Elkanah Watson: A Tale of Freemasonry and Revolution


Elkanah Watson kept a memoir of his life from 1777 to 1842 to be published by his son, Winslow C. Watson in 1856. [1]  Born in Plymouth, Massachusetts, January 28, 1758, a direct descendant of Pilgrim settlers, Watson traveled throughout the colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia in the early years of the American Revolution and was sent to France by his employer, John Brown, with dispatches for Benjamin Franklin. In the last years of the war he carried papers to the British court with the results of the peace negotiations.  After the war he became a successful banker in the Albany area investing in the canals of New York State and organized and headed up the Berkshire Agricultural Society introducing county fairs to the public.  However we remember him for his gift with his partner – Cossoul – of the favorite Masonic apron given to His Excellency, Brother George Washington.

 Elkanah Watson was a descendant of Robert Watson who arrived in the Plymouth Colony in 1623.  At an early age, he was apprenticed to merchant and trader John Brown, a founder of College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantatio ns later known as Brown University. Brown introduced Watson to General George Washington by sending Watson with a load of gunpowder to the American forces in Boston in 1777.  Soon, Watson, with $50,000 sewn into pockets in his jacket, was sent to Charleston, South Carolina to arrange the purchase of gunpowder for the American army. Using the mercantile business as a cover, he served the American cause as both a messenger and purchasing agent.  In 1779, he was sent to France with dispatches for Benjamin Franklin.  In France he formed a mercantile business with Francois-Corentin Cossoul.  [2] While Cossoul watched the business, Watson travelled throughout the country hoping to learn the language and customs.  

Later Watson was eager to visit England knowing that he would face hostilities there because of his activities in supplying his country against Great Britain.  In 1782, when he applied to his friend and mentor, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, for an official passport to travel to England, he found that his friendship and the trust that he had built with Franklin greatly aided him.  John Adams, John Jay, and Benjamin Vaughan (secretly representing the Crown) were at that time meeting with Franklin discussing a possible peace settlement between America and Great Britain.  Vaughan chose Watson to deliver a packet of papers to Lord Shelburne containing the results of their deliberation.  Watson now had his trip to England and an introduction to the Royal Court. [3]  He left Paris on September 9, 1782 for London.

When Watson arrived in England and heard his native language and saw the children playing, he commented that he felt like he had been returned to America. Through his family contacts — and certainly through friends of Franklin — Watson met some of the most influential statesmen and philosophers of England.

Watson went travelling throughout England. At Birmingham, he saw the canals and began his lifelong interest in this means of moving goods.  Upon his return to London, he picked up his mail and found a letter from General Washington.  He met his friend, Henry Laurens, who had just received notice that his son, Col. Laurens, had been killed in a skirmish near Charleston, South Carolina.  “As an American protégé of Mr. Laurens, I found myself moving at once in the high circles of the Metropolis,[4]Watson said of this time in London.  Watson was welcomed by all and soon dined with the famous Boston born, American Loyalist painter, John Singleton Copley.  Watson had just received a hundred guineas payment won on his wager on the occasion of Lord Howe’s successful relief of Gibraltar, and decided to use this windfall to have his portrait painted by the celebrated artist. [5]

Examining the portrait of Elkanah Watson gives us an insight into our subject. Watson is depicted as a handsome young man, wealthy and well educated.  His clothes reflect the fashion worn by the wealthier members of society.  Watson looks more mature than his twenty-four years of age.

Elkanah Watson
by John Singleton Copley (1782) [6]

“The painting was finished,” says Mr. Watson in his memoirs, “in a most admirable style, except the back ground, which Copley and I designed to represent a ship, bearing to America the acknowledgment of independence, with a sun just rising upon the stripes of the Union streaming from her gaff.  All was complete save the flag, which Copley did not deem prudent to hoist under present circumstances, as his gallery is a constant resort of the royal family and the nobility.” [7]

The packet of plans and notes that Watson had brought from Franklin paid off in a very dramatic way. On December 5, 1782, the King called for a session to declare independence for the colonies. Mr. Watson was conducted to the House of Lords by the Earl of Ferriers, who whispered in his ears: “Get as near the throne as you can; fear nothing.”  Watson found himself standing next to Lord Howe. His friend, Copley, and artist Benjamin West were standing with some “American ladies” and Watson joined them.

