A Focus on Masonic Research, News, and other Tidbits

Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Festival of St. John the Evangelist – Beginning a New Masonic Year

The Festival of St. John the Evangelist on 27 December marks the beginning of a new Masonic Year in many Grand Jurisdictions. It is the date that the Craft resets itself, looks again to the future, and – in many cases – gears itself up to its highest level of energy of the year.

Even though the elections of Lodge officers may take place weeks or maybe even a month in advance of 27 December, those officers do not officially assume their duties until the Festival of St. John the Evangelist. Some Lodges do not officially install the new officers until that date – sometimes in the form of public installation ceremonies. That practice, however, is not as popular as it once was due to increasingly mobile and scattered families which necessitate a fair amount of traveling during the week or two surrounding the Christmas holiday.

The days between the election/appointment date and the date that an officer officially assumes his duties are often an exciting and nervous time – especially for a new Master-elect. I went through it and I see my new Master-elect going through it right now – which may account for the rash of emails and long phone conversations that I am exchanging with him. New Masters-elect tend to use this brief calm before the storm to plan or refine their upcoming terms in the East. Very often, they also begin to second guess themselves and wonder about what they have gotten themselves into.

Most of them are coming from the Senior Warden’s chair and are already aware of the behind the scenes workings of their Lodge – such as its financial situation and its collective vision for the future. A hard realization, however, hits them when it sinks in that they are soon to be at the helm and they will be ultimately responsible for the financial situation and staying on the vision’s course – or getting the Lodge back on course.

Either way, it is an exciting time of the year for most Lodges. In my experience, attendance picks up for at least a month or two as the Craft comes out to get a feeling on how the new Master and his officers are going to do and to soak in the excitement generated by the new leadership.

Tomorrow, we reset and begin again.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Birthday

Four days ago, my company of citizen-soldiers sang Happy Birthday to ourselves. As of 13 December 2008, my military organization was three hundred and seventy-two years old - the oldest in the United States and one of the oldest military bodies that are still active in the world.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sixty-Seven Years Ago

Sixty-seven years ago, tomorrow, 2390 people lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by the Imperial Japanese Navy. [1]

Citizens of the United States - along with all people who live in free countries and all those that long for freedom - are encouraged to take the time to reflect on this event and on the sacrifices made in response to it by the "Greatest Generation."

Photo: USS Arizona Memorial; 1177 of the Pearl Harbor deaths were crewmen on this battleship. [2]

[1] http://www.nps.gov/usar/historyculture/people.htm
[2] http://www.nps.gov/archive/usar/azcas.html

Saturday, November 29, 2008

We Don’t Need No Education

I am a huge supporter of Masonic education in the Lodge and – not meaning to brag – have been largely responsible for ensuring that some sort of educational segment is offered during every Communication of my Lodge save for those that pertain to work. At the same time, however, I have come to the realization that the formal Lodge meeting is NOT the place for Masonic education.

After the sounds of shock have subsided, let me explain. During a Communication, the time is limited and the educational subject is not going to interest all in attendance. A Lodge setting is just too formal to allow for deep educational discussions. Now, don’t get me wrong. I still advocate simple educational teasers in Lodge. We need those – but the real education is not going to happen in that atmosphere.

To be truly effective, education should be taking place in a more informal atmosphere. Study groups, face-to-face conversations between Brothers, and participation in research societies or research lodges are viable and potentially productive avenues of approach. The supporters of Masonic education should, in my opinion, be pushing these types of activities and cease in trying to force Lodges into formal education programs.

Credit for this short article goes to Nick and Fred. They sparked the idea - though I doubt thay had a clue that they did.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Author’s Note: I have often stated my belief that Freemasonry goes through cycles, as does everything in society. It hit me this morning as I was drinking my coffee that it is not Freemasonry that really goes through the cycles. Freemasonry is a slow moving entity that changes very little. Something else has to be influencing Freemasonry. That thought prompted me to write this piece. On the subject of cycles; some studies suggest that Generation Y folks have more in common with the Greatest Generation, the grandparents and great grandparents of Gen Y, than any other generation. If this is true, then it bodes well for Freemasonry’s future.

The Decline of Civil Society and the Rise of Freemasonry

The signs of a real potential for the decline of civil society abound for all to see – even for those with the most optimistic of outlooks. Many of the doom and gloom signs are in direct contradiction to what the Founding Fathers of the United States, who were so heavily influenced by Freemasonry, seemed to have had in mind during the birth of this nation.

In the governmental arena, hard working Americans are forced into participating in mass charity on a larger and larger scale via a tax system run amuck. Many Americans seem content to vote away their rights and their tax dollars in return for promises of being cared for by government – a big, centralized government that the Founders, with their Masonic influences, specifically warned against.

Some elected leaders publicly decry the nation’s policies – policies that they often helped to create - and even her soldiers in ways that have not been seen since the War Between the States. Some of their public comments actually could be interpreted as providing comfort to the enemies of the country.

The great equalizer, the court system, steadily pumps out more and more decisions that defy common sense and logic. There are many examples of court decisions that seem to attack some of the very foundations – such as the First and Second Amendments - of what the United States was founded upon. Meanwhile, the courts are seemingly doing little to stem the crimes that cause many to live in real fear. Even in the rural areas of the United States; hard working and honest people are locking their doors, buying alarm systems, and demonstrating genuine fear for the safety of their property, their loved ones, and even themselves.

Despite more and more tax money being thrown at the issue, the value of education – a traditional favorite cause of Freemasonry - continues to shrink in many parts of the country as schools graduate many barely literate young people. This assumes, of course, that they graduate at all since the drop out rate continues to grow. The problem has reached the point that many – if not most – high school graduates can no longer pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), thus reducing the pool of qualified applicants for the nation’s military forces. There are even people walking around with four-year degrees that are incapable of passing this most basic of knowledge exams.

Traditionally, Americans have turned to their places of worship to find some common sense and relief from the chaos of society. Though this is still true for many people, there is also a habit amongst some churches to become more of a center for political activism rather than a place of worship. There are even churches in the United States – some of them with large congregations and high visibility – that openly degrade the nation and actually seem to be calling for the Almighty’s destruction of it. Even if not involved in political activism, many large churches have turned themselves into lucrative businesses where - from outside appearances - they are more concerned with growing their holdings and their congregations than they are with worship.

Added to these negative signs are indications that civility between men has taken a drastic turn for the worse. Handshake deals are no longer accepted or honored as they used to be. Simple, unintentional mistakes that cause no real harm often turn into frivolous but costly lawsuits. Even family members often look upon each other with distrust.

Meanwhile, as these and other negative trends continue to develop, Freemasonry is waiting in the wings and men are starting to take notice of her in ways that have not been seen in decades. Maybe they are seeking a refuge from a society that is making less and less sense to them. Possibly, they are seeking an education that they missed out on in school. Some men are obviously looking for those age old answers to their questions – answers that, for whatever reason, they are not getting in their religious endeavors and their houses of worship, though Freemasonry replaces neither. They may be simply looking for a place that still has the trappings of civility and the traits of a gentlemen society.

The statistics suggest that the downward spiral of Freemasonry’s membership is slowing. A large part of this can reasonably be attributed to the new interest being shown by men in the Fraternity. Freemasonry is not, however, doing anything drastically different from what it has done for hundreds of years. Freemasonry hasn’t changed – civil society has changed and it has not changed in a positive way for many people. It is felt by this author that, as society goes through this negative cycle – and it is a cycle with better days ahead, Freemasonry will experience a positive cycle.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Traveling with the Dead

In 1882, a Senior Warden of a Lodge passed away. He was buried in a town of some great distance from the location of his residence and Lodge. Traveling today between these two locations would take about three hours by car.

