William Morgan, Illustrations of Masonry (1826)

Illustrations of Masonry

Illustrations of Masonry: The Freemasons were suspected of kidnapping and murdering the author.

William Morgan was a stonemason in Batavia, New York, whose notorious disappearance in 1826 sparked a national anti-Masonic movement. After he had announced his intention to write a book called Illustrations of Masonry, a critical expose of Masonic rituals, the local Masonic lodge first set fire to his printer's office, then had him arrested and held in debtor's prison. Someone paid his debt to get him released and a group of men carried him off in a carriage, never to be seen again alive. Rumors circulated that he had either been drowned in the Niagara River or paid to leave the country, and the Freemasons were accused of murdering him to protect their secrets. Three Masons were eventually convicted and served time for kidnapping him.

The book Illustrations of Masonry was published soon after Morgan's disappearance and became a bestseller. Morgan's disappearance and the light sentence given to his kidnappers prompted a series of protests throughout the region, and public feeling turned against the Freemasons. The Anti-Masonic political party formed and ran a candidate for presidential election in 1828. Morgan's widow later became one of the wives of Mormon church founder Joseph Smith, and it has been suggested that there are some similarities between Masonic rituals and Mormon practices.

Clements Library copy of Illustrations of Masonry