“I also noticed some dejected American royalists in the group.  After waiting nearly two hours, the approach of the King was announced by a tremendous roar of artillery.  He entered by a small door on the left of the throne, and immediately seated himself upon the Chair of State, in a graceful attitude, with his right foot resting upon a stool.  He was clothed in royal robes.  Apparently agitated, he drew from his pocket the scroll containing his speech. 

I was near the King, and watched, with intense interest, every tone of his voice, and every emotion of his countenance.  It was to me a moment of thrilling and dignified exultation.  After some general and usual remarks he ( King George III) continued:

“I lost no time in giving the necessary orders to prohibit the further prosecution of offensive war upon the continent of North America.  Adopting, as my inclination will always lead me to do, with decision and effect, whatever I collect to by the sense of my Parliament and my people, I have pointed all my views and measures in Europe, as in North America, to an entire and cordial reconciliation with the colonies.  Finding it indispensable to the attainment of this object, I did not hesitate to go to the full length of the powers vested in me, and offer to declare them” – Here he paused, and was in evident agitation either embarrassed in reading his speech, by the darkness of the room, or affected by a very natural emotion.  In a moment he resumed: — “and offer to declare them free and independent States.  In thus admitting their separation from the crown of these kingdoms, I have sacrificed every consideration of my own to the wishes and opinions of my people.  I make it my humble and ardent prayer to Almighty God, that Great Britain may not feel the evils which might result from so great a dismemberment of the Empire, and that America may be free from the calamities which have formerly proved, in the mother country, how essential monarchy is to the enjoyment of constitutional liberty.  Religion, language, interests and affection may, and I hope will, yet prove a bond of permanent union between the two countries.”

 After the speech and previous to dining and immediately after our return from the House of Lords, he (Copley) invited me to his studio, and there with a bold hand, a master’s touch, and I believe an American heart, attached to the ship the stars and stripes.  This was, I imagine, the first American flag hoisted in old England. [8]


“Ship Under Sail” from Copley’s Portrait of Watson

 The magnified cut from the Copley portrait shows us this important event in the life of Elkanah Watson.  Yet, there are more details in the picture – again on the left side of the portrait – and this is where Watson’s business is interpreted.

On the table, along with the quill pen – a sign in that period that the subject could write – are a stack of letters and papers.  One paper can quite clearly be seen addressed to John Brown, Providence, and Watson’s first employer.  Above the Brown letter is an envelope wrap addressed to: Mess. Watson-Cossoul, Nantes, France.  [9]

“Business Papers” from Copley’s Portrait of Watson

About a year prior to the painting, while Watson was still in France, he was involved in a discussion one evening about the combination of French and American forces sent against Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. The latest information that his companions that evening had heard was that the affairs in Virginia were in “a precarious and doubtful posture.”  Washington and Rochambeau had indeed united; De Grasse had entered the Chesapeake and De Barras, with seven “sail of the line,” had left Rhode Island to join De Grasse.  However, the bad news was that the British fleet had also sailed from New York with ten thousand troops to relieve Cornwallis and that possibly British reinforcements had departed from England for New York as well.  “Thus,” wrote Watson, “stood the general aspect of our intelligence, at a crisis which seemed to involve the existence of a young empire.” [10]

The next morning Watson was awaken by a “thundering rap” at his door.  There was a circular from Dr. Franklin consisting of a note from Count de Vergennes dated the 19th of November 1781 that informed all that the British at Yorktown had surrendered!

After paying his respects to Dr. Franklin, Watson wrote, “The delight and rejoicings of all classes of the people were excessive.  Paris was illuminated for three successive nights.  On my return to Nantes, along the banks of the Loire, I found all the cities in a blaze of illuminations, and Nantes in the midst of it on my arrival.” [11]

A Gifted Masonic Apron –

Shortly – from Nantes – Watson, in conjunction with his friend and partner, wrote that he and Monsieur Francis Cossoul, wished to pay some mark of respect to General Washington and this great combination victory of America and France over the British.  Watson and Cossoul employed nuns from one of the convents at Nantes to “prepare some elegant masonic ornaments.” Watson gave them a plan for combining the American and French flags on the apron designed for this use. [12]

An apron and sash were prepared and sent to General George Washington, with a return address on the letter dated in the Ancient Craft manner, “East of Nantes, 23d 1st Month, 5782”  – the date given in the French manner as date, month and year.


