Information Corner - Cowans & Eavesdroppers

This is a purely Masonic term, and signifies in its technical meaning an intruder, whence it is always coupled with the word eavesdropper. It is not found in any of the old manuscripts of the English Freemasons anterior to the eighteenth century, unless we suppose that lowen, met with in many of them, is a clerical error of the copyists. It occurs in the Schaw Manuscript, a Scotch record which bears the date of 1598, in the following passage: "That no Master or Fellow of Craft receive any cowans to work in his society or company, nor send none of his servants to work with cowans." In the second edition of Anderson's Constitutions, published in 1738 (page 146), we find the word in use among the English Freemasons, thus : ''But Free and Accepted Masons shall not allow cowans to work with them ; nor shall they be employed by cowans without an urgent necessity; and even in that case they must not reach cowans, but must have a separate communication." There can be but little doubt that the word, as a Masonic term, comes to us from Scotland, and it is therefore in the Scotch language that we must look for its signification. Now, Jamieson, in his Scottish Dictionary, gives us the following meanings of the word:

l. A term of contempt ; applied to one who does the work of a mason, but has not been regularly bred.
2. Also used to denote one who builds dry walls, otherwise denominated a dry diker.
3. One unacquainted with the secrets of Freemasonry.

A listener. The punishment which was directed in the old lectures, at the revival of Freemasonry in 1717, to be inflicted on a detected cowan was: "To be placed under the eaves of the house in rainy weather, till the water runs in at his shoulders and out at his heels." The French inflict a similar punishment: "On le met sous une gouttiere, une pompe, ou une fontaine, jusqu'à ce qu'il soit mouillé depuis la tete jusqu'aux pieds," meaning They put him under the rain-spout, a pump, or a fountain, until he is drenched from head to feet. Hence a listener is called an eavesdropper.

Eavesdroppers, or such as listen under walls, or windows, or the eaves of a houses to hearken after discourse and thereupon to frame slanderous and mischievous tales, are a common nuisance and presentable at the court leet or are indictable at the sessions. and punishable by fine and finding sureties for their good behavior.