Freemasonry, at least since its documented existence has always had enemies that have tried to harm, discredit and dismantle our fraternity. From Catholic Popes, Communist rulers, Adolph Hitler, Baptist conventions and people just trying to make a buck by exposing the "secrets" of our craft like Leo Taxil, we have never gone very long without some sort of serious opposition. Fortunately because of the goodness of Freemasonry, our ideals and beliefs, our love of fellow man, freedom and equality for all, nothing or no one has been able to bring our craft to its knees. Many have tried, but none have succeeded because the true tenants of Freemasonry have always overcome every bad thing thrown at it.
Quite possibly the most damaging blow to our Fraternity in its long proud history comes from the Morgan Affair. This incident started in 1826 and lasted until 1838. William Morgan or sometimes referred to as Capt. William Morgan (no fellas, not the same Capt. Morgan some of us like to get to know on occasion!) is at the center of this affair. William Morgan, was born August 7, 1774 in Culpepper County Virginia. During the war of 1812 Morgan had claimed to have served as a captain, yet there is no hard evidence anywhere that he actually did. By 1819 Morgan had married in Richmond Virginia and had two kids. In 1821 he had moved to York, Canada to work as a brewer, while there a fire destroyed his brewery and ultimately left his business in ruins. As a result of his failed brewery he relocated his family to Rochester, New York in 1823 and then later he moved on to Batavia, New York.
In 1823 while living in Rochester, New York, William Morgan was working as a bricklayer for a Freemason by the name of Warren. While employed by Warren, William Morgan had persuaded Warren that he was a Freemason, and was vouched for and able to attend a lodge in Rochester then after a lodge in Leroy and then Batavia New York, where in each place he had claimed to have been made a Mason while in Canada where the degree work was different than that in the United States, which would have explained his struggle upon being examined to the examining committee. The only degree in Freemasonry that William Morgan ever received that can be proven was that of the Royal Arch degree he received on May 31, 1825 at Leroy, New York. By 1826 Morgan had moved on to Batavia, where he got active in the Masonic circle and learned much on the degrees and ceremonies of Freemasonry. He was even included as a signer on a petition for a new Royal Arch chapter in Batavia.
It was in Batavia where suspicion began to grow as to Morgan being a legitimate Freemason. There were several brothers that had their doubts, and that along with neglecting his family, his lack of paying back financial debts, being arrested and jailed for this on numerous occasions, theft, and his careless habits it was enough for the brethren to object to him being a part of the constituting of a new Royal Arch chapter and they had his name removed from the petition, and he found himself suddenly becoming an outsider to the chapter and the lodge. Naturally William Morgan was quite unhappy about this and a number of quarrels between himself and the brethren ensued.
As a result of Morgans new outsider status there where rumors floating about that he was planning to write and publish a tell all book with an insiders view which would expose everything about Freemasonry. The rumors where true, in the spring of 1826 he filed an application for a copyright for his book to be written. Soon after, his book " Illustrations of Masonry by one of the Fraternity, God said let there be Light and there was Light. " was published with the help of the publisher of the Batavia newspaper, David Miller. Miller, twenty years prior had petitioned a lodge and had the entered apprentice degree conferred upon him but the lodge refused to advance him any farther in the degrees, it was said he held a grudge against Freemasonry as a result of that, so naturally he was willing to help with Morgans book. ( I feel it's important to note here what a huge undertaking writing and publishing a book back in those days really was, it would take days or even weeks of hard work to publish one copy of a book. This should say something about how passionate these two men where to hurt Freemasonry. )
I think it is fairly obvious that what Morgan was doing wasn't well received by the brethren. Even so, a number of the cooler headed brothers had made a strong point and it was decided that the best way to handle the situation of Morgans book being published was to pay no attention to it and look the other way. The thought was that if the Masonic community didn't even bother to refute the book or Morgan no one would pay attention and the book would eventually run its course with little attention. The Masons knew that in this case, that any publicity would be good publicity for Morgans cause.