Watson-Cossoul Apron

Watson’s letter read,

East of Nantes, 23d 1st Month, 5782

To his Excellency, General Washington, America

Most Illustrious and Respected Brother:

In this moment when all Europe admire and feel the effects of your glorious efforts in support of American liberty, we hasten to offer for your acceptance a small pledge of our homage.  Zealous lovers of liberty and its institutions, we have experienced the most refined joy in seeing our chief and brother stand forth in its defense, and in defense of a new-born nation of Republicans.

Your glorious career will not be confined to the protection of American liberty, but its ultimate effect will extend to the whole human family, since Providence has evidently selected you as an instrument in his hands, to fulfill His eternal decrees.

It is to you, therefore, the glorious orb of America, we presume to offer Masonic ornaments, as an emblem of your virtues.  May the grand Architect of the universe be the Guardian of your precious days, for the glory of the Western Hemisphere and the entire universe.  Such are the vows of those who have the favor to be by all the known numbers,

Your affectionate brothers,

Watson & Cossoul [13]

 Back in America serious peace talks and negotiations began in April, 1782, as Washington moved the army to quarters in Newburgh, New York.  New allies began to recognize the United States. The Netherlands had now recognized American independence. Spain followed soon after. The war front moved to the Caribbean and to the Atlantic coastline of Europe. The Loyalists were still creating problems by leading the Indians against fortifications and settlements along the borders. Washington had to resolve all these problems and after some small amount of guidance and discussion with the Continental Congress, he proposed that negotiations might start to discuss exchanges of prisoners.

Interesting problems began to appear. Colonel Lewis Nicola wrote Washington a letter on May 22, 1782, arguing that the war had “shown to all, but especially to military men…the weakness of republics,” and proposed that Washington become King of the United States. Washington immediately replied to Nicola and told him to banish these thoughts and never communicate the same. Nicola addressed three apologies to Washington over the next several days. 

At Newburgh, the package containing the Masonic apron and sash arrived from Watson and Cossoul. The center of the apron was the design proposed by Watson of an American flag and a silver banner of French king Louis XVI.  Washington then sent a “thank you” note to the two partners from “State of New-York, Aug. 10th, 1782.”

This autographed letter from Washington to Messieurs Watson and Cossoul is now in the possession of the Grand Lodge of New York in the Livingston Masonic Library archives. 


Washington’s Letter to Watson & Cossoul  [14]

 The letter from Washington reads, 

Gentlemen The MasonicornamentswhichaccompaniedyourBrotherlyAddress of the 23rd of Januarylast, thoughelegant in themselves, were renderedmorevaluable by the flatteringsentiments and affectionatemanner in which they are presented.

If my endeavors to avert the Evil, with which this country was threatened by a deliberate plan of Tyranny, should be crowned with the success that is wished – the praise is due to the Grand Architect of the Universe, who did not see fit to suffer his superstructure of justice to be subjected to the ambition of the Princes of this world, or to the rod of oppression in the hands of any power upon Earth. 

For your affectionate vows permit me to be grateful, and offer mine for true Brothers in all parts of the World, and to assure you of the sincerity with which I am Yours, George Washington”  [15]

An interesting description of how the New York Masons purchased the letter is provided by the Library along with the artifact description.  A note on the Livingston Library website reads:

