Freemasonry's Missing Rings: Thaddeus Kosciuszko

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce

Hero of the Revolutionary War. Military Leader of Poland. A Close Friend of Freemasons. How was Thaddeus Kosciuszko never made a Mason?


When you travel north to Saratoga Springs, Lake George, Fort Ticonderoga, or the Adirondack Mountains in Update New York, you will cross over the "Twin Bridges," as the locals call them. "The Twins" are much easier to say during drive time traffic reports than the Thaddeus Kosciusko Bridge. What makes the bridge unique, aside from the Polish name, is its design: two identical steel arched bridges, with decks that span across the Mohawk River. Technically, crossing the Twin Bridges to and from work would have been my introduction to Kosciuszko.

The first time I heard the name Thaddeus Kosciuszko was when I was talking about Revolutionary War history with a co-worker. She was raving about the documentary "Kosciuszko: A Man Before His Time." As she shared it, his story was one worth learning about; born into a Polish noble family, Kosciuszko would eventually leave Poland to join the American patriots in the Revolutionary War, return to Poland and lead his own people in their fight for Independence. I was compelled to learn more about this man who George Washington trusted to build and fortify West Point. In his book, "The Peasant Prince: Thaddeus Kosciuszko and the Age of Revolution," Alex Storozynski brilliantly details the life and time of Kosciuszko. You learn of a young man who, after being schooled in architecture, drawing (fine art), and military strategy, leaves Poland to join the fight on the side of the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Let me take a second to note some of Kosciuszko's military accomplishments. He protected the banks of the Delaware River, preventing the British from invading Philadelphia.

When his idea of building an attack position above Fort Ticonderoga was ignored, Kosciuszko saved the Continental army engineered a solution to slow the British Army, allowing the Americans to escape across the Hudson River. During the second Battle of Saratoga, he planned a robust array of natural defenses, using ledges, rock formations, and the terrain as cover - frustrating the British while positioning his men to victory. Kosciuszko's travels put him in direct contact with known Freemasons: Benjamin Franklin, Nathanael Greene, Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington. Kosciuszko lived and served with these essential men in a time when the ideas of democracy, freedom, and independence were the favorite topics of discussion. George Washington hung Kosciuszko's portrait in his home, and his friend Thomas Jefferson wrote that "He is as pure a son of liberty as I have ever known."

The Case For A Missing Freemason


Thaddeus Kosciuszko possessed the two masonic principles that we are charged to embrace: Fidelity and Integrity. There are several examples in the book of opportunities during the beginning of his Revolutionary military service where General Kosciuszko could have risen in rank faster or received more pay IF he stepped on others to advance himself. Instead, he took promotions as he earned them and served for seven years without collecting a salary. His concerns were always for the care and comforts of his soldiers, who he regularly wrote to Congress and General Washington for new boots, clothing, or weapons. When I finished the book, I reached out to the author Alex Storozynski to investigate if Kosciuszko was a Mason. I couldn’t see how a man of his age who was in the company of Washington, Franklin, and many other historical Masons of that era would not have attended a Lodge or somehow escaped being a member of one.

I also contacted Kosciuszko Lodge No. 1085, the first Lodge composed of men of Polish and Slavic descent in the United States of America, which meets in the Grand Lodge of New York, to see if they had any supporting documents. I wasn't the first to ask the question. "I wish he were a Mason," stated Storozynski when we spoke. "If I had found anything, I would have surely included it in my book!" Alex and I spent the time discussing how, after the connections with Franklin, Lafayette, and Washington - considering how life was much different than now, their time huddled closely during winter or the lavish parties they would attend in each other's honor, how was it possible that the subject of Freemasonry never came up?

Both Kosciuszko and Washington were members of the Society of Cincinnati. We also couldn't fathom how, after being released from prison for leading an uprising against Catherine the Great, Kosciuszko didn't petition a Masonic lodge in Europe when he was close friends with Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was known to have attended meetings at the prestigious Lodge of Nine Muses in Paris, France. (For a more detailed look into whether Jefferson was a Mason, click here) If Kosciuszko wasn't an American Freemason, was it possible that he could have petitioned a Lodge in Europe? Again, the answer is no. Although if you search online, the Grand Orient of Poland lists Tadeusz Kościuszko on their list of our "Predecessors in the Craft." But as far as official documentation that states he was made a Mason at a certain time and place, for now, that search for Kosciuszko comes up empty.

