Provincetown, Masonry & The Civil War

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War always brought ruin to Provincetown. Mary Heaton Vorse O'Brien observed that if one were to chart Provincetown's prosperity that in each war there was a profound dip. The Civil War years 1860 through 1866 proved no different. Few names appear on Navy rosters during the War of 1812 because Provincetown's seamen were all privateering. The war between the states was a different story. Although there were a few instances of sympathy with the abolitionist movement Provincetown's mariners were for the most part economically motivated. The Confederate cruisers were a threat to the prosperity they had worked so hard to achieve and nearly laid waste the Northern whaling fleet.

Provincetown entered the war early when its harbor again figured prominently in yet another historical incident, the conclusion of what was to become known as the Trent Affair.

On November 9, 1861, in an attempt to prevent a trade alliance between the Confederate states, Great Britain and France, the Union Naval ship San Jacinto intercepted and boarded the British mail steamer TRENT enroute to London. Confederate secretaries John M. Mason and James Slidell, well known in the Northern states as former United States senators and leading secessionists were arrested and imprisoned at Fort Warren on George's Island, Boston Harbor. The reaction from Britain's Parliament was outrage, accusing the United States of breaking International Law, detaining a neutral countries ship and removing passengers. The War of 1812 had been fought over similar incidents. The British Navy and troops on the Canadian border were put on alert,and they demanded the immediate release of Mason and Slidell. President Abraham Lincoln, wishing to avoid a confrontation decided to accede to the British demand and ordered the release of the two secretaries. On December 26'th Mason and Slidell were transported to Provincetown Harbor and released to the British naval ship RINALDO. The storm that arose the night the RINALDO left anchor became affectionately referred to in Provincetown as the Mason and Slidell Gale.

From the log of the bark BENJAMIN TUCKER September 14, 1862, member Amos Whorf, Master; "Middle part at 11:15 a.m. saw a large steamer pass to the leeward and she got on the quarter and then wore round and gave chase to us. At 1 o'clock, fired a gun and then we hove to. At 2 o'clock sent a boat to us and made us a prize to the Confederate steamer ALABAMA. At 6 o'clock sent us all on board of the steamer with our clothes and boats and then he burnt the ship and put us all in irons from the Captain on down to the cook."

The number of applications for membership in the Lodge soared through the years 1860 - 63 as was the case throughout Massachusetts. In Provincetown, men leaving for the war and captains in command of departing vessels were receiving their degrees at Special Communications. Some members received two and even all three degrees the same evening under dispensation. Freemasonry in the southern states was spared most of the anti-masonic sentiment caused by the Morgan Affair in fact it was a very strong influence in Southern political life. The rush for membership in Masonic bodies in the Northern states through the Civil War was precipitated by the belief that membership would afford some kind of protection in the event of capture. Sixty days after the first shots had been fired at Fort Sumter, from Washington, D.C. the Grand Master of the Knights Templars of the United States issued an address to the knights of his command, being scattered over both sections of a now divided country, in which he "implored each one to exert all means at their command to avert the dread calamity and prevent the shedding of fraternal blood." A month later the officers of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee made a similar invocation for peace. The Grand Masters of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana united in a similar attempt at reconciliation, concluding their appeal by inviting a Masonic convention, which should recommend some plan to heal the wounds of the country. In South Carolina, reproached as being the birthplace of the war, the Grand Master of Masons addressed an encyclical letter to the brothers there, in which he charged them "to suffer not the disputes and broils of men to impair the harmony which has existed and will exist throughout the fraternity. Let us not hear among us that there is war; that strife and dissension prevail. As Masons, it concerns us not." In Charleston prisoners of war who were Masons were relieved on their parole by officers of the guard, and carried from the prison to the lodge rooms to participate in lodge functions. Brother Dr. Albert G. Mackey wrote that "he never approached a Mason or a lodge in Charleston, with a petition for the relief of a destitute, suffering prisoner of war, without receiving the kindest response and most liberal donation. If there war without there was always peace within our lodges."

One member who found his Masonic connections valuable was James Dillingham, Captain of the clipper ship WHITE SQUALL. On a return voyage from Penang, China Dillingham had rounded the Cape of Good Hope when he sighted the bark TUSCALOOSA which came alongside, hoisting the Stars and Stripes in response to Dillingham's flag. Suddenly a row of portholes in the side were opened, the Confederate flag was raised and the WHITE SQUALL was ordered to heave to. Instead Dillingham delayed long enough to get out from under the lee of the TUSCALOOSA and took off with all the clipper ships canvas drawing. The Tuscaloosa despite its auxiliary steam power, could not catch her. Dillingham's next encounter with the TUSCALOOSA was not as successful. In attempting his escape the wind failed at a crucial moment and he was captured. James Dillingham and his captor were both Masons, which accounts for the latter's courtesy in handing him a receipt for 1500.00 for his navigation instruments. After the war, when Dillingham turned this document in, it was honored in full.