This invaluablereliccame into the possession of the GrandLodge in the year1866 or 1867.M. W.RobertD.Holmes, GM, in his Address to the GrandLodge in 1866, saysthat, “Somemonthsago, Ireceived a letter from a friend, in whichit was stated that an originalMasonicletter, written in 1782, by ourIllustriousBro.GeorgeWashington, and a lock of his hair, were in the possession of a ladywhoresided in this State.Isubsequentlywent to the residence of Gen.Ward, at SingSing, whereIsaw these veryinterestingrelics.We have not, as a GrandLodge, a singlerelic of ourimmortalbrother, but here at hand are those which are of greatvalue and I should feelgreatpride, in common with the wholeCraft, if they were possessed by the Fraternity of this State. The ladywhoowns them isforced to part with them, and she has given to us the refusal of them, believing that ourGrandLodge would be the propercustodian, in place of allowing them to goelsewhere and perhapsout of the country.”  The Committee to whom was referred the GrandMaster’sAddress, recommended, “That as much as relates to the relics of ourillustriousbrother, Gen.GeorgeWashington, be referred to the Committee on Finance.” There appearsnorecord of any action by this FinanceCommittee.
In his address to the GrandLodge in 1867, GrandMasterHolmesreturned to this subject, saying, “Thereisyet a deficit in the purchase-money of the WashingtonLetter and the Lock of Hair of ourgreatbrother, amounting to about$550.I had at firstthought to make anadditionalcallupon the Lodges, but deemingitproper that the representativesnowpresent should be enabled to know the character of the document, Idetermined to postpone the matteruntilyourpresentcommunication, and letsuchaction be takenuponit as youmightdeemproper.“That the brethrenmayknow the importance, in a Masonicpoint of view, of the letterreferredto, I have directed that onecopy of it for eachMaster or representative of Lodge, be placed on the GrandSecretary’sdesk, where they can be had uponproperapplication. They are facsimiles of the original, and of the miniature of Washington, and are lithographed.Idesire that the Masters of Lodges should take them and the miniatureswhichaccompanythem, to their severalLodges and exhibit them to the brethren and state to such as maydesirethem, that they can be had for the triflingsum of fortycents, from Bros.Macoy and Sickels of this city, their returns of which will be kindlypaid, without any commissionbeingcharged by them on the sales, into the fund for the benefit of the Hall and Asylum, or devoted to the payment of the sumnowremainingdue.  “Idesire that these relics should be presented by the SubordinateLodges to the GrandLodge, and Iamloath to abandon the hope that this will yet be done.”AfterGrandLodge had closed, the GrandMastersent a circularletter to all the Lodges in his jurisdiction, asking for contributions of $2.50 to $5.00 from eachLodgetowarddefraying the purchaseprice.“It (the letter) was purchased from one of the WatsonFamily in 1866 or 1867, at a cost of about$1,000  and isheld in a frame in the museumof…theGrandLodge, F.&A.M. of NewYork.”[16] 

This apron, Washington’s favorite of the two gifted to him, is often pictured in portraits and on statues. The apron is displayed at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, A.F.& A.M.,  101 Callahan Drive, Alexandria, Virginia. [17]

Banner of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Website with Brother Washington Wearing the Watson & Cossoul Apron shown at the laying of the cornerstone for the capital.

This painting is familiar to most Masons and once hung in every Masonic lodge in the United States which held a charter in 1931. It depicts Brother George Washington as Master of his Lodge – Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22. The painting was produced for the U. S. bicentennial Commission in 1932 and of all the posters submitted, the Burdette poster was selected by the commission to advertise the bicentennial of Washington’s birth.  Thousands of copies of all sizes were reproduced and distributed.


 “Washington” by Hattie Elizabeth Burdette

There are many articles in Masonic literature, archives and on the internet describing the apron and sash, about the mix up with another French apron gifted by the Marquis de Lafayette and certainly much has been written about the symbols contained on the apron. A fine article by RW Claude Harris is available on the internet as Esoteric Symbolism of the Watson-Cassoul Apron  [18] But there is more to the story.

A Third Puzzle  Piece –

There is one more piece to place in the puzzle of the Watson-Cossoul apron gift to Brother Washington.  There is a recent discovery that can be added to the apron’s history.

Behind the Ford Mansion in Morristown National Historical Park, New Jersey, are the offices, the museum, auditorium and library and archives contained in a building built to resemble Washington’s residence at Mt. Vernon, Virginia. 

This NHP Library and Archives represent in large measure the convergence of two separate collections. With the founding of the park in 1933, it acquired the collection of the Washington Association of New Jersey. Twenty-two years later the park was again the beneficiary of another significant contribution when Lloyd W. Smith bequeathed his substantial archival and book collection to the park. Mr. Smith, an investment banker from Florham Park, NJ, spent nearly half a century collecting and bringing together representative samples of virtually every aspect of our western European cultural heritage. In addition to the library holdings donated by the Washington Association of New Jersey, Mr. Smith’s bequest in 1955 enabled the park today to boast a library collection of nearly 50,000 volumes and an archive of nearly 250,000 manuscripts—journals, diaries, account books, letter books, military orderly books, inspection returns, muster lists—and other documents. [19]  With new emphasis by the Superintendent and staff this collection is now open to researchers.  Programs have also been introduced for teachers and student seminars.

In the catalog listing is an item that had been overlooked by not only the staff but by researchers for over fifty years.  Now a reinterpretation of an artifact gives us a new piece in the collection and story of the Watson-Cossoul gift to Washington.

