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 23 of 49)
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He presented me a lettel* of introduction from a valued
friend, one of the most intelligent and estimable gentlemen
in the western country, and in whose judgment I have great
confidence. This gentleman spoke very kindly of Bruce ;
stated that he had visited the county of Niagara, and inqui-
red particularly into the causes of the excitement ; that he
believed Bruce to be an injured and innocent man ; and in
conclusion desired me to examine the papers which formed
the defence which Mr. B. was about to submit to the Gov-
ernor. As Mr. B. himself joined in this request, I did so,
and passed a very long evening with him. In looking over
his papers, I found them materially defective, as a defence,
and after a long examination of him, by way of question
and cross-question, although he exerted himself greatly to
persuade me of his entire innocence of the wliole transac-
tion, and his ignorance of Morgan, I yet came to the conclu-
sion that he was clearly guilty of aiding in the abduction.
Of the murder, or any participation therein, I did not then.


nor have I ever since, believed Bruce to be guilty. I believe
he is naturally a kind-hearted, and an amiable man. We
parted late in the night, and I have never had any conver-
sation with him since. Gov. Clinton was absent from the
city, during the wliole time of Brucc's visit, — being then on
a tour through Connecticut and Vermont, visiting the Farm-
ington Canal, and exploring the valley of the Connecticut,
with a view to the improvement of its navigation to Barnet,
in the latter state. The hearing, therefore, did not take place
until September. His defence consisted chiefly, if not alto-
?j;ether, of aflidavits, the object of which was to impeach the
character of Moshcr, and to discredit the statement of Cory-
don Fox ; but there was no attempt to explain the part
which he himself had enacted on the memorable night of
the 13th September, either by his own affidavit, or any affi-
davits from his friends. He was removed from office by
Gov. Clinton, and the act was a righteous one.

I w^as not a member of the Grand Lodge. Those only
are such who are actually masters or wardens of lodges fol'
the time being, or who are past-masters of lodges. Of
course I could only exercise my right of visiting it, without
participating in its deliberations. This it had been my prac-
tice for years to do : and, full of hope that I should find
that right worshipful body engaged in deliberating upon
some efficient measures for an investigation of the cause of
the excitement yet raging at the west with all its original
virulence, I repaired to the lodge-room as usual. Little,
however, did I imagine the reception with which I was to
meet from a portion of my brethren. There were many old
friends with whom I met as cordially as in former times.
But there were others whose countenances fi'owned darkly
upon me ; while others, still, assailed mc w^ith angry and
violent language, chai'ging mc, with eyes flashing revenge-
fully, with being a deserter, a revealer of secrets, an Anti-
mason, (fee. There was much excitement and irritation in


the circle that gathered round me, and it was declared by
one or more, that if they could only obtain copies of some
of the articles which I had written against the abduction of
Morgan, there should be a resolution for my expulsion on
the following day. I repelled their upbraidings with all
possible calmness, and assured them that if they would call
at my office early on the ensuing morning, they should hare
the use of our files of papers to make as many copies as
they pleased, — adding, that I would assist them in the search
with the utmost pleasure.

On the following morning two or three of the brethren
called upon me, and the files were examined. If, sir, you
will pardon my prolixity upon this point, — a point, by the
way, which, though apparently interesting chiefly to myself,
is not altogether without interest to the public as connected
with this transaction, — I will cite the passages from my
editorial writings, which had given such mortal ofience.
By these citations, — and they shall be very brief, — you will
be the better enabled to judge as to the temper and disposi-
tion of the body from whom I had been hoping to see a
thorough investigation of the Morgan business undertaken.

