William L. (William Leete) Stone.

Letters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams online

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Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 12 of 49)
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man of virtuous habits and principles, who had borne a
captain's commission in the army, of which he had proved
himself worthy, in sundry engagements in the southern
campaigns of the late war wdth Great Britain, particularly
in the signal achievement with which that contest was clo-
sed, at New-Orleans. On the other, it has been represent-
ed that he was a pirate in the gulf of Mexico, during the
greater i)art of the v^^ar ; — that he w^as one of the celebrated
gang of Lafitte, infesting the Delta of the Mississippi, whose
principal rendezvous was upon the island of Barataria ; —
and, being a favorite of that daring freebooter, w^as some-
times entrusted with the command of separate vessels in
their desperate service. These pirates, you will recollect,
were pardoned by president Madison, on the eve of the bat-
tle of New-Orleans, in which brilliant affair they were re-
ported to have done excellent service. From thence, as thg


same class of reports inform us, Morgan returned to Vir-
ginia, where he led a dissolute Ufe until the year 1819;
when, it is added, that, with the assistance of a gang of
reckless associates, he took the young girl of sixteen, who
subsequently became his wife — Miss Lucinda Pendleton —
by force from beneath her father's roof. To none of these
relations do I attach the least credit or importance. The
narrative of his military career, is understood to be one of
those idle tales which designing men have found it conveni-
ent to usher forth to the public, in aid of their own sinister
designs. The statement of his having been attached to the
pirate-gang of Lafitte, in the absence of the least evidence
of the fact, may be set down as a calumny, added to the
guilt of murder ; — while the story of the abduction of his
wife is of the same infamous character. Other reports,
cruel as the grave, touching the honor of the lady, were put
into circulation by men who had deprived her of a husband ;
but those generous friends who espoused her cause, and
sought so diligently to vindicate the majesty of the laws,
took prompt means to wipe from her character the foul im-
putation ; and the legal evidence of her marriage, under a
license from the court of Washington county, (Va.) was ob-
tained, and published in the spring of 1827. The simple
fact is, that Morgan, by his own confession, was a private
soldier in the army, and nothing more. In giving an ac-
count of his military career, he stated that he was in " most
^* of the battles south of the Potomac." He did not particu-
larise, nor did he ever mention, as I am most credibly in-
formed, the battle before New-Orleans, as one of the scenes
of his own exploits. These facts are derived from an im-
partial source — from a gentleman in whose employ Mor-
gan was once engaged. They were obtained from his own
lips, and are therefore to be received as true, so far as tlie
principal is to be credited as a witness in his own behalL


Morgan was an operative mason by trade* Those who
have published favorable biographical sketches of his life,
assert, that, by an industrious application to his business,
in Virginia, he had accumulated a respectable property in
1819. It was in the autumn of that year, that he marri-
ed Miss Lucinda Pendleton, whose father, I am told, is, or
was, a respectable preacher, of the methodist episcopal
church. Two years from the period of his marriage, he re-
moved from Virginia, to York, in the province of Upper
Canada, where he was connected with a brewery. This
establishment being subsequently destroyed by fire, he re-
moved back again to the United States, and located himself
for a time at Rochester, where he labored at his former oc-
cupation, in the capacity of a journeyman. From Roches-
ter he removed to the county of Genesee.

In person Morgan was of middle stature, say five feet six
inches in height. His general appearance, for a man of low
circumstances in life, was rather prepossessing ; — a com-
pact and well turned person, with a high forehead, bald, and a
quick, intelligent, but sly and sinister-glancing eye. His
education had been nothing more than that received in a
common English school ; but he had added to his original
stock of learning by considerable reading ; and being a man
of quick intelligence, and rather acute observation, he was
enabled to pass as a sort of oracle amongst the lower class-
es of loungers in the precincts of village inns. Indeed,
whatever may have been his course of life previously to his
residence in Canada, his indolence, and his habits, after his
return, were such as very naturally to throw him into the
associations of such a circle. Although not exactly a com-
mon drunkard, to be which, according to certain legal de-
cisions in this state, it is required that a man must be in a state
of intoxication more than one half of the time, still he was
continually mingling " hot rebellious liquors with his blood;"


—his nights, and sometimes his days also, were spent at tip-
pling-houses ; while, occasionally, to the still greater neg-
lect of his family, he joined in the drunken carousals of the
vilest and most worthless of men. His disposition was en-
vious, malicious, and vindictive ; as I am assured by a very
estimable and pious man of Genesee county, in whose vera-
city I have the fullest confidence, and in whose employ
Morgan was at one period engaged.

