George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Brett Kenna, 14 July 1791

From John Brett Kenna

Friday 11. O Clock [14 July 1791]1

May it please your Excellency

I am very Certain my Letter demands more Apologies than Words Can Make. I must rely on your Innate Goodness of heart being a Mason to pardon me. I am in Great Distress. I had the Honor the War before this of being an Officer in the 54th Regt. I am known to General Spotswood, & young Mr Lewis of Fredericksburgh.2 I have been Assisted by Some of the Masons, & J.B. Smith ∴ G.M. of Pennsylvania,3 I most Humbly & Sincerely beg pardon for the Liberty I have taken, & am with Great Respect, your Excellencys, most Obedt most devoted very humble Servant4

John Brett Kenna ∴

ALS, DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

John Brett Kenna has not been further identified. GW joined Fredericksburg Masonic Lodge No. 4 in November 1752, was raised to the third degree in August 1753, and appears in the lodge records only twice more, in September 1753 and January 1755. The lodge was the third “Ancient” lodge in Virginia and received its charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland on 21 July 1758 (see Ronald E. Heaton and James R. Case, comps., The Lodge at Fredericksburgh: A Digest of the Early Records [Norristown, Pa., 1975], 2, 91; Tatsch, Freemasonry in the Thirteen Colonies, description begins J. Hugo Tatsch. Freemasonry in the Thirteen Colonies. New York, 1929. description ends 133–34).

1A later hand added the dateline “July 14. 1791,” which was derived from the contemporary docket: “From Mr John Bret Kenna for some relief—July 14th 1791,” in Tobias Lear’s hand.

2Alexander Spotswood (1751–1818), who served in the Revolutionary War as colonel of the 2d Virginia Regiment from 1776 to 1777 and was appointed brigadier general by the state in 1781, was married to the eldest daughter of GW’s half brother Augustine. GW occasionally visited Spotswood’s Spotsylvania County estate on the Rappahannock River and corresponded with him about agricultural topics (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 4:131n). “Young Mr Lewis of Fredericksburgh” was probably GW’s nephew Robert Lewis, who later joined the Fredericksburg Lodge (Brown, George Washington, Freemason, description begins William Moseley Brown. George Washington, Freemason. Richmond, Va., 1952. description ends 15–16).

3In addition to being grand master of the Pennsylvania Masons, Jonathan Bayard Smith was a member of the American Philosophical Society and the St. Tammany Society. The “tri-con” symbol after his and Kenna’s names was first used by French Masons as a terminal point of punctuation for abbreviations in the mid–1770s and came to denote a Masonic official (see Albert G. Mackey, A Lexicon of Freemasonry . . . [5th ed., Philadelphia, 1866], 11).

4No evidence has been found suggesting that GW ever replied or contributed to Kenna’s relief.

Index Entries