When the collection’s catalog was on the Morristown NHP website, there was an item listed as:

Date: undated
Reel, film counter, LWS: 65, 149, 3158
GW’s hand: Y?
Number of pages: 1
Type of manuscript: Fragment of an envelope
Signature: N
Content: Not in Fitzpatrick
A fragment of an envelope addressed to Majors Watson and Cosseh? East of the Nantes – in France that may be in GW’s hand.

 “Mess” – the abbreviation for “Messieurs” – used in the address had been translated as “Majors.”  The spelling by General Washington of the partner’s name of “Cossoul” as “Cosseh” or “Cossen” also tended to confusion the cataloger.  The “maybe” reference for Washington’s handwriting also didn’t help identify the writer nor place the piece.  The piece, itself, rather than an envelope is an outer wrap for a letter. The clincher though, is the address – “East of Nantes, in France.”  Years ago, Mr. Smith who collected the envelope in 1927, knew its purpose and meaning as the wrapper that held the “thank you” note from General Washington and he probably bought the envelope looking for the letter inside.

The artifact – upon examination – clears up some of the confusion. The descriptive sheet within the folder containing the cover lists the cost as “SY/XX” and the date obtained as “May 4, 1927 and purchased from the Elkanah Watson Sale at the Anderson Gallery.”  The Grolier Club later joined with the Anderson Galleries and in the Grolier Club archives is a catalog detailing the sale.  The description of the sale was written:

Anderson Galleries, Inc.

Autograph letters & documents including a passport printed and issued by Benjamin Franklin to Elkanah Watson, the collection of the late Elkanah Watson, author of “Men and times of the Revolution” & his son Winslow Cossoul Watson’ sold by order of Mark Skinner Watson & Henry Watson Kent; with American and European literary, historical & musical autographs from the collections of Mrs. Edward L. Simpson, White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.; the estate of the late John E. Robinson, Brooklyn, N. Y.; and other private owners and estates; to be sold by order of the various owners & estates… Wednesday afternoon, May fourth (1927).

New York:  Anderson Galleries, 1927

Also within the descriptive sheet is a small note to the listing of the artifact from the catalog:

Washington (George) Address in the handwriting of Washington cut from the address sheet, 1 pg, 16 vo, mounted with a note by Elkanah Watson

The note across the paper backing the cover reads: This precious relic is in the hand of the immortal Washington – the letter is in a frame – It was received at Sheffield in England while traveling Nov. 7, 1782 & has the London postmark.   The envelope is addressed to Mess. Watson & Cossouls, East of Nantes in France.  A quick check for the handwriting of General Washington is found as the address block also appearing on the rear of the letter – lower left corner – and is a duplicate of the address and handwriting contained on the envelope found at Morristown NHP.  (The “frame” was removed sometime; however, the wrap is mounted on the paper background used in the frame.)


Wrapper from the Thank You note sent to Mess. Watson and Cossoul by Washington

The picture clearly notes the day the envelope wrapper “was received at Sheffield while (I) was travelling.” Soon after, Watson is posing for his portrait with Copley and using the envelope from this much loved response from General Washington as a proud piece of his portrait.


A fitting ending to this story of identifying these three artifacts together is to show brotherly love between Watson and Brother Washington. These artifacts are important today as treasures reminding us of George Washington and his service to the new nation. We are reminded of the symbols displayed on the apron and how, as demonstrated by Washington, we should lead our lives.  Proving that Elkanah Watson was a Mason is more difficult.

 Finding proof or a record of Watson’s Masonic membership has been almost negative. A check with the Massachusetts and New York Grand Lodges has not produced his Masonic record, leaving the possibility that he may have been raised in France or in a military lodge. 

In Watson’s 460 page memoir the only Masonic mention is to this apron gift.  Nothing is mentioned about Freemasons or a lodge membership even in his newspaper obituary or on his tombstone. Watson often used familiar terms of the period that may have or may not have a “Masonic” connotation in his letter about the “masonic” apron gift.

We have just this one letter to work with:

Wishing to pay some mark of respect to our beloved Washington, I employed, in conjunction with my friend M. Cossoul, nuns in one of the convents at France to prepare some elegant masonic ornaments…..

He does not say, “As brother Masons, I and Cossoul” “wishing to pay some mark of respect…” The closing of Watson’s letter, though, he does sign as “Your affectionate brothers, Watson & Cossoul.”