Such, I have reason to believe, is a fair description of the
character of William Morgan. He was, withal, what is
termed, among the craft, " a bright Mason," — or rather, he
professed to be such ; for, as it will presently be seen, it has
been questioned whether he was a legitimate member of
the brotherhood. Be that as it may, however, he was a
very excellent proficient in all the wisdom of the three
primitive degrees of ancient Freemasonry. Too indolent
to dig, he nevertheless was not ashamed to beg — at least
from his masonic brethren, — and what his scanty earnings
lacked in affording him an indifferent and precarious sup-
port, was made up by masonic charities, — in devising means
to procure which, he was remarkably ingenious. It is one
of the faults of the institution, that it not unfrequently pro-
duces just such oracles of its wisdom — cunning and artful
men, having an air of the shabby-genteel ; — with col-
loquial powers rather above the ordinary range of uneduca-
ted persons ; — while, at the same time, it furnishes enough
of weaker brethren, to form a listening circle, sufficient in
numbers to add to the imaginary importance of the oracle,
and happy in the privilege of contributing to the temporal
wants of such travelling luminaries.

The original difficulties between Morgan and his mason^
ic brethren of Genesee, sprung, as it is believed, from a
Combination of untov/ard circumstances. While residing
at Le Roy, transiently, or otherwise, he became intimately
associated with Maj. James Ganson, a man of respectable


Standing, who had formerly been a member of our state Ic-^
gislature, and also sherifT of Genesee county. It was
at Le Roy that Morgan was exalted to the degree of a Roy-
al Arch Mason, on the avouchment of Ganson, as to his
knowledge and skill in the preceding degrees. But it is
affirmed, that the brethren at the west could never ascertain
in what lodge, or w^hether in any, Morgan had commenced
his masonic career ; and some doubts arose whether he had
not, after all his boasted knowledge of the mysteries of the
order, succeeded in palming himself upon them as a true
mason, while in fact he was an impostor. At about the
same time, the masonic edifice, at Le Roy, for the accom-
modation of the Knights Templars, was projected. Upon
this building Morgan had a contract to labor, but, by some
means, he was disappointed, and mutual heart-burnings
upon this subject, followed between himself and Ganson.

Such was the posture of affairs at Le Roy, whence the
scene now shifts to Batavia, which had become Morgan's
more permanent place of residence. Here, another occur-
rence transpired, which at once placed " a great gulf be-
" tw^een" him and his brother Masons, and aroused his angry
feelings to the highest pitch of resentment. It was early in
the year 1826, that the few Royal Arch Masons of Bata-
via, determined to apply to the Grand Chapter of the state,
for a charter to constitute a chapter in that village. By
some means or other, contrary to the desire of the more
respectable portion of the applicants, the petition w-as pre-
sented to Morgan, who, as might have been expected, very
readily added his signature to the names already upon it.
In masonic usage, it is a matter of course that all the sign-
ers of an application for a lodge or chapter, become regu-
lar members, when such lodge or chapter is instituted. " So
" it is written in the bond." But Morgan's character had
now become so well understood, and his habits so bad, that
his association w*as not desired among the original promo^


ters of the object. They consequently destroyed the first
petition, and set another on foot secretly, by which the char-
ter was obtained ; and in which, on its arrival, Morgan
was surprised and mortified to find that his own name was
not inserted. He could now become an associate only by
the unanimous consent of the more fortunate members ; and
as that consent could not be obtained, he was of course
excluded. Stung with rage at this treatment from his
"companions," it is presumed that he was not long inform-
inor resolutions of reven<::ce.

