William L. (William Leete) Stone.

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

. (page 40 of 49)
Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 40 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" the disagreement proceeded from four Masons who were
" on the jury. He was again tried in June, 1830, when he
" did not even call a witness to prove the libels he had pub-
" lished, and he was convicted without hesitation, and fined
*' fifty dollars. The history of this case is introduced in
" consequence of its connexion with the main trials, and to
"exhibit one of the instances of the operation of masonic
" feeling in the jury box."

The trial of Calvin Cook vs. Harvey Cook at Fort Ann,
in Washington county, N. Y., in June, 1830, before Ben-
jamin Copeland, Esq., a magistrate of that town, will per-
haps illustrate still more clearly, and more unfortunately,
the influence of masonic obligations upon men who attach
an undue importance to the institution. The controversy
grew out of the Anti-masonic excitement. The parties
were cousins, and were both Masons — the former had sece-
ded, and the latter adhered. The unpleasant feelings first
engendered by this controversy, resulted in open feuds.
A succession of outrages were committed upon the doors
and machinery of the plaintiff^s mills, which were directly
charged upon the defendant. He was importuned by his
relative to desist, but is said to have replied that " he (de-
" fendant) should not wonder if plaintiff's house were burnt
" over his head, unless he seceded back from Anti-masonry."
A repetition of the trespass having occurred, after the ad-
monition and threat, an action was instituted for the recove-
ry of damages, for the various acts of violence attributed
10 the defendant.


The county of Washington had been, for a long time
previously, infected with Anti-masonry ; and the parties
ranged themselves on this trial with as much apparent zeal
and bitterness, as on the trials in the west.

A jury having been summoned, Erastus Day was chal-
lenged by the plaintiff for favor, on the broad ground of his
masonic obligations. This was overruled, and he was then
challenged for cause, and triers appointed. The proposed
juror, being sworn, was asked if he was a Mason. He re-
fused, at first, to answer the question ; but being admonish-
ed by the court, testified that he was, and that he had taken
seventeen degrees. Being interrogated as to various points
of obligation in the masonic oaths, he again refused to an-
swer ; and at length told the magistrate that he considered
his masonic oaths superior to the oaths he had just taken
before the court ! Sylvester Cone, the next witness, reso-
lutely refused, at first, even to be sworn. He finally con-
sented, however, at the solicitation of his friends ; but to
questions touching the secrets of the order he firmly refused
to reply ; and to those to which he answered, his replies
were dogged and reluctant. The same unwillingness is
said to have been manifested by five other witnesses who
were Freemasons.

. The plaintiff then called Messrs. William Brayton, Ben-
jamin Seeley, and Nathaniel Colver, who, it is presumed,
were seceding masons, and some of whom testified that in
the Royal Arch Oath, among the keeping of secrets, mur-
der and treason were not excepted ; and that the members
of the fraternity w^ere required to help each other out of
difficulty, right or wrong ; and also to promote their politi-
cal preferment.

The report of the trial from which my information re-,
specting this case is principally drawn, and which should
probably be received with some grains of allowance, 'pro-r
ceeds to state, as follows;


" Several circumstances transpired during. this trial, to illustrate the pecu-
liar nature of the masonic fraternity, and their dread of investigation. Every
Mason, sworn or called as a witness, seemed unusually anxious to give his
opinion^ that tliere was nothing wrong in Masonry, and that there was no-
thing wrong in the oaths, which he thought ought to disqualify a man from
sitting as a juror; and they seemed grieved to the heart, that they should
not be allowed to crowd their opinions down the throats of the triers, as in-
dubitable evidence. Biit when called upon to let the triers have the plain
undisguised facts about Masonry, or masonic oaths, they were as silent as
the grave. While on the other hand, the other witnesses seemed unwilling
to express any opinion, but wished to state the facts, and let the triers have
them, upon which to judge. On the second day, Mr. Colver was called as
a witness,- and cross-examined by Mr. Gibbs. He was asked, ' did you
ever take an oath which you supposed would bias you as a juror ?' He re-
plied, * I will tell you what oath 1 did take, and the triers may judge of it
themselves; I took an oath in these very words' Here he was stop-
ped by the counsel, saying, 'I don't want the oath, I want your opinion^
whether you supposed the oath would bias you as a juror ?' Mr. Colver said,
if the court decided he should give an opinion to the triers, he would give it
with pjeasure ; otherwise he was unwilling to obtrude any opinion upon
them, but would state the facts, and the points in the oath, and let the triers
form their own opinion. But Mr. Gibbs urged the question ; the counsel
for the plaintiff withdrew his objection, and Mr. Colver answered, * 1 did
take an oath, which, upon reflection, I was satisfied was designed, and di-
rectly calculated to set the laws of God and man at defiance.' Mr. Gibbs
did not ask for a second opinion."

