Masonic Book Reviews
Three Centuries of Building Communities
- By Mark Tabbert
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: NYU Press
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0814783023
- ISBN-13: 978-0814783023
Reviewed by Stephen Dafoe
The Details In Brief
American Freemasons: Three centuries of Building Communities was written by Mark A. Tabbert, the former curator of masonic and fraternal collections at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington Massachusetts and the current director of collections at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. Additionally, Tabbert is a Freemason; the combination of these three things makes him eminently qualified to write on the topic.
What Is This Book About?
There are, for the most part, two types of books written about Freemasonry. The first are the books, written by non-masons, which claim to expose or explain Masonic secrets - including how the Freemasons secretly rule every aspect of society, past, present and future (a fact known only to high-ranking masons and non-masonic conspiracy writers). The second category is comprised up of books written by masons for masons that also attempt to explain the great secrets of Freemasonry, albeit without the conspiratorial accusations. And then there is American Freemasons by Mark Tabbert, a book which successfully demonstrates perhaps the greatest secret about the Freemasons - how they have successfully been an integral part of society by building and enhancing communities for three centuries.
Tabbert spends the early chapters of the book giving the reader an overview of Freemasonry, what it is and what it stands for, as well as a brief history of the craft (as it is known to its practitioners) in its early years in Britain and Europe. The author then moves on to discuss the role that Freemasonry played in Colonial and Revolutionary America, touching upon well-known historical Freemasons including George Washington, Paul Revere, Joseph Warren and Joseph Brant. And while all of these names have been chronicled in Masonic books ad nauseam, Tabbert goes beyond the normal hero worship of these figures to discuss the underlying social conditions. For example, it was often difficult for the citizens of Boston to distinguish between the Freemasons and the Sons of Liberty, as both met in private and used secret signals.
But Tabbert continues his Masonic social journey well beyond the American Revolution, with stops during the Federalist period, the Anti-Masonic period, the Civil War and the boom in Fraternalism that swept American in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At each stop, Tabbert explains how society affected Freemasonry and how Freemasonry affected society. For example, by the turn of the twentieth century, Freemasonry had become so commonplace in society that to be a Freemason was nearly a prerequisite for middle-class respectability. One of the more interesting chapters of the book examines the conflict between Freemasons of the 1900s - 1920s. Tabbert explains that different generations of Freemasons had vastly different outlooks on society Freemasonry's role in it; a situation that caused considerable tension and ultimately led to Freemasonry's similarity to the service clubs.
It is on this subject that the author spends the closing chapters carrying the story of Freemasonry and its role in American communities through the Great Depression, World War II, and on to the present time.
My View Of The Book
While there have been several academic books written on the societal effects of Freemasonry, the most striking aspect of Tabbert's volume is its rich use of illustrations. Drawing on his skills as a museum curator and his connection with his colleagues, Tabbert provides his reader with many photographs, paintings and illustrations that have not been seen outside a museum gallery. Although not a coffee table book per se, it is closer to one in style and size than to a regular book.
As a person interested in history, American Freemasons appealed to my love of that subject by providing me with plenty of historical information, facts and figures, but, more importantly, with the human story of the history of American Freemasonry - in essence the social in social studies.
As a Freemason interested in seeing well-researched and well-produced books about the Masonic Order, I couldn't be more pleased with the job Tabbert has done. For not only has he produced a book that has told his Masonic readers a great deal about their fraternity, he has written a book that informs them of the many other fraternal societies that developed along side them. The result is a book that is not only about Freemasonry, but about American social history.