~M

Brother Michael Arce is the Junior Warden of St. George’s #6, Schenectady and a member of Mt. Zion #311, Troy New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at: michael.arce@me.com

A Call to Service

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Travis Simpkins



Earlier this year, the Grand Lodge of New Jersey hired me to create some artwork for their dedication ceremony of the U.S. Coast Guard Enlisted Memorial. Along with the commission came an invitation to join the Grand Master and other Grand Lodge officers on a special tour of the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center base in Cape May, New Jersey. I have never served in the military, so the opportunity to learn and experience something new enticed me to make the trip down from Massachusetts and show up at the base on that cold April morning. We boarded and explored some of the boats, saw recruits training and visited the barracks before being directed towards a parcel of land that would eventually be developed for the Memorial.

After the tour, the Grand Lodge officers and officials from the Coast Guard base convened to the nearby Cape Island Lodge No. 30 where a small crowd had gathered for the cornerstone ceremony. Before the event began, the Grand Master pulled me aside to ask if he could call me to get up and speak to everyone. I had half-expected to be called upon going in, but I still didn't have any remarks prepared when the time arrived. In searching of what to say, I found myself looking towards the men in military uniforms seated around the room. I thanked them for their service. I then explained that not only had I not served, but that prior to becoming a Mason, I had known very few people in my immediate circles that were members of the armed forces. After joining the Craft, it seems that 3 out of every 5 Masons I meet have some kind of military background. I now count some of those men among my closest friends and kindred spirits. I wondered out loud about the common thread that draws us all to join Freemasonry. On the military end, there is certainly an ordered structure, patriotism and an instilled sense of “Brotherhood” that carries over within the Craft. But beyond that, a more universal element seems to be that Freemasonry attracts those who desire self-improvement by being part of something bigger than themselves. We, as Masons, all answer a call to service. Afterwards, I was relieved when several Brothers approached me to say that they appreciated the sentiments.

I don't have a graceful end to this anecdote. I just thought of it on the occasion of Veteran's Day, when I saw that many friends were sharing photos of themselves and loved ones in uniform. If you're in the vicinity of Cape May on the southern coast of New Jersey, construction of the U.S. Coast Guard Enlisted Memorial has been ongoing and should be nearing completion. If you're a veteran who also happens to be a member of the Scottish Rite NMJ, I'd encourage you to contact your Valley and let them know. Recently, the Sovereign Grand Commander established the “Sammy Lee Davis Peace & Freedom Award” which is to be presented to all Scottish Rite veterans with an honorable discharge.

-TS

Travis Simpkins is a freelance artist with clients throughout the United States and Europe. He currently works on projects for the Supreme Council, 33°, NMJ in Lexington, Massachusetts. He also serves as a portrait artist for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of New Jersey and other jurisdictions across North America. His artwork is in many esteemed collections, including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri.

Bro. Simpkins is a member of Morning Star Lodge A.F. & A.M. in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a 32° Mason in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite- Valleys of Worcester and Boston. He is also a member of Eureka Royal Arch Chapter, Hiram Council of Royal & Select Master Masons and Worcester County Commandery No. 5, Knights Templar.

The Impact of War Part IV

by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor 
WB Gregory J. Knott 


In the first three installments of this series I examined the impact the Great War (WW I) was having on Illinois Freemasonry 100 years ago in 1918.

In part one the Grand Master of Illinois Austin M. Scrogin wrote in his annual report that Illinois Freemasonry was working hard to support the troops overseas and reminded the Illinois membership that though it was important to support the French people, the Grand Lodge of Illinois did not recognize the Grand Orient of France because they did not follow landmark of belief in a supreme being as a requirement for membership.

The challenges continued in part 2 of the series as MWB Scrogin was fielding many requests for Army lodges to be formed, but he did not honor these requests. Scrogin said “…Many men who enter into the service of their country make good soldiers would not make good Masons. The uncertainties of determining the fitness of men are so apparent that there is on security against the admission of the unworthy.” Scrogin was concerned that candidate wouldn’t be properly investigated and that the west gate would admit those who were truly not worthy.

