Washington’s Masonic Apron Gift from Lafayette
This page presents the rational to support as 'a most likely myth' the calim that a Masonic apron, made by Adrienne Lafayette, was given by the Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington in 1784. This is not to refute the possibility that Lafayette may have conveyed a Masonic apron, made in Europe, to George Washington when the Marquis visited Mount Vernon in 1784. This page was significantly revised 26 June 2010.
There are essentially three Masonic Aprons being attributed to having been owned by George Washington and purported, at times, to have been a gift from Lafayette. These aprons are now held at:
- The Grand Lodge in Pennsylvania (which in some of its sponsored webpages still suggests that the item was a gift from Lafayette).
- Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 (which has relinquished any claim to the apron they hold as being from Lafayette, but a strong claim as to the apron actually having been owned by George Washington).
- Mount Nebo Lodge in Shepherdstown, WV, (which has creditable claim that their apron was owned by George Washington and possibly having been conveyed by Lafayette during his 1784 visit.)
ONLY DOCUMENTATION for Apron at Grand Lodge in Pennsylvania is as follows:
The Washington Masonic Apron's arrival at the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania was recorded in the proceedings of the Quarterly Grand Communication, dated Monday, 7 December 1829. Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania recorded receiving a ‘communication', dated 3 July1829, from the Washington Benevolent Society of Pennsylvania that accompanied a Masonic Apron described as belonging to "our deceased Brother George Washington which had been presented to that Society by his Legatees." The ‘communication' reads:
"At a stated meeting of the Washington Benevolent Society of Penna. held on the 3d day of July, 1829. It was resolved that the Masonic Apron of General Washington be deposited with the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, provided that the creditors agree to this disposition of it."
The Washington Benevolent Society of Pennsylvania reportedly obtained the Masonic apron on 26 October 1816, from "the legatees of the Washington estate" along with a short note, currently framed with the apron being presented. The note reportedly reads:
"To the Washington Benevolent Society. The Legatees of GEN. WASHINGTON, impressed with the most profound sentiments of respect for the noble institution which they have the honor to address, beg leave to present to them the enclosed relick (sic) of the revered & lamented "Father of His Country." They are persuaded that the Apron, which was once possessed by the Man, whom the Philadelphians always delighted to honor, will be considered most precious to the Society distinguished by his name, and by the benevolent, and grateful feelings to which it owes its foundation. That this perishable memento of a Hero whose Fame is more durable than Brass" (sic) may confer as much pleasure upon those to whom it is presented, as is experienced by the Donors, Is the sincere wish of the Legatees. October 26th, 1816."
Nothing is mentioned about the where, when, who, why, or how the apron came into the possession of the ‘legatees'. Otherwise the basic documentation for this apron is vague and most definitely indirect – suitable to encourage legend making.
DOCUMENTATION for Apron at the Alexandria-Washington Lodge
No. 22 is as follows:
The Masonic Apron Washington was received by George Washington in 1782 from fellow Freemasons Elkanah Watson of Plymouth, Massachusetts, and his partner, Monsieur Cassoul, of Nantes, France. The apron is clearly identified in Mr.Watson's book Men and Times of the Revolution, or Memoirs of Elkanah Watson, (New York, 1856, pages 135-6), stating: "Wishing to pay some mark of respect to our beloved Washington, I employed, in conjunction with my friend M. Cassoul, nuns in one of the convents at Nantes to prepare some elegant Masonic ornaments and gave them a plan for combining the American and French flags on the apron designed for this use." An autograph acknowledgment was written by Washington – the letter was purchased from the Watson family and is in the possession of the Grand Lodge of New York.
Interestingly, Mount Vernon Library's copy of an inventory of Washington's effects show only one apron! This document is identrified as "Inventory of the Contents of Mount Vernon dated 1810," which appears to be the only recorded inventory of George Washington's belongings. Only one apron in a "Japanese box" was listed. [Document reference was given as LC number E312.43I62F34.]
