GEORGE WASHINGTON was a notable Freemason, becoming a member of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 in 1753 at age 20 and serving as its master of Alexander Lodge No. 22 in 1788. Five years later, he served as President and led the Masonic ceremony to lay the cornerstone of the new United States Capitol. As a Mason, he would have owned at least one apron and possibly more. Aprons were worn at Masonic meetings and public ceremonies.
Offering two ALSs, 8 pp total, 5 x 8, dealing with an attempt to sell George Washington’s Masonic apron, which belonged to Washington’s great, great nieces who needed money. Elizabeth Byrd Nicholas writes to Dr. Shattuck, a member of the St. Andrews Masonic Lodge in Boston, asking him to help her sell the apron to the lodge, “which is said to be a very wealthy one.”
A second letter, dated July 23, 1871, from Elizabeth Willard Barry on her Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association Vice Regency of Illinois stationary, asks Dr. Winston Lewis in Massachusetts for help with the lodge there.
The Nicholas’ letter, written from Richmond, VA, dated May 20th, presumably 1871, reads, “I hope you will pardon my troubling you with a letter, but I have a little commission, I wish to beg you to execute for me - & I promise in advance it shall not be onerous. I have been enlisted in the service of some friends in the country, great, great nieces of Genl. Washington, & have told them I would make an effort to sell a Masons apron, which belonged to ‘the Father of his Country.’ Of course, there is no doubt of the genuine quality of the relic, coming from the source it does. It goes without saying, that the family are poor – or they would not dispense themselves of their cares thus. They want a good price for the apron, & as no private individual is likely to purchase it – I have been advised to apply to St. Andrews Lodge, in Boston, which is said to be a very wealthy one. And as Masonic fraternities are very charitable – they may not only wish to possess themselves of the aforesaid article, but consider it a worthy act, to persons not far removed from such a distinguished member of the Society [Washington]. Now for the point, in which I desire to interest you. Can you not see the chief person in the Lodge for me, as a sort of introduction, & vouch for my respectability – so that we might enter into negotiations. I felt I was a stranger & that I could not have a higher endorse than a gentleman of your position –Of course I have no interest in this transaction beyond a desire to aid gentle folk in trouble - & the pleasure of assisting in a kind act. Will you present me very kindly to Mrs. Shattuck. Yours very truly, Elizabeth Byrd Nicholas. To Dr. Shattuck, Boston.”
ELIZABETH BYRD NICHOLAS was with the Virginia Historical Society, and a member of the District of Columbia Society of the Colonial Dames of America and national treasurer of the General Society. She was an “…accomplished lady, foremost in the art and literary circles of Richmond, and who was a leading originator in the Colonial Court Ball, mentioned in the preceding sketch of Lord Botetourt, as having been held in Richmond, February 22, 1876 (Washington’s birthday), the pecuniary proceeds of which were patriotically devoted to the furnishing of the Virginia Room in the Mount Vernon mansion.” (from “Virginia and Virginians” p. 123, by Robert Alonzo Brock & Virgil Anson Lewis; Genealogical Publishing Co. 1996).
"Dr. Shattuck" may well refer to Dr. George C. (Cheyne) Shattuck, Jr. (1813- 1893), who was one of nineteenth century Boston's leading physicians.
The second letter:
The Mount Vernon Ladies Association letter, written by Elizabeth Willard Barry, Petersham, Massachusetts, July 23, 1871, to Dr. Winston Lewis, reads, “As one of the Vice Regents of the ‘Mount Vernon Ladies Association,’ I have been specially requested by the Regent to make an appeal to the Masons of Mass. in behalf of the object contained in the enclosed paper (referring to the above letter from Elizabeth Byrd Nicholas). Although my Vice Regency is only for Illinois, she assigns me this duty, because there is at present no Vice Regent in Mass. & it is important that the subject should be brought to action as soon as possible. Moreover, as this is my native State & my husband (Rev. William Barry, formerly of Lowell) was at one time Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge & my summons are usually passed here, she thought I might with propriety bring the subject to the attention of the Grand Master, then the work could be left to the management of the masons themselves, who could communicate either with her, or with me.
“I address myself particularly to you my dear Sir, first, because I know that you have been long an active & conspicuous member of the body, & second, because your name is familiar to me through my very dear & lamented friend & kinswoman Mrs. Jos. Willard of Boston, by whose influence I accepted, in Illinois, my position among the V. Regents of the Assoc.
“I hope I do not trespass in asking you to take up this matter & bring it before the Grand Lodge in such a way as to lead to some effective action. I know that your long connection with the body must give you great influence, & influence is what we need. Should, however, you find it impracticable to give it your personal attention, could you oblige the assoc. by putting it in the hands of some earnest, energetic man who would be interested to carry it through.
“The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts has been always conspicuous for its reverence for the great leader of our liberties [Washington] & its example now will have a very great & important influence with those of other States. This the regent felt hence her desire to have it back in the work on the Atlantic coast.
"The masons of Wisconsin had intended to inaugurate the movement or rather their V. R. had expected they would, but they were too tardy & the “(?)” lodges have stepped into the (?). Mrs. Alex. Mitchell, the V. R. of Wisconsin, has seat to Italy for plans of a mausoleum & doubtless our home architects, & sculptor will be applied to, as soon as we have sufficient encouragement to go forward. Of course, the plans must depend upon the amount of moneys raised & we hope this will be ample to afford a monument of who Americans will not be ashamed. The Regent sent me the envelope article, requesting me to publish it in Mass. & I have copied it for the press. May I ask of you, if convenient, to send it to such paper or papers as you think would best promote its interests. My address till Sept. is “Petersham Mass.” If I can be of any service either by writing or by personal preserve, I shall be at command. I am, dear Sir, with great respect, yours, Mrs. E. Willard Barry, Vice Regt, &c."
A photo of Mrs. Barry standing in front of Mount Vernon in 1873 with other Vice Regents can be found online in the book, "Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine" by Scott E. Casper (Google books).
Folds, light toning. Small stain at the bottom, back page, of the first letter, not affecting writing.
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