Telling Time Masonically: John Haley Bellamy’s Carvings


In March 1866, woodcarver John Haley Bellamy (1836-1914) wrote to his father noting that his brother Elisha was “doing well – making the Masonic brackets.”  Between 1866 and 1872, Bellamy designed a number of wooden clock cases, frames and what-not shelves with Masonic symbols, many of which he patented. The survival of so many examples today – including eleven in the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection – attests to their popularity at the time.  Despite John Haley Bellamy’s success making Masonic carvings, he was not a Freemason. There are no records of his membership in New Hampshire, Maine or Massachusetts (all places that he lived). 
However, new research by scholar Jim Craig tells us that Bellamy apprenticed with woodcarver Samuel Dockum (b. 1792) of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who was a Freemason.  Dockum joined Portsmouth’s Pythagoras Lodge No. 33 in 1820.  So it’s possible that Bellamy worked on some Masonic-themed items while apprenticing with Dockum. Regardless of whether Bellamy learned about Masonic symbols early in his career, by the 1860s, like many American craftsmen, he saw the potential of the Masonic market.
The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library has several clock cases designed by Bellamy in its collection. The one shown here features  Knights Templar symbols including the cross and crown and the “In Hoc Signo Vinces” motto. The patent for this design is dated September 10, 1867, and was assigned to Bellamy and his partner, David A. Titcomb.  In an 1866 letter to his father Bellamy writes “One man employed at the Navy Yard on seeing it and he being [a] “Free Mason” desired that I should allow him to be an agent.” This was Titcomb, who formed a partnership with Bellamy.  Titcomb acted as Bellamy’s “lawful attorney” and also spent time acting as a salesman for Bellamy’s carved products.  In 1868, the business was listed as being located in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on the first floor of the Masonic building.
Bellamy also made frames, which were commonly used to hold Masonic certificates and hung in a Mason’s home. One of Bellamy’s earliest frames was patented May 1, 1866. It shows several common Masonic symbols including the all-seeing eye, the square and compasses and the 47th problem of Euclid. When this particular frame was given to the Museum in 1977, it came with a Master Mason certificate for George Washington Southworth, a member of Golden Fleece Lodge in Lynn, Massachusetts.
Bellamy left Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1872 and turned to making distinctive eagle carvings for which he has become well-known. While he never became a Freemason, he did join a fraternal group toward the end of his life – the Knights of the Maccabees. Bellamy may have been attracted by the group’s insurance benefits.  The fraternity followed rituals based on the Books of the Maccabees in the Old Testament. By 1896, the Maccabees numbered 182,000 members.
Bellamy’s objects remain to help us understand the “golden age” of fraternal groups during the late 1800s.  As more and more Americans were drawn to join, more and more artists and craftspeople produced items decorated with the emblems of these groups. Bellamy’s carvings remind us of the popularity of fraternalism and of the intersections between the individual, the community and the country.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Knights Templar Shelf Clock, ca. 1867, John Haley Bellamy, Charlestown, Massachusetts, Museum purchase, 98.067a-b.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Masonic Certificate Frame, ca. 1868, John Haley Bellamy, Charlestown, Massachusetts, Special Acquisitions Fund, 77.78a.  Photograph by David Bohl.




Aimee E. Newell, Ph.D., Director of Collections, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Lexington, MA