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Masonic apron worn by George Washington found in Shepherdstown

It has been in the Mt. Nebo Lodge No. 91 A.F. & A. M. on East German Street since the early 1800s

February 18, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • A Masonic apron presented to George Washington at Mount Vernon by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1784, and thought to have been lost for two centuries, has been hanging in a Masonic meeting room in downtown Shepherdstown all this time.
Submitted photo from Mt. Nebo Lodge No. 91 A.F. & A. M.

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — A Masonic apron presented to George Washington at Mount Vernon by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1784, and thought to have been lost for two centuries, has been hanging in a Masonic meeting room in downtown Shepherdstown all this time.

The apron has been in the Mt. Nebo Lodge No. 91 A.F. & A. M. on East German Street since the early 1800s.

Thomas Hammond, who married Mildred Washington, George Washington's niece, bought the apron from Martha Washington's estate for $6. The couple moved to Charles Town, W.Va., in 1810, and Hammond joined the local lodge.

George Alwin, Mt. Nebo master, said Hammond gave the apron to the lodge before he died in 1820.

When Mt. Nebo celebrates its 200th anniversary on Dec. 11, the apron will be on public display in the lodge meeting room all day, Alwin said.

"It was never a secret that we've had the apron all these years," he said.

Like many of the nation's Founding Fathers, Washington was a member of the free masons, and the aprons were worn by members during various rituals and public events.

Lodge members, through their own research in recent years, had come to believe that Washington wore their apron when he laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol in 1793, six years before his death.

"We read through 200 years of minutes," said Ed Calhoun, a former Mt. Nebo master.

Alwin said the early lodge minutes were lost during the Civil War. Mount Vernon historians have always known about a second French-made apron that was given to Washington. The Watson-Cassoul Apron is named for the two men who gave it to the general — Elkanah Watson, a fellow Mason, and M. Cassoul, his French business partner.

Mount Vernon curator Susan P. Schoelwer said it was that apron, not Mt. Nebo's, that Washington wore at the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the U.S. Capitol.

In 1812, Washington's nephew Lawrence Lewis, donated it to the Alexandria-Washington Masonic Lodge No. 22.

Schoelwer said Mount Vernon researchers determined that the Mt. Nebo apron was worn at the cornerstone ceremony for the Washington Monument in 1848.

It also showed up at cornerstone ceremonies in 1850 in Richmond attended by President Zachary Taylor and in 1866 in Maryland attended by President Andrew Johnson.


'We're taking it back'

In 2009, Mt. Nebo Lodge members contacted Mark Tabbert, curator of the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, for help in authenticating their apron.

"They wanted me to look at it to verify their stories," said Tabbert, who supported Mount Vernon's version of its provenance.

"It's quite likely that Washington received it when Lafayette returned to the United States in 1784," he said. "Mount Vernon knew about the lost apron, and they're pretty convinced this is the second one owned by Washington."

On Monday, the Mt. Nebo Masons will be at Mount Vernon for the ceremony officially unveiling their apron. It will be on display there for three months, after which, Alwin said, "We're taking it back."

It's permanent home is still a question, however.

Tabbert wants it in an environmentally protected and secure environment. Hanging on a wall in Shepherdstown does not provide either, he said.

"Silk is protein, and it will disintegrate," he said.

Tabbert said the Mt. Nebo Masons should have a reproduction made to display in their lodge and put the real apron somewhere safe.

"It's one of the things we're considering," Alwin said.

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