King Hiram's Lodge member Captain Joseph W. Tuck commanded the schooner FRANK BUNCHINIA in 1859 before entering the U.S. Navy as a sailing master on August 14, 1861. He was assigned to the U.S.S. COLORADO and later placed in command of the COMMODORE McDONAHUE. Tuck was present at the bombardments of Fort Sumter and at Stone Inlet during the war. He assisted in the capture of the Confederate cruiser JOHN C. CALHOUN (formerly the CUBA) off South Pass, Mississippi and was put on board as prize master. Tuck must have had a great deal of satisfaction taking this ship, as it avenged the capture and burning of seven Provincetown whale ships during the Civil War. The schooners JOHN ADAMS, PANAMA and MERMAID were lost to the CALHOUN in 1861. All three were captured within a period of two hours 90 miles south of Belize. The vessels with their cargoes of 215 barrels of sperm oil were burned and the 63 men composing their crews were left at New Orleans without any means to return home. Members Joseph Caton and George Powe commanded the John Adams and Panama. The COURSER, RIENZI and the WEATHER GAGE were also taken by the C.S.S. ALABAMA in 1862. They were commanded by members Moses Young, Joseph Goodspeed and Samuel Small. The WEATHER GAGE was trapped with seven other vessels all of which were attracted by the burning of the OCEAN ROVER of Mattapoisett. In attempting to rescue shipmates they believed to be in peril they were captured and burned. Joseph Tuck returned to his home in Provincetown on Nickerson Place at the end of the war and died in 1902 at 77 years old.

Captain Stephen Nickerson a member of K.H.L. is said to have been one of the wealthiest men in Provincetown when "vessel property was good property." He owned the 188 ton bark SPARTAN engaging another member of the Lodge, Josiah Cook as captain. His home at 54 Commercial Street is known as the 1807 house. During the Civil War his home was one of four houses in Provincetown functioning as part of the Underground Railway System. Black slaves escaping north to Canada found food and shelter at these stations during the day. At night they were boarded onto fishing schooners leaving Provincetown for the Grand Banks and the Maritime Provinces.

Provincetown provided the Union 300 men during the Civil War 57 men more than her quota. The members of King Hiram's Lodge were largely represented in that number.

Commodore Farragut made an official report mentioning member Josiah C. Freeman who was lost aboard the CUMBERLAND at the battle at James River off Newport News, VA between the Rebel ram MERRIMAC and the Union fleet. The J.C. Freeman Post 55 G.A.R. chartered 1884 in Provincetown was named in his memory.

Member Seth Smith, attached to the 22'nd Army Corp. was at the defense of Washington during the three days fight with Confederate General Early in his attack upon the forts.

Member Paron Young was a Postmaster in Provincetown and the father of William H. Young, Master of the Lodge from 1894 -1896. He entered the war as a private in Company I, 3'd Mass. Calvary in 1864. During the battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia part of the "Wilderness" fight he was shot through the throat. He received one of the first successful tracheotomies performed during the war.

Member James R. Atwood was serving on board the Union frigate CONGRESS during the battle with the Rebel Ram MERRIMAC off Newport News, VA when the CONGRESS was lost.

Member Byley Lyford, a house carpenter enlisted in Company K, 35'th Reg. Mass. Infantry in August 1862. He was at the battle of South Mountain, September 14, 1862 and was wounded by a bullet in the arm at Anitetam on September 17, 1862.

James Cashaman received a gunshot wound at the battle of Winchester, VA and was keeper of Race Point Lighthouse for fifteen years.

Member John Rosenthal was born in Alsace-Lorraine, under the French government in 1833. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1854 and was assigned to the 5'th Regiment Reg. Infantry. He was sent to Texas engaged against the Comanche and Lepreau Indians and in 1857 to Florida under General Harney against the Seminole Indians and Chief Billy Bowlegs. In the fall of 1857 he was transferred to Utah against Brigham Young and the Mormons. In 1859 Rosenthal served under General Canby in New Mexico against the Navajo Indians.In 1864 he was placed in charge of the batteries built at Long Point, Provincetown Harbor where he was stationed for twelve years. The forts became referred to in Provincetown after a time as Fort Defenseless and Fort Useless. Through 1876 and 1885 he was stationed in New Mexico, North Dakota and at Fort Preble, Maine. He retired to Provincetown in 1885 becoming secretary of the Nickerson Oil Works at Herring Cove. John Rosenthal served as Tyler of King Hiram's Lodge for 15 years and presented the Lodge with a sterling silver square and compasses in 1875. His son Irving L. Rosenthal became Master of King Hiram's Lodge in 1899. A noted photographer, Irving Rosenthal's photographs of turn of the century Provincetown scenes, residents and shipwrecks can now be found included in a number of historical and reference books written about Cape Cod.

The above is a result of my own research and does not reflect the opinion of King Hiram's Lodge nor the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
Bro. James J. Theriault
Copyright 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999 - All rights reserved.


All the historical content in these pages researched and compiled by Wor. James J. Theriault, curator of King Hiram's Museum and lodge historian. Any comments concerning content may be sent to James J. Theriault, 541A Main Street, Hyannis, MA 02601


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