These gifts – some elegant masonic ornaments – do not offer any proof that these were gifts from one Mason to another.  Freemasons did not seem to play a highly visible part in Watson’s public life or in his writings. Watson had personally met George Washington early in the war and certainly knew that Washington was a Mason. The story of the “gift” and the apron and sash has been picked up by many writers, and Watson’s Masonic membership is always assumed though never detailed.

In his letter to His Excellency Washington, Watson wrote about the “grand Architect” (an expression used early in Christianity.) The concept of God as the (Great) Architect of the Universe has been employed many times in scriptures beginning in the Middle Ages and has regularly been employed by Christian apologists and teachers.  [20]

As a descendant of the original Pilgrim settlers, Elkanah Watson, like many settlers in the American Mid-Atlantic and New England, were familiar with John Calvin repeatedly calling the Christian God “the Architect of the Universe” and of his great works as “Architecture of the Universe.” Scooby, Leiden and Plymouth and their churches were based on John Calvin’s theology.

An example is present in Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 19 as he refers to the Christian god as the “Supreme Architect.”

Scripture, indeed, makes known to us the time and manner of the creation; but the heavens themselves, although God should say nothing on the subject, proclaim loudly and distinctly enough that they have been fashioned by his hands: and this of itself abundantly suffices to bear testimony to men of his glory. As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme Architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at his infinite goodness, wisdom, and power.

Watson did address Washington as “Most Respected and Illustrious Brother.” If arguing that Watson might be a Mason, certainly these could be Masonic terms but could also be read as a non-masonic way of paying respect to an outstanding – illustrious – friend.  In addition to this greeting, in the body of the letter, he again used the term “brother.”  Should the paragraph be read looking for a non-Masonic meaning for “brother,” another definition is that of a “male person engaged in the same movement” united in this glorious cause of freedom.

 In the moment when all Europe admire and feel the effects of your glorious efforts in support of American liberty, we hasten to offer for your acceptance a small pledge of our homage.  Zealous lovers of liberty and its institutions, we have experienced the most refined joy in seeing our chief and brother stand forth in its defense, and in defense of a new-born nation of Republicans

There are strong reasons, though, why Watson and/or Cossoul are accepted as Masons.  In the letter to Washington, Watson used the Ancient Craft calendar when dating the letter: “East of Nantes, 23d 1st Month, 5782” and this is given in the French manner as date, month and year.  Masons of the York and the French rites date from the creation of the world, calling it “Anno Lucis,” which they abbreviate A.·. L.·. signifying “in the year of Light.” Thus “1782” would be written “5782.”

Washington most certainly knew this from his York rite experience in America. We must remember, however, that this whole presentation is built on a relationship between France and America and in the French rite the calendar commences on the first of March, and instead of the months receiving their usual names, they are designated numerically as first, second, third, &c. Thus, in the Watson letter, March 23, 1782 would be written the “23rd day of the 1st Masonic month, Anno Lucis, 5782.” [21]

Therefore the gift is sent from France on March 23rd rather than January 23rd as Washington supposed it to have been sent.  Washington, in his acknowledgement of the gift, didn’t consider this French usage and wrote:

Gentlemen The MasonicornamentswhichaccompaniedyourBrotherlyAddress of the 23rd of Januarylast, thoughelegant in themselves, were renderedmorevaluable by the flatteringsentiments and affectionatemanner in which they are presented.

If Washington received the “package” close to the day he mailed his “thank you,” the time in transit would work much better – for both ways across the Atlantic – if sent in March rather than two months earlier in January, i.e.; March 23rd (left France) to August 10th  (arrived in New York) , and then from August 10th (letter left New York) to November 7, (arrived in England) 1782. The time would be approximately 6 months from France and then about three months for the letter from New York to reach England. Probably the timing worked out to about five months to America and the three months to England.

Even today Europeans write and read the calendar dates with the day listed first followed by the month. 6/2 would be February 6th where in America the 6/2 date would be June 2nd.  Mr. Watson is, we must remember, spending time learning the traditions of France.

RW Richard H. Brown, in Transactions, The American Lodge of Research Free and Accepted Masons, Volume XII-No. 2, January 29, 1973-December 27, 1973, in an article titled, Elkanah Watson – His Masonic Record, researched that Brother Bossu, of the Loge Parfaite Orient de Nantes – a Philosophic Lodge – found preserved in the Bibliotheque Nationale Francaise as a part of the ancient archives of the Grand Orient of France, a record of a dossier of this lodge identified as FM 2-328 containing membership roll 8-6-1781. In it appears,

Cossoul, negociant, member né, 2º maitre des ceremonies, maitre.
Watson, negociant, agregé, maitre.