I have already stated the determination to which I came,
so soon as I was convinced that the high-handed outrage
complained of at the west, had actually been committed, to
publish, fearlessly, and independently, the truth, the whole
truth, and nothing but the truth, so far as that could be eli-
cited, of the whole matter. And I was likewise determined,
that the voice of no Anti-mason should ring deeper than
mine, in the denunciation of the crime. Accordingly, in the
course of an editorial article on the day upon which I re-
ceived the letter from Mr. Spencer, before referred to, viz :
on the 13th of February, 1827, I held the following lan-
guage : —

" We feel it a duty to state, that, not satisfied with the
^' newspaper accounts, we have written to a gentleman of


" high standing, whose official relations enable him to speak
" with more than common authority ; and the answer just
" received, has made an impression far different from what
" we had hoped, or anticipated. In one word, then, although
" there is as yet no direct and positive proof of the fact,
" we have but too much reason to fear that the worst is
" true ; and that a few misguided, heated, and ignorant ma-
" sonic fanatics, have inflicted a wound upon the fraternity
" to which we have felt it a pleasure to belong, which it
" will require years to heal, and fixed a stain upon the cha-
" racter of the institution, which all the waters of Niagara
" cannot wash away."

Much to my astonishment, the article from which I have
quoted, called forth a reply in one of the gazettes in this
city, in which, whatever the fate of Morgan might be proved
to have been, the aggressors were justified. My rejoinder
was prompt and equally decided in its tone. After giving
concisely my views of the nature of the masonic obliga-
tions, my article, published on the 20th of February, was
concluded thus : —

" Away, then, with these sickly attempts to extenuate
" the conduct of the aggressors in this affair. Be Morgan
" dead, or be he living, there is no masonic excuse for the
" violation of the civil law. If he be living, let the ma-
" sonic fanatics who carried him off, make it manifest. Let
" them produce him, if he be yet within their power, or
" prove the fact, if (as they were then pretending) he is
" concerned in a plot .to keep out of view until his fortune
" is made by the sale of his book. But if he has been put
" to death, let none ' lay the flattering unction to their souls,'
" that his blood is not in their skirts. What though he had
" proved recreant to his principles, and violated the oath ho
" had taken to preserve the secrets '>[ the order, — shall a
" band of men, in a moment of indignation, deliberately
" put to death a fcl low-being, who, for the same oflcnce, if


" committed against the state, would only be consigned by
" law to the state prison ! It cannot be. tvcry Mason
*' should set his face against such monstrous opinions. We
" repeat it, as a member of the masonic fraternity, that if
" Morgan has been put to death — God forbid that it should
" prove so — his blood cries from the ground for vengeance
" as loud as did the blood of Abel !"

Ten days afterwards, the mail from Washington brought
me a threatening letter, which, having been somewhat cele-
brated from its frequent quotation by the Anti-masonic wri-
ters, I may, perha})s, as well insert in this place. It had
the Washington post-mark, and was dated

" Washington, February 25, 1827.

" Your remarks relating to the case of Morgan, arc
fraught with ill to the order to which you unworthily belong;
and if justice is done you, you also will have your throat
cut, for writing and printing certain things appertaining to
our ancient science. You spoke of ' obligations,' and their
interdictions and exceptions. I can only at this time assure
you, that my business only prevents my coming directly on
to you; but the 4th of June will be time enough, you damn-
ed ' recreant,' when and where you shall see * a sprig of
locust.' "

There was no mistaking this letter. It came from a Ma-
son. It was conceived in the same temper and disposition
which had conspired against the wretched Morgan ; and it
breathed the same spirit that was afterwards manifested
towards me by a portion of the Grand Lodge, in conse-
quence of the identical publications which called it forth.
The letter was published at the time with such comments
as its insolent ferocity seemed to require ; and I made many
unsuccessful clTorts to ascertain who was the author. One


of the Morgan conspirators, and doubtless a principal, was
at Washington at or about the time the letter was written,
and he was probably the instigator of the threat, if not the