His Lodge appointed a committee and pallbearers to accompany his body to its final resting place, which involved traveling by train and wagon. The Lodge covered the expenses of this trip. The Lodge further resolved for its members to go into mourning for sixty days and the Lodge hall itself was draped in remembrance of the fallen Senior Warden for a full year. He was not a Grand Master. He was not a District Deputy Grand Master. He was simply a Master Mason that was elected to be the Senior Warden of a rural, Southern Lodge.

This, my readers, is Freemasonry at its core and this account comes straight from the minutes of my own Lodge. The aged and fragile pages of those minutes sit before me as I type this and the picture contained within this post is a photo of that very book.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Silent Summons

Note: Unlike some of my fellow owners of blogs that are Masonically inclined, eloquence is not my strong point when writing. I am much better at presenting straight facts and figures. I do, however, appreciate an eloquent piece when I run across it. The following, which has circulated through various venues, is one of my favorites and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

~ The Silent Summons ~
Author Unknown
A member of a certain Lodge, who previously attended meetings regularly, stopped going. After a few months, the Worshipful Master decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening, and the Worshipful Master found his brother at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for the Worshipful Master's visit, the brother welcomed him, led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace and waited. The Worshipful Master made himself comfortable, but said nothing.

In the grave silence, he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs. After several minutes, the Worshipful Master took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth, all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent.

His host watched all of this in quiet contemplation. As the one, lone ember's flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow, and its fire was no more. Soon, it was cold and dead.

Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. The Worshipful Master glanced at his watch and chose this time to leave. He slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember, and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately, it began to glow once more, with all the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.

As the Worshipful Master reached the door to leave, his host said, with a tear running down his cheek, "Thank you so much for your fiery summons, my brother. I'll be back in our Lodge next meeting."

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Mississippi Invades Louisiana
A Review of a Jurisdictional Dispute in the 1840s

Any examination of the right of Masonic Jurisdiction would be incomplete without a study of the difficulties that arose between the Grand Lodges of Mississippi and Louisiana. In or about the year 1847, The Grand Lodge of Mississippi warranted Lodges within the territorial limits of the State of Louisiana, where a Grand Lodge already existed. The reactions of the other Grand Lodges in the United States to the dispute between these two neighboring Grand Lodges serve as a telling reminder and lesson on the meaning of territorial jurisdiction.

The Grand Lodge of Louisiana was formed in 1812 shortly after Louisiana entered the Union as a State on 8 April of that year. The makeup and diversity of the Lodges that formed that Grand Lodge had a direct bearing on the dispute with Mississippi which occurred several decades later. Albert G. Mackey gave an indication of this diversity.

This much of the early history in Louisiana must suffice, as to continue a specific notice of all the lodges chartered and the various contests which grew out of the various rites in use, and the "Cumulation" thereof, would utilize our entire remaining pages of this chapter, hence must proceed to the organization of the Grand Lodge.

It appears from the records that twelve lodges had received charters in New Orleans prior to the organization of a Grand Lodge, as will appear in the following table: 1

Writing in 1861, but speaking of the 1847-1848 timeframe, Mackey further explained the makeup and practice of Freemasonry in Louisiana and how that diverse situation at least partially led to the dispute with the Grand Lodge of Mississippi.

...the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was at that time permitting many of its Subordinate Lodges to work in the York, Scotch and French rites, sometimes a Lodge using only one of these rites, and others practicing at different times two or (sp) them, or perhaps the whole three. Against this system, which is technically known in Masonry as a “cumulation of rites,” the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, in answer to the complaint of several York Masons of Louisiana, had protested, and asserting that there was not properly any York Grand Lodge in Louisiana, and that the field was, therefore, open for the entrance of any other Grand Lodge as an unoccupied jurisdiction, it had established several Lodges in Louisiana, which had subsequently united in the organization of a “Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons.” 2
The Grand Lodge of Louisiana sent communications to its sister Grand Lodges throughout the United States which advised them of the alleged invasion of its jurisdiction. The Grand Lodge of Mississippi responded with similar communications. Mississippi offered the following preamble and resolutions that clearly explained the viewpoint of that body.

Whereas, in the opinion of the Grand Lodge, each distinctive rite produces different powers which govern it, and are independent of others; and whereas, no Grand Lodge of Scotch, French, or cumulative rite, can legally assume jurisdiction over any Ancient York Lodge; therefore, Resolved, that the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, being composed of a cumulation of rites, cannot be recognized by this Grand Lodge as a Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons.

Resolved, That that this Grand Lodge will grant charters to any legal number of Ancient York Masons residing within the State of Louisiana, they making due application for the same. 3

The reaction by other Grand Lodges was relatively swift in coming. On 7 September 1847, the Grand Lodge of New York had – in part - this to say.

Resolved, That as we have heretofore recognized the Grand Lodge of Louisiana as the sole, supreme and legitimate government of the symbolic degrees of Masonry in the State of Louisiana, so we shall continue to sustain her rights.

Resolved, That all Lodges planted in the State of Louisiana by the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, or any other Grand Lodge than the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, established in the year 1812, are irregular Lodges, and as such cannot be recognized by us. 4
On 7 December 1848, a committee appointed by the Grand Lodge of South Carolina to study and report on the dispute in Louisiana included the following language in its initial report.

The encroachment upon the independent jurisdiction of an independent Grand Lodge, is contrary to every principle of Freemasonry, the constitution and usages of the Order, and is manifestly unjust as it would be for the Governor and Judges of one State to exercise jurisdiction in another. 5
That committee of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina went so far as to examine whether or not the cumulation of rites – as the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was alleged to have been practicing – was proper. The committee concluded that “even if such government was corrupt, it would not be the privilege of its equal to invade its rights…” On 4 September 1849, the Grand Lodge of South Carolina adopted resolutions pertaining to this matter – the fifth of them as follows.

Resolved, That without a speedy conclusion of the differences between the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, and the body assuming to be such, all other Grand Lodges are recommended to adopt such measures as will prevent the members of the unlawful body from visiting – for which purpose this Grand Lodge enjoins on all Lodges under its jurisdiction not to permit any persons from Louisiana to be admitted for examination in their Lodges, until they produce the certificate of the original Grand Lodge of Louisiana. 6
It should be noted that the Grand Lodge of South Carolina was heavily influenced by Ancient York Masonry and was somewhat sympathetic to the position that the Grand Lodge of Mississippi had postulated. Despite this, South Carolina still sided with the Grand Lodge of Louisiana on the grounds of territorial jurisdiction.

In one of many other examples of how the Fraternity looked upon the subject of jurisdiction and in the same year that South Carolina issued resolutions concerning this matter, the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire took a similar position.

As we regard it settled, that one Grand Lodge cannot exist within the jurisdiction of another, and as we believe that we are now called upon to decide between the contending parties, we offer the following resolutions:

Resolved, That we regard the action of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, in establishing Lodges within the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of the State of Louisiana, as unauthorized and improper; and that we decline to hold any Masonic intercouse (sp) with the association recently formed, called the Louisiana Grand Lodge.