Cossoul, therefore, became a member of the lodge by initiation (member né) sometime between 1778 and 1781.  He does not appear in the next list of 1783.  But he had received the degrees through that of “maitre” – 2nd degree (?) – and held an office in the lodge.  Watson was what we would call a member by affiliation (agregé), indicating that he had been initiated in another lodge.22 However this entry is all that is available to us for either gentleman’s membership.

Watson and Cossoul were, then, active Masons and presented such a symbolic gift of the French and American friendship in this time of crisis was an outstanding and most appreciated gift for Brother Washington. 

Two men of this crucial time, George Washington and Elkanah Watson, shared the love for a new country at a time when this hard fought war for independence took a blessed turn towards an ending and then peace.  The combination of America and France joined together made the difference. The gift from a brother Mason or even a brother joined in the fight for liberty and freedom, based in France, sent to the illustrious George Washington a gift that Washington cherished and made use of for the remainder of his life.

 The symbols of the Watson-Cossoul apron as explained by RW Claude Harris in Esoteric Symbolism of the Watson-Cossoul Apron are that:

 The Grand Architect of the Universe, creator of heaven and earth, bursts forth to join the American and French alliance. The golden cord of Masonic union unites this coalition into one sacred family, with Washington, represented by the gavel of authority, as its leader.[22]

 Thank you to Brother Tom Savini, Director of the Livingston Masonic Library at the Grand Lodge of New York for his assistance with the Washington letter.  A thank you to our brothers at George Washington National Masonic Memorial for the use of their website banner and pictures of the Watson-Cassoul apron.  And a great thank you to the Men and Women of the National Park Service and Morristown National Historical Site, Morristown, NJ, for their enthusiasm and help in providing the “wrapping” for the Washington letter.

 [1] Men and Times of the Revolution or Memoirs of Elkanah Watson,” edited by Winslow C. Watson, New-York; Dana and Company, Publishers, 1859.

[2] The name “Cossoul” is sometimes spelled “Cassoul” and again written as “Cosson” – byWashington.  Elkanah’s son, Winslow C. Watson, has the middle name “Cossoul” named after his father’s partner.  The use of “Francis” is from the records of theNew York State Library in Albany and the reference to his whole name as Francois-Corentin Cossoul is found in The Philalethes, August 1977 article, “Amusement in Masonic Research.”    “Cassoul” is probably a missed transliteration of reading an “a” for an “o” in handwriting and the mistake has been repeated in our Masonic writings.

[3] “The Loan of a Copley,” Josephine M. Lansing, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 40, No.6 (Jun.1935), p. 132

[4] “Men and Times of the Revolution…” p. 174.

[5] “History of the USA Flag…” by George Henry Preble, Houghlin Mifflin & Co, 1876. pages 296-298.

[6] Princeton Art Museum

[7] “Men and Times…” p. 176.

[8] Ibid, 177.

[9] “The Loan of a Copley,” p. 132.

[10] “Men and Times”, p. 136.

[11] Ibid. p. 134.  

[12] Ibid. p. 135.

[13] Ibid. p. 135.

[14]Livingston Masonic Library Collection


[16] ht  p://,397

[17] http://www.aw22.org/documents/W-C_Apron.pdf


[18] http://www.aw22.org/documents/W-C_Apron.pdf

[19] Morristown NHP website: http://www.morristownnhplibrary.blogspot.com/ 

[20] The term first appeared in Masonic  usage in 1723 in a book called Anderson’s Constitutions which was, ostensibly, a listing of the rules by which the Grand Lodge of England was governed. It seems that the phrase was probably taken from John Calvin whose teachings formed the basis for Presbyterian and Reformed theology as Anderson was a Presbyterian Minister. http://www.masonicinfo.com/gaotu.htm

[21] The Masonic  Manual: A Pocket Companion for the Initiated, Revised Edition 1867, compiled and arranged by Robert Macoy,  page 300.

[22] Transactions, The American Lodge of Research Free and Accepted Masons, Volume XII-No. 2, January 29, 1973-December 27, 1973,  Elkanah Watson – His Masonic Record, by RW Richard H. Brown