Scrogin also argued that the old standard “the perfect youth” theory was a relic that should be abandonded because so many of the soldiers serving were suffering serious wounds that in and of themselves should not disqualify a man from becoming a Freemason. Changes to the Illinois code were later changed dropping these limitations.

And in the third installment Scrogin issued an edict that all lodges must work the ritual only in English. There were a handful of lodges in the Chicago area that were using the German language as these lodges membership was those of German ancestry. There was concern that by not using the English language that lodges would develop into a class system that would not be healthy for the craft.

Today 100 years later these changes are still impacting Illinois Freemasonry. All work must be done in the English language, Illinois does not sponsor military lodges, the Grand Orient of France is still not recognized, there still concerns about guarding the West gate and the physical limitations that once limited entry into our fraternity were formally dropped in 1919.

Though we generally like to think that Freemasonry is timeless and there can be no changes, the reality is that the events of today have an impact on the fraternity just like they did 100 years ago. Freemasonry does change with the ages, even when you don’t think it can or will. The decisions we make as a fraternity today will impact the craft a 100 years from now.

~GJK

WB Gregory J. Knott is the Worshipful Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 in Ogden (IL) and a plural member of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC.

A Break from Politics?

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson


I know at this point we're all precariously balanced, pulled in three or four emotional directions. We're tired of the robo-calls, the endless stream of cards and flyers stuffed into our mailboxes, slipped under our car wiper blades and jammed into our door handles -- despite the no solicitor stickers. We're done with the Hulu ads from candidates. We're tired of slinging the dirt. We're tired of the divisiveness. And yet, we're still fired up. We want more, we want to see what will happen in the coming weeks. The policy changes, the major upsets, the candidates who will right the wrongs.

The thing is, if you feel like this, it's normal. We're invested. This is America,"the great experiment." Countries may have surpassed us in some progressive or conservative ideas, but never forget that this country was the example. We stand today with a fresh outlook. The election results let us see where we stand, what the benchmark is. We can see the lay of the land and how to approach things.

But first, Coffee. It's Wednesday morning after "Super-Tuesday" *sips coffee*. Whether our candidates won or lost, whether we're feeling angry or elated, it's time to take a moment to yourself and just breath. Do that now. Take a breath.

I hope you enjoyed the quick break, that's all you'll get. We're industrious, remember? There are always times in history where the hopes of a future are dashed or forged. When we think about this, it's easy to get lost in a "winner - loser" mentality. What's important is seeing the system from afar. To take a step back and look at the chess board. We should ask ourselves how we want to proceed. What are the issues affecting us today? How can we as Freemasons work for the better good? How can we see to it that we exemplify not only in our lives, but in public, the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance and most importantly, Justice. That virtue alone is what we're built on. Justice is the level.

My opinion? Work for the change you want. Not from a Facebook post, an Instagram or casually talking to friends. Sure those things have some merit, and if that's your speed, go nuts. But if you really want to get involved, if you really want to see an impact in your lifetime, you need to take a next step. Volunteer in the community, follow the road less traveled that leads to becoming a leader.

On Saturday, November 3rd, the Mayor of North Ogden Utah, was shot and killed while on his second deployment in Afghanistan. He served his town and his state but also was a patriot. The interim mayor said of his friend of six years on NPR, "...Brent Taylor was not partisan, he wasn't a politician. He was a statesman."

That's what I think we should be. "Statesman." Upstanding dignified individuals who work for the common good, not focusing on party affiliations, red, blue, gold or anything else. If we care about the people first, everything else will fall into place.

In Mayor Taylor's final post to his Facebook account, while on deployment he said, ""As the USA gets ready to vote in our own election (Tuesday), I hope everyone back home exercises their precious right to vote, and that whether the Republicans or the Democrats win, that we all remember that we have far more as Americans that unites us than divides us. 'United we stand, divided we fall.' God Bless America."

Remember those words, and lets get back to work -- changing the world.

~RHJ

RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183 UD. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.