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 19 of 49)
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" journment of the jury, the witnesses who had been desig-
« nated, had been conversed with ; that after the assembling
« of the jury in the morning, they had consuhed the district
"judge, and, thereupon, had resolved to do no more in the
« premises. The complainant ascertaijied that the districf
** judge was a Freemason, and that the foreman and a por-


** tion of the jury were also Masons." This relation was
derived by Mr. J. C. Spencer from the gentleman who
was the complainant.

Ver}^ respectfully, &c.


New- York, Feb. 17, 1832.

The result of the trial narrated in my last letter but
one, gave no satisfaction to any body. Not a leaf of the
mystery was unfolded ; not a particle of doubt, upon any
essential point, removed. The three most prominent of the
parties indicted, had precluded any investigation of facts,
by pleading guilty to an offence that could not be punished
as a felony ; while the fourth had only been convicted in
consequence of his own vain-glorious boastings over his
cups, being at the same time, as it was very soon made to
appear, entirely innocent. The apparent indifference of
Miller, moreover, in neglecting to come forward promptly,
in a case with which he was personally so intimately con-
nected, and his dilatoriness by the way, after he had start-
ed, — for it was manifest that in such a case he could have
encountered but little difficulty in procuring money for only
a fifty miles journey, — all these circumstances together, con-
spired to create a momentary pause in the public mind ; and
oven to inspire a doubt in the minds of people at a dis-
tance, whether, after all, a mock-tragedy might not pos-
sibly have been enacted at the west, the denouement of which
even Col. Miller, one of the abducted, was not very anx-
ious to disclose. Such, I must have the candour to admit,
was, for the moment, my own impression, as recorded edi-
torially in the same number of the Commercial Advertiser^


in which the trial was published at lengtli. Indeed I be-
lieve the opinion was very general in this quarter of the
state, after the perusal of the trial, that Miller was then ac-
quainted with the place of Morgan's retreat, and had absen-
ted himself from court only to avoid being compelled to
testify to that fact.

But a very different opinion Continued to prevail at the
west. Morgan did not re-appear ; and circumstances were
continually transpiring in the neighborhood of Fort Niaga-
ra, which daily produced a stronger and yet a stronger
conviction, that he had been most foully dealt by. Many
public meetings had been held before the trial of Chesebo-
ro and his associates ; and many more were held immedi-
ately afterwards, from which w^ere issued resolutions and
addresses of the most spirited description. The people
were enraged that the punishment of the ofienders was me-
ted out so lightly by the court at Canandaigua, and the
com't itself was in some places denounced. The laws of
the state were assailed, because, in the opinion of these pop-
ular meetings, no adequate punishment for the crime of kid-
napping a free citizen was prescribed, and resolutions were
adopted requesting the legislature to supply the deficiency
in the statute-book. It v/as declared in a convention of
{Seneca county, that an outrage of unparalleled atrocity had
been committed ; and that the courts of law^ had been ap-
pealed to in vain for the punishment of the ofienders, which
declaration was at that time untrue, as tliere had then been
no cause for complaint upon this head. The court had fear-
lessly discharged its duty on the only occasion which liad
offered, for judicial action, but parties are always hurrying
to extremes. Freemasonry was now more fiercely denoun-
eed than ever. It was pronounced to be highly prejudicial
to the well being of society — and it was asserted that the ob-
ligations which the Masons were under to each other, forbade
an impartial discharge of their duty, " to unoffending citi-


