The Matthews Monument at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Tea Party, Native Americans & Cincinnati

IORM Fraternal Charm

One of the fraternal organizations popular in the 19th century that intrigues me is the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM).  The organization claims to have its roots in the Sons of Liberty who, in 1773, disguised themselves as Mohawk Native Americans, boarded ships in the Boston harbor and had a “tea party” by dumping 342 chests of British tea into the waters, in protest of “taxation without representation.”  

The Sons of Liberty revered their patron saint, the great Lenni Lenape chief Tamanend or Tammany.  Tamanend met with William Penn under the “Tree of Liberty,” and the two men promised their peoples would live in peace with each other.  Alas, that promise was broken many times over the ensuing two centuries.  Tamanend, however, became almost a national hero as the new American people identified more with their new country’s natives, and not their former British overlords.  

According to the website, the Sons of Liberty became agitated again after the Revolution when it was suggested that George Washington be installed as president for life (Washington himself was against this idea, which was in fact, a kingship or worse).  Another turn of events that upset the Sons of Liberty was the formation of the Society of Cincinnati in 1786, in honor of the Roman Senate Consul Cincinnatus.  Cincinnatus was a hero of early Rome, being a man of simplicity and humility.  He was called to serve Rome as its leader to defend it from an invasion, and he left his farm and ran the empire well, saving it from the invaders.  But when the need for his services was over, instead of remaining as a dictator, he resigned and went back to his farm.  The Society of Cincinnati (started in honor of Washington) was a fraternal organization for Revolutionary War officers only, and membership was hereditary.  It smacked of royalty and privilege, and the Sons of Liberty organizations in the mid-Atlantic states, claiming to represent the common man, quickly changed their name to the Sons of Saint Tamina, or the Tammany Society.  (Tammany Hall in NYC, infamous for its connection with Boss Tweed in the mid-1800’s, was one of these fraternal chapters.  Unfortunately, this NYC chapter quickly became partisan and political as Democrats seized control of it (including Aaron Burr), and its name became synonymous with graft and corruption.)  
[Another side note:  the city of Cincinnati, Ohio was originally a fort named Fort Washington, in honor of the President.  In 1790, the name of the settlement was changed to Cincinnati by Arthur St. Clair.  St. Clair was the governor of the Northwest Territory (of which present-day Ohio was a part), and he was also president of the Society of Cincinnati.  St. Clair was born in Scotland, but came to Pennsylvania with the British army in the mid-1700’s.  During the Revolutionary War, his sympathies became decidedly American.  He joined the American army, and was quickly promoted to Major General (he is credited with devising Washington’s strategy that led to the capture of Princeton, NJ).  Later, he was court-martialed for surrendering Ft. Ticonderoga, but was exonerated since his force had been too small to have had a chance of holding off the British.  He served as aide-de-camp to Washington until the end of the war, enjoying Washington’s admiration and favor.]

Back to the IORM:   How the Sons of Saint Tamina morphed into the Society of Red Men is not entirely clear (or even true—there is no uncontested proof of lineage).  But in 1813 at Fort Mifflin outside of Philadelphia, the Society of Red Men came into being.  Although the Society claimed to emulate the Native American, complete with elaborate rituals and names (chapters were called “tribes” and the place where they met was called the “wigwam”), no Native Americans could be admitted for membership.  Bylaw No. 300 stated, “No person shall be adopted into a Tribe of the Order except a free white male, of good moral character and standing, of the full age of twenty-one great suns [years], who believes in the existence of a Great Sprit, the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, and who is possessed of some known reputable means of support.  So if you were a Native American, or an African American, slave or free, or anyone not Caucasian, or a female, or poor, you weren’t allowed in the wigwam.  Interestingly, slaveholders also were not allowed to join either.  And yet there were tribes in operation in the South.  Also interesting is the rituals were not truly based on real Native American practices, but on white men’s perceptions of what these rituals were, or perhaps, “ought to be.”

The Society of Red Men continued through the mid-1800s, but declined in membership and degenerated into really nothing more than rowdy drinking clubs of men who liked to dress up as Indians and whoop about (remember, this was the days before remote controls and the NFL).  But then in 1834, a small group of Red Men in Baltimore decided to start a new organization with a temperance platform.  They called it the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM), and their aims were Freedom, Friendship and Charity.  Their charter was amended in 1887 to include a women’s auxiliary called the Degree of Pocahontas, (D of P) in honor of the Indian princess that befriended the English settlers at Jamestown.  

In 1935, the IORM and D of P boasted more than 500,000 members.  But by 1995, membership had declined to less than 38,000.  Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard M. Nixon were all members of IORM.

The IORM still exists today, with headquarters in Waco, TX.  There is a museum there which, in addition to the archives of the IORM, also owns Aaron Burr’s writing desk, a bugle from the Gettysburg battlefield, a peace blanket that belonged to the Apache warrior Geronimo, and moccasins that belonged to the Chiricahua Apache Chief Cochise.  They fulfill their aim of Charity by supporting the Alzheimer’s Association and fund research into finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.  I imagine there are no more limitations for membership, with the exceptions of being committed to American patriotism and of “good moral character and standing.”  

The letters “T.O.T.E.” found on the markers is supposedly a secret password for IORM, and has something to do with the Totem of the Eagle.  Now I want to join to find out what it means!  

I have found several examples of the IORM markers in my cemetery excursions, but so far only one Society of Cincinnati member.  There is also a Sons and DAUGHTERS of Liberty marker (the women’s auxiliary of the Sons of Liberty).  No Tammany Society members yet, but I’ll keep looking.  Thanks for reading.

Boehm's UCC Cemetery, Blue Bell, PA

Forks Cemetery, Stockertown, PA

On a zinc monument, Hays Cemetery, Easton, PA

Mount Prospect Cemetery, Neptune, NJ

Prospect Hill Cemetery, Blakely, PA

Close-up of above, you can see "T.O.T.E" on the eagle's chest

Tennent Presbyterian Cemetery, Tennent, NJ

Thompson Cemetery, Thompson, PA

Union Cemetery, Blakely, PA
Society of Cincinnati, Hickory Grove Cemetery, Waverly, PA

Sons & Daughters of Liberty, Stroudsburg Cemetery, Stroudsburg, PA

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