J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Capt. Ponsonby Molesworth: officer, Freemason

Vast Public Indifference recently featured the name of Capt. Ponsonby Molesworth of His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot. And that’s quite a name to feature.

Molesworth arrived in Boston in October 1768 and—according to family legend—promptly fell in love with a teenaged girl named Susannah Sheaffe. I thought I’d look for more details about him.

Fortunately, it’s easier to find information about someone named Ponsonby Molesworth than someone named, say, James Hall. Or, rather, it’s easier to determine that the information one finds applies to the right Ponsonby Molesworth.

Our Molesworth was baptized on 14 May 1744 at the church of Saint Peter and Saint Kevin in Dublin. He came from a political family that for generations represented Swords in the Irish House of Commons. Obviously, the baby was named to honor a fellow M.P. named John Ponsonby (shown here, courtesy of Wikipedia), who became speaker of that house. (Eventually the baby’s half-aunt Louise would marry the speaker’s son William, one of the most powerful Irish politicians of the late 1700s and the first Baron Ponsonby.)

Our Ponsonby Molesworth was the fifth of six sons, so he wasn’t going to inherit his father’s seat or money. That made the army a good career.

I first spotted Capt. Molesworth’s name on the rolls for the 29th Regiment because his company included Cpl. William Wemys (also spelled Wemms and Wymes), one of the men tried for the Boston Massacre. Wemms appears to have come into the regiment after April 1769. The captain’s administrative skills were haphazard enough that the rolls list Wemms as in prison starting in late 1769, but in fact he was jailed only from March to November 1770.

Capt. Molesworth’s name also appears in connection with Boston’s Freemasons. When the British troops arrived, the town’s two Masonic lodges were arguing over legitimacy. The St. John’s Lodge (Moderns) refused to recognize the St. Andrew’s Lodge (Ancients). On 30 Nov 1768 St. Andrew’s voted to consider petitioning the Grand Lodge of Scotland for permission to appoint a Grand Master of all Ancient Masons in America.

A St. Andrew’s committee met with the Ancient lodges in the 14th, 29th, and 64th regiments. Eventually, on 27 Dec 1769, the Grand Lodge of Ancient Masons was organized at a ceremony at the Green Dragon Tavern, owned by St. Andrew’s.

That gathering made Dr. Joseph Warren the Grand Master of all Ancient-Order Masons within a hundred miles of Boston. Among the many other officers chosen, Thomas Crafts became Grand Treasurer, Paul Revere Grand Deacon—and Capt. Ponsonby Molesworth Junior Grand Warden.

Thus, even after months of fights between Bostonians and British soldiers and officers, including one riot with Capt. Molesworthy in the middle, Masonic unity brought these men together.

TOMORROW: Capt. Ponsonby Molesworth falls in love.

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