" zens" and the community at large. A secret and invisi-
ble power was declared to have controlled the course of
justice; and the sentences at Canandaigua were denounced
as an insult to an enlightened people. It was at this peri-
od, when the whole country beyond the Cayuga bridge was
in a whirlwind of passion, that political Anti-masonry dates
its origin. At a joint meeting of the people of the towns of
Batavia, Bethany and vStaffbrd, it was resolved, " to wdth-
" hold their support at elections from all such men of the
" masonic fraternity, as countenanced the outrages against
" Morgan." This resolution was followed by one at Sene-
ca, directed, without exception, against all Freemasons, and
resolving that " they would not vote for Freemasons, for
" any offices whatever." The ominous silence of a large
portion of the newspaper press upon this subject, began
now to attract the attention of the public, and a resolution
was passed at a meeting of the towns of Pembroke and Alexan-
der, by which the people assembled " pledged themselves to
»• discourage the circulation of any paper, the editor of which
*' so far muzzled his press as to exclude every fact in relation
-•* to these outrages." This resolution was followed up very
promptly by the meeting of Seneca county, where it was
resolved, "that the silence of the public journals on the sub-
"ject was alarming, and that the meeting would take no
•' newspapers which did not publish the facts and public pro-
"ceedings respecting the outrage;" concluding by a threat
to discourage the circulation of all such paj)ers. These, I
believe, were the first denunciations of the press, for its con-
duct in this matter. That there was some reason in their
<;ompiaints, I cannot with truth deny ; but the threatening
spirit of the complaints, was not the wisest course to be
pursued, in order to remedy the evil. A courteous expres-
.tjion of the public feeling upon the subject, might have done
good. The language of menace, must necessarily result
ill ways, ^s it then did, in positive eviL


The more people reflected upon the trial of Cheseboro
and others, the stronger were their convictions, that there
must be important facts undisclosed. At the distance of New-
York, from the scene of action, however, it could hardly be
expected that we should understand the cause of this great
agitation, as well as could those immediately in its neigh-
borhood. But from the multitude of the popular meetings^
which had increased immediately after the trial referred to,
and from the many suspicious, though frequently contradic-
tory and improbable rumors, which were borne along upon
every breeze from the west, it occurred to me that I had
perhaps formed a somewhat too hasty opinion, on reading
that trial. On reviewing it, moreover, I w^as forcibly im-
pressed with the fact, that, while Cheseboro and Sawyer
had put in depositions in mitigation of punishment, Lawson
had not done so. He had made an affidavit going to excul-
pate Sheldon, but of himself he was silent. He had been
the chief agent in taking Morgan from the prison. He had
crone with him to Rochester : it was known that he was at
theLewiston installation, on the 14thof September : and some-
body had been most strangely transported along the Ridge
Road, at the same time that he must have been travelling
that very way; — and that somebody, between midnight and
morning, of that day, after being removed fi-om the carriage
at Youngstown, had very mysteriously disappeared in the
midst of thick darkness. It was known that Lawson return-
ed from Lewiston, late on the night of the 14th; and yet
he had pleaded guilty to all with which he stood charged
in the indictment ; and when opportunity afforded him a
chance to speak, he had not broken silence in his own ex-
culpation. He had not ventured the slightest assurance,
to quote the language of the judge in his charge, " that Mor-
« ffan had not been immolated as a victim to their rage, or
'' that he was yet in the land of the living." I likewise re-
elected more seriously upon the fact, that they had pleaded


guilty by the advice of counsel not often disposed to yield,
in any case where high intellectual and professional talent
can hope for success.

It was under circumstances and impressions like these,
that I took the liberty of addressing a confidential letter to
my friend, John C. Spencer, Esq., of counsel for the defend-
ants, stating the doubts and fears under which I was labor-
ing, and respectfully requesting from him any facts, or opin-
ions, upon the subject, which he might feel at liberty to com-
municate, without interfering with his professional duty to
his clients. Before, however, any answer from Mr. S.
could be received in due course of mail, a variety of addi-
tional circumstances, of a painful nature, had been received
through other channels. With a degree of spirit and per-
severance suited to the high object in view, and with an ar-
dour w^hich no discouragements could repress, the delegates
from the several committees before referred to, proceeded
again to Lewiston, immediately after the Canandaigua trial,
to renew their investigations. They counted seventeea
resolute men, and the number would have been somewhat
greater, had not a portion of the committee, deputed from
Rochester, where the excitement, on both sides, had rapid-
ly assumed a high degree of exasperation, been deterred by
the threats of the Masons from joining their associates on
this occasion. The visit of these committees, since known
as the Lewiston convention, was not very acceptable to the
fraternity in Lewiston and its vicinity. Many of the Ma-
sons from that and the adjoining towns, assembled at Lew-
iston likewise, some of them armed, and all breathing forth
the most violent rage, and uttering many vindicative senti-
ments, and even threats, towards the members of the com-
mittee. On one occasion they rushed into the room in
which they were assembled, extinguished the lights, and heap-
ed every possible epithet of contumely and rage upon those
engaged in these praise- worthy investigations. Their object



