“Hold in Constant Remembrance”: Self-Identity and Celebration

Captain Aaron Bird

Captain Aaron Bird, 1804

Benjamin Greenleaf (1769-1821)

Maine or Massachusetts

Museum Purchase, 98.064.1

Photograph by David Bohl

 

Benjamin Greenleaf painted Aaron Bird (1756-1822) in 1804. For his portrait Bird chose to wear, as his only ornament, a gold pin bearing easily recognized symbols of Freemasonry, a square and compasses. A charter member of Cumberland Lodge No. 12 in New Gloucester, Maine, Bird became a Mason before 1803, when members of the new lodge first met. In 1818 he helped establish Tranquil Lodge No. 29 in his hometown of Minot, Maine.    

Over the years, many men have taken pride in their association with Freemasonry. In the 1800s, some Masons commissioned portraits of themselves and wanted to be presented as members of the fraternity, wearing jewelry or regalia that identified them as Masons--along with their best and most fashionable clothing. Some of these portraits marked personal achievements, such as holding a lodge office or captaining a ship. In presenting himself as a Freemason a portrait’s subject proclaimed his affiliation with the fraternity as a valued part of his self-identity. He also guaranteed that he would be remembered as a Freemason for as long as the portrait endured.