Resolved, That we recommend to the Fraternity in Louisiana and Mississippi a reexamination of the points in dispute among them, in the spirit of brotherly love and kindness, and with a view to the restoration of union and harmony. 7
Of course, the Grand Lodges of Louisiana and Mississippi eventually resolved their dispute and the territorial sovereignty of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was restored. The manner in which the various Grand Lodges responded to the threat to Louisiana’s sovereignty and jurisdiction should not be overlooked by anyone desiring a good lesson on what exclusive territorial jurisdiction in the Masonic fraternity really means.

1 Mackey, Albert G. MD. The History of Freemasonry. New York: The Masonic History Company, 1898, p. 1447.
2 Mackey, Albert G., M.D. The History of Freemasonry in South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina Steam Power Press, 1861, p. 373.
3 Ibid, p. 374.
4 Ibid, p. 374.
5 Ibid, p. 375.
6 Ibid, p. 375.
7 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire, from June 5842, to June 5856, Inclusive, Vol. II. Manchester: C.F. Livingston, 1869, p. 212.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Angel of Marye’s Heights

If he wasn’t a Freemason - he should have been.

Any reasonably serious researcher, historian, or student of the War Between the States will immediately recognize the title of this article and know exactly to who it refers. Richard Rowland Kirkland was, at the Battle of Fredericksburg (11 – 15 December 1862), a Sergeant serving with Company G, 2nd South Carolina Regiment, Kershaw’s Brigade. His regimental commander - Colonel John Doby Kennedy - was a Freemason and Kirkland’s original company commander when Kirkland first enlisted into Company E of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment. Kirkland’s brigade commander at Fredericksburg was Brigadier General Joseph Brevard Kershaw – also a Freemason. Both Kennedy and Kershaw would eventually hold the position of Grand Master of Masons in their home State of South Carolina. No obvious evidence has been found that suggests that Kirkland was also a Freemason but, if he wasn’t, he should have been.

The following editorial from The News and Courier, by General Kershaw and dated 29 January 1880, tells Kirkland’s story rather well.

Your Columbia correspondent referred to the incident narrated here, telling the story as 'twas told to him, and inviting corrections. As such a deed should be recorded in the rigid simplicity of actual truth I take the liberty of sending you for publication an accurate account of a transaction every feature of which is indelibly impressed upon my memory.Richard Kirkland was the son of John Kirkland, an estimable citizen of Kershaw County, a plain substantial famer of the olden time. In 1861 he entered as a private, Captain J. D. Kennedy's Company E of the Second South Carolina Volunteers, in which Company he was a sergeant in 1862. The day after the sanguinary battle of Fredericksburg, Kershaw's Brigade occupied theroad at the foot of Marye's Hill and the grounds about Marye's House, the scene of their desperate defense of the day before. One hundred and fifty yards in front of the road, the stone facing of which constituted the famous stone wall, lay Sykes Division of Regulars, U. S. A. between whom and our troops a murderous skirmish occupied the whole day, fatal to many who heedlessly exposed themselves even for a moment. The ground between the lines was nearly bridged with the wounded, dead and dying Federals, victims of the many desperately gallant assaults of that column of 30,000 brave men, hurled vainly against that impregnable position. All that day those wounded men rent the air with their groans and agonizing cries of "Water! Water!"

In the afternoon the General sat in the North room upstairs of Mrs. Stevens' House in front of the road, surveying the field, when Kirkland came up. With an expression of indignant remonstrance pervading his person, his manner and the tone of his voice, he said: "General, I can't stand this." "What is the matter, Sergeant?" asked the General. He replied: "All night and all day I have heard those poor people crying for water and can stand it no longer." I came to ask permission to go and give them water." The General regarded him for a moment with feelings of profound admiration and said: "Kirkland, don't you know that you would get a bullet through your head the moment you stepped over the wall?" "Yes, Sir, he said, I know all about that, but if you will let me, I am willing to try it." After a pause the General said: "Kirkland, I ought not to allow you to run such a risk, but the sentiment which actuates you is so noble, that I will not refuse your request, trusting that God may protect you. You may go."

The Sergeant's eyes lighted up with pleasure. He said "Thank you Sir" and ran rapidly down stairs. The General heard him pause for a moment and then return, bounding two steps at a time. He thought the Sergeant's heart had failed him. He was mistaken. The Sergeant stopped at the door and said: "General, can I show a white handkerchief?" The General slowly shook his head, saying emphatically: "No, Kirkland, you can't do that.” "All right, Sir,” he said, “I'll take my chances."

With profound anxiety, he was watched as he stepped over the wall on his errand of mercy, Christ-like mercy. Unharmed he reached the nearest sufferer. He knelt beside him, tenderly raised the drooping head, rested it gently upon his own noble breast, and poured precious life giving fluid down the fever scorched throat. This done he laid him gently down, placed his knap-sack under his head, straightened out his broken limb, spread his over-coat over him, replaced his empty canteen with a full one, and turned to another sufferer.

By this time his purpose was well understood on both sides and all danger was over. From all parts of the field arose fresh cries of "Water, for God's sake, water!" More piteous still, the mute appeal of some one who could only feebly lift a hand to say, here too is life and suffering. For an hour and a half did this ministering angle pursue his labor of mercy, nor ceased to go and return until he had relieved all of the wounded on that part of the field. He returned wholly unhurt. Who shall say how sweet his rest that Winter's night beneath the cold stars.

This incident occurred during a bitter cold spell in December when the thermometer fell to zero.

Little remains to be told. Sergeant Kirkland distinguished himself in battle at Gettysburg and was promoted Lieutenant. At Chickamauga he fell on the field of battle in the hour of victory. He was but a youth when called away and had never formed those ties from which might have resulted a posterity to enjoy his fame and bless his country; but he has bequeathed to American youth, yea, to the world, an example which dignified our common humanity. - J. B. Kershaw

Note: General Kennedy of whose Company E., Kirkland was an original member, also testified that "the enemy, as soon as they divined his mission ceased their fire and cheered".

There is nothing much that can be added.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A War Stops for Freemasonry

In the process of some other research, I came upon the story of the events following the death of Brother and Union Navy Lieutenant Commander John E. Hart. At the time of his death on 11 June 1863, Hart was in command of the USS ALBATROSS, a Federal warship assigned to Admiral David G. Farragut’s fleet on the Mississippi River.

I will not attempt to write an article pertaining to Brother Hart’s Masonic funeral, as others have already done a fine job at covering the event. One of the more extensive articles can be found on his home Lodge’s website and I encourage you to read it here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

New Grand Lodge Hall Destroyed

On August 23 of the past year, the cornerstone of the soon to be constructed building that would be the new Masonic Hall for the Grand Lodge - and that of several of the subordinate Lodges in close proximity - was laid in due Masonic form. The Grand Lodge and a large number from the subordinate Lodges, the Royal Arch Chapters, and the Knights Templar Encampment were involved in the procession and ceremony. The Mayor and Aldermen of the city also seemed fit to be present for this occasion – an occasion for which the Freemasons in the Jurisdiction had labored long and hard.

Following the laying of the cornerstone, work on the new edifice began in earnest. Further financing was arranged, building materials were purchased, and builders were put to work. By nightfall on April 27 of this year, the completion of the new Masonic Hall was in sight. This was the first time that the Grand Jurisdiction would be able to enjoy their own building without having to rent a space for their activities.

