Mt. Nebo Lodge History

Article by:  Brother George Alwin, WM

Shepherdstown during the Civil War

After the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862, General Robert E. Lee's infantry crossed the Potomac at Pack Horse Ford. The town was overwhelmed with 5000-8000 casualties of that battle. Every house, building, church, alley and street was filled with the wounded and dying. The Battle of Shepherdstown (Boteler's Ford of Cement Mill) occurred on September 20, 1862. More than 100 Confederate soldiers died here and were buried in Elmwood Cemetery. Elmwood's hallowed ground contains the graves of 285 Confederate veterans.

VA Lodges changing from VA to WV Grand Lodge

The long legal proceedings to determine whether the Eastern Panhandle counties should belong to the new state of West Virginia or remain with the mother state kept Mt Nebo from affiliating with the new Grand Lodge of West Virginia until seven years after the close of the war.  After the Supreme Court decision awarding Berkeley and Jefferson Counties to WV, and the formation of the Grand Lodge of West Virginia, Mt Nebo demanded as a condition of its new affiliation the right to retain its original Virginia number 91.  It was admitted a member of the Grand Lodge of West Virginia on November 13, 1872. 

The Grand Lodge of West Virginia

As the Civil War ended, a new WV Grand Lodge was created.  At the organization meeting on May 10, 1865, and the succeeding day, the new Grand Lodge resolved that pending the preparation and issuing of new charters, the subordinate lodges be directed to send their Virginia charters to be endorsed by the Grand Master of West Virginia, and by such endorsement many more of the lodges came into the new Grand Lodge.  And at the Grand Lodge in 1872 the Grand Master was empowered to issue charters during recess of Grand Lodge to all Lodges within the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of West Virginia, and acknowledging allegiance to it.  

Thus from year to year the subordinate lodges came into the new Grand Lodge.  The lodges from Berkeley and Jefferson counties came in 1873.  It is to be noted with gratitude that in 1868 the Grand Lodge of Virginia had recommended to all these subordinate lodges that they affiliate with the Grand Lodge of West Virginia.

Shepherdstown Masonic Temple 2


At its communication in 1868 the Grand Lodge of West Virginia authorized the Grand Master to appoint two brethren as commissioners to attend the next communication of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, with full power to adjust all differences between the two Grand Lodges.  The Grand Master appointed Benjamin F. Martin, the Deputy Grand Master, and Robert White, the Senior Grand Warden, as such commissioners, and they visited the Grand Lodge of Virginia on December 16 of the same year.  They were most kindly and cordially received, and after full and free conference, all matters of difference were amicably arranged.  The meeting seems to have developed into a feast of brotherly love, where brethren truly dwelt together in unity.  All back dues, except such as Virginia generously remitted, were paid to the Grand Lodge of Virginia by the West Virginia subordinate lodges which owed them.  

The Grand Lodge of Virginia, by resolution of that date, December 18, 1868, fully and freely recognized the Grand Lodge of West Virginia, permitted the subordinate lodges in West Virginia to retain their old charters, and recommended to all lodges in the territorial limits of West Virginia to surrender their original charts to, and ask new charters from, the Grand Lodge of West Virginia.  Thus was the legality of the Grand Lodge of West Virginia established before the Masonic world, and general recognition was promptly accorded to it by sister Grand Lodges.  Brotherly love again prevailed, and sincere fraternal regard and respect were re-established between the brethren of the two Grand Lodges.  It is gratifying to state that the condition then so happily inaugurated obtains to the present day. 

As to the early subordinate lodges, it is sufficient to state that their legitimacy is established by the fact that they were created in the first instance by the Grand Lodge of Virginia, and thus were true granddaughters of the Mother Grand Lodge of the World, to which their lineage is traceable through an unbroken chain of charters.

WILSON H.S. WHITE   //  63rd Grand Master, WV Grand Lodge  //   1935   //  Dec 1st 1881 – Dec 20 1948 

An article was written by Wilson H. S. White in the 1927 from the "Mountaineer Mason" publication.  This was a periodical that was issued by the WV Grand Lodge until 1929.  It gives tremendous detail about the history of the apron belonging to Brother Washington, which was used in a Lodge meeting in the Masonic Cave near Charles Town, WV in 1844. 

