Easton Mason’s lodge finds land deed predating United States
The Templar, a branch of the Masons, let their mystery sit quietly, until recently.
By Zach Lindsey
Since the 1920s, the contents of a safe in the Hugh De Payens Commandery in Easton were a mystery.
As new leaders of the Knights Templar passed through, some had different suggestions. Some wanted the safe drilled, but that would’ve been costly and voided their fire warranty.
The Templar, a branch of the Masons, let their mystery sit quietly, until recently. As they cleaned up files, one member found a number that looked like it might be a combination.
“We took it up and tried it,” said Knights Templar member Lou Starniri. “It opened up the safe.”
Inside was a parchment behind glass: a “red rose patent,” a land deed granted by William Penn 13 years before the Declaration of Independence. If Templars had drilled the safe, the rapid exposure to light and change in air conditions could have destroyed it.
The Hugh De Payens Commandery at 22 S. Third St. sits on the site of Northampton County’s first jail. Penn granted the patent, or deed, free to the county, on one rather obscure condition.
“In 1763, we still had the crown, and we still had the royals,” Starniri said. “William Penn was a member of the aristocracy, so the common folk had to know who they owed allegiance to. They didn’t want any money, but they still wanted a tribute.”
The tribute? One red rose, presented in March every year to Penn, his sons or his beneficiaries. It’s sort of the antiquated equivalent of donating a piece of land to a non-profit, but asking for a dollar a year for tax purposes.
At one point, each property in Easton had a Penn patent, though most were more like traditional deeds, in that property owners paid a certain amount of money for their property.
Now, few of those patents exist anymore, and the red rose patents are even rarer.
The Knights Templar plan to donate the patent to the Easton Area Public Library on April 26 because the Commandery can’t afford the cost of preserving it for display.
“It would take a couple thousand dollars to have it properly taken out of the frame and spread out,” Starniri said.
The library, however, may be able to apply for a grant for such services, and would then be able to keep the patent for scholars and schoolchildren to view.
The document must be unfolded in the right temperature and humidity so it won’t crack or be ruined, according to Easton Library’s Marx Room coordinator Barbara Wieman. As ink can transfer to glass over time, removing it from its glass frame may also be troublesome.
Once it is restored, it will still be handled carefully, Wieman said.
“We would probably have it covered to prevent light deterioration,” Wieman said. “One of the reasons the patent is so legible is that it has been in a locked safe where light doesn’t affect it.”
If it is hung on a wall, she said, it would probably have a cover over it that could be lifted for viewing.
The value of a red rose patent is difficult to establish, but Wieman said the monetary value isn’t what’s important.
“It’s not so much the value of the item as its importance to Easton’s history,” Wieman said.
The jail’s location was chosen because Easton’s Centre Square originally housed the city’s courthouse. Local officials such as Thomas Craig, who would later become a Colonel under General George Washington, managed the lot on Third Street.
After the Civil War, the courthouse was moved to Seventh and Washington streets, and the jail was moved with it. But the patent stayed with the property, although how it ended up in the safe is unknown.