SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — A Masonic apron given to George Washington in 1784 by the Marquis de Lafayette was the guest of honor Sunday at the 200th birthday celebration of the local Masonic lodge.
The apron came home for a day.
It decorated a wall in the upstairs meeting room of Mount Nebo Lodge No. 91 at 121 E. German St. from 1820 to 2009, when it was sent to curators at Mount Vernon to verify its provenance.
The lodge was founded Dec. 11, 1811.
For decades, the Lafayette Apron was known as “the lost apron” among historians and curators at Mount Vernon.
“It was right here all the time, hidden in plain sight. It was never a secret that we had the apron,” said George Alwin, master of Mount Nebo lodge.
Lafayette gave the apron to Washington during a visit to Mount Vernon, said Laura B. Simo, associate curator at Mount Vernon and Sunday’s keynote speaker.
She said Mount Vernon researchers verified that Mount Nebo’s apron is indeed the same one that Lafayette gave to Washington. Verification was proved through its construction and material, “silk on silk, gold and silver threads and embroidery of the highest quality.”
The lodge members held an open house Sunday afternoon to let the public photograph and see the apron up close, protected only by a glass case. They also learned a little about Free Masonry.
The apron will be kept at Mount Vernon in an environmentally appropriate case and will be put for public display twice a year, on George Washington’s birthday and Presidents Day, Simo said.
“We’ll still own the apron, but it’s no longer safe here,” Alwin said.
According to lodge history, the apron was worn by Masonic officials when they laid cornerstones for the Smithsonian Institute in 1846, and the Washington Monument in 1848. Washington wore it often when presiding over meetings at his own lodge, according to Mount Nebo historians.
Washington died Dec. 14, 1799, and Mount Vernon passed on to his wife, Martha, Simo said. The contents of the mansion, including the Lafayette apron, were sold at auction when Martha died in 1802. Capt. Thomas Hammond, husband of Mildred Washington, daughter of George Washington’s youngest brother, Charles, bought the apron for $6 at the sale.
Hammond joined Mount Nebo Lodge in 1815. He gave the apron to the lodge before he died in 1820, Alwin said.
Martha’s nephew, Bushrod Washington, moved in to the 24-room mansion next. It passed on to John Augustine Washington II, then to his son, John Augustine III. John III left Mount Vernon in 1859, joined the Confederacy and died in the Civil War in 1862, Simo said.
The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, founded in 1853, negotiated for five years before it was able to buy the estate for $200,000 in 1858, Simo said. It was opened to the public in 1860, and has been owned by the association ever since.