was, clearly, to provoke a controversy, and tlias bring on a di-
rect personal and physical conflict. But the committee was
composed of men of prudence, who sufiered none of these
things so far to move them, as to divert them from the stea-
dy pursuit of tlie great object which, with a single eye, they
were pursuing. Subsequently a conference was held be-
tween the parties ; but its only result was a shower of
obloquy heaped upon the convention, by the District Attor-
ney of the county, a royal arch Mason, who insisted that
these gentlemen had no right to come into his county, to
investigate criminal matters which he was competent to
manage himself.

Having a case in hand of so much delicacy, and environ-
ed with so many, and such peculiar difficulties, to which
may be added the strong inducements which many persons
had to lead them astray, by false information, it may well
be conceived that the task of the committee was one of great
difficulty. Many of the idle reports with which the com-
mittee were perplexed, were also put into circulation through
the newspapers, tending to confuse the public mind, and
unsettle every opinion as soon as formed. One of these
tales was, that an arrangement had been made between the
Masons and Captain John Brandt, a son of the celebrated
Mohawk chief by that name, to take Morgan from olf their
hands, and transfer. him to the British North Western Fur
Company ; but the imputation was indignantly repelled by
the descendant of the Indian hero, under his own hand, and
in a manner bearing the. impress of ti'uth. Another story
was, that Morgan had been taken to Fort George, on the
Canadian shore, tried by a masonic tribunal, and executed
by a young Indian. There was yet another report, that the
Masons of Canada had been requested to take Morgan down
to Quebec, and cause him to be shipped on board of a ves-
sel of war, which request being refused, he was put into a
boat above the falls, cut adrift, and thus huri^ied over the


cataract into eternity. None of these stories were true.
But before the investigations of this meeting of the conven-
tion v/ere closed, they received information, which induced
them to believe, that after Morgan had been taken from the
carriage, near the burying ground, in Youngstown, he had
been carried across the Niagara, bhndfolded, pinioned, and
gagged ; — that he had been taken into the lodge in New-
ark, (U. C.) where, after much deliberation, the Masons had
refused to incur the responsibility of disposing of him ; — that
he was then taken back to the American side, and confined
in the magazine of Fort Niagara ; — that he was there tried
by a masonic council, pursuant to an express order from
the Grand Chapter, and put to death in the manner prescrib-
ed by one of the masonic penalties, viz : by having his
throat cut, his tongue torn out by the roots, &c. ; — that
while the poor victim was in confinement, awaiting the sen-
tence of death which had been passed, he had begged for a
bible, and half an hour's time for preparation, which requests
were brutally denied him. A number of letters, written by
members of the committee, minutely detailing the circum-
stances disclosed to them, and the conclusions at which
they had arrived, were published, which created a univer-
sal feeling of horror among that large portion of the people
who had not taken sides with the conspirators, or resolved
to believe nothing upon the subject. And yet, although the
committee had received information leading them to such
conclusions, they had not obtained one particle of positive
testimony — nothing which could warrant an application, at
that time, to grand juries for bills of indictment. They had
tliemsolves visited Fort Niagara, and ascertained what
vv^as the internal arrangement and condition of the maga-
zine, which was a strong stone apartment, previously
to the memorable 12th of September ; — and, from ocu-
lar examination, they were fully satisfied that some