But to return again to the Grand Lodge: after looking
the articles over closely, the idea of arraigning me as a
traitor was abandoned ; and the gentlemen left me with
the most positive assurances on my part, that they might at
all times depend upon the strongest opposition from me,
against all infractions of the laws, for whatever purpose, or
by whomsoever committed. After these occurrences, how-
ever, I entertained no farther expectation that any efficient
movement on the part of the Grand Lodge, to inquire into
the western outrages, or even to censure the authors, would
be adopted. But I was not even yet prepared to witness
an open and unblushing grant of money, by the Grand
Lodge, to one of the most active conspirators. Such, how-
ever, was the fact, as I have already had occasion to state
to the public. The grant was not great, it is true ; but it
was large enough to determine the principle. Eli Bruce
had asked for a donation of two hundred and fifty dollars,
to make up for losses, in consequence of what were called
the persecutions against him, by the Anti-masons. One
hundred dollars were voted to him, and the residue of the
sum was made up by contributions from individuals in this
city. It is doubtless true that a portion of the members of
the Grand Lodge believed Bruce to be an injured man.
And the hostilities of the Anti-masons had been so indiscri-
minately waged against the members of the fraternity, that
they naturally felt a sympathy for such as they might be in-
duced to believe had been persecuted. But it was known
that Bruce was kboring under the strongest suspicion, and
that the chief magistrate of the state, who was also the
highest masonic officer in the country, had ordered him to
show cause why he should not be removed from the office



of sheriff, the duties of which he had so greatly abused.
There were, moreover, in the Grand Lodge at the time,
numbers of the leading members of the order, who could
not have been ignorant of the real nature of the transac-
tions which had disturbed the peace of the west, or of the
relation in which Bruce stood to those transactions. Un-
der these circumstances, when I saw that appropriation
made, my own course was taken. I have never crossed


The Grand Lodge adjourned, without attempting even so
much as a resolution in testimony of its own innocence, or
by way of a rebuke to offending brethren. I pushed my
own investigations, however, on my own account, and suc-
ceeded, as I then supposed, in a tolerably accurate ascer-
tainment of the facts of the case. A friend of mine, a dis-
tinguished Mason, who had formerly resided in Erie coun-
ty, on the Niagara, but was, at the time of which I am now
writing, sheriff of Huron county, Ohio, while on his way to
this city, lingered a week on the Niaga*ra, for the sole pur-
pose of satisfying his own mind as to this extraordinary
case. Knowing the leading members of the order in that
county, he felt a strong degree of confidence that he should
be able to penetrate the mystery ; and he did so, to his own
satisfaction, save only in regard to the names of the actors
in the closing scene. He arrived at the conclusion, that
Morgan was taken over into Canada a second time, and
carried upon the Canadian shore twenty-five or thirty miles
above Niagara, near the foot of Lake Erie. He was there
taken, at the dead hour of midnight, to the river's edge, and
a heavy stone made fast to his body. He was next lashed
upon a plank, which was moored along side of a boat. Four
persons then entered the boat—one Englishman, one Cana-
dian, and two Americans—and rowed out into the middle of
the stream, where tfie cord binding the victim to theplnnk.
-was cut, and the wretched mnn cast into the -embrace of


the dark and angry wave, sweeping impetuously towards
the cataract. Morgan, it was said, neither wept, nor spoke,
during this dreadful scene : but the drops of perspiration
stood heavily upon his face. Such was the relation, which,
for a whole year, I so fully believed that I wrote to a mem-
ber of the Lewiston committee a full account of the tragedy.
But I have since been told that my letter was very chari-
tably construed into an attempt, on my part, to deceive the
committee, and prevent them from finding the remains of
the body, in search of which, they were then sweeping the
bed of the Niagara.

My informant, who is no longer of this world, visited
New- York again, in the spring of 1828. We had a full
conversation upon the subject, and he now assured me that
he knew not what to believe, since he had no doubt, from
subsequent investigations, that he had been deceived in the
former relation throughout.

I am, sir, very truly, yours, &c.


New- York, Feb. 28, 1832.

It would puzzle the ingenuity of man to devise a more
injudicious and unwise measure, on the part of the Masons,
than that which next demands my attention. It was so irri-
tating in itself, towards a community, already excited almost
to, the highest pitch of exasperation, so uncalled for and un-
necessary, that I can scarcely rofer to it, even at this late
day, with any patience. I allude to the public celebration
of the anniversary of St. John the Evangelist, which occur-
red on the 25th of June. The stated festivals of the masonic
order, are those of the two Johns, the Baptist, and the Evan-