Much feeling was eddent during the trial, and that of
not the most pleasant description. At times there was an
exhibition of passion on the part of the sticklers for Free-
masonry, and a degree of sensitiveness, really surprising,
when we consider the comparative unimportance of the
occasion. Frequently the proceedings were interrupted by
the intrusiveness of the friends of the defendant, and the
witnesses were openly and repeatedly told not to answer
the questions. The court, also, was chided for allowing
such questions to be put. But it is needless to particularize
all the embarrassments that were thrown in the way of
the proceedings. After the examinations were ended,
the question as to the competency of the juror, on the score
of impartiality, was summed up on both sides, and was

LETTER XLil. 471

thereupon submitted to the triers under a charge from the
court. After mature dehberatibn, the triers returned with
the decision that Erastus Day did not stand indifferent to the
parties litigant, and he was rejected from the jury.

When.thie trial had proceeded for some time, a question
of title became involved in the cause, which at once took it
from the magistrate's jurisdiction; and there, so far as lam
informed, the matter ended.

This trial, though unconnected with the Morgan business,
was yet one of the fruits of the Anti-masonic excitement,
and though unimportant in its results as to the parties im-
mediately concerned, was nevertheless far from being un-
important, in its bearing upon the masonic institution. It
appeared but too clearly from the testimony, that the Ma-
sons in Washington county, have taken their obligations in
their worst forms, — I mean as they have been altered for
the worse, by ignorant and designing men, without the sanc-
tion of the higher bodies to which the lodges and chapters
owe obedience. It was also proved, beyond contradiction,
that where the obligations resting upon Freemasons, have
been so given, so received, and so understood, by its vota-
ries, they may very frequently, and very materially, inter-
fere with the impartial and due administration of the laws.
It was on this occasion asserted, and I have never heard •
the assertion contradicted, that the Masons present on the
trial held their obligations to be paramount to the laws of
the land ; and even had the hardihood not only to set at de-
fiance, but to brave the court in terms ; — and when solemn-
ly sworn to answer such questions as should be put to them,
refused peremptorily to answer at all !

Und^r all the circumstances of the case, I am constrain-
ed to admit, that the juror in the foregoing cause was pro-
perly rejected ; and every Freemason who has taken the
oaths as the Masons at Fort Ann seem to have done, and
who regards them in the same sense, and holds them in the



same estimation of superiority to the civil law, may justly
be considered as having disqualified himself from sitting as
an impartial juror, w^here his masonic brethren are on trial.
The next movement of the Anti-masonic party w^as pure-
ly political. A governor, lieutenant governor, and mem-
bers of Congress were to be elected, together with senators
and representatives of the state legislature. For the pur-
pose of nominating candidates for the two former offices,
and making general preparations for the contest through the
counties, another Anti-masonic State Convention was held
at Utica, on the 11th of August, 1830. Forty-five coun-
ties were represented by one hundred and eleven delegates —
constituting in all respects a very intelligent and respectable
body. Francis Granger was once more nominated for go-
vernor, and Samuel Stevens, of New- York, for the second
office. Mr. Granger had been previously nominated by a
primary meeting of the National Republicans of Suffolk
county, for the same station ; and both nominations were of
a character so entirely unexceptionable, that the great body
of the National Republican party felt disposed to give them
a cordial and hearty support. With the National Republi-
cans, whose attention was directed to the maintenance of
the great fundamental principles of the federal constitu-
tion, now believed to be in imminent pjeril, and with whom
state politics were consequently of but minor consideration,
the question of Masonry or Anti-masonry, was looked up-
on as of very little comparative importance. So that the
honor of the nation, and the federal constitution, could be
preserved, untarnished and unbroken, with a party which
was contending for principle, without regard to personal
considerations, it was a matter of but small moment, whe-
ther the state officers were Freemasons, or their opponents.
No other persons, therefore, were nominated in opposition to
the candidates of the friends of General Jackson's adminis-
tration ; and a confident hope of success was indulged by


