A Brief History
On September 11, 1826, Captain William Morgan was arrested in Batavia, New York, supposedly on a charge of failing to pay a debt. The real reason for his arrest was that the ex-Freemason had threatened to publish an expose type book, The Mysteries of Free Masonry, a less than flattering description of the secret society. His subsequent disappearance and presumed murder led to a groundswell of opinion against Freemasons in the United States.
In fact, the increase in anti-Masonic feeling in the US continued to rise to the point where on September 11, 1830, the Anti-Masonic Party held a political convention. The Anti-Freemasonry Movement had been generated by the disappearance of William Morgan and had coalesced into a political party with a single purpose, that of opposing Freemasonry. The Anti-Masonic Party failed to accomplish its goals of undermining the Freemason movement and developing into a major political party, and slowly disappeared itself by 1838.
The secretive nature of the Freemasons had generated distrust among non-members, with various rumors and allegations leveled against supposed nefarious activities of Freemasons. Conspiracy theorists have had a field day in imagining all kinds of world domination theories about Freemasonry. People find supposed Masonic influence in all sorts of business and government symbols, money, seals, etc. Additionally, non-members suspected Masons of covering up crimes by members and favoring Freemasons in job hiring, contract letting, jury trials and other forms of nepotism and favoritism making the entire commercial, social and judicial atmosphere of the United States tainted by the Freemasons. Religious groups have a mixed approach of acceptance and rejection of Freemasonry, sometimes (in the case of Islam, notably) because of the multi-religious acceptance of the organization. The French Revolution’s ban against citizens taking any sort of oath or pledge of allegiance to any organization was a practical outlawing of Freemasonry among other groups.
The Freemasons are a fraternal organization, with roots in the old guild of stonemasons dating back to the 1300’s in Europe. The organization insists upon a belief in God or a Supreme Being and is entirely male in its membership. The practical reality that half of the human population is female caused Masons to make some concessions that allow women some sort of affiliation to various lodges and branches of the group. (The modern phenomenon of people becoming transgender has caused the Masons to accept “female” trans members that had become members while still in their male persona.) The rites, symbols, rituals and rules of the organization are secret, including initiation which leads to wild speculation about activities and motives of members and the organization overall. While much of the business of Freemasonry is secret, membership rolls are somewhat open, and an estimated 6 million Freemasons exist today. Among those counted as members are a veritable Who’s Who list of prominent and powerful people, including such as Simon Bolivar, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, Kemal Ataturk, Earl Warren, Jesse Jackson, Silvio Berlusconi, Samuel Colt, Paul Revere, John Wayne, Strom Thurmond, John Elway, Scottie Pippen, John Jacob Astor, Shaquille O’Neal, Cy Young and even infamous traitor Benedict Arnold, among many others. In the US, 14 Presidents have been Freemasons, including George Washington and most recently Gerald Ford.
The kidnapping and presumed murder of William Morgan to prevent the revelation of Freemason secrets generated much public outrage and distrust, resulting in a popular backlash against the organization and its members. Morgan, born in Virginia and having practiced the trade of stone cutting and brick laying, had become a member of the Masons, and claimed to have been a Master Mason, and also claimed he was awarded the Master Arch degree. Later described as a drinker and gambler, Morgan ran a brewery until it burned down, under mysterious circumstances. With local citizens questioning the veracity of his claims, Morgan threatened to publish an expose on Freemasonry called Illustrations of Masonry and had a book deal with a local newspaper to back up his threat circa 1825. By 1826, Morgan’s threat to expose the secrets of the Freemasons seriously worried members of the organization, and a campaign to discredit Morgan was underway. The newspaper that was to publish Morgan’s book suffered an attempted arson and the debt he supposedly owed that led to his arrest was a $2 bar tab. Rumors were that after his arrest, he was taken to the Niagara River where he was disposed of. In true mysterious disappearance fashion, an alternative story is also circulated that Morgan had received a large monetary payoff to renege on his book deal and simply disappear from New York. An 1848 book alleged a participant in the kidnapping of Morgan had confessed to the crime, and the local sheriff was eventually charged and convicted of conspiracy for the kidnapping, serving a 28 month prison sentence. Another 3 local Masons were also convicted of participating in the kidnapping and presumed murder, while other local Masons were also charged, but acquitted in court. Morgan is remembered by the 1882 erection of a monument and statue in his honor at his Batavia, New York proxy grave site (the actual grave of Timothy Moore, a drowning victim some thought might actually be Morgan), erected by the National Christian Association, an organization opposed to secret societies such as the Masons.
Today, the Masonic movement seems to have a relatively positive overall public acceptance, although some stubborn resistance remains from suspicious and wary conspiracy theorists. Was William Morgan, War of 1812 veteran, murdered or did he abscond with a neat payoff? What do you think?
Question for students (and subscribers): Do you believe William Morgan was murdered by Freemasons? Why or why not? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Morgan, Captain William. Illustrations of Freemasonry. CreateSpace, 2010.
Morgan, William. Masonic Secrets Revealed. Lulu.com, 2009.
The featured image in this article, a drawing by A. Cooley of William Morgan whose disappearance and presumed murder in 1826 ignited a powerful movement against the Freemasons, a secret fraternal society that had become influential in the United States, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or fewer.