While his book didn't get a whole lot of attention, Morgan did. Being arrested and jailed numerous times from charges of theft, and non payment of loans Morgan couldn't seem to stay out of trouble. One instance he was arrested for larceny and acquitted in Canandaigua, New York just to be rearrested for a debt of $2.68 which he couldn't repay so he was immediately put in jail. He wasn't there for long, he was released on the debt being paid by an outside party, where upon that release he immediately departed in a coach with several other people. This is where it got interesting, it was said that Morgan didn't depart on his own free will, that there was a struggle and that Morgans hat was left behind. Later he had been traced to Fort Niagra, and then after that is still to date a mystery. No one knows and there has been no hard evidence as to what happened to him. There was much speculation as to what had happened and many unconfirmed theories as to where he was or if he was murdered. It was rumored Morgan was living in places like Syria, Australia, and even in the Western U.S. posing as an Indian Chief. It was also rumored he was murdered, by whom you ask? With all of his Masonic resentment it was rumored that the Freemasons did it to get back at him or shut him up. Although there were several people arrested and jailed as a result for their part in Morgans departure by coach, the bottom line is that no one can definitavely prove what happened to William Morgan.
Even though the public in general ( and with the help of Morgans friends and active Anti Masons ) had placed the blame and decided that he was murdered by the Freemasons, there where many brethren who had tried to help in searches to locate him and some even offered rewards for any information that would help produce evidence of what had really happened. The most prominent being the Past Grand Master of New York and at the time Governor, DeWitt Clinton who put up a thousand dollars and a pardon to anyone who would have proof of what took place no matter what part they took in what went on, less they were the murderer if he was indeed killed, the reward was never claimed. To this day it still remains a mystery as to what really happened. Was he murdered, was he told to leave town because of his actions or did he run away from all of his financial and familial obligations to have a fresh start somewhere else? I guess we will never know.
For the public that had heard the story of Morgan, believed he was kidnapped or even murdered by Freemasons and already had a distaste for Freemasonry this was the perfect opportunity to lash out against the fraternity, and lash out they did! The already existent Anti Masons felt that they finally had something against the craft to run with and to prove that Freemasonry was evil. As a result of the massive attention to this occurance, all over the northeastern United States, Freemasonry was paying the price for this incident and the craft was almost completely non existent as a result. Men being fired from their jobs, ministers not allowed to preach, homes being burned, families considered outcasts and evil, all because of their association with Freemasonry. There was even a political party formed called " The Anti Masonic Party " where politicians running under that ticket were trying to gain popularity by proclaiming that they were against Freemasonry. Hundreds, even thousands of lodges shut down and eventually turned in their charters. Even some Grand Lodges shut down such as Vermont which held no communications for ten years, and Michigan which was founded in 1826; by 1829 they decided to suspend activity for eleven years all because of the huge public distaste for Freemasonry.
As I pointed out, there were many against Freemasonry during the period between 1826 and 1838 but I feel it also needs to be mentioned that there where Freemasons during that period that stood true to their craft. The most prominent being Andrew Jackson, who we know was our seventh President from 1829 to 1837. Jackson was a Freemason from Tennessee, who ran against the Anti Masonic Party and won, twice. We also need to be thankful to the Grand Lodges of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Pennsylvania who fought back against our critics and when they did they did their opponents tucked tail and ran, and by the time of the civil war Freemasonry was once again as strong as it ever was.
What is the lesson to be learned from the particular piece of Masonic history? First, guard the west gate like the existence of our beloved fraternity depends on it, because it does. I highly doubt that the bricklayer named Warren who introduced Morgan to his lodge had any idea what was going to happen, he was most likely just being brotherly to a man he thought was his brother. In the present day this should be especially important with lodges in some jurisdictions now permitted to recruit new members and the rush to increase membership numbers. Second, stay true to your beliefs, even if they aren't popular. If it weren't for men like Andrew Jackson and those three Grand Lodges, Freemasonry in the U.S. may have very well been non existent if not completely different than what we have today. We all know that member numbers are less than what some would like them to be and there are many great men out there that could possibly fit well with our craft, but lets keep this important lesson from history in mind while trying to build up the numbers.
1) Little Masonic Library vol. two. The Morgan Affair and Anti Masonry by John C. Palmer. © 1946,1977 Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Inc. Published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Inc.
2) The Mystic Tie by Allen E. Roberts, © 1991 published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Inc., ISBN- 0-88053-086-3
3) Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Morgan_(antimason)
4) Wikipedia - http://en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Jackson
First published by The Working Tools Masonic Magazine©,August 2012 www.twtmag.com