gelist, both of whom are claimed as having been illustrious
patrons of the order, although both were in " the celestial
" lodge above," many centuries before those below were
dreamed of — but that is no matter. One of these anniversa-
ries occurs in December, and the other in June ; and it has
been the custom of most lodges to pay special attention to
one or the other, — rarely to both in the same year, — and
still more rarely to distinguish either by th public celebration,
and a procession, &c. The persons most ambitious for
these displays, have usually been young Masons, and recent-
ly created lodges and chapters, at times when they could
march forth with their new jewels and robes, their bright
crimson sashes, and ample draperies of silk and purple, and
the various other glittering insignia which go to make up. a
brilliant pageant. These recreations have always been ve-
ry harmless, so far as my own experience and observation
enable me to decide ; and they would doubtless have con-
tinued pleasant and agreeable divertisements, so long as the
wisdom, and the deep and hidden mysteries of the order, re-
mained undisclosed to the profane gaze of the vulgar.

It would have argued exceedingly bad taste, however, in
a country in which all can read, and where the secrets of
the inmost recesses of the order wore hawking about at
every corner, for a shilling, or twenty-five cents at the ut-
most, even under the most peaceable circumstances, for the
craft to have essayed another public spectacle, where, if
they could continue to look grave themselves, they surely
could not escape the smiles and the ridicule of the specta-
tors. But in a community burning with such an excitement
as that which now raged over the whole country, to attempt
to brave public opinion by such a display, disclosed a lack
of wisdom, of tact, and a want of knowledge of human na-
ture, rarely to be met with. The manner, moreover, in
which the business was taken in hand, was equally ill-judg-
ed. Not content with tlic customary mode of announcing

LETTER xxvr. 269

the intended festivities, the notices were sent forth six weeks
in anticipation of the period, and in a style of bravado, os-
tentation, and contempt for public opinion, calculated at
once to arouse into action all the angry passions which pru-
dence itself could at any time scarcely restrain. The fra-
ternity were summoned to the gathering, far and near,
" Knights, companions and brethren," to make up the array,
and march forth in all the pride, pomp and circumstance
of " glorious Masonry," — as in times when it was alledged
that the world were striving in vain to gain their secret, —
a treasure, which they fain would have had the uninitiated
believe as far above price, as the precious stone of the Tal-
mud, which, being suspended in the ark of the covenant for
the dispensation of light, illuminated the interior of that sa-
cred casket with the resplendent beams of its own celestial

The effect of this procedure upon the public mind, may
readily be imagined. Of itself it was sufficient to give of-
fence to all those, who, from the recent occurrences in Ba-
tavia, now held the institution in abhorrence ; but, seized
upon, as all must have foreseen it would be, and as it was,
by those who had an interest in continuing the agitation, it
provoked an excessive fermentation. On several previous
occasions, rumors had been set afloat which tested the public
feeling in a manner too unequivocal to be disregarded. The
slightest indication that the Masons had yet some lingering
designs against Col. Miller, had more than once brought
swarms of the people into the village, with arms, as if for
bloody combat ; and now that a large muster of Masons
had been summoned, a single whisper getting abroad, how-
ever baseless in its origin, or sinister in its object, was suffi-
cient to cause armed hosts to spring up as vigorous and bold
as the Macedonian phalanx. It was even so. The ap-
pearance of the notice was tFie signal for the tocsin, and it
was sounded with great industry, and incredible effect. Pub-