There was another person who was an important actor
in the earlier stages of the Morgan business, whom it now
becomes necessary to introduce upon the stage. I allude to
Col. David C. Miller, then, as now, the editor of a village
paper published in Batavia. Miller was a man of respecta-
ble talents, but of irreligious character, great laxity of moral
principle, and of intemperate habits ; which latter, however,
I have since heard, with great satisfaction, have been re-
formed. His conduct had alienated his best and most sub-
stantial political friends, and a rival newspaper had just
been established by his old political associates, at about the
time of Morgan's removal to that place. These circum-
stances had occasioned Miller great pecuniary and political
depression ; and there was little of moral principle to deter
him from embarking in any enterprise affording a promise
of retrieving his declining fortunes. Miller had many years
before taken the entered apprentice's degree, in Albany —
and this was all he knew of Masonry. But a similarity of
tastes and habits had brought him and Morgan into the re-
lations of intimate association, and it was but natural that
they should discourse to each other of their private griefs.
Morgan had commenced writing something upon the sub-
ject of Freemasonry, for what purpose it is not known, as
early as the winter or spring of 1825. He was at a mason-
ic hotel in this city^ for a short time, in the course of that



year, and was olteii closeted with a man of considerable
talents, and some scholarship, who had been expelled from
the fraternity the preceding year, for a breach of his ma-
sonic faith, in writing and exhibiting certain masonic mat-
ters that were then supposed to be unwritten. Parts of his
manuscripts had been shown by Morgan to his friends, be-
fore the occurrence of the difficulties I have specified, and
before, as it was supposed, he had any idea of making the
publication ; although I strongly suspect that he purposed,
eventually, to betray the masonic secrets from the outset.
Such is the natural inference, from the character of his prin-
cipal associate, during his visit to this city ; and while here,
he was urgent in his inquiries of a masonic acquaintance of
mine, as to the place of residence of a masonic brother some-
where in New- Jersey, where, or of whom, as he said, he
hoped to obtain a more perfect knowledge of the higher de-
grees. Be that, however, as it may, after his rejection from
the new Batavia chapter, in the manner above related, he
was suddenly transformed from an ardent and zealous friend
of the masonic institution, into its public, determined, and
inveterate foe ; and, having become possessed of the fact oi"
the existence of his manuscripts. Miller at once conceived
the idea of turning them to their mutual pecuniary advan-
tage. This was his first and only object, naturally suggest-
ed by his increasing wants, and by a stock of principle only
proportioned to his interest. Morgan's imaginary wrongs,
granting even that he had not before contemplated making
the disclosures, made him a willing listener to propositions
artfully made. Thus the bargain was struck ; partners
were enlisted who were to furnish the means of publishing
the book, and to share the profits ; which, by Miller's own
subsequent confession, it was supposed would be very great.
I am, sir, with high respect, &c.



New- York, Jan. 30, 1832,

The design of Morgan to publish a full disclosure of
the secret rites and ceremonies of Freemasonry, and hm
partnership, for that purpose, with Miller and others, w^ere
soon known to the public. In fact the intended publication
was announced openly, and without disguise, early in the
summer of 1826. Little attention, however, was paid to
the subject for some weeks. The more respectable and in-
telligent portion of the fraternity gave no heed to it ; — others
supposed the project was merely to supply travelling chap-
men with an additional stock of marvels ; — whilst others,
yet, believed that should* any publication be made, it would
fall still-born from the press, attracting no more attention,
and commanding no more confidence, than did the neglect-
ed book known by the title of "Jachin and Boaz." By de-
grees, however, some little agitation began to disclose itself
by whispers, and low murmurs, and occasional movements
among " the lesser lights" of Masonry. But these move-
ments, however slight at first, like the gentle currents of air
that, before a tempest, at first scarcely rustle among the
leaves of the forest, which is doomed speedily to bend and
break before its violence? were the precursors of a storm, that
Jias swept with wild and desolating power over a wide por-
tion of our country, and which it may yet require years to
allay. Day after day the uneasiness among the brotherhood
was observed to increase ; and the circle of those persons
manifesting their ill-concealed restlessness and apprehen*


