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To the Eastward: 200 Years of Freemasonry in Sag Harbor, New York

The museum is pleased to host To the Eastward: 200 Years of Freemasonry in Sag Harbor, New York, a special exhibition that interprets the impact of Freemasonry on early Sag Harbor, New York and, by extension, the new Republic. The exhibit celebrates the 200th anniversary of Sag Harbor’s Hampton Lodge #111, founded in 1804. The economic, social and cultural development of this seafaring and whaling community [the country’s first Port of Entry, 1789] will be explored through the lens of the Masonic movement and its contribution to our nation’s humanistic ideals. The project will culminate in a symposium on October 16, 2004, to be held at museum headquarters in cooperation with the Grand Lodge of New York State, Suffolk Masonic District, and Wamponamon Lodge #437, Star of the East Lodge #843 and Old Town Lodge #908. The symposium is planned in conjunction with New York State Humanities Month.

While the significance of Masonic ideals in the lives of notable Americans is well documented, their influence on transforming the social order of the new Republic is less understood. Originating in Scotland in the 1600s, Freemasonry was dedicated to the tenets of brotherly love, relief and truth, seeking to unite all men regardless of religion, race or political conviction. Prominent early American Masons like President George Washington and the “leading” citizens of Sag Harbor, like gravestone carver Ithuel Hill and ship’s captain Nathan Y. Fordham, initiated Masonic lodges to elevate the moral character of their communities, while advancing their own business or social interests.

The exhibition looks at how Freemasonry influenced Sag Harbor’s whaling industry and other aspects of village life. How were its virtues of equality and liberty practiced, and did they reflect American aspirations for the new Republic? Was the tenet of relief practiced to help widows of sailors in Sag Harbor, and did it help unify the community? Did local Masons use the fraternity for self-improvement or to increase their knowledge and circle of business associates?

Highlights of the exhibit include rare Masonic objects and artifacts of historical significance borrowed from Wamponamon Lodge #437, the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Library and Museum, and other collections. A hand-painted ceremonial apron c. 1820, handwritten record books and memorabilia, masonic scrimshaw and oil paintings portraying prominent Masons and other Sag Harbor citizens are among the many interesting objects selected to tell the story of Freemasonry’s impact on early Sag Harbor village. Many of these objects have never been displayed to the general public before.

Support for the exhibition has been received from North Fork Bank, the New York Humanities Council, Suffolk County and the Town of Southampton. The exhibition runs through October 17, 2004.