William H. S. White was a member of Mt Nebo Lodge #91 in Shepherdstown.  He was the Worshipful Master of Mt Carbon Lodge #28 in Piedmont, WV in 1917.  In 1920, he became the President of Shepherd College and demitted to Mt Nebo.  He was High Priest of Mecklenburg Chapter 31, (Shepherdstown) Royal Arch Masons, in 1925.  In 1935, he became the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of West Virginia.


The Mountaineer Mason May, 1927

The Washington Masonic Cave in Old Jefferson By W. H. S. White

The youthful George Washington truly gave early evidence of leadership among men.  That he loved his fellow-men and wished to be of and with them is attested by many recorded facts of authentic history.The records of the great Masonic fraternity are filled with indisputable evidence that the future leader, patriot and President bound himself by strong social and fraternal ties to groups of the leading men of his time.  A large percentage of this generals were undoubtedly selected by him from among the membership of his fraternal associates.

If tradition is correct, two years after the father of his country reached his majority, 1754, he presided as Master over the first lodge of Free Masons ever assembled west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The Place of meeting, one of the caverns of limestone formation, for which The beautiful Shenandoah Valley is famous, now nearly two centuries later, bids fair to become a shrine to the memory of the first great patriot,  unexcelled by any save Mount Vernon.

Masonic tradition informs us that from time immemorial the fraternity held its meetings on high hills and in low vales in order to observe the approach of eavesdroppers.  Hence it was that in 1754, in his twenty-second year, the youthful Washington conducted those in the vicinity of his brother's home, "Charles Town" who were already members of the ancient craft together with those who were to be made members, in a body to the "Cave", a short distance south of what is now the county seat of Jefferson, for the purpose of opening the first lodge of the order west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The brethren must have decided upon this cave as a permanent place of meeting, for twenty years later, a Mr. Davis conveyed by deed recorded in the clerk's office of Berkeley county, one and one-eighth acres of land on which the cave is located, to Samuel Washington.  But there were no electric-lighting or ventilating systems in those days, and besides, the disagreements with the mother country were consuming all the time and thoughts of the patriots, and so the historic place was permitted to lapse into obscurity.

Ninety years later, on Thursday, May 16, 1844, the Masons of Triluminar Lodge No. 117 of Middleway--the famous, ghost-haunted hamlet of Wizard's Clip, in Jefferson County, Virginia, resolved to celebrate the installation of the first Lodge west of the Blue Ridge barrier, and accordingly sent out invitations to members of the fraternity in Jefferson, Berkeley and Clarke counties in Virginia, Frederick and Washington Counties in Maryland and even as far west as Cumberland and as far south as Staunton.

There was a great outpouring of the membership.  The secretary's minutes of the meeting, still in possession of the Lodge and also of Mt. Nebo Lodge of Shepherdstown, to which as a courtesy, a copy of the Minutes was sent by John F. Smith, Secretary Pro Term, list on hundred and twenty-five members, with the statement, "and many other brethren."

In the secretary's neat, clear, concise and artistic hand the minutes proceed:  "The Fraternity assembled in the large room over the Court House Hall (Charles Town) at 10 o'clock, A.M. The procession moved Thence under escort of the Charlestown Artillery, commanded by Capt. Rowan, and the Jefferson Guards by Capt. J.G. Packett, directed by Bros. Capt. G. W. Sappington and W. G. Ferguson, on horseback as Marshals, the whole being under special direction of Bro. John S. Harrison of Martinsburg as chief marshal and Bros. N. Seever and Morgan Johnson as assistant marshals, to the Presbyterian Church where the Ceremonies were opened by prayer by the pastor, Rev. Mr. Dutton.  An Eloquent and appropriate address suitable to the interesting occasion which had called the fraternity together was then delivered (occupying an hour and 20 minutes) by Bro. Charles J. Faulkner of Martinsburg; giving an interesting account of the tradition of the Craft in connection with the Cave within three miles of Town in which it is said our, and our common country's distinguished brother and guest, the lamented and ever to be remembered George Washington held the first Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons ever assembled west of the Blue Ridge which tradition fixes about the year 1754.

