Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 466

Illustration of PDF document

Download William Morgan Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Little is known with certainty of Morgan’s early life. Neither his parents nor the exact date or place of birth are known. He was apparently apprenticed to a stone-mason in Virginia. By 1823 he was living in western New York State, where he worked as a brick-and-stone mason in Rochester and Batavia. In May, 1825, Morgan was inducted into the Royal Arch Masons at Le Roy, New York. In August, 1826, he registered the title Illustrations of Masonry, By One of the Fraternity Who Has Devoted Thirty Years to the Subject, for copyright protection. As rumors spread through upstate New York that his book would reveal the secret rituals of Masonry, Morgan began to experience a number of petty persecutions, such as being sued and imprisoned for small debts several times. In September he was jailed in Canandaigua, New York, over a debt of $2.69. After someone paid this debt, Morgan was released; however, as he stepped into the street he was seized, gagged, and thrust into a carriage. The carriage took Morgan on a wild ride to Fort Niagara, where he was imprisoned. He was never seen again.

Rumors spread that Morgan had been murdered by Masons determined to prevent publication of his book. Despite denials by eminent Masons, town meetings in Batavia and Canandaigua called for an official investigation. But sheriffs and judges, many of them Masons, moved slowly, leading to suspicion of a cover-up. The sheriff who should have tracked down the kidnappers was a Mason; he could find no one to arrest. Had he arrested anyone, the judge hearing the case would also have been a Mason. When the people of Rochester petitioned to the state legislature for an investigation of the kidnapping, they discovered that their representative was a Mason.

Accusations that members of Masonic lodges were abusing their political power by shielding fellow members from prosecution for murder led to the formation of a short-lived political party. In 1827 an Anti-Masonic Party was organized in New York State, dedicated to breaking the hold on politics of an alleged secret, exclusive society whose members assisted each other in business and combined to dominate government.

By 1831 such parties existed in eleven Eastern states and agreed to unite. To demonstrate their opposition to secrecy, the Anti- Masonic Party held an open convention in September, 1831, to select a presidential candidate. This was the first such convention ever held and established a tradition followed by all political parties thereafter. By the middle 1830’s interest in anti-Masonry waned and most party members joined the Whigs.

Morgan personally suffered the ultimate in censorship, being silenced forever, but his kidnappers failed to preserve Masonic secrecy. Morgan’s printer brought out Illustrations of Masonry in late 1826. The book achieved a wide circulation, often in pirated editions, and was translated into several European languages.