sion, was continually extending its circumference. These-
symptoms were exactly what the projectors of the work
most desired. Should the book be ushered forth unoppo-
sed, and unnoticed, no faith would be placed in its contents,
and few sales would reward the pubhshers. But the mo-
tnent it should become evident to the community, that the
Masons themselves were seriously opposed to the book,
they could but perceive that the curiosity of the public
would be irresistable, and the demand for the work unlimi-
ted. Threats at length began to be heard in whispers, that
the Masons were determined, by some means, to suppress
the book ; and discussions concerning the matter were
most injudiciously admitted into the newspapers ; — thereby
contributing to quicken the kindling flame, and causing ma-
ny more of Miller's subscribers to withdraw from the sup-
port of his paper.

It was at about this stage of the difficulty, that, as it is be-
lieved a negotiation, was entered into between the Masong
and Morgan. They had some conferences, and strongly
expostulated with him against the course he was pursuing.
Morgan appeared to relent in his purposes, but complained
of being so connected with Miller, that he found it difficult
to extricate himself. The result of these negotiations,
was, that Morgan apparently fepentcd of his design, and
agreed to suppress the proposed publication ; and he even
went so far as to deliver up his manuscripts, protesting that
those which he surrendered, embraced the whole. In a
short time afterwards, however, it was ascertained that
Morgan had been doubly treacherous ; and that, while he
pretended honestly to relinquish his purpose, and give up
bis papers, he had deceived them with imperfect draughts,
and fragments of copies, while the copy prepared for pub-
lication, was, at the very time, in the possession of Millen-
who was then proceeding witii the work.


Connected with the last-mentioned feature of the transac-
tions under review, wxre certain advertisements respecting
Morgan, which appeared in sundry newspapers, and of
which great use has been made by the anti-masonic party.
Morgan, as I have intimated in tiie preceding letter, was in
the habit of visiting his masonic brethren, in the principal vil-
lages of that section of country, and living much of the time
upon their friendly bounty. He had l-een to Canandaiguaj
a few months before the period of w^iich I am now writing ;
and among the first consequences of the deception he had
practised, in pretending to surrender his manuscripts, was
an advertisement in one of the Canandaigua papers, in the
words following : — " Notice and caution. If a man calling
" himself William Morgan should intrude himself on the
" community, they should be on their guard, particularly
*' the masonic fraternity. Morgan was in this village in
" May last, and his conduct, while here, and elsewhere, calls
" forth this notice. Any information, in relation to Morgan,
" can be obtained by calling at the masonic hall in this vil-
*' lage. Brethren and companions are particularly request-
" ed to observe, mark, and govern themselves accordingly.
" Morgan is considered a swindler, and a dangerous man.
*' There are people in this village who would be glad to see
" this Capt. Morgan. Canaiidaigua, Aug, 9, 1826." This
notice was copied into the Batavia papers with great alacri-
ty ; and, in a very short time afterwards, a paragraph, of
similar import, was inserted in the paper published at Black
Rock, with an additional statement, that the fraternity had
" amply provided" themselves against Morgan's impostures,
and his swindling propensities. Great pains have been
taken to create an impression, that both publications were
written in view of the arrangements then making for the
tragic event which followed. But such, I am free to assert,
and I do it with all confidence, was not the fact. And si-
though it is an interruption to the regular progress of the


transactions which now begin to accumulate on liiy hands^
still, justice requires that these publications should be pla-
ced in their proper light ; and this feature of the subject
may as well be disposed of here, as elsewhere. The charge
of Morgan's being an impostor, was founded upon the sus-
picion of Maj. Ganson, and others, that he was not a true
Mason in the first three degrees, and had therefore obtained
his exaltation to the higher orders, by fraudulent represen-
tations. That of being a swindler, rested upon the fact
which will more prominently appear presently, viz : the
borrowing, by Morgan, of some wearing apparel at Canan-
daigua, which he did not return. The masonic caution
near the close of the advertisement, has no peculiar or dan-
gerous signification, as has been alledged ; and the whole
paragraph, is, in truth, and in fact, nothing more than a re-
gular masonic advertisement, such as "have been common,
time immemorial, to put the brethren on their guard against
unworthy and expelled members. Still more, however, has
been made of the Black Rock publication, particularly in
consequence of the w^ords " amply provided." From this
phrase it has been industriously argued, that provision for
the murder of Morgan had even thus early been made ;
whereas, at this period, there is no reason whatever to sup-
pose, that any measure which should result in Morgan's
personal harm, had been even remotely contemplated. But
so much use has been made of the paragraph referred to,
that I have taken especial pains to investigate the whole
matter. The result is, to me, perfectly satisfactory. I
know the author of that publication well ; and equally well
do I know him to be utterly incapable of countenancing an
unlawful transaction involving moral guilt. The facts are
simply these : — The author of the paragraph in question,
took up his residence at Buffalo, in 1822. He was in the
habit of scribbling articles for the Buffalo and Black Rock
papers ; but, although a Mason, neither had he before, the