lications of a highly inflammatory nature were put forth ;
the most infamous insinuations as to the real objects of the
celebration were published ; and every possible effort that
could be resorted to, without transgressing the law, was
made, to excite the apprehensions, and the passions, of the
jx)pulace against the masonic order. The object of the ce-
lebration was known to all. It could not be mistaken. It
was designed solely to show the Anti-masons that they were
determined not to be put down by clamor, or by what they
considered a persecuting crusade against the whole, for the
misdeeds, as all pretended, and many believed, of a few. It
was in all respects pacific, and yet it was got up solely in a
spirit of resistance to that current of prejudice, and that
tide of popular opinion, which was rolling in against it with
a swell that became heavier with each successive up-rising
of the sun. The idea of another masonic outrage, by those
who had — most indiscreetly, it is true — undertaken this
celebration, was too absurd to be entertained by a man in
his senses, for a moment ; and yet it was asked in the anti-
masonic papers — " What can be the ol)iect of calling so
" many Masons together ? .Why should the members of
" distant lodges and chapters be summoned ? Whose hou-
" ses are to be burnt or demolished ? Who is to be kidnap-
*' pcd and murdered ?" These questions I have copied
from a Batavia paper of that day ; and I might select many
more ap})eals to the fears, and the passions of the people,
uttered in the same strain. Nor were they without cflcct.
A county meeting of the people was called to assemble at
the court house in the same village, on the same day, and it
was intimated that it would be advisable to come armed.
Accordingly, at the time appointed, while the Masons were
gathering into the village, sin^^iy and in pairs, with no other
arms than those hanging from their shoulders, or perchance
their squares and compasses,* and the rods of the stewards,
the extraordinary spectacle was exhibited of a whole peo-


pie, as it were, in motion. The number of Masons who as-
sembled, was about three hundred ; but the people flocked
in from all directions, and from distant towns and counties,
not by tens and hundreds merely, but by thousands. Some
were armed with muskets, some with bludgeons, and others
with large knives. The muskets, however, I believe, were
chiefly, if not all, deposited in places without the viflage,
where they could readily be procured if the bloody Masons
should attempt to run off with any good citizen, or cut the
throat from ear to ear, of any of their own treacherous

Thus did one of the most quiet and peaceable of villages,
in the midst of a most staid and intelligent community, pre-
sent the extraordinary spectacle of a populace in arms, to
the number of from five to seven thousand, for no other rea-
son than because a few dozen Freemasons had resolved
once more to appear in the streets with their sashes, their
silk gowns, and their aprons, and to hear a moral lecture
commemorative of the character and virtues of St. John ;
inculcating the usual lessons of charity ; and concluding
with an impressive exhortation to the members to illustrate
by their lives, that exclamation of the Psalmist — " behold
" how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell to-
" gether in unity !"

These movements were not contemplated by sober and
reflecting men, without great apprehension for the result.
It was but too evident from the temper of the assembled
multitude, — from the frowning brows, and flashing eyes, —
that but a single spark was wanting to fire the train. A
single hostile act from one of the proscribed order, would
have brought on an aflray that would have added a bloody
page to our history. Happily, however, the day passed ofl^
without any <■ ii^':;;. 'iisliuluinco. Tho Masons marched
through the str<;(;is, and inarchod back again. Some jiboK
»and jeers were utterfid at then expense ; a wa<2:gon was sc*


veral limes rudely driven across their path, or tlirough their
ranks, to annoy them ; and a few stones were cast into
their ranks without effect. But they conducted themselves
with as much prudence, while engaged in their fete, as they
had shown of the opposite commodity in coming thither,
under the circumstances, for such a purpose. The Anti-
masons held their meeting at the court house — such as could
get in — for the whole town was filled ; — an oration w^as
pronounced by a gentleman of the bar, and an address de-
livered by a clergyman. A series of resolutions were pas-
sed, denouncing the legislature for refusing to aid, by a spe-
cial enactment, the investigation of the dark conspiracy ; a
convention of delegates from the several counties animated
by the excitement, was invited to assemble in the course of
the following month, " to adopt measures for the public
" safety,'* and fresh denunciations were uttered against the
press. At night the multitude dispersed, and wxnt quietly
to their own homes — the Masons burning with resentment
at the insult and contumely with which they had been treat-
ed — yet too wise to manifest it by any overt acts ; — and the
Anti-masons cherishing the bitterest hatred towards the fra-
ternity, and yet restrained from any deeds of violence, by
that habitual respect for the laws, which is rarely lost sight
of by any collection of our native citizens, and which illus-
trates the glorious fact, that as yet, there is in the United
States no such thing as an American mob. Long may we
be entitled to the proud exception. I am, &c.


New- York, Feb. 29, 1832.

On the 22d day of May, 1827, came on the trial ol James
Lakey, Isaac Evertsoii, Chaunccy H. Coe, ilolloway Hay-

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 23 of 49)