Among other interesting Masonic relics, the orator held up to the Audience an apron of black silk velvet, presented more than a half century since to General Washington by the Grand Lodge of France, through the person of this early friend, brother and companion in arms, Bro. Gilbert M. D. Lafayette.  This masonic relic is the property of Mt. Nebo Lodge, given to it by a descendant of Gen. Washington.

"The Craft was called from labor to refreshment and proceeded in a body to the Hotel of Capt. Jos. F. Abell, where the brethren in a body partook of a sumptuous dinner served up in the usual style of that excellent caterer.  Soon after dinner the craft again assembled at the Court House and resumed their labor, formed procession again and pro-Ceded on horseback to the cave.  About 150 of the craft, two companies of volunteers, a band of music and a large number of citizens entered this subterraneous excavation rendered interesting to every good and zealous Mason as being the place in which their valuable tenants were first imparted into Western Virginia and one-half an hour and more were spent in exploring the different apartments of this wonderful natural curiosity.  The procession returned to town at five o'clock all much pleased with their first Masonic  visit  to this consecrated spot.

"The Craft was again called from labor to refreshment (at least The brethren of Triluminar Lodge) to meet in their hall at Middleway, on Saturday evening the 18th inst.  Which was accordingly so done and M. M. Lodge closed in due form"

On that memorable day in 1844, it is recorded that "Bro. L. L. Stevenson, P. G. M., presided over the several Lodges collectively, as W. M."  Those who occupied the officers' stations for Triluminar, the hostess Lodge, were Lewis Fry, W. M., Vance Bell, S.. W., J. R. A. Redman, J. W., S. L. Minghini, Treas., J. W. Grantham, Secy., Joe E. Bell, S. D., J. H. Campbell, J. D., John Fearis, Tyler.  It is interesting to note that of all the above officers, only two, S. L. Minghini, the Treasurer, and Joe E. Bell, S. D., were regular officers.  The others are listed as p.t.--- pro tem.  Clearly Triluminar Lodge was that day putting her best foot forward--with her best qualified members in the chairs.

The Masonic Apron held up to the audience that bright Thursday in May, 1844, is as beautiful and well preserved today in the beautiful Lodge Room of Mt. Nebo Temple in Shepherdstown, as it was on the day it was worn to the historic Cave.  This Apron came into possession of Mr. Nebo through a daughter of Charles Washington.   She married Dr. Charles Hammond, who became a member of Mt. Nebo in 1815 and in token of his appreciation for the initiative ceremonies, presented the Apron to the Lodge.  He stated that his wife's Uncle George had worn it at the laying of the corner stone of the National Capitol.

WashingtonClosingLodge

The Washington Intelligencer of May 2, 1847, three years after the Triluminar Lodge meeting at the "Cave" gave a graphic account of the laying of the corner stone of the Smithsonian Institution in the Capitol of the nation.  B. B. French, Esq., then Grand Master of the District of Columbia, during the ceremony, "informed the assembled multitude," says the Intelligencer, "that he held in his hand the identical gavel used by the immortal Washington, in conducting the Masonic ceremonies upon the laying of the corner stone of the Capitol of these United States.  He also stated that he had the honor then to wear an Apron worn upon the same occasion by the Father of his Country, which was presented to Washington by the Grand Lodge of France through that great and good Patriot and Mason, General Lafayette."

Hundreds of tourists passing over the main highway from Maryland, southward, stop in Shepherdstown to admire and pay homage to this beautiful apron with its artistic hand-embroidery.

In Mt. Nebo Lodge, there is also a facsimile from the records of Fredericksburg Lodge, in a frame on the wall beside the historic Apron, From this record, visitors may read:  "4th Nov., 1752, Entered apprentices,---Charles Lewis, George Washington.  3rd March (1753) George Washington passed Fellow Craft.  9th August, 1753---Daniel Campbell, W. M.  George Washington raised Master Mason.  Thomas James Entered as Apprentice."  There is today an added interest in this record of August 9, 1753, in the statement that Alexander Woodrow was Secretary Pro Tem on that memorable evening.  "What significance," remarks the visitor, "there may be for later posterity in that name!"