On that night of April 27, the Craft’s hopes were dashed into ashes. A disastrous fire broke out nearby and, by the next day, nearly one-third of the city was destroyed. The almost completed Masonic Hall was one of the many buildings to succumb to the flames. Several of the subordinate Lodge Halls in the city were also destroyed. The most severe blow, however, came in the form of the destruction of Seyle’s Hall – the location being rented by the Grand Lodge until the new Masonic Hall was completed. Along with Seyle’s Hall, most of the Masonic furniture and all of the records of the Grand Lodge were destroyed – save the minutes from the last two years. The owner of the hall - a member of the Fraternity - did manage to save a chest which contained the Grand Lodge officers’ jewels, collars, and a small selection of the Grand Lodge’s furniture.

At a Special Communication of the Grand Lodge on May 7 of this year, the Fraternity expressed determination and resolved to carry on and renew its quest for a Grand Lodge Hall of its own.

The year is 1838 and the location is Charleston, South Carolina.

Author's Note: In 1838, most of the Lodges in South Carolina were in the city of Charleston. The Craft had only recently began moving in force to the outlying areas of the State. Therefore, the Charleston fire of 1838 was a significant blow to the finances and morale of Freemasonry in the Palmetto State. Moral of the story: There have been some very bad days in Freemasonry, but today ain't one of them.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Masonic Government Applied to Society-at-Large

Think about that title for a moment. What if society-at-large had to live under a Masonic government? Yes; general society is probably too big, too chaotic, and just plain not ready for such a thing - but we can muse on the subject for entertainment and discussion purposes.

Though each Grand Jurisdiction has it own Code and/or Constitution, there are some common strands that can be found in each Grand Lodge and Lodge. Most Masons are already at least partially schooled in the executive powers and roles of Grand Masters and Lodge Masters, the legislative powers and roles of the Grand Lodges and members of each Lodge, and the judicial powers of all of the aforementioned. The dry subject of those powers and roles will not be presented here. Rather, let us concentrate on what happens after a resolution has been passed and becomes Masonic law or an approved decision. It is at that point in the process where we can see a huge difference in how Masonic government works when compared to the governments of society-at-large.

To see this difference, let us use a town in the United States as the sample civil government in the following scenario. Please bear in mind that towns have differing styles of government - such as mayor-council, council-mayor, administrator-council, etc - so this scenario may not fit all towns. In our scenario, the voters have just approved a referendum that calls for a new town park to be constructed. The council and mayor are now obligated to make this happen and they do so by first raising the millage rate on property taxes. After all, it costs money to build a park. They then put the town’s public works department on to the task of building the park. A few town employees, with their earth movers, toil away until the park is built and all of the town’s citizens are now able to enjoy the lovely new recreational site – even though only some of the citizen’s (property owners) paid for it and only a few of the citizen’s (public works employees) built it. In fact, when we look back at how people voted in the referendum, we find that the public works employees all voted against it (their work schedule was already overloaded) and many of the property owners did the same (they are tired of paying higher and higher taxes). Most of the citizens that voted for the new park had to neither pay for it nor actually build it.

Let us now turn to the town’s local Masonic Lodge to see how it handles a similar scenario. The Lodge members have just voted to remodel the Lodge’s dining hall. The floor needs new tiling, new paint is needed, and the curtains are in need of replacement. The project is going to cost a bit of money, so the Lodge also votes to raise the dues (taxes) for the upcoming year. The Master of the Lodge then appoints a work committee, made up of the very members that voted to remodel the hall. The committee toils away with paintbrushes and tile glue until a beautiful dining hall is ready to be used by all of the Lodge members. In this scenario, all of the members pay for the project and the very folks that wanted the remodeled hall actually do the work to make it a reality.

Those two scenarios clearly bring to light the vast difference between civil government and Masonic government. The first scenario shows that groups of people can direct other folks to spend money and exert effort, even though they have to do neither while still enjoying the fruits of someone else’s sacrifice. The Masonic scenario shows how, if the group wants something done, all must sacrifice to make it a reality.

If society-at-large had to live under the rules and regulations of Masonic government, it is probably a sure bet that fewer parks would be constructed.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Laying of a Cornerstone

Yesterday, 13 September 2008, I had the pleasure of traveling to a Cornerstone Laying and Lodge Dedication ceremony at a new Lodge hall located outside of my district. I am almost ashamed to say that it is the first I have been able to attend during my ten years as a Freemason.

My traveling partner, my Lodge’s Senior Warden, and I were both immensely impressed with the ceremonies, which were conducted in fine style by our Grand Master and the Grand Lodge officers. The famed, one hundred and seventy-three year old Lafayette Trowel was used in the Cornerstone Laying.

The event was well attended – so much so that my Senior Warden and I ended up eating outside of the Lodge hall for want of a place to sit in the dining room. I didn’t complain, however, since the chance to gather with so many Masons and to participate in the Grand procession was well worth the inconvenience of squatting on my haunches as I ate a fine meal prepared by our immediate Past Grand Master. It is not everyday that you find a Grand Master serving as the cook!

If you have never witnessed a Cornerstone Laying or a Lodge Dedication, I highly recommend that you look for the time to attend one. I should not have waited so long to see one for myself.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Firing of Guns

In the course of other research, I came across some interesting tidbits of information from the past that I’d like to share. The following newspaper accounts illustrate the enormous respect that Freemasonry apparently enjoyed during the 1700s.

The South Carolina Gazette reports on 28 December 1738:

Yesterday being the Festival of St. John the Evangelist, the day was ushered in with the firing of guns at sunrise from several ships in the harbor with all their colors flying. At 9 o’clock all the members of Solomon’s Lodge, belonging to the Ancient and Honorable Order of Free and Accepted Masons, met at the house of the Honorable James Crokatt, Esq., Master of the said Lodge, and at 10, proceeded from thence, properly clothed with the Ensigns of their Order, and Music before them, to the house of the Provincial Grand Master, James Graeme, Esq., where a Grand Lodge was held…

The Gazette further reports on that same date:
After an elegant dinner, all the brethren were invited by Capt. Thomas White on board the Hope; there several loyal healths were drank, and at their coming on board and return on shore, they were saluted by the discharge of 39 guns, being the same number observed in each of the different salutes of this day, so that in all there were about 250 guns fired. The evening was concluded with a ball and entertainment for the ladies, and the whole was performed with much grandeur and decorum.
The 1 January 1741 edition of the Gazette published the following – almost word for word as the December 1738 account:

Saturday last [27th of December, 1740] being the festival of St. John the Evangelist, the day was ushered in with firing of guns at sunrise, from several ships in the harbor, with all their colors flying.

After an elegant dinner, all the brethren being invited, went on board the Lydia, Capt. Allen, and from thence on board the John and William, Capt. Fishbourne, where several loyal healths drank under the discharge of a great many guns. The above ships were on this occasion, decked out with a great many colors, and illuminated at night with a great number of lights, regularly disposed on the yards, both of which made a very grand and agreeable appearance.
From the 2nd of January 1742 edition, the Gazette reports the following pertaining to events on 27 December 1741:

Great numbers of guns were discharged from the ships in the harbor during the procession and afterwards; and the whole was conducted with the greatest order and decency, the night concluding with the illumination of the vessels of the brethren in the harbor, and a ball to the ladies.

The above excerpts from the South Carolina Gazette pertain to events in Charleston, South Carolina. There are further reports, however, of similar Masonic events and firing of guns in Beaufort and Port Royal, South Carolina. I will not bore the reader with all of these newspaper accounts as the mirror what I have already provided.

