When Philadelphia was about to be evacuated
by the British army, under Sir Henry Clinton, June 18, 1778, there
was a merchant, one Hubbard Simpson, largely engaged in the sale
of English goods, who had become highly obnoxious to the American
residents, for sup plying the British commander with mercantile
facilities and with information, that had been used to the detriment
of the American army. This man was in high repute with Sir Henry
and his immediate predecessor, Lord Howe.
From the former he now received a notification in time to enable him to sell his goods and depart under the protection of the British army. It was not possible, however, to dispose of so large a stock at short notice. To sell upon a credit was impracticable, so far as any of the American merchants were concerned, and as for those in the tory interests, they were not to be trusted. To make a cash sale, in the present state of the funds, was impossible. Thus Mr. Simpson revolved the matter in his mind till the very day preceding the evacuation. A final notice from Sir Henry found him undecided, sitting in his crowded warehouse, soon to be devoted to spoliation and fire by the incensed Americans. Now, this man was a member of the Masonic fraternity. Before the breaking out of strife, he had held a distinguished place in the provincial Lodges. Although his understanding of right and wrong, in the present war, differed from that of the majority of his countrymen, yet the most zealous patriot could not accuse him of inconsistency or turpitude. What he had professed to be from youth a warm loyalist he still maintained; and this had led him to adopt the unpopular side in the revolutionary struggle, and to follow the British army, even at the expense of a large part of his property. As things now stood, he was likely to lose more. Already he had begun to contemplate the idea of throwing open the doors and departing, when a rap was heard without, and, in answer to his invitation, an old friend, Mr. Jonas Lee, entered, and asked for a conference. This gentleman, come at so critical a moment, was a person of note in the city one who had suffered more than most others for his attachment to liberty and a zealous Mason.
For three years and upward no intercourse
had been held between the pair, once fraternally intimate; they
had only acknowledged each other's acquaintance by a nod of recognition
when they met in the streets. The object of the present call was
stated in a few words. "My old friend and brother, I have
heard of your approaching danger, and am come to offer you a service.
We have taken opposite sides in politics; but you have sustained
your choice, like myself, at great sacrifices; and, while I can
but regret that you are arrayed against our common country, I
yet respect your honesty of purpose. Masonry knows no principle
but duty, and this is your hour of depression; therefore am I
come. My influence is now in the ascendant, and I hereby offer
it to you in brotherly truth. For old time's sake, I will take
charge of your property, otherwise the spoil of our soldiers,
before to morrow morning, sell it for you at the best time and
advantage, and hold the proceeds subject to your order."
The grateful merchant was profuse with his thanks. "None
of that, brother Simpson. My own heart is a sufficient reward.
You can say all that when we meet again. Time presses. You are
in immediate and great danger."
A clear sale was forthwith made of the whole property, amounting to more than fifty thousand dollars. No documentary evidences relative to the debt were retained by Mr. Simpson. Prudence pointed out this, as the only course, that promised a successful result.
At parting, while yet the boat was waiting at the pier, and the drums of the American advanced guard were sounding in the suburbs of the city, Mr. Simpson took a gold piece from his purse, broke it in two parts, and handing one to his noble hearted friend, observed: "You and I used to debate the purpose of the ancient tessera; now we will make it a practical question. Whoever presents you with this fragment of gold, to him I authorize you to render up whatever in your hands belongs to me.
Fare well." Years rolled by, and Jonas Lee heard no more of his old friend. With great difficulty, and by the aid of powerful friends at Head Quarters, he had succeeded in disposing of the property without much loss; and by a judicious use of the money, he had become rich. Old age then crept upon him. His daily walks about the city began to be shortened. The almond tree flourished. The grasshopper began to be a burden. From year to year, he drew nearer to his own mansion, and finally confined himself within his retired apartment, to wait for the Summoner of all flesh. One day, as he was reclining in the listlessness of old age, with but the Word of God, and the person of his good wife, for companionship, and the voices of his grandchildren ringing from the next room, in happy harmony, he was accosted by a beggarly looking young man, who prayed a gift of money, "for a poor shipwrecked foreigner, who had lost his all, and barely escaped with life itself." Jonas Lee was not a person to refuse such a demand. He made him a bountiful gift of money, clothes, and kind words. But when the foreigner was about to depart, he walked up to Mr. Lee's couch, and pressing his hand with thankfulness, he dropped into it a worn and ragged piece of metal, and asked him if he would accept that piece of gold as a token of a poor beggar's gratitude? There was something peculiar in the foreigner's tone which led Mr. Lee to draw out his spectacles and examine the offering intently. What was the surprise of his wife to see him rise from his chair, draw a similar fragment from his bosom, where it had been suspended by a ribbon for a long time, and applying the pieces together, to hear him triumphantly declare: "They fit, they fit! the broken tessera is complete! the union is perfect! thank God, thank God, my brother is yet alive!"
The foreigner turned out to be the youngest
son of Mr. Simpson, who had been shipwrecked, as he stated, to
the great hazard of his life. Preserving the golden fragment,
he had landed at Philadelphia, ragged and poor, charged by his
father with a message to Mr. Lee. Why the former had so long delayed
his claim, does not appear. The history informs us, however, that
he had followed the British army through the remainder of the
war; amassed a large fortune, by some successful government contracts;
gone to England; embarked in extensive speculations there; and
finally, retiring from business immensely wealthy, was made a
baronet, for his loyal services. His son was received with open
arms, and introduced into the first circles of Philadelphia. Report,
concerning the Masonic part of the transaction, became public,
and gave a new impetus to the Order. But, when a full account
of his stewardship was prepared by Mr. Lee, and the property,
both principal and interest, tendered to the young man, the proffer
was met by a letter from Sir Hubbard Simpson, just received, in
which he declined receiving a shilling of it, and presented it,
with his warmest regards, to his old friend and brother, Jonas
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