the friends of the union ticket. But these hopes were not
reahzed. In the western country, where Anti-masonry first
sprang into existence, and where it had taken the deepest
root, the united friends of Mr'. Granger carried every thing
before them. The holy day legions of the Persians were
not more completely routed by the phalanxes of the impe-
tuous Macedonian, than were the partizans of Governor
Throop, and the friends of General Jackson, in the country
west of the Cayuga. In the western senatorial district, the
vote for the National Republican and Anti-masonic candi-
dates, was more than two to one. Mr. Granger crossed
the Hudson, coming east, with a majority of 1400. But
in proportion as Anti-masonry had become purely political,
so had Freemasonry, from the mere fact of feeling itself
persecuted- and oppressed, become in a measure political
also ; and as it w^as impossible to make the whole public
perceive that considerations of national importance were
involved in what was wholly a state election, thousands
and thousands of the National Republicans who yet adher-
ed to Freemasonry in the central counties, cast their votes
for the Jackson candidates, — not from any affection for
those candidates, or from approbation of their principles, —
but from strong unmingled hatred to Anti-masonry. The
result was fatal to the candidates in opposition. Instead of
polling, jointly, as we might well have done, 132,000 votes,
our candidates received only 120,000, and a fraction ; while
the numbers of our opponents were swelled by our own po-
litical friends, to the number of 128,000 and upwards. Of
the number, 120,000, received by Mr. Granger, it is a fair
allowance to say that 75,000 were the votes of real Anti-
masons. This result was greatly to be deplored by the
National Republican party, from more considerations than
a simple defeat. It gave their opponents an artificial ap-
pearance of strength, well calculated to draw over to them
the selfish and the wavering, whose business it is to watch



the political tides, ar^d whose practice is to float with the
popular current. It also had the further effect of strengthen-
ing our opponents, by the accession of all those whose princi-
ples sit lightly upon them, and who, having once voted with
that party, might easily be induced to suppose it would re-
dound to their ultimate interest to continue with their new

The case of the Cooks, related in the earlier part of the
present letter, is not the only transaction connected with
the Anti-masonic question, and deserving of note, which
occurred in that section of the state in the year 1830. A
few weeks previously to the election just spoken of, the
public were surprised by a statement from the north, of
another masonic outrage, which, but for a seemingly spe-
cial interposition of Providence, would have been still fur-
ther aggravated by an atrocious murder ! The story was,
that an attempt had been made upon the life of a respecta-
ble clergyman, by the name of Witherell, (who had re-
nounced the order of Freemasonry,) by his offended breth-
ren of the " mystic tie/*^ In the first instance, few if any
persons in this section of the state, were disposed to give
credence to the tale. The death of Morgan, for having re-
vealed the secrets of the order, was not doubted ; but so
many persons had renounced their connexion with the in-
stitution subsequently to that event, and the boasted secrets
were so universally known, by all who- had had suificient
curiosity to inquire into them, that the possibility of another
masonic outrage, for such a cause, had not been thought of.
Nevertheless, the story was greedily caught up by the An-
ti-masons, and the best use made of it, to promote their
cause during the election ; while the opposite party was
equally active in discountenancing the narration, either as
a fiction, or an imposture. The publications were so nu-
merous, violent and contradictory, that, for one, — and I be-
lieve I was not alone in my doubts, — I knew not what to