Many of the newspaper accounts speak of grand processions - in full Masonic regalia, balls, banquets, and church services. It must have truly been an exciting time to be a Freemason in the South Carolina colony.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Loss of Masonic History

Historians and amateur researchers are often challenged when confronted by gaps in the historical record. This is not unique to Freemasonic history, but the Fraternity seems to have more than its fair share of missing information. Of course, most know that the very old history of Freemasonry – that which is older than 300 or 400 years – has many holes in it. The more recent historical record, however, is also plagued with lost pieces of important information.

This can often be attributed to the secret nature of Freemasonry. Much was not put to paper and, even when written down, there are usually not multiple copies of what was written. This makes Masonic history very susceptible to the ravages of nature and man.

My Lodge is a good example of this. I began to research the history of my Lodge many months ago and am still involved in that process. The first place I went was to the old minute books. My Lodge was chartered in 1869, but the first entry in the minutes was dated 9 May 1878. That first entry explains that there had been a fire. Minutes, charter, and even the seal had been destroyed. There is now a gap of almost eighteen years in my Lodge’s history that will very likely never be recovered.

Grand Lodges have also suffered through such disasters. During the Fire of 1838 that burned approximately a third of the city of Charleston, South Carolina, the brand new Grand Lodge Hall was destroyed, along with most of its records and furniture – as well as those of many of the subordinate Lodges in that city. Only one chest, containing the jewels and collars of the Grand Lodges officers and a small portion of the Grand Lodge’s furniture, was saved when a Brother pulled it from the flames. In this calamity, a full one hundred and two years of Grand Lodge written history were destroyed.

Thankfully, in current times, technology enables us to take measures to secure historical documents. The written word can be digitalized, copies can be made easily, and electronic data can be backed up. All members of the Fraternity, especially those Secretaries and Grand Secretaries that are tasked as the “Keepers of the Books” should be actively engaged in measures designed to preserve the history of Freemasonry for those future Masons who are yet to be born.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Examining the Political Mackey

Albert Gallatin Mackey, M.D., (22 March 1807 - 20 June 1881) is probably one of the most, if not the most, referenced and quoted Masonic author and historian. Like so many others, I often turn to him when doing my own research - especially since he is one of the best sources for information on the early history of my own Grand Jurisdiction. There is very little easily available information, however, about Albert G. Mackey’s personal life. What was he like beyond his Freemasonic pursuits?

Personally, I have always thought it strange that Mackey was never elected as the Grand Master of his Grand Jurisdiction in South Carolina. He served as its Grand Lecturer for many years and as its Grand Secretary for twenty-three years (1843 – 1866). He was Past Master of the oldest Lodge in South Carolina, Solomon’s Lodge No. 1, and was a most prolific Masonic writer – his works being read throughout the world. He also served as the Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Ancient and Accepted Rite for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States. It would seem that he was the perfect candidate for election to the position of Grand Master. Why didn’t that happen? Did he decline such a position because he did not desire such responsibility? Maybe there is another reason – a political reason.

We know that Mackey left his native South Carolina in 1870 and moved to Washington, DC. This move followed his defeat in a run for a U.S. Senate seat in 1868. This may be the first clue that something was amiss, from the perspective of a majority of his fellow South Carolinians, when it came to Dr. Mackey’s political leanings. Why would a native South Carolinian want to move to the seat of government of an occupying nation, which is how most South Carolinians viewed the United States in those early years following the defeat of the Confederate States of America - during the so-called “Reconstruction?”

Mackey was a Unionist. He was opposed to the secession of his home state from the Union and he actively participated in the Reconstruction efforts of the North following the end of the War Between the States. He was even appointed as Collector of the Port of Charleston, SC, by the President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, following the end of the War. This undoubtedly did not sit well with the majority of his fellow South Carolinians.

Did Mackey’s Unionist position influence the fact that he never became a Grand Master? We may never know for certain, but it does give us something to think about.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Chief Joseph Brant

By accident, I came across an interesting article by the title of "Chief Joseph Brant: Mohawk, Loyalist, and Freemason," by George L. Marshall, Jr. I invite your attention to this informative piece that tells the story of a complicated Freemason who lived from 1742 until 1807 and who was heavily involved in the British efforts to stop the American Revolution.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Secrets of a Prepared Brother

The Ahiman Rezon, or Book of Constitutions, has been used in various forms as the book of Masonic law and as a monitorial text by Masonic Grand Jurisdictions for at least two centuries. Though many Grand Jurisdictions have ceased to use Ahiman Rezon as the title for their constitutions and codes of law, some jurisdictions – such as those in Pennsylvania and South Carolina – have retained those two mysterious words. The debate concerning the origin and true meaning of the words, “Ahiman Rezon,” has carried on for years without a concrete resolution. Possibilities include: "to help a brother", "will of selected brethren", "The secrets of prepared brethren", "Royal Builders" and "Brother Secretary".

The following, from Daniel Sickles’ The General Ahiman Rezon and Freemason’s Guide (New York: Masonic Publishing and Manufacturing Co. 1889, pp. 5-6), is offered for the reader’s further investigation into the meaning of those two words - Ahiman Rezon. [Note: M.W. Brother Rockwell was Grand Master of Masons in Georgia from 1857 until 1862.]


THESE two words have acquired a wide Masonic celebrity. They constituted the title of the Book of Constitutions, used by the division of Freemasons, which separated from the Grand Lodge of England in 1736, and have since become the usual designation of such works in this country. DERMOTT, in 1772, styled his book the TRUE Ahiman Rezon, and he claimed for his portion of the Order the practice of Ancient Masonry. The inference is obvious that there was a spurious work under this title then extant. An inquiry into their meaning is, therefore, not irrelevant.

I have met with no exposition of the signification of this phrase, except in the edition first published in South Carolina by Dr. DALCHO, in 1807, and reprinted, with additions, in 1822; and afterward re-arranged and edited by Dr. MACKEY in 1852; and, also, in the "Lexicon of Freemasonry," by the last-mentioned distinguished author.

The following is Dr. DALCHO'S definition in the edition of 1822: "The Book of Constitutions is usually denominated AHIMAN REZON. The literal translation of ahiman is a prepared brother, from manah, to prepare; and that of rezon, secret. So that Ahiman Rezon literally means the secrets of a prepared brother. It is likewise supposed to be a corruption of achi man ratzon, the thoughts or opinions of a true and faithful brother."

There are several difficulties which seem to render this definition inadmissible. The derivations do not appear to be in accordance with the structure of the Hebrew language (if the words be Hebrew); and the phrase, with this view of its derivation, has no grammatical construction. The Hebrews were accustomed to a species of inversion, which in our language has no parallel: for example, the great work of Jehovah would be in Hebrew ‏מעשה יהוי הנדוֹל‎, literally, work of Jehovah the great. Now, if the phrase under consideration was intended to import "the secrets of a prepared brother," the construction would have been, according to the example just quoted, ahi rezon man. But there are further objections to this rendering of the phrase into English. True, ‏מנה‎ MNE, to divide, to number, in its piel form, signifies to appoint, to constitute, and, in that sense, to prepare; yet, in accordance with the genius of the Hebrew tongue, it undergoes a change in its vocalization. Its stem-letter is doubled, and the vowel sound softened; it is pronounced minnah, and its derivative should be ahiminnah. In Chaldee, ‏רז‎ RZ signifies a secret, and might be imported into the Hebrew, but its plural is razin; besides, it is something of a misnomer to call a published book "Secrets of a prepared brother."

