Robert R Livingston – The Man & The Library
The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library of Grand Lodge is one of the worlds largest collections of books, artifacts, memorabilia, and archival holdings related to the subject of Freemasonry. It was founded over 150 years ago, and named after US founding father and prominent mason Robert Livingston.
Livingston was a devoted patriot who loved his country and his home state, New York; he was appointed the Recorder of New York City in1773, a job with many responsibilities, akin to a modern-‐day judge / chief alderman / deputy mayor. He was one of the members of the committee of five that drafted the declaration of independence, although, paradoxically, his signature is not on the document because he was recalled by New York State before he could sign the final draft.
His nickname, “Chancellor,” is not, like I had originally thought, a Masonic term. In fact, it was an old term for the chief justice of the New York appellate court. He held the position for 24 years; so long, that the title and nickname stuck even after he retired. He also served as US Secretary of foreign affairs from 1781 to 1783.
In his capacity as US Minister to France from 1801 to 1804, he helped broker one of the most important land deals in US history – the Louisiana Purchase. After signing the deal in 1803, he is quoted as saying, “We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives… The United States take rank this day among the first powers of theworld.”
Interestingly, Livingston administered the oath of office to President George Washington in 1789, and the bible he used is owned by St Johns Lodge No 1, and is still used today when the Grand Master is sworn in, and by request, when a President of the US is sworn in.
So it’s obvious that Livingston was a fascinating man who truly helped shape our nation from day 1. But why is the New York State masonic library named after him? Well, for a few reasons. Livingston was a Freemason, and in 1784, he was appointed the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York. He served in this capacity for 15 years. He was a devoted mason his entire life, but also a devoted reader,not only of masonic works, but of all types of literature and writings. In fact, his home had a personal library which contained over 4000 volumes. Unfortunately, many were destroyed when his home was burned down by the British army in 1777.
Livingston’s dedication to Masonry, New York, the United States, and to reading are the reasons the New York State Masonic Library bears his name.
The Library was founded in the 1850s to house the books and records held by the Grand Lodge. It expanded in the late 19th century when the personal collection of Masonic poet Robert Morris was added. 150 years and many donations later, we find ourselves with the library we know today.
The library actually consists of two branches. The first branch is located in the Grand Lodge building in New York City. That branch is open for research to both Masons and Non-‐Masons. There is a staff of librarians and researchers to assist on-‐ site visitors with research. The actual stacks of the library are closed to the public, but there is a card catalog on site and patrons are allowed to borrow most books in the collection published after 1920. They are working on digitizing many of the records, as well as many of the documents the library houses.
The Utica branch of the library contains some books, but is mostly dedicated to Masonic artifacts and memorabilia. Our WM Bill Barlow and I were fortunate enough to be able to take a tour of that branch during St Johns Weekend last summer, and it is really impressive. The collection of masonic pins, aprons, jewels, photographs, swords, working tools, everything you can possibly imagine, and all of it certainly much, much older than I am. The Utica branch does running open-‐house tours during St Johns weekend, and appointments can also be made for a tour any time of year by contacting the library ahead of time.
Two incredible services provided to all masons by the library are genealogy searches, and the masonic reading courses. The library will assist any mason, free of charge, with finding records of masonic involvement of their ancestors. The library will help find family member’s lodge names and numbers, dates of masonic degrees, occupation and age at time of joining, date of death, and sometimes even information relating to offices held within a lodge or other information relating to lodge activities. Again, this service is provided free to all masons in good standing.
My personal favorite service is the masonic reading course. At my public library, there’s a banner that hangs behind the checkout desk that says, “still the best dealin town!” Well, these free reading courses really are the best deal in town ifyou’relooking for more Masonic light. You can enroll online, and the library will mail you a curated selection of books, each building on a particular theme. All you have to do ispay for postage to send them back when you are done. And because we masons love certificates, every five books you finish, they will present you with a certificate of completion you can frame and hang, or throw in a box with all your other masonic certificates. Seriously though, you don’t enroll in a course like this for the certificate, you do it for the masonic light. You’ll learn things about Masonry you never even knew you wanted to know, and you’ll have your interest sparked in dozens of areas you never even thought of.
And of course, all of this, the collections, the artifacts, the reading courses, the research assistance, the genealogy requests, are all made possible because of donations from brothers like you and me. Not just donations of books and memorabilia, but monetary donations to the brotherhood fund. So, my brothers, if anything I have told you about today sounds like it might interest you, please speak to me after the meeting, log on to NYMasonicLibrary.org for more info, enroll in a reading course, and consider making a donation to the brotherhood fund to help keep programs like this one alive.
Brother Adam Schoepflin