make of the affair. If the relation was true, it was a very
serious matter : if false, no ordinary punishment would ha;ve
been too severe for the authors of the falsehood. It was evi-
dent, however, from the conduct of the adhering Masons
who were acting politically with the administration party,
that there was some foundation for the tale ; and among
other devices for counteracting its influence upon the elec-
tion, the report of a formal trial was got up and published
throughout the state, minute in all its relations of time,
place, circumstances, the names of parties, witnesses, &c.,
in which it appeared to have been proved that the whole
story of the outrage was a fabrication, or that it had been
committed by som emember of the Elder's own family, pro-
bably with the knowledge of the whole. Before the polls
had closed, however, the fact was disclosed that this report-
ed trial, in all its details, was in itself a deliberate forgery !
There were, nevertheless, some subsequent legal proceed-
ings in the premises, of a very extraordinary character, a full
report of which, of formidable length, was published by a
committee of the citizens of Washington county, early in
the year 1831. Still, this publication was considered alto-
gether ex parte ; it was too long for general perusal ; and
made but little impression upon the public mind. For my-
self I yet knew not what to believe ; but as the case was
one coming within the scope of my present investigations,
I resolved to probe it to the bottom. With this view I ad-
dressed a letter some weeks since, to a distinguished and
valued friend, residing in the neighborhood where the trans-
actions were said to have taken place, for such an account
of the strange and yet mysterious aftair, as might be fully
depended upon. The following ample letter reached me a
few days since, in answer to my inquiries. I submit it to
your consideration, with the fullest assurance that my cor-
respondent is a man of the strictest integrity,- and the most
scrupulous veracity : —


" In answering your request to communicate to you ' all I know' in rela-
tion to the alledged outrage upon the family of Elder George Witherell, I
have to remark, that it is a long story, and a minute detail would weary both
you and myself. Your request implies a doubt of the truth of the history of
that transaction, and the circumstances growing out of it, already before
the public. How shall I assure myself that my narration will be thought
entitled to more credit? At the same time, I feel that the request has been
made in the sincere desire to learn the truth, and it implies also a friendly
confidence in the source to which you have applied for information. Under
the influence of the feelings prompted by these reflections, I have resolved
to attenript a compliance. The task truly is somewhat formidable, and its
execution, while it dissipates your doubts, wiJ excite your astonishment and
may exhaust your patience.

"You inquire who is Mr. Witherell? It is a pertinent question, and de-
serves a specific answer. He is a Baptist elder ; and for the last ten or
twelve years has presided over the Baptist^churchin the town of Hartford.
In that station, he has, during all this time, been a faithful and respectable
minister of the gospel, administering its ordinances, and teaching its doc-
trines to a numerous and intelligent community of christians. Hartford is
a rich agricultural town, in this county, and Elder Witherell'a society con-
sisted principally of its farmers, distinguished for their sobriety, religious de-
votion and industrious habits. In this town, are two small villages, distant
about a mile from each other. In one of them the Elder's church is located,
near which he resides. In the other village, there is a Presbyterian church.
In both, is the ordinary number of professional gentlemen, justices, petti-
foggers and constables, with a competent provision of stores, taverns and
mechanic's shops. Here, too, is a masonic lodge. The members of the Bap-
tist church being principally farmers, lived dispersed through the town, at
some distance from the village, while their inhabitants belonged to no par-
ticular denomination of christians. There were the clerks, bar-tenders,
ostlers and apprentices. I state these circumstances, because I think they
contain important testimony, furnishing some explanation of an extraordina-
ry transaction, still shrouded in mystery and darkness. A large portion of
these villagers were, and still are, members of the masonic fraternity, and
among them were some of the leading members of the Baptist church. Un-
der these circumstances, it was not surprising, that Elder Witherell yielded
to the same inducements which have led so many clergymen of our country,
to seek light and knowledge in the lodge. He became a Mason,— and not
discovering the anticipated revelations in the lower degrees, he pressed for-
ward to detect those that were concealed in the higher. He advanced to
the degree of Knight Templar, and as you may reasonably suppose, was
cherished and caressed by the lay members, as a worthy and accepted


