

    Actually of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, we can prove the Masonic connection of only eight. There are 24 more whose membership is questioned or based on unsupported statements or assumptions. The remaining 24 were definitely not Masons.
  14. Occasionally we read the extravagant claim that "most of George Washington's generals were Masons." Newton in the "The Builders" states that "Nearly all of Washington's generals were Masons."

    Bro. Alphonse Cerza, in the "Philalethes," August-September 1951 states: "While many of Washington's generals were Masons, the exact number has never been ascertained." Consequently, we may safely assume that, although some of them were Masons, membership in Freemasonry was no particular qualification for being a general during the Revolution.
  15. According to many stories circulating, some of them by recognized Masonic authors, the Boston Tea Party was planned in a Masonic lodge named "St. Andrew's" which met at the Green Dragon Tavern. The minute book was supposedly marked with a large letter "T" to indicate the end of the meeting.

    Although this is a nice story, it just isn't so. The minute book, on that page, bears a notation that there was not a quorum present to hold a meeting and the page is ended with a scroll to indicate the end of the meeting. This scroll has been assumed by those with overactive imaginations to be a "T." However, many of the other pages in the book bear the same scroll. The page with the big letter "T" of which photographic copies are circulated is a deliberate falsification, made by some brother who wished to add documentary evidence to this assertion. We may safely assume that the Masons had no more to do with the Boston Tea Party than any other of the residents of Boston at the time.

Many other isolated instances can be given, not only of faulty research, but deliberate alteration of records-expunging the records of the expulsion of a prominent member from the proceedings -changing the records of a vote to make a hotly contested election appear unanimous- and various other types of offenses.

The late Al Smith used to say: "Let's look at the record." This is definitely what should be done, providing the record is there and is kept in a manner that admits of no mistake. The records should be kept in such a way that no faulty impression can be drawn from them. When doing research, these records should be minutely checked. In all cases where it is possible, at least two different sources should be consulted for the verification of primary research, and, in cases of secondary research at least four and, if possible, more.

No man's research is ever entirely complete. Others can always add, amplify, and help to complete any research project. Therefore, what we publish should be as well documented as possible in order to insure that those who may wish to build on the foundation of our work wil1 find that work dependable. The minutes of our meetings, the records of our Masonic work, and the proceedings of our various grand bodies, should give the fact, plainly stated and without editorial comment.

These records should be factual, without regard to any person's feelings, or of catering to the vanity of a particular group, so that, in future times, those wishing to present a clear picture will be able to ascertain readily the true conditions of that period. Some errors will be made, regardless of the care of the researcher and the quality of his work, but there will be far fewer errors if those doing the research know they can depend on their sources. When the facts cannot be determined, or cannot be documented at that time, it should be plainly stated. The filling in of the gaps in one's knowledge with a fanciful account of that which possibly might have happened, can never be condoned.

Our critics have ridiculed us, and scholars have derided our historians in earlier years, for our pretensions of great antiquity, unsupported by evidence.

The history and the records of the Masonic Order are dramatic and interesting enough by themselves without needing the flamboyant touch of the novelist. The work of such brethren as Hughan, Gould, Pound, Tatsch, Claudy and Haywood, and in our time, Voorhis, Cerza, Case and many others holds the reader's interest throughout. For the work of these authors is dependable and based on the facts, so far as they can be determined at the time, and consequently can be used, when necessary as a foundation for the work of others.

Let the historian of the future examine our records, and let him understand that we have done our absolute utmost to keep that record straight.