The last suggestion of Dr. DALCHO would seem more plausible, if it were not open to the same grammatical objection. MAN can not signify true or faithful, unless derived from ‏אמן‎ AMN, and then the compound word would be achiamon; and if the ‏א‎ A of AMN suffered elision, it would indicate a different radical, and if no elision took place, the two letters ‏י‎ I and ‏א‎ A would not coalesce, but the ‏י‎ I resumes its consonant sound as in ‏בנימין‎ BNIMIN (which we sound Benjamin), the vocalization would then be Abhjamon.

Dr. MACKEY thus renders it:—"This title is derived from three Hebrew words—ahim, brothers; manah, to select or appoint; and ratzon, the will or law—and it, consequently, signifies "the law of appointed or selected brothers."

It is true, that this definition more nearly accords with what the book contains, than that proposed by DALCHO; yet, there would seem to be no less formidable objections to this view of its signification. The verb ‏מנה‎ MNE, above referred to by DALCHO, in Kal, (i.e., its active form) means to appoint, but its radical meaning is to number; it was one of the prophetic words written by the spectral hand on the wall of Belshazzar's banqueting-room. It is itself a derivative, and will not rid us of the final ‏ה‎ E, and if it be any part of the root of the word, we must read ahimanah. It is just to
notice, that the radical of this verb, signifying something divided ‏מן‎ MN, from the obsolete root ‏מנן‎ MNN, when in composition, conveys the idea of a law, rule or precept, in conformity with which something is done; as, for example, ‏מפי יהוה‎ MPhI IHOH by command of JEHOVAH (II. Chron. xxxvi. 12), but then the grammatical construction would require some other signification of rezon, and it should be construed as an adjective, in conformity with the example above quoted, and it might read ahi, being the genitive singular (‏אהי‎ AHI,) the "Supreme Law of a Brother."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Did Gist Raise the Baron de Kalb?

A fellow lover of history has caused me to do some research after he posted a comment to the article “Mordecai Gist – The Rock at Camden.” Wayfaring Man - of Audi, Vide, Tace - said,

"According to Ronald E. Heaton (Masonic Membership of the Founding Fathers, Silver Spring Md: Masonic Service Assoc., 1974 pp. 84-5), Baron Johann DeKalb is also thought to be a Mason and is usually believed to be a member of Pennsylvania Lodge No. 29 attached to the Maryland Line. Your research begs the question as to whether Gist raised De Kalb. I would love to know more!"

Wayfaring Man – I want to know more as well and my preliminary internet research has dug up some interesting points but no real answers. The interesting points are all in the dates and the locations.

First, General Mordecai Gist requested and received authority on 4 April 1780, from the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, to hold Lodges in the Maryland Line of the Continental Army. Later, on 27 April 1780, he received a charter for an Army Lodge. Sources vary concerning the number of that Lodge. I have read the numbers 27, 29, and 79. At this time, I don’t know which number is correct and it is possible that there was more than one Army Lodge in the Maryland Line.

The date of 4 April 1780 has some further significance because that is the date that General Washington dispatched DeKalb from New Jersey to Philadelphia to take command of the Maryland and Delaware regiments and to head south with them. On 5 April 1780, many of these regiments were reorganized into brigades. One of those brigades, the 2nd Maryland, was commanded by Gist.

DeKalb’s Masonic record is very fuzzy, but it is generally accepted that he received the degrees in a Pennsylvania Army Lodge that was chartered in April 1780. Sources vary on the number of that lodge – I have read 29 and 79. The important point is that he received the degrees in an Army Lodge chartered in April 1780, which means that he could not have been a Mason prior to then and it puts him in the right place and at the right time for Gist to have been involved with his Masonic degrees. Gist and DeKalb would have been in close proximity to each other from April 1780 until DeKalb’s death on 19 August 1780 following the Battle at Camden, South Carolina.

Additional research is needed.

Mozart and the Freemasons

Tim Bryce, of some e-Mason fame, was kind of enough to highlight a recent article concerning Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that can be found, oddly enough, on a computer and video game site. It is an interesting read for those that are not fully familiar with Mozart's Masonic background. It may also cause the interested reader to research further due to one glaring oddity that the article brings up. From the article:

"A strange event that happened when Mozart was 16 once again causes us to ask questions about Mozart's relations with the Freemasons: he composed 'O Helliges Band', the text of which is taken from a secret Masonic book that only members know. How could Mozart have access to this work at such a young age? Wolfgang was only 'officially' initiated when he was 28…"

[About the picture: Drawing of Mozart in silverpoint, made by Dora Stock during Mozart's visit to Dresden, April 1789]

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Masonic Signers of the Declaration - on the Occasion of the Upcoming Independence Day

A "*" indicates that Masonic membership is not confirmed, but suspected.
Roger Sherman*
Thomas McKean*
George Walton
John Hancock
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry*
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon*
New Hampshire:
William Whipple
North Carolina:
Joseph Hewes
William Hooper
John Penn*
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Morris*
Benjamin Rush*
James Smith*
Rhode Island:
William Ellery
Thomas Jefferson*
Richard Henry Lee*
Thomas Nelson, Jr.*
[I have not researched this information and I take no credit for accuracies or inaccuracies.]

Monday, June 23, 2008

Mordecai Gist – The Rock at Camden

Mordecai Gist was born into a family that was already well known and would become even more notable in the American War of Independence. He was born to Thomas and Susannah Gist in Maryland on February 22, 1742, and it has been reported that his great-great-grandfather, Lawrence Washington of England, was also the great-great-grandfather of the man that would eventually become the first President of the United States.

Gist was trained in the commercial interests and was apparently successful at accumulating some wealth since he was able, with his own money, to start the Baltimore Independent Company, or Baltimore Independent Cadets, in 1774. His involvement with this organization shows that he was anticipating, and possibly hoping for, the conflict that was looming on the horizon with Britain. In 1776, Gist was appointed as an officer in the Continental Army and he quickly rose through the ranks - becoming a Brigadier General in 1779.

It is in that next year that Gist’s name truly becomes worthy of printing in the history books since, in 1780, the Battle of Camden occurs. At the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, Gist is the Commander of the Second Maryland Brigade, part of the Maryland Line of the Continental Army, with a regiment from Delaware attached to his command. Though Camden was a sounding defeat for the Continentals, Gist achieved notoriety for his fortitude and leadership on the field. He, along with the Baron de Kalb, led the forces on the right of the American line. As the left and center of the Continental line gave way to Lord Cornwallis’ British regulars,

De Kalb and Gist yet held the battle on our right in suspense. Lieutenant Colonel Howard, at the head of William’s regiment, drove the corps in front out of line. Rawdon could not bring the brigade of Gist to recede: - bold was the pressure of the foe; firm as a rock the resistance of Gist. Now the Marylanders were gaining ground; but the deplorable desertion of the militia having left Webster unemployed, that discerning soldier detached some light troops with Tarleton’s cavalry in pursuit, and opposed himself in the reserve brought up by Smallwood to replace the fugitives. Here the battle was renewed with fierceness and obstinacy. The Marylanders, with Dixon’s regiment, although greatly outnumbered, firmly maintained the desperate conflict; and De Kalb, now finding his once exposed flank completely shielded, resorted to the bayonet. Dreadful was the charge!

De Kalb would die from the wounds he received during the Battle of Camden and, though he was German, he would forever be remembered as a hero of the Revolution and as an esteemed Brother by the Freemasons of the United States. General Gist, who fought so valiantly with De Kalb at Camden, was one of his fellow Freemasons.

In 1775, five years before the Battle of Camden, Gist had become a Freemason in Lodge No. 16, Baltimore, Maryland. On April 4, 1780, he received a warrant from the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania that gave him the authority to hold Lodges in the Maryland Line of the Continental Army.