person had been confined therein : of this fact there



were many indications of a positive and unequivocal
character. There were also marks of great violence
having been used, as though by one in confinement, who
had struggled to release himself. But beyond this, and cer-
tain doubtful appearances of blood, they could, as yet, prove
nothing. That " a deed without a name" had been commit-
ted, all were prepared to believe ; but by that time, those
who would have gladly spoken, dared only to whisper in
surmises ; and even these half suppressed inuendoes, were,
in some instances, given only upon solemn pledges that
their names were not to be used. The prevalence of such
a panic, among enlightened people, — a people unused to
fear — is not the least remarkable feature of these strange
transactions. It is probably to be accounted for upon the
simple principle, that the apprehensions of men are always
increased, in novel situations, w^hen they are involved in
darkness. The secret and invisible power of Freemasonry,
was, at that time, a subject occupying all minds — the theme
of every tongue. Its power, and its strength, and the ex-
tent of its influence, were magnified a thousand fold. Its
secret meetings, however, were held, and, without pausing
to reason or reflect upon the matter, as one deed of dark-
ness had, beyond a doubt, been enacted by its instigation,
people seemed to think that others might follow, by the
same unseen hands, as often as it might be deemed necessa-
ry to suppress the testimony of one, or denounce vengeance
for disclosures made by another.

It was precisely at this crisis, and, if I do not misrecollect,
by the same mail which brought the correspondence of the
Lewiston Committee, of which I have been speaking, that I
received a reply to the letter addressed to Mr. Spencer.
Without going much into particulars, Mr. S. wrote me.
tliat, from the facts and circumstances with which he had
been made acquainted, " there were strong reasons for be-
*' lieving that the worst I could havb heard was true.''


From that moment, my own course was decided. While
halting between two opinions — weighing and balancing the
different accounts daily reaching us from the west, — scarce-
ly knowing which to believe, or, whether to reject the whole,
— I had published but little upon the subject, until the re-
port of Cheseboro's trial was received. Convinced, howe-
ver, at last, that there was substantial cause for the excite-
ment, my resolution was taken, regardless of consequences,
to discharge my whole duty to the community, as a public
journalist. But I also determined to hold the scales with
an even hand ; and while all facts of importance should be
pubUshed, and the guilty denounced in terms of just and
merited indignation, yet I was not to be driven to confound
the innocent with the guilty, or to publish all the wild tales
and inflammatory speeches, and resolutions, which might
issue from excited popular meetings, or be poured forth in
the columns of village newspapers, now starting up in vari-
ous places, like mushroons of a night, — determined, as was
clearly perceptible, not only to ride upon the whirlwind,
and direct the storm, but, in more ways than one, to turn
the righteous indignation of a generous people, to private
account. In one word, my object was impartiality and truth ;
and although the ultras, of both parties, have often been dis-
pleased because I chose to persist in pursuing the even
tenor of my way upon this subject, — guided alone by the
rule of right, — and although both have, more than once, at-
tempted to make me feel the weight of their power, still, I
have the satisfaction of knowing, that, with singleness of
purpose, I have endeavored to discharge my duty honestly,
and fearlessly ; and I have many substantial reasons for be-
lieving, that the course which has been taken by the papers
in which I have a deep concern, has been such, in general,
as to command the approbation of the wise and the good.

On closing its labors for this time, the Lewiston Conven-
tion did not dissolve itself, but only adjourned. The last


act of the meeting, was to petition the Legislature, which
was then in session, for aid in pursuing the investigation. A
memorial was prepared, and soon afterwards transmitted to
Albany, praying that an additional and greater reward
should be offered for the apprehension and conviction of
those engaged in the abduction and probable murder of
Morgan, and likewise for the appointment of a special com-
missioner to prosecute the matter, and, if possible, bring the
offenders to justice.

The letters from Lewiston, to which I have referred, were
written at various periods, from the 12th to the 30th of
January, inclusive. Like all the preceding developements,
though clouded in uncertainty as to the facts, the tendency
of these letters was still more to inflame the public mind ;
and the flight of two men, who were strongly suspected as
principals in the outrages, just at this time, also tended to
strengthen the public confidence in the general accuracy of
those disclosures. The persons to whom I allude, were,
Burrage Smith, and John Whitney, of Rochester — the wit-
nesses, on the trial of Cheseboro, and others, who were so
much afraid of criminating themselves. These men both
privately left their places of residence, while the Lewiston
Committee was yet pushing their inquiries on the Niagara.
A member of the committee, from Rochester, was in Al-
bany, on the 1st of February, and saw Smith in that city.
Bowen Whiting, Esq., the District Attorney of Ontario,,
w^ho, although a Mason, had so ably and faithfully discharg-
ed his duties on the late trials, as to command the universal
approbation of the public, was likewise in Albany. The
moment he was apprised by the Rochester gentleman, of
Smith's presence in that city, he applied to the police jus-
tice for a warrant for his arrest. This was early on the
morning of February 2d. The warrant was granted. But,
although constables are very plenty in Albany, still, from
<:ircumstances that have ne^ er been explained, the warrant