This famous and historic cavern is situated on the main Berryville (Va.) Pike, about three miles south of old Charles Town.  It is about a mile off the main road, on land now owned by Mrs. F. L. Jordan.  Already electric wires have been erected to the cavern and lights are being installed.  The owners are planning to light it with an indirect system similar to that in the world-famed Luray, Crystal and Endless Caverns of the Shenandoah Valley.  Its formations of stalagmites and stalactites are similar to the others; its natural beauties are the same, and because of its historic Lodge Room, this cavern is destined in the future to become one of the great historic, as well as Masonic shrines within the confines of our nation.

The Washington Apron

This apron, a gift of the Grand Lodge of France, was presented to General George Washington through "the great and good patriot and Mason", General Lafayette.

Mount Nebo No. 91 AF&AM, came into its possession of the apron through Captain Thomas Hammond, husband of Mildred Washington, daughter of Charles  Washington, brother of the First President. Captain Hammond was Master of Mount Nebo in 1848.

Mr. B.B. French, Grand Master of the District of Columbia, wore the apron at the laying of the cornerstone of the Smithsonian Institution in 1847. During the ceremony, Mr. French informed the assembled multitude, (says the Washington Intelligencer of 2 May, 1847) "that he had the honor then to wear the apron worn by the Father of His Country at the laying of the cornerstone of the Capitol of these United States".

The apron was also worn in an elaborate 1848 Fourth of July cornerstone laying ceremony of the Washington Monument. The architect, Robert Mills, was a Mason. The apron was also worn during ceremonies of The George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia.

1892 Proceedings Grand Lodge of Minnesota 40th Annual Communication

THE WASHINGTON APRON

PhotoApronFrameMinnesotaGrandLodge1890

Appreciating the honor done this Grand Lodge by Mt. Nebo Lodge, No. 91, of West Virginia, in permitting an exhibit of one of the elegant aprons once worn by Washington, as recorded last year, our worthy brother and Past Senior Grand Warden, L.Z. Rogers, conceived the idea of preparing and presenting to our Grand Lodge for presentation to said lodge a beautiful cherry case or frame for the same.  This was sent me by express in March, and I at once sent it on to Bro. Lemen, a member of said Lodge No. 91, then in possession of the apron and residing at Angus, Minn.  The Most Worshipful Grand Master directed me to procure a suitable silver plate, properly inscribed, to be attached to the case, which was duly attended to, he defraying the expense of same.  Learning that the apron and case would be in Minneapolis at my disposal on a certain day, I arranged for its exhibit to the Masons of our neighboring city.  It was also, through the courtesy of Brother Lemen, exhibited at Waterville, the home of Brother Rogers, the following day.  To describe the magnificent case with its carved Masonic emblems and plate-glass front, its elegant design and exquisite workmanship, would occupy too much space in this report.    Photographs and full description were published at the time in Voice of Masonry and other Masonic journals, and the fact of the exhibit of the apron before this Grand Lodge chronicled by the various Grand Lodge correspondents.  Brother Rogers is entitled to the thanks of this Grand Lodge for his elegant and costly gift.  On behalf of the Grand Lodge, I addressed a letter to Mt Nebo Lodge expressive of our appreciation of the honor done us in permitting us to see the apron here, and requesting their acceptance of the afore-mentioned case.  To this I received the following reply:

HALL OF MT. NEBO LODGE, NO. 91, AF & AM 

Shepherdstown, W. Va., April 27, 1892.

To the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, AF & AM of Minnesota

Brethren:

    At a communication of Mt. Nebo Lodge, No. 91, AF & AM held on the eighteenth inst., a vote of thanks was unanimously tendered your Grand Body for the beautiful frame in which you placed the Washington apron, of which Mt. Nebo is the fortunate owner.  

By order of the lodge.

