Patrick McMahon of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston submitted some great questions about an enigmatic edge inscription discovered on one
of the medals found in the recently opened Massachusetts State House time capsule. -Editor
We have had an incredible opportunity at the MFA with regard to the Massachusetts State House time capsule and I wanted to make sure the
E-Sylum readers know it is now on public display here for a brief time. The display opened on Wednesday, March 11 and will run until
April 22, 2015.
I am sure that many of the E-Sylum readers will want to see it, and I definitely want to get the word out about the exhibition.
But another reason for writing is that I want to share a mystery with the group and see if anyone can help shed more light on it.
The time capsule itself really has two distinct components. The first is the silver plaque, coins, and medal placed under the
cornerstone in 1795 by Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and William Scollay. This original deposit was later discovered accidentally, and a brass
box was made to preserve what was found and to allow for a group of additions intended to represent that moment in the summer of 1855.
That's the second component. A fairly accurate accounting of the discovery and reburial can be found in the Freemason’s Monthly
Magazine for October 1855 (p.367). It’s available on Google Books.
One of objects from the 1795 group is a Washington "Born Virginia" medal (Baker 60). When my colleague Pamela Hatchfield was
removing some wax that had been applied to it in 1855 she discovered a tiny inscription on the edge (all of the numismatic material had
been "cleaned" in 1855 with acid and then coated with an acidic wax which was corroding them).
On one side were carefully engraved initials HI (or IH) and on the opposite side, what looked (under a microscope) like a crudely
engraved number. Eventually we realized it was a name (it was upside down when we first tried to read it). It seems very clearly to be: “I
Hull”. It is so small that it is hard to see without magnification and its certainly possible that it went unnoticed in both 1795 and
So we are now wondering if this could be Isaac Hull—the future Captain of the USS Constitution. He would have been about 22 years old at
the time of the laying of the State House cornerstone (the USS Constitution and the Massachusetts State House were constructed almost
simultaneously). Isaac's adopted father (and uncle), Brigadier General William Hull lived nearby in Newton, Massachusetts at this time
and was very active in Masonic society.
Newspaper accounts show he had some connections to the group involved in the placement of the State House cornerstone. He is documented
at the head of the military parade during John Hancock’s funeral along with William Scollay in 1793,. And he is eventually the first Grand
Master of a new Masonic lodge established in Watertown Massachusetts (chartered by Paul Revere in his role as Grand Master of the
Massachusetts Lodge). The Masons are currently checking to see if Isaac Hull was, like his uncle, a Mason and active in the Massachusetts
Lodge at this time.
Did whoever this was always mark the edges of his coins or medals so obsessively and are there other examples out there? Or did he put
his name on it only after he knew it was going into the deposit under the State House? Has anyone seen anything like this on the edge of
another coin or medal from this period? Perhaps Adams, Revere, and Scollay never even knew the name was there when they buried it.
Here is an image of the inscription on the edge of the Washington medal. We'd love to know what the E-Sylum readers make of
it. And I hope that everyone who wants to see these things in person gets the chance to visit the MFA before April 22. It will be the only
chance. At some point after April, the State is planning to rebury everything beneath the cornerstone again.
Fascinating discovery. Can anyone help? See the next article for more details on the exhibition. -Editor
To read the Freemason’s Monthly Magazine account, see:
Freemason's Monthly Magazine, Volume 14
Wayne Homren, Editor
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