It was this apron – and a black lacquered [presumed to be an apron box] – that Major Lawrence Lewis, a nephew of Washington, presented to Alexandria-Washington Lodge on 3 June 1812. At the time, Major Lewis and the Lodge believed it to be the apron that legend suggested had been given to Washington by Lafayette. However, Freemason authorities were later made aware that the apron design (particularly the distinctive crossed American and French flags in the center ) described in Mr. Watson's book matched that of the apron presented by Major Lewis to the Alexandria-Washington Lodge. Clearly, the Alexandria Lodge hold's the ‘Watson-Cassoul apron', which George Washington acknowledged receiving and was reported to have worn on more than one occasion.
This apron has the most thorough documented evidence as to when it came into George Washington's estate and from whence it came. In such, there is no direct association with Lafayette.
DOCUMENTATION for Apron at the
Mount Nebo Lodge No. 91 AF&AM
is as follows:
The existence of this apron has not been as popularly known by the general pubic, though its provenance appears remarkably strong as being the apron primarily worn by George Washington during some of the famous ceremonies. This apron has the distinctive design concept -- crossed American and French flags -- that is on the ‘Watson-Cassoul apron' given to Washington in 1782. However, there is considerable evidence that this apron held by the Mount Nebo Lodge in Shepherdstown, WV, was one of the two Masonic aprons listed in the 1804 Mount Vernon inventory. The Mount Nebo Masonic lodge came into its possession of the apron through Captain Thomas Hammond, husband of Mildred Washington, daughter of Charles Washington, deceased brother of the First President. Captain Hammond was Master of Mount Nebo in 1848. Details as to the lodge's acquisition of this apron are at the Mt. Nebo No. 91's website: see http://www.lodge91.org/
The Mt. Nebo 91 Washington Apron is currently being studied and preserved at the Mt. Vernon Estates, Mt. Vernon, Virginia. At present, Mount Vernon's website and museum literature support the claim that this apron was presented to General George Washington as a gift of the Grand Lodge of France. There is no suggestion that the apron was made by Lafayette's wife nor was the apron conveyed as a personal gift from the Marquis.
This apron has credible documented evidence that it was held in George Washington's estate. However, there is no direct evidence describing when and how it entered George Washington's estate. Examination of the apron supports its possible manufacture in Western Europe, which would agree with it being a gift from the French Masons. There is no contemporary documentation that the apron was delivered to George Washington by Lafayette during the latter's 1784 visit to Mount Vernon. Such a claim developed in years soon after Washington's death. [The claim was often embellished with the assertion that the apron was made by Lafayette's wife. Such an invention is not associated with the Mount Nebo Lodge apron.] Though unsubstantiated by direct evidence, it is plausible that Lafayette acted as the courier of the gift. As the apron was not a personal gift from Lafayette, it is understandable that the incident is not recorded in the extensive interchange of correspondence between the Marquis and George Washington.
However, one would assume that Washington would have acknowledged the gift in writing to the Grand Lodge of France. Unfortunately, the French Masonic lodges were looted by the Nazis, and there is mote expectation of finding such documentation among the very modest number of reclaimed Masonic files since WWII.
A recent initiative by the Mt Nebo Lodge to celebrate their 2011 anniversary by exhibiting their apron for a time at Mount Vernon, sparked an examination that alerted interested parties of shared similarities in the designs of the Mt Nebo Lodge and the Alexandria Lodge aprons
This is addressed in detail in an article "A Washington Apron Re-discovered" by Mark A. Tabbert, curator at the George Washington Masonic Memorial, Alexandria. The 24 March 2011 draft article, is posted on the internet webpage "Assessment of French Made Masonic Aprons Owned by George Washington" at http://xenophongroup.com/mcjoynt/apron2.htm
[Link is provided at bottom of this page.]
The recognition of the Mt. Nebo Lodge apron encourages continued speculation supporting second hand accounts [Such as in Benson J. Lossing's The Home of Washington and Its Associations (published in1865)] of Lafayette presenting Washington an apron in 1784.
