The Seven Wise Men

Improved Order of Heptasophs, Milton Conclave 44 Charter

The Improved Order of Heptasophs (I. O. H.) was one of the many fraternal organizations that were organized in the 19th century, and was active from 1878 to 1917. The word “Improved” in its title indicated that it was a spinoff from another organization, in this case the Order of Heptasophs. The schism occurred over the issue of death benefits, which the older organization refused to consider. The Zeta Conclave of Baltimore engineered the split, and over the next two decades the I. O. H. acquired several thousand member. In 1917, the I. O. H. merged with the Fraternal Aid Union, which changed its name to Standard Life Association in 1933, and became Standard Mutual Life in 1968.

The word Heptasoph was derived from the Greek words for seven and wise, meaning “seven wise men.” The older order began in the southern states and took much of its ritual and invented history from popular college fraternities in the South. The Improved Order operated like a mutual insurance company, providing insurance and death benefits to its members.

There were several fraternal orders in the town of Milton in the 19th century: the Freemasons, the Improved Order of Red Men, the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, and the Odd Fellows. It was not unusual for a man to belong to more than one of these, but only white men of good moral character and means could join. African Americans had their own parallel conclaves and lodges.

The charter pictured above is significant because it lists the founding members of Conclave 44 by name, and many of these are familiar to us from David A. Conner’s weekly Milton News letter in the Milford Chronicle.

Founding members of I. O. H. Conclave 44, Milton, DE

John H. Davidson (1837 – 1916) was a house carpenter by trade, but could be more accurately described as a contractor. He undertook numerous projects around town, and participated in the rebuilding of the business district after the fire of 1909.

Henry H. Ellingsworth (ca. 1835 – 1909) was a sea captain. In 1882, the year Conclave 44 was chartered, he bought the schooner Sussex from Gov. Ponder for $1700 and ran her as a coastal freighter for a number of years.

Burton M. Robinson (1836 – 1918) was a carpenter. For a period of time he was a contractor to the Federal Government in Washington D. C. He had his own farm near Milton as well.

James E. Warrington (1847 – 1918) was a farmer in the Cool Spring area.

John Hammond Burton Mustard (1835 – 1898) was a white collar worker in a blue collar town. A more detailed biography can be found at this link.

Nathaniel W. White (1850 – 1923) was a “serial entrepreneur.” Among his enterprises was the Douglass and White Shirt and Overall Factory, which provided employment for many of the young women of Milton. A more detailed biography is available at this link.

Dr. Millard F. Corkran (1857 – 1916) was a well-known physician. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he practiced in Milton for a number of years before moving to Wilmington sometime prior to 1892. He married Emma Maloy, daughter of a Methodist Protestant minister, in 1886; she was the  and the E. M. in Mary E. M. Atkins is from Emma’s name.

William E. Carey (1856 – ca. 1930) was a merchant in Milton until he left the town after 1889 upon the death of his first wife, Alice Lofland. He moved to southern New Jersey and remarried in 1892.

Thomas Johnson (dates uncertain) may have been a Swedish immigrant and worked as a sailor.

Rev. T. R. Creamer (1846 – 1892) was a Methodist Episcopalian minister who served as pastor of the Goshen M. E. Church in Milton from 1881 – 1884. Although the charter gives his name as T. K. Creamer, there was only one Creamer family in Milton in 1882. He died prematurely in 1892, leaving a wife and eight children.

Samuel J. Wilson (1850 – 1937) was a multifaceted entrepreneur; he operated a funeral home and service for nearly five decades, and sold carriages and other equipment from the same building. More on his life can be found at this link.

The identity of John W. Johnson is unclear as of this writing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.