So it was with great joy that I reached into my mailbox to find the latest issue of Heredom, the Scottish Rite Research Society’s annual publication and within those pages see an article by Karen Kidd that immediately caught my eye – Hannah Mather Crocker: Patriot, Founding Mother, Freemason.
Hannah Mather Crocker is one of the most interesting historical figures of her day. And being a woman Brother Crocker is often overlooked. Perhaps she also has not come to the attention of many historians because she wasn’t an in your face firebrand, rather a mild mannered woman with a top notch education and a pleasing manner.
Hannah’s father was one of a long line of well known and prominent Puritan Preachers. Her mother was sister to Massachusetts colonial Governor Thomas Hutchinson. It wasn’t until her late twenties that she married to the Reverend Joseph Crocker. Before that marriage she had accomplished much.
At age twenty two she was carrying secret revolutionary dispatches to Joseph Warren, not only a Freemason and Grand Master but also a leading figure in the revolution. Perhaps that is why there was no hue and cry when she became a Freemason. Clearly some kind of dispensation was granted to her to form, with other ladies of her class, a Female only Masonic Lodge, St. Ann’s, shortly before outbreak of hostilities with the British. Crocker served for many years as Worshipful Master and Kidd tells us that she later wrote:
“I had the honour some years ago to preside as Mistress of a similar institution, consisting of females only; we held a regular Lodge, founded on the original principles of true ancient Masonry, so far as was consistent for the female character. We recognized the BROTHERHOOD as preeminent, as may be seen from several addresses and songs printed in the Centienel, and other papers.”
“One or two of them (male Masons) gave umbrage to a few would-be-thought Masons; but by the most respectable part of them we were treated like SISTERS. The prime inducement for forming the lodge was a desire for cultivating the mind in the most useful branches of science and cherishing a love of literature; for at that period, female education was at a very low ebb. If women could even read and badly write their name it was thought enough for them who by some were esteemed only ‘mere domestick animals.’”
“But the aspiring female mind could no longer bear a cramp to genius. They rose to thought, and clearly saw they were given by the wise author of nature, as not only help-meets. But associates and friends, not slaves to man. I have reason to think this institution gave the first rise to female education in this town, and our sex a relish for improving the mind…Our sole aim was friendship, and improving the mind; that by Strength and Wisdom, we might beautifully adorn the female character, and shew to the Brethren that we had obtained the grand secret, of securing the affections of our best friends by performing every domestick duty with ease and harmony. We had our tokens, signs and word; and within due Square we marked our lives by the parallel line of integrity.”
As we can see, Crocker was not just interested in Freemasonry nor did she use it to throw her attainment in the face of her male counterparts. She was a tireless worker for freedom from the British, for female education and for women’s rights.
But isn’t the reader about this time asking who made Crocker and the ladies of St. Ann’s Lodge Freemasons and who allowed them to exist along side of traditional male-craft Masonry without rancor or discrimination?
Kidd thinks it none other than the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Dr. Joseph Warren. She cites Crocker’s dedication of her literary work titled Series.
“To the protection and patronage of the M.W. Past Grand Master, the Past Grand Chaplain, and the present Officers and Members of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, this little work is now humbly dedicated, by the author, with the most ardent wish of benevolence, that every worthy member may square his conduct by the line of integrity.”
Clearly Crocker knew these people and travelled in their circle.
In 1780 Hannah Mather married another Freemason the Rev. Joseph Crocker of Taunton. In the 17 years of marriage before Joseph passed away they had ten children. Clearly he also knew of her Masonic exploits. And although her surmised benefactor, Dr. Joseph Warren, was long gone she still continued to travel in Masonic circles and to write about those experiences. Sometimes, however, she wrote under the pseudonyms of “A Lady of Boston” and “P Americana.” But to her list of credits we can also add the distinction of author.
While to all accounts Crocker was a mild mannered, genteel lady of exquisite manners, still she must have been some kind of woman for Kidd tells us about the “North Square Creed” that apparently husbands of St Ann’s members were asked to sign and which goes something like this:
“I believe woman is the ostensible source of man’s true happiness. I believe it was not good for man to be alone, and God in infinite mercy provided him a help meet. I believe a prudent wife is the greatest blessing man can attain in this world. I believe every man that has a prudent wife ought to harkent to the voice of Sarah his wife. I firmly believe it is proper and best for every man to believe in every thing as his prudent wife wishes him to believe. Therefor I do believe in every thing my good wife and the other ladies of this happy circle wish me to unite in believing.
In token of our approbation we here affix our names…
In the written records that Crocker left behind she left us only the initials of the men who signed the North Square Creed. One of those initials was P.R. Can anybody say Paul Revere? – Kidd brings to our attention. And even more telling she points out that the Mathers had many friends who were members of St. Andrews Lodge. Who were two of the biggest names who were members of St. Andrew’s? Why Dr. Joseph Warren and Paul Revere of course. So at what Lodge were Hannah Mather and her ladies friends raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason? You can answer that one.
Remember that Hannah Mather carried secret dispatches for the Colonial insurgents for which she could have been shot as a spy. The Southern California Research Lodge ties this altogether for us.
The building had been purchased by the St. Andrews Lodge in 1764. There was a square and compass over the front door and a copper Dragon that had turned green through the weather. It was a community center. Downstairs was the Tavern. Upstairs was the St. Andrews Lodge and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (Ancients). It was the largest place for meetings in the north east end of Boston. Historians have called it “headquarters of the American Revolution.”
Here the Boston Committee of Correspondence was formed after a few initial meetings at Brother Joseph Warren’s house a few doors away. Here the Sons of Liberty held secret sessions. They wore a jewel around their necks and were known to have a separate language for recognition. The jewel had a picture of the Liberty Tree on it.
CAN ANYONE SAY BOSTON TEA PARTY?
In her waning years Crocker formed the School of Industry in 1813 for poor girls of the northern district of Boston, thereby once again reaffirming her commitment to women’s education as she had done at St. Ann’s Lodge.
Hannah Mather Crocker faded away in oblivion and so did St. Ann’s Lodge. Future Feminists and malecraft Masons were to ignore her contributions as a Patriot, as an early leader of women’s education and women’s rights and as a Freemason. Kidd laments the fact that that history has so ignored such a great woman. But to her credit, Kidd, has taken up the task of not letting this wonderful woman be forgotten.
Come ladies rare May we have strength
Within due square, To join at length
Let each renew her vow, The heavenly lodge above.
No timid maid Brothers to meet
Need be afraid Tho’ none here greet
Hew sacred knee to bow Them join in mutual love.
Sure Sheba’s queen The secret plan
The first was seen Held here by man
To gain this wondrous art. So far beyond our reach
She made the vow Shall to each fair
That we do now Within due square
And gained the wise king’s heart. Their love and duty teach.
Let none disclose In sacred love
To sacred foes We’ll join above
Our token works or signs. With widow, son and mother.
May beauty grace With one accord
Each lovly face We’ll join the word
And wisdom guide our minds To hail each sacred brother.
Hannah Mather Crocker