Posted: Thursday Feb 23, 2012
February 23, 2012
Dr. Susan Mitchell Sommers, professor of history at Saint Vincent College in the School of Humanities and Fine Arts, will have an article, Marranos, Masons, and the Case of the Mislaid Text, published in a forthcoming edition of Heredom, the Journal of the Scottish Rite Lodge of Research.
“In 1839, Rhode Island antiquarian Nathan Hammett Gould received a trunk of old papers, including some from the estate of Moses Pacheco, an early Jewish (Marrano) settler in Newport,” Dr. Sommers explained. “Amongst the other 17th century documents in the collection, one particularly caught Gould’s attention. It read, ‘Ths ye [day and month obliterated] 165 [6 or 8, not certain which, as the place was stained and broken: the first three figures were plain] Wee mett att y House off Mordecai Campunall and affter Synagog Wee gave Abm Moses the degrees of Maconrie.’ “
“For Gould, who was interested in both Jewish history and Freemasonry, the meaning of the text was clear. Jewish settlers were in Rhode Island several years earlier than had been demonstrated by previous documentation – and they were Freemasons, some 59 years before the founding of the Grand Lodge in London,” she continued. “By the time Masonic and Jewish historians became aware of the document in the 1850, Gould was reluctant to produce the document for inspection, citing its very fragile condition and disorganization in his library. He instead offered his remembrance of the wording of the document. “
“A historiographic hissy ensued, with Jewish historians welcoming the little text that proved they were in Rhode Island at a critical early date, and Masonic historians rejecting that anything prior to 1717 could be Masonic, and asserting that the first Freemasons in North America could not possibly be Jewish. Gould subsequently found the text, and allowed it to be transcribed by Rabbi Jacques Judah Lyons, one of the most important early scholars of Jewish American history. Rather than settling the debate, Lyon’s transcription further obscured the text’s meaning, as it differed from Gould’s remembered wording at several key junctures. And then, inevitably, the text again vanished. The article traces the history of the discovery of the Marrano text, and considers the motivations and reactions of various interested groups as they attempt to parse a meaning out of the text they had not read, and were not likely to ever recover. They all agreed it was important and interesting, though beyond that there was little common ground,” she concluded.