On the twenty-seventh of April, 1780, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania granted a charter for Army Lodge No. 27 to the Masons of the Maryland Line in the Revolution. Its officers were General Mordecai Gist, Worshipful Master; Colonel Otho Holland Wlliams, Senior Warden, and Major Archibald Anderson, Junior Warden…

Based on the fact that Gist’s birth state of Maryland did not yet have its own Grand Lodge - it not being formed until 1783, and on some of his future Masonic activities that will soon be presented in this article, it can be reasonably assumed that Gist’s home Lodge in Baltimore was chartered by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and, therefore, he was an Ancient York Mason as opposed to a Free and Accepted Mason.

Following the end of the War, Gist moved to the Charleston, South Carolina, area and purchased a plantation near that city, where he resided until his death in 1792. Gist petitioned the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1786 for a warrant to hold a Lodge in Charleston and, reportedly, said petition was granted and the new Lodge was given the number of 27, the same number he had received for his Military Lodge in 1780. This writer, however, is more inclined to believe that the number was actually 47. Albert G. Mackey writes,

There were in the State in the year 1786 five Lodges of Ancient York Masons which dd not acknowledge allegiance to the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of South Carolina. These were Lodges No. 190 and 236, which derived their warrants from the Athol Grand Lodge of England, and Lodges No. 38, 40, and 47, which held under the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, that body being Ancient York in its Masonry.

Being the newest of the Lodges in South Carolina chartered by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, it is doubtful that Gist’s new Lodge would have had a number lower than the other two and this writer must reasonably assume that 47 is the correct number given his Lodge formed in 1786.

On March 24th, 1787, these five Lodges would form the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons of South Carolina and the Honorable Mordecai Gist would be elected as its first Deputy Grand Master. The said Grand Lodge issued the following preamble in a circular to the different Grand Lodges of England, Scotland, Ireland, and America:

We, the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons for the State of South Carolina, and the Masonic jurisdiction thereunto belonging, legally and constitutionally erected and organized, and in ample form assembled; beg leave, with all due respect, and in the true spirit of brotherly love, to announce to you our formation as such; to declare the purity of those motives which led to it; to assure you that, by this act, we mean not to dissolve, but to strengthen that union by which the ancient brethren throughout all nations are connected, and to request your countenance and correspondence.
In 1790, Gist succeeded the Honorable William Drayton and became the Grand Master of the Ancient York Masons of South Carolina and held this position through 1791. Gist died the next year at the age of fifty. The Ancient York Mason Grand Lodge that he had been so involved in creating would, in 1817, eventually unite with the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of South Carolina to form the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Gettysburg - A Reflection on My Recent Visit

I have just returned from the Gettysburg National Military Park and I am still trying to get my thoughts in order concerning my visit to that place where so many added their blood to the soil. As an amateur historian, I have studied the Battle of Gettysburg up one side and down the other but was not prepared for the feelings that were generated once I stood upon that battlefield.

I was quickly struck by the immenseness of the battlefield. Yes, I knew that by the end of the second day of fighting the Confederate line stretched for about seven and a half miles, but I didn’t understand it until I saw it. I knew about the nastiness of the Devil’s Den and the steep slope of Little Round Top, but I again didn’t understand it until I saw it.

I knew that the Confederate advance on the third day required the soldiers the cross a wide open area under enemy fire. I just didn’t understand it until I saw it. The picture posted here is one I took from the Union position near the Angle, also known as the High Water Mark (click on the picture for greater detail). The tree line in the distance is from where Pickett and the other Confederates started their advance. Along that tree line and almost in the center of the picture, you can see a small white object. That “small” white object is the Virginia Memorial with a statue of Robert E. Lee atop it. It is about the height of a two storey building, which should give you a perspective of how wide that open field is – nearly a mile.

The deeper thoughts and emotions that I bring back from my short visit to Gettysburg are the ones that I can’t quite put into written words, so I’ll just say the following. I walked the ground where fellow South Carolinians fought, died, and are buried in unmarked graves. I saw their bodies, still lying where they had fallen, in pictures taken three days after the battle was over. I saw the flat rock, which served as a makeshift operating table, where a Union surgeon provided medical care to soldiers, Union and Confederate alike, for twenty-four hours straight while the battle raged around him on the second day of fighting. That surgeon collapsed and died as he was walking away from that location. I saw the rows upon rows of small, numbered stone markers that designated the final resting places of the many hundreds of unknown soldiers buried in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. I heard the words of the licensed guide as he told me that, one hundred and forty-five years later, body parts are still being found. I saw the spot where Lewis Armistead fell and, thus, where the Masonic story of his final hours began.

I am still reflecting. If you have not visited Gettysburg, you should. If you do, I suspect that you will then be doing some reflecting of your own.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Schism’s Shadow Falls on the First President

Any Mason with a reasonable knowledge of the Craft will be familiar with the fact that George Washington, the First President of the United States, was a Freemason. The same studious Mason will also be fully aware of the schism that existed between the Ancient, or Antient, and the Modern Masons for many decades in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Some events that surrounded President Washington, occurring decades after he became a Freemason, give a clear indication as to the deepness of that divide between the Ancients and the Moderns.

A brief description of the how the schism between the Ancients and the Moderns developed may be in order. The Athol Grand Lodge, or Grand Lodge of Ancient Masons, had formed in England several decades after the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, which dates to 1717. The Grand Lodge of England and the Athol Grand Lodge were often bitter rivals and the Athols described the Grand Lodge of England as “Modern Masons.” This was meant to be a derogatory term, in that the Athols felt themselves to be “Ancient” and, therefore, more in line with the old traditions, rituals, and teachings of Freemasonry. In 1813, these two Grand Lodges eventually united to form the current United Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of England, but not before the rivalry had spread to the American Colonies and, thus, to the new United States of America. Having their roots in York, England, the Ancients are often referred to as York Masons or Ancient York Masons. It is important to note that the York Masons and the Modern Masons did not recognize each other and both parties looked to the other as innovators and invaders.

It is known that Washington was initiated into Freemasonry on November 4th, 1752, in the Lodge at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and he became a Master Mason in that same Lodge on August 4th of the next year. The early history of Freemasonry in Virginia is murky, at best, and it appears that there were no less than five Grand Jurisdictions that had chartered Lodges in that territory by 1777. It was in that year that a movement began to form a Grand Lodge of Virginia and this effort culminated in the creation of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons of Virginia on October 30th, 1778. Washington’s home Lodge was part of the convention that gave birth to this new Grand Lodge. But what type of Grand Lodge was it? Was it Ancient or Modern?

It is inferred in Albert G. Mackey’s History of Freemasonry, that the first Grand Master of the new Grand Lodge of Virginia, John Blair, was an Ancient York Mason and one can extrapolate that his new Grand Lodge was of the same character. As will be seen further in this article, Mackey asserts that George Washington himself was an Ancient York Mason. Let us now turn to some events in South Carolina that surrounded President Washington in order to truly visualize the width of the division that existed between the Ancients and the Moderns.

Two years after being sworn in as the first President of the United States of America, Washington began a tour of the Southern States of the new Union. This created much excitement in the South, especially since Washington had never travelled to that part of the country, and this excitement spilled over into the Masonic Fraternity. At this time in South Carolina, the division between the Ancients and the Moderns was alive and well and there existed two Grand Lodges, namely the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons of South Carolina and the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of South Carolina. Neither body recognized the other as true Masons nor would they undertake the process of mending the schism in South Carolina for another sixteen years.

