On September 11, 1826, a Batavia, New York man named William Morgan was arrested for debt. This was not unusual for the early nineteenth century when people were routinely thrown into debtors’ prison for failure to pay off loans. What makes Morgan’s case notable was the he was a Freemason in a time when the fraternal society held large amounts of influence in the fledgling United States. William Morgan was not, however, a Mason in good standing – in fact, he was persona non grata in the lodge. He had decided to write a tell-all book spilling the secrets of the Freemasons. A publisher based in Batavia had agreed to publish Morgan’s work.
The next day, Morgan’s publisher paid the debt to get the writer out of prison and the two men got into a waiting carriage outside the Canandaigua jail in the Finger Lakes region of New York. What happened next is a matter of open debate, but what is known is that William Morgan was never seen again. Over the years, two unidentified bodies have been tied to Morgan’s disappearance – one found in Lake Ontario and another found in a Genesee County quarry. What seems certain is that Morgan was killed upon his release from debtors’ prison, most likely by fellow Freemasons who wanted to keep the renegade’s story from being published. Mason’s murder led to an outcry against the Masons that led to a powerful anti-Masonic political movement across the United States that saw a dramatic weakening in the brotherhood’s influence.