was not placed in tlie hands of an officer until late in the
afternoon. The officer repaired immediately to the lodgings
of Smith, but the bird had flown. I do not intend to incul-
pate the magistrate in this matter ; but there were a variety
of circumstances inducing a belief that Smith had been ap-
prised of its being unsafe for him to remain longer in that
capital ; and the fact that the magistrate was an officer in
the Grand Chapter, did not escape the public attention, and
was the subject of unpleasant remark. Smith and Whitney
having each a family, and both being respectable men, doing
a good business at Rochester, were immediately afterwards
known to have fled the country. They came to this city ;.
and the rumor at the time was, that they were so impatient
(or at least one of them was) to get to New-Orleans, that they
were put on board of a ship outward bound, at the Hook —
a boat having been sent nearly thirty miles, to overtake her.
Col. King, whose name has already been introduced in the
preceding narrative, and who must necessarily be spoken
of again, fled yet earlier before the storm — he having left
the district of excitement in December. Governor Clinton
afterwards informed me that King called upon him, as he
passed through Albany, and behaved very strangely. He
thought him partially deranged. King applied to him for
a loan of money, which was declined. He then requested
an appointment, or a recommendation for an appointment,,
which he wished to obtain at Washington. This request
was likewise declined. Leaving Albany for Washington,
he shortly aftervs^ards drew upon Governor C. from that
city, for two hundred dollars, without the least encourage-
ment or authority, and succeeded in getting the draft
cashed. While at the seat of government, he procured the
situation of sutler at Cantonment Towson, in the remotest
part of Arkansas Territory, to which place he repaired,
leaving his tamily at Youngstown.

Very respectfully yours.




New- York, Feb. 19, 1832.


The eyes of the anti-masonic pubhc were now turned
in a different direction. It w^as known that the annual
convocation of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter commen-
ces its sittings on the first Tuesday in February, in each
year, at Albany. On the one hand, some of the leaders of
the conspirators had declared, that their proceedings in re-
gard to Morgan, had been enacted in obedience to the
Grand Chapter ; and although the tale could not, by possi-
bility, be true, inasmuch as that body meets but once a
year, and it had not been in session since the February pre-
ceding the abduction ; yet it was unquestionably believed
by many Masons, who had been led to participate in the
outrage. And on the other, the greater number of the Ma-
sons were disclaiming and disavowing the transactions alto-
gether. The Masons, how^ever, were, at this time, divided
into four classes, and it is proper that the precise distinctions
should be stated here, that they may be retained and al-
lowed, on all proper occasions, in the course of the narra-
tive, 1 St. There were the guilty Masons, and their imme-
diate confidants, if not allies. 2d. The thorough-going Ma-
sons, who, though not actually guilty, nor previously aware
of the intended procedure against Morgan, were still rather
disposed to think, if they did not actually say, that the actors
had served the traitor right. 3d. A small number of retired
Masons, who had resumed their aprons in consequence of
the spirit of persecution that had gone abroad, and who, as
men conscious of their own rights, and their own innocence,


felt bound to resist the intolerant spirit of Anti-masonry.
4th. A much larger body of Masons than either of the
preceding, who, having virtually relinquished the institution
long ago, and ceased to care much about it, were now mere
passive Masons, condemning the outrages, if they could
be made to believe them true, as strongly as the most ve-
hement of the Anti-masons could do ; but doubting, ne-
vertheless, whether it could be possible that any substan-

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 19 of 49)