Morgan outrage, nor has he since been in the habit of visiting
the lodges there. This gentleman had seen the Canandaigua
advertisement, but knew nothing further of Morgan, than
that he was represented as a man who was travelling about
the country, and sponging a living from members of the
fraternity. An erroneous article had been published in the
Black Rock Gazette, and the paragraph under considera-
tion was written to correct it. He took the paragraph to
the office in his own hand ; the chirography was not dis-
guised ; the authorship was never questioned, or denied ;
nor was the paragraph itself arraigned as breathing a threat
of murder, until the gentleman, many months afterwards,
became a partner in another paper, which was in opposi-
tion to the anti-masonic party. It was then, only, that he
was assailed, as having spoken daggers, although it had
been merely his intention to say, that, by unmasking an un-
worthy pretender, the fraternity had " amply provided"
against his future extortions from those whose bounty he
had claimed as a brother. The author knew nothing of the
outrages against Morgan's person, until after they had
been perpetrated ; and granting even that the intentions
of the Masons of Batavia, whatever they at first might
have been, were known in the lodge of Buffalo, this gentle-
man, from his entire neglect of masonic affairs, would hard-
ly have been consulted, or in any manner advised in the
premises. The editor of the paper in which the note was
published, moreover, was not a Mason ; and it is absurd to
suppose that a writer who was plotting murder, would
have selected such a channel to throw out his signals.

The mutterins^s of the storm beffan shortlv to be heard at
a lesser and still a lesser distance. The Masons were ob-
served to assemble in clusters, as though in anxious consul-
tation. Miller was vexatiously prosecuted for sundry small
debts, and the collection forced with unusual harshness,
Tlureats were darkly Iiintcd, that the mtended publication.


should at all events be suppressed ; and Miller, becoming
actually alarmed for his own personal safety, or aifecting
to be so, took measures for defending himself in the event
of an assault. Morgan himself was likewise harrassed by
the law ; and it appears that there were actual demands
against him, justifying recourse to this last expedient for the
collection of debts. He had recently been prosecuted in
the Supreme Court, for a heavy debt owing in Rochester,
and execution being issued, was bailed upon the goal limits
by Nahum Loring and Orange Allen. In the midst of the
excitement moreover which was now growing up in the vil-
lage, (i. e. on the 25th of July, 1826,) he was committed to
the custody of the sheriff of Genesee, at the suit of Nathan
Follett, and was again bailed upon the limits. These latter
circumistances, sir, will probably strike you as being alto-
gether unimportant in a narrative like the present. In them-
selves they are so ; but they will nevertheless be found to
have important bearings in the sequel. A variety of schemes
were now on foot to arrest the progress of the dreaded
work, and among these, in order in some way to extort the
surrender of his manuscripts, was the device of entangling
the author in the meshes of the law, as the spider involves
the struggling fly in the perplexities of his web. Another
plan was, to circumvent both author and publisher, by pro-
curing an artful accomplice to insinuate himself into their
confidence, so far as to become a partner ; by which means,
it was presumed, he would be able, at some stage of the
work, eflbctually to destroy it. Such an instrument w^s
found in the person of a man calhng himself Daniel Johns,
for whom they sent a long distance into Canada, at the ex-
pense, as it subsequently appeared, of the encampment at

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 12 of 49)