Truly and fraternally yours,

J.S. Fleming, Secretary


Voice of Masonry and Family Magazine June 1892:  Washington and La Fayette

So long as Time lasts WASHINGTON AND LAFAYETTE will be honored and revered as two of the most eminent patriots and generals of American revolutionary times, and as two sincere friends and brethren in the great world wide Masonic Fraternity.  La Fayette proved his friendship for Washington very often, and as a testimonial of his brotherly love for him, presented him a very tasty satin embroidered Masonic apron, wrought by Madam La Fayette and members of her family.  Said apron still exists, and is in the possession of Mt. Nebo Lodge, No. 91, of West Virginia, by whose consent it was exhibited at the last annual communication of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, in Minneapolis, January 13th and 14th, 1892, and later, in Chicago, at two different lodges and this office.  We then obtained an excellent photo of the apron, and, this month, a view of it is furnished to the patrons of this magazine.

MainSt1910

The apron is of white satin fringed with black silk, with the following Masonic emblems beautifully wrought in gold and silver tissue:  At the top is the cable tow in festoon, then the gavel, square and compasses, and over these, also forming compasses with their staffs, the French and American flags.  Where the flagstaffs intersect are the skull and a cross bone with the pilgrim’s sword, and entwined among these is a sprig of acacia.  Now some of the black silk fringe is missing, but the satin and the embroidery are well preserved.  

The apron was often worn by Gen. Washington, and it remained in the family as an heirloom until it was presented to Mt. Nebo Lodge by Bro. Thomas Hammond, who married a Miss Washington, and who was initiated into the Lodge in 1815, it then being the only lodge in its vicinity, except one at Winchester, where the writer’s grandparents resided in their youth and where his father was born.

Mt. Nebo Lodge, No. 91, is located at Shepherdstown, and was chartered by the Grand Lodge of Virginia, December 11th, 1811.  It was rechartered by the Grand Lodge of West Virginia, November 13th, 1872.

This apron has been worn on many public Masonic occasions.  It was worn by the Grand Masters who officiated at the laying of the corner stone of the Washington monument, of the Smithsonian Institute, of the monument in the capital square in Richmond, Virginia, and at the Masonic convocation at Mt. Vernon.  We are informed by a Mason of this city, who received the information from an eye witness, that when Gen La Fayette was welcomed to Baltimore this apron was exhibited to him as one worn by Gen. Washington.  While looking at it tears welled up in his eyes and he said:  “I know more of this apron than you; I presented it to Gen. Washington.”

When the apron was on exhibition in Minnesota, in possession of Bro. Wynkoop Lemen, a member of Mt. Nebo Lodge, a beautiful emblematic case was made for it by Bro. And Sir L.Z. Rogers, and we will, next month, have the pleasure of presenting the patrons of this magazine a view of the same, with the apron therein.  The plate will be made to our order by the electro-tint process, and will be good.  See the description of the case on page 306 of the April VOICE OF MASONRY.

1899 Proceedings Grand Lodge of West Virginia

PRESIDENT WASHINGTON’S MASONIC APRON

The Grand Secretary called the attention of the brethren of the M. W. Grand Lodge to the Masonic Apron formerly worn by President Washington, while he was a Lodge Master, which was neatly framed and was intended for the inspection of all present.  This apron is now the property of Mount Nebo Lodge No. 91 at Shepherdstown.  It was originally presented to President Washington by General Lafayette.  It fell into the hands of General Washington’s family two of whom now reside in Jefferson County, and by them the apron was presented to Mount Nebo Lodge.  

The apron was made in France, was sent to this country to General Lafayette, and by him presented to General Washington during the Revolutionary war, and was worn by the President at every Lodge session he attended up to the time of his death.  After the President’s death it came into the custody of his youngest brother, Charles Washington.  The county seat of Jefferson County, West Virginia, was laid out by, and named Charles-Town, in honor of Charles Washington.  George Washington Hammond married a daughter of Charles Washington and through his wife became the owner of the apron, and in 1815 he was made a Mason in Mount Nebo Lodge, and presented the apron to the Lodge, where it has remained since that time.

