Old Leo Letters – February 10, 2011

Old Leo Letters
Issue # 4 – February 10, 2011
L.E.O. – Leadership – Education – Oratory!

“Everyone is a leader, because everyone influences someone. Not everyone will become a great leader, but everyone can become a better leader.” John Maxwell

Samuel & Phoebe Fraunces and General Washington
By Ed Halpaus, FPS

Grand Lodge Education Officer, of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Minnesota,

First Published in the February 1, 2004 issue of Masonic Matters, a Masonic Education Newsletter.

February is an active month with some important holidays in it. It is the month when we celebrate the birthdays of two U.S. Presidents, (Washington & Lincoln,) it is the month we celebrate President’s Day, it is the month for lovers with Valentines Day; the day when all husbands will get a card for the wife, and do something nice for her too, and it is also Black History Month here in the U.S.

Being that February is Black History Month, and the month of President and Worshipful Brother Washington’s Birthday, I would like to relate a couple of items I came across about blacks and their involvement with George Washington, and the American Revolutionary War.

When General Washington crossed the Delaware River in December 1776 and had a successful victory over the enemy forces, there were two black soldiers with him. The names of these men are Prince Whipple and Oliver Cromwell. Prince Whipple is depicted in the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, (he is sitting in the seat next to where Washington is standing.)

An interesting fact is that General Washington, at the end of the Revolutionary War, stressed that blacks who fought in the American Colonial Army in place of their owners, who were assigned to serve, would not return to slavery. Fighting on the American side established the validity for their freedom from bondage.[i]

“As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.” Brother George Washington

It was on December 25, 1776 when Brother Washington had the decisive victory I alluded to above, but it might not have been possible if it had not been for the heroic observations and actions of a young girl earlier in the year.

There was a Tavern that has become somewhat famous, because that is where General Washington gave his farewell address to his men at the end of America’s War for independence. The name of the place was Fraunces Tavern, and it was established in 1762.[ii] But it had a different name back then. Its name at that time was the Queen Charlotte Inn named for the bride of King George III. It was located at the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets on the southern edge of Manhattan in New York City and it was owned and operated by Samuel Fraunces, thus the change in the name to Fraunces Tavern toward the end of America’s war for independence.

Samuel Fraunces owned and operated his business with the help of his daughter Phoebe for a total of twenty three years. This was a very popular business in 1768; the first New York Chamber of Commerce was created in Fraunces’ Tavern. It was also the place where the Sons of Liberty gathered to mobilize popular sentiment for the coming revolution against the British Crown. At a meeting of the Provincial Congress of New York, Samuel Fraunces befriended George Washington, who often dined at the tavern.

Samuel Fraunces’ young daughter, Phoebe, because she helped her father in the business, also became acquainted with the General.

I should point out that according to the book 10,000 Famous Freemasons; Samuel Fraunces was a free black man of West Indian heritage who lived from 1722 to 1795, and who was a Brother Mason being a member Holland Lodge Number 8 in New York City.

The history of the then emerging new country would have been quite different had it not been for Phoebe Fraunces. As the serving girl at George Washington’s headquarters at Richmond Hill, she is credited with foiling an attempt to assassinate the general with a dish of poisoned peas!

Samuel Fraunces was an ardent patriot and, through his influence, his daughter Phoebe shared his patriotism for this new country. Phoebe was always aware of what was going on in the tavern. Depending on how the struggle for independence was going, the ground where the Queen Charlotte Inn (Fraunces Tavern) was located was sometimes under British occupation and the Fraunces’ were virtually under house arrest, because they supported the Revolution. Of course when the Americans held that ground the Fraunces’ were free.

During these times there were many men from both sides of the war, who were both in and out of uniform, frequenting the tavern, and on one particular occasion Phoebe overheard Thomas Hickey mention his intent to poison General Washington. One version of the story says that Hickey actually asked Phoebe to put the poison in the Generals food, the other version is that she overheard him discussing this with another man; the plan was for Thomas Hickey, a member of Washington’s personal guard, to mix Paris Green, a poisonous green powder, with the peas for Washington’s personal plate. The British had bribed Hickey and he was prepared to follow through with the plan, but Phoebe told her father what she had overheard and together they both told General Washington and his dinner party about the plot.

One of the men at the table took the peas, went into the backyard and scattered them to the chickens. Six chickens very quickly died. Hickey was arrested, tried, found guilty, and a few months later hanged before a crowd in New York City.

By a special act of Congress a monetary award was given to Brother Samuel Fraunces, and when our Brother George Washington was inaugurated as President of the United States on April 13, 1789 the President appointed Brother Fraunces as the White House Steward.

“In the final days of the struggle, the newly christened Fraunces Tavern served for ten days as the general’s last residence – meaning that Washington did indeed sleep there! And it was in the Tavern’s Long Room that he delivered the famous and tearful farewell to the officers of the Continental Army on December 4th 1783, before returning to Mount Vernon.”[iii]

So if your Lodge should have a short program about our Brother Washington, and the Brothers are enjoying some traditional Cherry Pie, maybe there will be a mention of some Black Americans, two of whom were a Mason and his Daughter, and how their efforts were of an immense help to our Brother and first President.

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.” Brother George Washington

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Some of the articles and publications by Ed Halpaus can be read at: http://halpaus.blogspot.com/ and http://sites.google.com/site/edsmasonicmatters/  and Ed’s Face Book page – Ed Halpaus (“The Old Leo”).

Fraternal regards,
Ed Halpaus
Grand LEO
Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of MN

Political Freedom, Religious Tolerance, Personal Integrity; Freemasonry – it’s not for everyone.


[i] Dr. Edward Beasley
[ii] A Brief History of Fraunces Tavern
[iii] A brief History of Fraunces Tavern