In Forbestown: A Rare Masonic Artifact

In the small California town of Forbestown (our Butte County Brethren!), located in the mountains of northern gold country, a local museum holds within its collection a silver embroidered Masonic collar, adorned with a square and compass symbol within a winged egg. But this is no ordinary Masonic artifact: It is a ceremonial garment from the Rite of Memphis – a Masonic body rarely encountered throughout the history of California Masonry.

The collar, which is believed to have been created in the 1860s, was donated to the Forbestown Historical Museum by the Persons family. It belonged to Horace T. Persons, who was born in New York in 1828. During the Civil War, Persons left Forbestown to serve as a surgeon in the Union Army, where he was held for a time as a prisoner of war. He later returned to the tiny mountain town, where he died in 1870.

Persons was a member of Forbestown Lodge No. 50 and a Knight Templar; in 1867, he also became a member of the Rite of Memphis, which was attempting to establish a presence in California. Incidentally, California’s second grand master, Benjamin Hyam, was a member of a related rite, the Rite of Memphis Misraim, and served as an officer within its ruling body after returning to Washington, D.C. The regalia in this exhibit was generically labeled as “Masonic” until it was recently identified as belonging to the Rite of Memphis. It is significant not only because the Rite of Memphis is rarely heard of in California, but also because it serves as an example of the proliferation of many Masonic high degree rites, which sometimes competed for popularity.

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