This apron was worn by George Washington, when he was acting M. W. Grand Master of Virginia, and as such laid the corner-stone of the Capitol building at Washington with Masonic rites.  He also wore it on many other important Masonic occasions.

There is no question as to the identity of the apron, and it is therefore a most valuable relic of the late Father of his country.  I can correctly state that its presence in our Grand Lodge created no ordinary amount of interest. 

This apron will be taken to the Centennial celebration at Mount Vernon, December 14, next. (1899)

In anticipation of the Bicentennial of Mount Nebo Lodge, the apron was made available to Mount Vernon and to the George Washington Memorial in Alexandria.  After the study, Mount Vernon issued the following announcement of the apron being displayed at Mt Vernon:


For Immediate Release                                                                         Media Contact:

January 20, 2010                                                                                 Melissa Wood 

New George Washington Object and Two New Exhibits on Display at Historic Mount Vernon

Additions on Display in Time for George Washington’s Birthday Celebration, beginning Feb. 19

Mount Vernon, VA. – Historic Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, celebrates the first commander-in-chief’s 279th birthday with three new exciting additions on display beginning February 19 inside the Donald W. Reynolds Education Center. For the first time in over 200 years, one of Washington’s Masonic aprons will return to Mount Vernon!  The Education Center provides a new look at Washington’s political and military leadership through two new exhibits, Tools of War and Power Through Union.  Please visit www.MountVernon.org for more information.  

George Washington’s Masonic Apron
On view February 19 through May 19. 

On loan from the Brethren of Mt. Nebo Lodge #91, Ancient Free & Accepted Masons Shepherdstown, West Virginia

This Masonic apron was made in France and is believed to have been presented to George Washington at Mount Vernon in 1784 by the Marquis de Lafayette, a former general and close friend of Washington’s who was also a Freemason.  The apron features compasses and square – central Masonic symbols – together with the crossed flags of the United States and France, all exquisitely embroidered in silk and gold- and silver-wrapped threads with metallic sequins. Washington would have worn this apron when attending Masonic meetings, and Freemasons still wear similar aprons when they meet today. Aprons are the badge of a Freemason. 

After Martha Washington’s death in 1802, the apron is believed to have been purchased for six dollars from her estate by Thomas Hammond, husband of George Washington’s niece, Mildred Washington. It was given to the Mt. Nebo Lodge in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, prior to Hammond’s death in 1820. In 1844, it was displayed at an anniversary celebration at the Jefferson County courthouse in nearby Charles Town. It was also worn by the Masonic Grand Master at the cornerstone ceremony of the Washington Monument on July 4, 1848. 

For more than 100 years, this apron could only be seen within the walls of the Mt. Nebo Lodge, where generations of local Freemasons treasured the fragile relic. Recognizing its significant history, Lodge members brought it to Mount Vernon in 2009 for conservation and exhibition. 

According to the current Master of Mt. Nebo Lodge, George Alwin, its display also marks a significant occasion in the Lodge’s history. “In commemoration of the bicentennial of Mt. Nebo Lodge #91 in 2011, we are pleased to loan this national treasure to Mount Vernon,” said Alwin. “It has been our honor to preserve this important piece of Masonic history in our Lodge.” 

After the apron had been studied and unveiled at Mount Vernon in 2011,  the following report was made by Mark Tabbert of the George Washington Masonic Memorial.  It is the most up to date report available at the time of this printing.


A WASHINGTON APRON RE-DISCOVERED

Mark Tabbert, GWMNMA March 2011 

A little known Masonic apron believed to have been George Washington's was unveiled at the Mount Vernon Estate, Museum, and Gardens on February 19, 2011. Owned by Mount Nebo Lodge No. 91 Ancient Free & Accepted Masons, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, the apron is on public display in Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center until May 19, 2011. Presiding Master of the lodge, George Alwin said, “In commemoration of the bicentennial in 2011 of Mt Nebo Lodge, we are pleased to loan this national treasure to Mt Vernon. It has been our honor to preserve this important piece of Masonic history in our lodge."

