The "Morgan Affair"

The years between the War of 1812 and the Civil War were the Glory Years in Provincetown. They were the years when fleets of Provincetown whale ships,Grand Bankers and mackerel-fishers ranged the seas. Long Point and Race Point had become separate communities with their own school districts and the Provincetown and Seaman's Savings Banks were founded. A Town Hall was built on High Pole Hill, and in 1835 the first wharves started appearing on the waterfront. There were eventually 44 wharves, the longest being over a thousand feet long. Central and Union wharves were self contained communities with their own sail lofts, ice houses and marine railways. Fine homes were built where cottages once stood and by 1850 Provincetown had the highest per-capita income of any town in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Prior to the anti-masonic crusade caused by the Morgan Affair, they were also the glorious years of Masonry. The Lodge was growing. Freemasons flourished in public processions and ceremonies and the Fraternity attracted men of influence in every community.

The Morgan Affair encompassed the years 1826 through 1845. Its effects were felt in the New England States, Massachusetts and particularly in New York where the trouble began. William Morgan, claiming to have been made a Mason in some foreign country gained admittance at Wells Lodge No. 282 at Batavia N.Y. as a visitor. He is described as being an unprincipled individual and following the rejection of his request to establish a Royal Arch chapter there and his subsequent rejection from affiliation in the Chapter that was eventually formed he entered into a scheme with David C. Miller, for the purpose of revenge and to supposedly gain untold wealth. Miller was the editor of the Republican Advocate, a weekly Batavia newspaper. In 1826 Miller printed that there would be an exposition of the rituals of Ancient Craft Masonry printed shortly by one who had been a member of the Institution for years.

In retrospect it was a lack of judgement and unnecessary alarm on the part of a few over-zealous masons which combined with other causes, - notably of a political character, - that caused an anti-masonic sentiment that would last two decades.

Those involved issued the following statement;

"The plan from inception to completion, contemplated nothing more than a deportation of Morgan, by friendly agreement between the parties, either to Canada or some other country. Ample means were provided for the expenses and the after-support of Morgan and his family. This plan had been perfected from the fact that the minds of Masonic brethren had been agitated by rumors that William Morgan was preparing an exposition and was preparing to give it to the public. It was then mutually agreed that Morgan would destroy the document, refuse all interviews with his partner and hold himself in readiness to go to Canada, settle down there and upon arrival he should receive 500.00 dollars with his written pledge to stay there and never return to the States. We also agreed that Mogan's family should be cared for and sent to Canada as soon as a suitable home had been provided for them. What a tremendous blunder we all made! It was scarcely a week until we saw what trouble was before us. Morgan had sold us out as he had sold his friends in Batavia. Within forty eight hours after his arrival in Canada he had gone. He was traced to a point down the river not far from Port Hope where he had sold his horse and disappeared. He had doubtless got on a vessel there and left the country."

Had Morgan been permitted to print his book without notice, the work would have fallen quietly from the press and died a natural death. Morgan's deportation therefore cannot be justified by any legal, moral or Masonic principle.

Public interest in the affair began about three weeks after Morgan's disappearance in the form of inflammatory hand-bills printed throughout New York and Canada accusing the Freemasons of Batavia of abducting and murdering William Morgan. Conventions and public meetings were held demanding an investigation and offering rewards for the discovery and conviction of those involved. All sorts of improbable stories were circulated adding to the excitement. One man said he knew Morgan had been killed because the carcass of a sturgeon, with Morgan's boots in it, had washed ashore on the banks of the Niagara River. Another story had Morgan turned over to the British Masons of Canada with a request that they get him aboard a British Man-o-War or turn him over to Brandt the Indian Chief and a Mason, to be executed with savage cruelty. The most sensational story probably resulted in a convention held in Lewiston, N.Y. in 1827 where Masons were accused of blindfolding and gagging the unhappy Morgan and at Fort Niagara murdering him in cold blood, cutting his throat from ear to ear, cutting out his tongue, burying him in the sand, and to conclude these hellish rites sinking the body in the lake.

It was on these allegations that the Anti-Masonic Political Party was formed enlisting among its leaders John Quincy Adams. Freemasonry was more fiercely denounced than ever; the community was in a whirlpool of passion and politicians came forward demanding resolutions against voting for Freemasons for any office whatever. Masonic clergymen were dismissed from their churches and Masonic meetings were prevented by force of arms.