" This was the relation in which Elder Witherell stood, to the community
in which he lived, when the storj' of the abduction and murder of Morgan,
astonished the public by its boldness and atrocity, and directed its inqui-
ries to the constitution and character of Freemasonry. The Baptist de-
nomination of christians in our country, have been foremost in subjecting
Freemasonry to the test of religious discipline. A large majority of Mr.
Witherell's church knew, indeed, that their pastor was a Mason, but knew
nothing of Masonry, Save from its recent developements at the west, and the
publications of the day. They called upon their elder to aver or deny their
truth. Like most other Masons, whose consciences have been awakened
to the subject, he hesitated between the responsibilities of his masonic obli-
gations and association, and the convictions of religious duty. He propos-
ed to abstain from any further communications with the lodge, but asked to
be excused for the present, from a more decided renunciation. With such
evidence before them of the character of the institution as recent events fur-
nished, this did not satisfy his church. In the mean time , the neighboring
Masons, both in and out of his church, were apprised of what was going on,
and made a vigorous rally to support their brother in the conflict to which
he was exposed. They offered to add two hundred dollars to the stipend
paid him by his church, and to make good that stipend, should it be with-
drawn, or he be dismissed by his congregation. The reward offered, (to
give it no harsher name,) was raised by contribution, bearing the names of
some of the county officials, residing more than ten miles distant, and who,
far from being Baptists, seldom visited any church. The character of the
transaction, as M'ell as that of the contributors, fortifies the assertion, that
the object was to sustain Masonry, rather than to support a christian minis-
ter. They were more anxious that the Elder should maintain hi» fellowship
with the lodge than with the church.

" Butj finally, aftei- a severe mental conflict, a sense of duty prevailed
over considerations of interest, and the Elder publicly renounced Freema-
sonry and forfeited the pecuniary reward. Ii»« Biasonic apostacy instantly
exposed the Elder to the usual privations and disabilities. He encountered
at once, the most active and vindictive resentments and persecutions of the
entire masonic fraternity, of his own and the adjoining towns. They with-
drew their subscription and their fellowship — stigmatized him as 'a fool,'
for having forfeited such pecuniary advantages ; and as a 'perjured scoun-
drel,' for haying violated his masonic obhgations.

"It was immediately given out by the riiost prominent Masons of the
village, Uhat Elder Witherc'', conldnot reside there ;^ and so far as personal
abuse, threats and intimidations could prevail, they seemed resolved to ful-
fil their own prediction.

"In this uncomfortable posture of affairs, in the casual absence of the
Elder, on the 27th of September, 1830, at or about the hour ofmidnightj


two men disguised in masks, with a dark lantern, armed with a dirk-cane,
or long knife, so polished as to reflect the light, entered the Elder's house,
wandered from one door to. another, leading to the chauiber and adjoining
rooms, and shortly entered the bed room of Mrs. AVitherell. One instantly
seized her by the throat, and while seeming to make a pass at her head with
the other hand, exclaimed, ' you damned perjured scoundrel, you shall suffer the
^penalties of your obligations.'' The other, holding the dark lantern, and the
knife or dirk, presented the light to the bed. They immediately left the
house^ on discovering that the Elder was absent. They wore no hats, and
their disguises appeared like black silk handkerchiefs, tied over their faces
and heads. Mrs. Witherell was at this time, alone, with her family of small
children, the eldest of whom, George R. Witherell, a lad then about fourteen
years of age, slept in an adjoining room ; on hearing the exclamation in his
mother's bed room, he sprang from his bed, terrified and cried out, * father
* have you come home ! father have you come home !' You ask me, if I be-
lieve that this outrage was actually conimitted? I answer, that the evidence
and circumstances of the case do not admit of a rational doubt. The facts
already stated, it is true, depend, of necessity, upon the testimony of Mrs.
Witherell and her son, whose veracity had never before been questioned,
and cannot, how, be impeached. It will hete be remembered, that the Ma-
sons themselves, had already borne ample testimony to the good reputation
of the Elder and his family, by their great exertions to retain him in their ser-
vice. But there were independent circumstances proved by other witnesses,
which cannot lie, and which remove all doubt, if any existed. The boy imme-
diately alarmed the neighborhood, and a Mr. Smith and Mrs. Chase came in.

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 40 of 49)