The apron’s origins and how it came into Brother Washington’s possession are subjects of ongoing research. According to Mt. Nebo Lodge history, the apron was a gift to General Washington from the Masonic Grand Lodge of France. Marquis Lafayette was said to have conveyed it to Washington in 1784 when Lafayette returned to America and visited Mt. Vernon. By design, symbolism and construction the apron is indeed French. The crossed U.S. and French Bourbon flags date the apron after 1776 and before 1789. The apron lacks Washington and French Masonic documentation but this may be due to revolutions, wars and Nazi occupation over the last 230 years.

Apron History

The apron’s known history begins after George Washington’s death in 1799. The inventory of his estate, compiled in early 1800, lists among the contents of his Study “1 Japan Box containing Masons apron” valued at $40 and “1 Piece of Oil Cloth cont.. orders of Masonry” at $50. The inventory taken after Martha Washington’s death in 1802 does not itemize the Study’s contents, so no Masonic aprons are listed. However, a record of personal property sold out of the Washington estate after Martha died lists two Masonic aprons: one was purchased for $5.00 by Burdett Ashton (1747-1814), husband of Washington’s niece, Ann (1752-1777); the second was purchased for $6.00 by Thomas Hammond (1770-1820), husband to Washington’s niece, Mildred (1772-1805). There is no reference in this sales list to any box corresponding to “Japan Box” listed in George Washington’s inventory.

Thomas Hammond

Soon after purchasing Washington’s second apron, Thomas Hammond and his wife Mildred moved to the Appalachian foothills of Virginia. In 1811 the Grand Lodge of Virginia granted a lodge charter to freemasons in Shepherdstown. Called Mount Nebo No. 91, it retained the same name and number when it came under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of West Virginia in 1872. According to lodge history, Thomas Hammond became a freemason in Mt. Nebo in 1815. In appreciation for his initiation he donated the second apron to the Lodge. Despite the Anti-Masonic Period of the 1830s, the Civil War and countless other dangers, the lodge kept the apron safe.

Lawrence Lewis

Meanwhile, the apron purchased by Burdett Ashton is believed to have passed from to his wife’s cousin, Lawrence Lewis (1767-1839), a nephew of George Washington’s who had married Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis (1779-1852).  On June 3, 1812, Lawrence Lewis donated a Masonic apron, sash and a japanned box to Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 in Alexandria, Virginia. It is generally accepted that this embroidered apron is the famous “Watson-Cassoul Apron,” which takes its name from the two commercial agents, American Elkanah Watson and Frenchman Francois-Corentin Cassoul, who commissioned it while working in Nantes, France during the War of Independence. In 1782 they sent it along with a signed letter to General Washington. Washington received the apron while encamped at Newburgh, New York. His thank you letter, the envelope it was mailed in, and Watson’s and Cassoul’s initial letter all still exist. It is assumed President Washington wore this apron at the 1793 cornerstone ceremony of the U.S. Capitol. The apron and sash remain in the care of Alexandria-Washington Lodge and are rarely exhibited. The Japanned Masonic box may be viewed in the Lodge’s Replica Room within the George Washington Masonic Memorial.

Apron Dating

If the dating of both the Mt. Nebo apron (1784) and the Alexandria-Washington apron (1782) are correct then it is not surprising they are similar in shape, style and high craftsmanship. Both display exquisitely embroidered crossed flags, and a knotted and tasseled cable-tow with a suspended gavel on white silk. The central motifs, however, are quite different. Mt. Nebo’s apron has a square and compasses with one leg above and one below the square. A spring of acacia intertwines the square. In the center is a skull with a crossed bone and dagger. According to European Masonic scholarship this apron design is not uncommon with the central symbols referring to the murder of Master Builder of King Solomon’s Temple, while the acacia symbolizes immortality. The apron is trimmed with black silk ribbon and backed with black silk.

Design

The design similarities may be the root cause for confusion between the two aprons. Indeed the controversy began at least as early as Marquis Lafayette’s toured the United States as “the Nation’s Guest.” According to Lodge history, in 1825 he visited Alexandria-Washington Lodge and upon seeing the Watson-Cassoul Apron, declared it to be the one he had given to Washington nearly four decades before. Age 82 and a survivor of the French Revolution, Napoleon’s regime and two Bourbon restorations, the Marquis may be forgiven if he mistook one apron for another. Yet it remains unclear if it is Mt. Nebo’s apron or Alexandria-Washington’s apron that Lafayette conveyed to General Washington.