DeWitt Clinton, a distinguished and eminent Mason, was Governor of the State of New York at the time. He issued proclamations condemning the actions of those accused of abducting Morgan and secured indictments against the four men involved in the conspiracy. Upon Clinton's death in 1828 the opposition declared that "stung by remorse for sanctioning Morgan's death he had taken his own life."

The Grand Lodges throughout the United States passed resolutions, disclaiming all connection or sympathy with the outrage. A great many of those attached to the Institution were of the opinion that it was advisable to yield, for a time at least, to the storm, and close their work and surrender their charters. In Vermont not a single Lodge continued its work. On October 14, 1830 angry crowds shouting "murderers and assassins" surrounded the Officers of the Grand Lodge Of Massachusetts at the Laying of the Cornerstone of the Grand Lodge on Tremont Street. From 101 Lodges reported in 1826 only 34 were now represented at Grand Lodge in 1832.

Although the Morgan Affair began in 1826, the effects were not evident at King Hiram's Lodge until 1833 when the anti-masonic sentiment was at it's highest peak. The lodge met consistently until March of 1832. The next recorded meeting was in January of 1834. There were five meetings between Jan. 5 and Feb. 10, 1834 and then nothing appears until February, 1835. The next entry is dated March 19, 1840. Following are the minutes from that meeting:

"Wednesday evening March 19, 1840 King Hiram's Lodge met at the request of the Right Worshipful Robert F. Parker, District Deputy Grand Master. The R.W.D.D. Grand Master stated to the lodge that he was directed by the Grand Lodge to visit King Hiram's Lodge and ascertain the situation and doings of said lodge, and collect all dues and get returns or they must (relinquish) their Charter and Regalia to the Grand Lodge. Voted that we will sustain the Lodge and not return our Charter."

Public sentiment prevailed however and Godfrey Ryder sold the Mason's house in 1845. King Hiram's Lodge continued to meet however in members homes. R.W. Waterman Crocker, a ships carpenter, was Master of the Lodge throughout these years and is said to have carried the Lodges charter in his coat pocket.

R.W. Joseph P. Johnson, Master of King Hiram's Lodge from 1851 through 1854 reflected on the impact of the Morgan Affair on Masonry in Provincetown in his resolutions written on 1/28/1857 at the funeral of charter member Rueben Goodspeed. They were published in the Provincetown Banner.

"He has stood by her (the lodge) through evil and good report; and in the troublesome times of anti-masonic excitement, which swept over our land like a moral pestilence; which confounded the innocent with the guilty; which distracted and divided churches; which sundered the nearest ties of social life; which set father against son and son against father; arrayed the wife against her own husband; and in short , wherever its baleful influences were most felt, deprived men of all those comforts and enjoyments which render life to us a blessing. When many around him were bending to the blast of the whirlwinds of fanatical fury which was passing over them, he stood like the sturdy oak, unmoved and unwavering amid the storm. He has lived through the darkness of the night to see the sun of Masonry again arise in all its original splendor while others who sacrificed their principals and their honor before the morlock of an unrighteous and misguided public sentiment lived to receive the scorn of Masons and all honorable men. He has now gone to his rest a faithful Mason who we shall do well to imitate.

William Morgan's actual fate has never been fully ascertained. There was no evidence that any Masonic body encouraged or participated in Morgan's deportation or was any evidence ever presented that Morgan was killed. There is abundant proof that Morgan was supplied with a sum of money and to conclude that he shipped on some vessel at Quebec or Montreal. He had no reason to return especially after his wife had remarried. Intemperate habits, inattention to his family, held in low esteem by the community and possessing no property, why should he come back. Reports in 1829 and 1831 had Morgan living at Smyrna, Turkey.

Those members of the Fraternity who conspired against Morgan showed needless excitement and took the most inexcusable measures to suppress his publication. They should have reflected that this was not the first attempt to expose Freemasonry; in England at that time a number of books had already been published on the same subject and that others will continue to be published just as long as any one can be found who will buy them. The publications opposition was the means of bringing it into prominence, and the reacting effect was felt on the Fraternity for years.

The above is a result of my own research and does not reflect the opinion of King Hiram's Lodge nor the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
Bro. James J. Theriault
Copyright 1995.

All the historical content in these pages researched and compiled by Wor. James J. Theriault, curator of King Hiram's Museum and lodge historian. Any comments concerning content may be sent to James J. Theriault, 541A Main Street, Hyannis, MA 02601

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