The Anti-Masonic Telegraph

Kevin Doonan

Seeing as how this is National Newspaper Week, I thought it would be interesting to delve into the obscure and murky deluge of our own early beginnings here at The Evening Sun and dredge up something cool. Having come across conflicting accounts, I have been unable to determine at present whether The Evening Sun (then The Morning Sun) came out of the Chenango Telegraph in 1891, or if the founder Reed Campbell had simply bought the Telegraph earlier that year. Either way, the history of The Evening Sun is tied to the legacy it inherited from the Chenango Telegraph.

Just like The Evening Sun, the Chenango Telegraph changed names more than once over the course of its history. J. F. Hubbard printed the first edition of the edition of the Chenango Telegraph on Nov. 14, 1816, under the name The Norwich Journal. The name was changed in 1829 by a new owner, E.P. Pellet. Pellet chose for his weekly publication a strangely explicit and finite title. When Pellet picked up the first copy of his paper still laden with wet ink, he read aloud to his constituents the words “The Anti-Masonic Telegraph.” Of course I am taking liberties in imagining that he did so; he may very well have not even glanced at the first edition, but he did purposefully call his paper The Anti-Masonic Telegraph and ran it as so for six years. The weekly ran under the name for about six years before the name was changed again to the Chenango Telegraph.

Why create a paper solely for the purpose of creating an ardent philippic targeting the secret society? Well, you see Anti-Masonic sentiment was running rampant throughout the northeast during the early half of the 1800s following the tale of a bizarre incident in upstate New York called the “Morgan Affair.”

William Morgan was a stonemason who joined a fledgling Mason lodge, learning some secrets about the Masons. During the year of 1826, in an attempt to further his social standing, Morgan tried to join a more prestigious Mason Lodge, the Royal Arch Chapter in Batavia, NY. He was refused, supposedly on the basis that he was an unemployed drunkard. In an act of vengeance, he published some of the Mason’s secrets learned as member of a minor Mason Lodge. He was arrested afterwards for a debt of less than three dollars, supposedly at the bequest of the Masons. He was either moved or kidnapped and brought to a U.S. fort near Niagara Falls. It has been said that he was never seen again, but in truth his fate probably only really mattered to Morgan himself. Following his imprisonment and disappearance, people dove on the story and claimed that the Masons had drowned poor Morgan for revealing their secrets. Though the story was disproved, reporter Thurlow Weed claimed that a body washed up on the shore of Lake Ontario was Morgan’s. Thurlow was able to rally anti-Masonic sentiment which spread first through New York, including Norwich, and then through the rest of the nation. The anti-Masonic movement eventually grew into the nation’s first third political party.