Masonic Cave

Since 1844, however, Mt. Nebo’s apron is well documented. According to the Lodge’s minute books the first public appearance was May 16, 1844 in Charlestown. It was displayed at a banquet celebrating the 90th anniversary of a legendary Masonic meeting in a local cave. The minutes state: “. . . an apron black silk velvet, presented more than half a century to Gen. Washington by the Grand Lodge of France, through the person of this early friend, brother and companion in arms, Bro. Gilbert M.D. Lafayette.” 

Cornerstone Ceremonies

In 1847 the apron traveled to the District of Columbia. It was worn by Mt. Nebo Lodge brother S. McElroy at the Masonic cornerstone ceremony of the Smithsonian Institution. Three years later the Grand Master of Virginia, James Points, wore the apron in Richmond at the Virginia Statehouse George Washington Monument ceremony. President Zachary Taylor also attended. The Grand Lodge of New Hampshire’s 1867 Proceedings reported the apron, as well as President and Bro. Andrew Johnson, were present at the cornerstone ceremony of Grand Lodge of Maryland’s new temple in 1866. Ten years later, the local newspaper The Shepherdstown Register ran a full story on the apron.

The Voice of Freemasonry

The apron’s last major public appearance was in Minnesota. In 1892 Bro. Wynkoop Lemen, a dual member of Mt. Nebo Lodge No. 91 and Warren Lodge No. 150, Warren, Minnesota, gained permission to bring the apron west. It came first to Warren Lodge then appeared at the annual Grand Lodge of Minnesota meeting in St. Paul.  Before returning to Shepherdstown, the Grand Lodge commissioned a beautiful hand-carved Masonic framed case. The apron then traveled to Chicago where it appeared at two lodges. The national publication, Voice of Freemasonry ran an illustrated article of the apron and its case. It is curious that its description of the apron is lifted from the 1877 The Shepherdstown’s Register’s piece.

The Mt. Nebo Apron appears in Paintings

The Voice’s article led to the apron to appear in a well-know 1896 lithograph. The Chicago firm of Kurz & Allen produced a pair of prints “Franklin Opening the Lodge” and “Washington Closing the Lodge.” Both are more Masonic fantasies than historical accuracy and are modeled after Emanuel Leutz’s 1856 portrait “Washington as Master Mason.” Yet, unlike the Leutz painting, Washington is wearing the Mt. Nebo apron. Furthermore, Franklin’s apron has a similar square, compasses and acacia sprig. These prints were quite popular and hung in numerous lodges and are still available through the Internet.

At Washington's Death Commemoration

Perhaps the last major public appearance was at the 100th commemoration of Washington’s death. On December 14, 1899, under the authority of the Grand Lodge of Virginia more than 300 freemasons representing every grand jurisdiction in the country attended a special service at Washington’s Tomb at Mount Vernon. Afterwards President and brother freemason William McKinley addressed the brethren from the east lawn.  According the November 1899 Grand Lodge of West Virginia’s annual communication, Mt. Nebo Lodge planned to have the apron present at the commemoration. 

The Apron Slips out of Public Awareness

After 1900 the apron slipped out of Masonic and public awareness. Mt. Nebo kept the apron in the Minnesota frame and hung it on the north lodge wall. On a few special occasions it was brought out for public view and appreciation. Periodically local newspapers and town histories wrote about the apron, but word of the apron did not spread beyond the mountains. Past Grand Master of Virginia William Mosely Brown in his excellent book, George Washington: Freemason (1952) acknowledged the apron’s existence, but did not follow up with further comment.

The Apron Finds it's way Back Home to Mt. Vernon

Until 2009 the apron lived quietly in the Lodge. Now, in celebration of their 200th anniversary, the brethren of Mt. Nebo Lodge have returned the apron to George Washington’s home and to public light for everyone’s benefit and delight.