Susan Mitchell Sommers is Professor of History at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. She earned a B.A. and M.A. in History at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and an A.M. and PhD in History at Washington University in St. Louis. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
Her main teaching and research interests are in British and Intellectual History, especially of the eighteenth century. Her publications include Parliamentary Politics of a County and Its Town: General Elections in Suffolk and Ipswich in the Eighteenth Century (Greenwood, 2002), and Thomas Dunckerley and English Freemasonry, (Pickering & Chatto, 2012). Sommers’ most recent book, The Siblys of London: A Family on the Esoteric Fringes of Georgian England has just been published by Oxford University Press.
James Anderson (1680-1739) was a Presbyterian minister and ardent supporter of the Hanoverian succession, as well as being the author and compiler of the first two editions of the masonic Book of Constitutions. He was described by contemporaries as being vain about his appearance, and tending toward pridefulness. That aspect of his personality is now difficult to prove, though perhaps we can see an indication of it in the care he took to aggrandize his masonic standing. Sometime around 1735, while he was preparing the second edition of the Book of Constitutions for publication, Anderson took the opportunity to alter the Minute Book of the Grand Lodge, erasing part of an entry, and instead inserting the fraudulent claim that he had been appointed Grand Warden in 1723.
After Anderson’s death in debtor’s prison in May 1739, care of his reputation fell to other hands. Newspaper accounts avoid mentioning that he died within the confines of Fleet Prison. More significantly, contemporary obituaries emphasize his formidable learning and the value of his published works, especially Royal Genealogies. Already by August 1739 an American newspaper, the New-England Weekly Journal, inflated the attendance at Anderson’s Bunhill Fields funeral from fewer than twenty, to more than 2,000 mourners. As memories of the actual man faded, Anderson’s reputation as an individual, and perhaps more important, as the author of the Constitutions, continued to spread across masonic jurisdictions, and throughout the eighteenth century. This presentation will explore Anderson’s reputation beyond England—looking for evidence of his influence in the Americas, the Continent, and perhaps beyond.