Friday, November 19, 2010

Masonic Mystery Man

One of the pleasures of my ongoing family history project is that I occasionally stumble upon distant relatives from across the county in the course of my searching.  While looking into a great grandmother's family, I found a woman online who is related to the Leaver family.  She had posted this photo on Find-a-Grave, an online site that tells where people are buried, and sometimes has biographical information.  She said that the photo was of Henry Leaver (1825-1911) in vintage Masonic dress, 1870, Elkhorn, WI, and she let me have a copy.  She is sure of the photo's identification, but I am not.  I'm guessing that the man in the photo is great grandfather George Edmund Pierce (1854-1933).

I have some reasons for my belief.  Henry Leaver is a great-great grandfather.  He was born in England, and then lived in a number of places, according to census records, none of which is in Wisconsin.  He lived in Illinois, Iowa and Colorado - where he is buried.  In 1875 he lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa.  He could well have been a Mason, but I have no proof of that other than this photo.

On the other hand, George Edmund Pierce (1854-1933) lived his entire life in the Elkhorn area, was active in civic affairs, and was mayor of Elkhorn for two terms.  I have a stack of membership cards suggesting he was active in several Masonic groups. The problem with the cards is that they all say Geo. E. Pierce, which might be George Edmund Pierce, but could also be his son, my grandfather, George Earl Pierce, who also was a Mason for more than 60 years - as was his brother H. Leaver Pierce.  I received the cards in a stack of family materials after my mother died, so there is nobody in the family to ask.

The Masonic lodge in Elkhorn is no longer active, but I attended an open house this week in Delavan, WI.  I took along the photo in question and found out that the man is dressed in regalia belonging to the York Rites group, and my own internet research leads me to believe the crosses on his uniform and the elaborate hat are worn for the Knights Templar.  From the membership cards, I think Geo. E. Pierce was a member of that fraternity. In addition, at the open house there was a book that someone had assembled listing members from area lodges, and both my Pierce grandfathers are mentioned, though not Henry Leaver.

Finally, I think the man in the uniform looks more like George than Henry.  These are two group photos of George E. Pierce, with his spade beard.  One is him with his wife, Mary Leaver Pierce (Henry was her father), and children.  The other is of him and men I don't recognize.  He is seated in front on the left.

I have a picture of George alone, but it isn't good quality and he is much older in it.  The best picture I have of Henry when his beard was dark is this one:

It is possible that Henry Leaver was a Mason, and that the photo of the man in uniform is of him, though I think it would have had to have been taken in Iowa, rather than Wisconsin.

I showed some of this to a Mason at the open house  - who turned out to be my high school guidance counselor - who said he'd check with the national organization to see if it has records of George E. Pierce's or Henry Leaver's Masonic affiliation. 

We shall see.


Carolyn A. Pappas said...

Wow you are lucky you are able to do so much research on your family. For me, it would involve learning Greek and traveling overseas.

Lisa Brellenthin said...

Hi Sherry,
After researching the history of my house in Elkhorn, I discovered that Geo. E. Pierce and family were the owners in 1895. I have been unable determine whom they purchased the property from as they owned so many properties in Walworth county. I don't know if the family actually lived in this house, or just had it as an investment. Either way, it is so interesting to know more about Mr. Pierce and his family, so thank you for posting!

Sherry Pierce Thurner said...

Lisa, I'd love to see the house you're talking about. I grew up in Elkhorn, and never knew he had a house there.

Lisa B. said...

Sherry, it is located at 206 N. Washington St. I have a copy of the deed (it took me hours to track it back to 1895 at the courthouse). The sale was from George E. and Mary F. Pierce to J. Matthias Niesen in October of 1895. I know there must have been a house on the property at that time because the purchase price was $400. After searching for hours (again) just recently, I could not determine whom he purchased the property from. I did see during the search that he owned a LOT of property in Sugar Creek. Do you happen to know if John A. Pierce was an uncle or a father to George? I don't know if this property was his and willed to George at some point. Trying to track this down has been quite the real-life mystery!

Sherry Pierce Thurner said...

Lisa, you can use the search box on the right side of this blog to find a photo and more information about John Alexander Pierce, George's father. He came from Canada - I think the family was from New England before that - and did own several farms, enough for each of his sons. In addition to growing wheat and raising cattle, he owned mills in both East Troy and Sharon. I'm very interested in what your research is turning up!