[Past viewers of this webpage will note a significant change in opinion here!] There were at two Masonic Aprons held by George Washington at Mount Vernon according to an 1804 inventory. Both had similar design patterns. One apron is the Watson-Cassoul apron held by the Alexandria-Washington Lodge, and did not enter George Washington's estate through the assistance of Lafayette. However, Mt. Nebo Lodge apron could have been conveyed by the Marquis. However, there is no suggestion that this apron was made by Adrienne Lafayette.
Speculation that the apron was made by Lafayette's wife is rejected by key Lafayette scholars [Gottschalk being the most renowned] who seriously question the claim due the lack of supporting primary testimony of Lafayette conveying such an apron made by his wife. Authors with a penchant for promoting attractive legends counter that "there is no proof that an apron was not presented."*
Insisting on evidence to prove a negative is a clever retreat for journalists, but historians familiar with the character of the personalities involved are compelled to look deeper. It is inconceivable that such a significant gift from the Marquis to George Washington occurred without the event ever being acknowledged in the profuse exchanges of detailed correspondence between Lafayette and Washington at the time. Ignoring the absence of contemporary reference to the gift apron reflects a serious miss reading of George Washington's well established sensitivity to social protocol.
- * Illustrating this difference between the ‘journalist' and ‘historian' approach to the subject would be to be to note that the Lafayette Apron gift is not mentioned in either of the recent scholarly print published books on Lafayette and Washington:
- James R. Gaines' For Liberty and Glory: Washington, Lafayette, and Their Revolutions (2007); or
- David A. Clary's Adopted Son: Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution (2007).
Whereas, the gift is asserted in a highly promoted book Lafayette published in 2002, and the author's rational is that one cannot prove the apron "was not presented."
Auxiliary Notes on Freemason Web References:
Referenced and quoted text from ‘documents', ‘communications', and other such display labels associated with the particular Masonic aprons in this webpage were taken from various pages sponsored by various webpages sponsored by Masonic lodges or Freemason historians. As Freemasonary organizations enjoy considerable autonomy among their various groups and orders, one will find variances supporting the less documented past. This is especially the case concerning aprons claimed to have been owned [or event temporally worn] by George Washington. As might be expected, The website of The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania" has a particular page "Brother George Washington's Masonic Apron" [http://www.pagrandlodge.org/mlam/apron/index.html]
which takes the position that apron in their museum was claimed to have been made by Madame la Marquise de Lafayette and is the one claimed to have been presented "to Bro. George Washington of Fredericksburg Lodge, Virginia by General Lafayette in 1784." With more certainty, the lodge firmly claims that it was an apron owned by George Washington. One is left to untangle the following text from their webpage:
"The affection each man held for the other is legendary. So, too, is the legacy of Masonic history developed through that affection. For many years Masons and non-Masons believed that the white silk apron known as the Lafayette Apron, had been embroidered by Madame Lafayette and presented to Bro. George Washington by Bro. Lafayette in August of 1784. This cannot be documented as fact. It has, however, been ascertained that the Apron did indeed belong to Bro. Washington, and current research suggests that it was made in China."
This last phrase leaves one to wonder until one examines further: The apron is displayed in a sealed glass along with "the original note written in 1816 by the legatees of the Washington estate concerning the apron."
See: The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania webpage, [http://www.pagrandlodge.org/freemason/0904/tot.html]
On the other hand, a Freemason sponsored webpage providing a more disciplined and objective assessment is "Website MasonicWorld.com" at http://www.masonicworld.com/education/, with its particular webpage on "Masonic Myths" --The Northern Light webpage by Dick Curtis at http://www.masonicworld.com/education/files/mf.htm
Return to top of this webpage.
Return to 'La Fayette's Visits to Mount Vernon'.
Return to 'La Fayette's Ocean Crossings'.
Return to main 'Lafayette Webpage'.
Return to 'Assessment of French Made Masonic Aprons Owned by George Washington'.
Page posted 11 June 2008; revised 2 June 2011.