On May 2nd, 1791 and on the occasion of Washington’s arrival in South Carolina, General Mordecai Gist, Grand Master of the Ancient York Masons of South Carolina, addressed the President in a most respectful, congratulatory, Masonic, and heartfelt manner on behalf of his Grand Lodge. Washington responded to the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons in similar fashion. The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of South Carolina offered no such address, though it was certainly in proximity to have been able to do so.

Mackey, in the History of Freemasonry in South Carolina, notes another and more glaring “omission of a duty of respect” on the part of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of South Carolina. This omission occurs after Washington dies on December 14th, 1799. Mackey writes,

"...I can find no record of any public action taken by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons on this occasion. Indeed there is no mention in the journals of the day of that body having taken any part in the civic procession of the community of Charleston, which took place on the 15th of February, in which the York Masons, to the number of 250, took a prominent part, and appeared in ‘funeral order.’ I am almost afraid to record the explanation which alone suggests itself to me, of the surprising silence and absence of the Free and Accepted Masons on this occasion."

The official actions of the York Masons following the death of Washington are extensive and well recorded. In addition to participating in the procession on February 15th, 1800; the Ancient York Mason Grand Lodge recommended that its members adorn themselves with symbols of mourning for a month, resolutions concerning his death were adopted, and the equivalent of a Lodge of Sorrow was conducted on February 22nd, 1800.

Mackey goes on to reluctantly conclude that the “failure or refusal” of the Modern Masons to participate in any Masonic fashion in the ceremonies meant to honor the recently deceased first President had everything to do with the schism between the Ancients and the Moderns. Mackey writes,

“…it to be attributed solely to the fact, that having been made in Virginia, he was an Ancient York Mason, and that his Masonic claim was not therefore recognized by them. They mourned him as citizens, but could not admit his right to Masonic funeral honors.”

That the dark shadow of the schism between the Ancient Masons and the Modern Masons extended even to such revered general, statesman, and Freemason as George Washington is truly indicative of how troubling those times were for Freemasonry. The Masons of today will forever be indebted to those of many years ago who found the desire and courage to heal that old wound and erase that shadow from the landscape of the Fraternity.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Only Ancient Free Mason Grand Lodge

In South Carolina, we style ourselves as Ancient Free Masons, or A.F.M. Our Grand Lodge is the only known and recognized Grand Jurisdiction that uses this title. The other Grand Lodges are usually some variation of Free and Accepted Masons (F. & A.M.) or Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (A.F. & A.M.). To get to the origins of A.F.M, we must first look at some earlier events that occurred in England.

For a time, there were at least four Grand Lodges operating in England. Two of them, however, emerged as the most influential when it came to the spread of Freemasonry to the American Colonies. The Athol Grand Lodge, or Grand Lodge of Ancient Masons, had formed in England several decades after the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, which dates to 1717. The Grand Lodge of England and the Athol Grand Lodge were rivals and the the Athols described the Grand Lodge of England as “Modern Masons.” This was meant to be somewhat of a derogatory term, in that the Athols felt themselves to be “Ancients” and, therefore, more in line with the old traditions, rituals, and teachings of Freemasonry. Eventually, in 1813, these two Grand Lodges united to form the current United Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of England, but not before the rivalry had spread to the American Colonies and, thus, to the new United States of America and, of course, to South Carolina.

There was a time when there was a Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons (F. & A.M.) in South Carolina. This was the original Provincial Grand Lodge of South Carolina, as established under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England and dated back, according to several Masonic historians, to 1737.

Just like in England, however, there was for many years, another Grand Lodge operating in South Carolina. The Athol Grand Lodge had chartered Lodges in Pennsylvania, which in turn, as a Grand Lodge, had chartered Lodges in South Carolina. In 1787, five of these type Lodges came together and formed the South Carolina Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons, or A.Y.M. Within four short years, these original five A.Y.M. Lodges had multiplied to thirty-five Lodges. Remarkably, the rival Grand Lodge only claimed about a third of that number of Lodges, even though it had been in existence since 1737.

The rivalry between the A.Y.M. Grand Lodge and, what was becoming known more and more as the “Modern Mason”, or M.M. Grand Lodge became very bitter as the years went by. An A.Y.M. quote of unknown origin describes the feelings in those days: “Those Modern or new Masons, we know not, neither indeed can we, since he that cometh not in the door agreeably to our ancient landmarks, but climbeth over the wall or some other way is a thief and a robber.”

Many influential Masons in both Grand Lodges recognized that the division was harmful to Freemasonry in South Carolina and, as early as 1807, steps were taken to resolve the problem. In 1809, after several negotiations and meetings between the two Grand Lodges, a new united Grand Lodge was born.

The union quickly fell apart, however, when many of the former A.Y.M. Lodges, under the leadership of then St. John’s Lodge No. 31, seceded from the new Grand Lodge of South Carolina. Less than a year after the formation of the united Grand Lodge, sixteen of the A.Y.M. Lodges had reformed the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons.

Interestingly, the new unified Grand Lodge could no longer be described as M.M., or “Modern”. Enough of the A.Y.M. Lodges had remained with it and influenced it to the point that it appeared to be more in line with the Ancient York Masons than the former Free and Accepted Masons (F. & A.M.), or “Modern”, Grand Lodge of SC. In fact, they discarded Anderson’s “Constitutions”, as their code, in favor of the “Ahiman Rezon”, as used by the Ancient York Masons. For all intents and purposes, there were now two “Ancient” Grand Lodges working is South Carolina.

By 1816, efforts were again underway to unify the two Grand Lodges. By this time, the South Carolina Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons had again grown to include thirty-five Lodges while the Grand Lodge of South Carolina only counted fifteen. In 1817, committees from both Grand Lodges adopted a plan that called for union of the two into “The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina”, which is when A.F.M. first appears.

On December 26, 1817, the Grand Lodge of South Carolina and the South Carolina Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons ceased to exist and the new Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina became the only true and lawful Masonic authority in the State.

Many of the other state Grand Lodges, especially those existing in those states that had been colonies, went through similar splits and re-unions as South Carolina. The adoption of the names (F. & A.M., A.F. & A.M.) often reflects which Grand Lodge (“Ancient” or “Modern”) was the most influential at the time.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Almost Perfect Outdoor Degree Location

Wouldn’t this be a great place for an Outdoor Degree? The only down side is that it is too close to a highway and would be rather difficult to properly tile. These are the ruins of Old Sheldon Church, located in the Low Country of South Carolina near old rice fields. The church was first destroyed by the British during the War of Independence. It was rebuilt, but Sherman’s troops again put it to the torch during the War of Northern Aggression. The way you see it today is pretty much the way it was left by the Union troops. In addition to having many visitors, it is also rented out for outdoor weddings. If you ever find yourself on I-95 and passing through South Carolina, I highly recommend that you get off at exit 38 in Yemassee. The ruins are only about 10 minutes from the interstate. Just ask for directions at one of the gas stations in Yemassee.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Pulse of a Lodge

If you wanted to check on the health of a Lodge, and you only had one man in that Lodge that you could examine, whose pulse would you check?

The Master? In most Lodges, he is only there for a year or two. He has just arrived from the West and, though he probably has some things he wants to accomplish, he is trying to wade through the term without messing everything up. Yep, he is the boss, but he is dealing with his own personal issues. No, not the Master.

The Wardens? They are very much like the Master. They are trying to refine their roles while, at the same time, setting their sights on the East. No, not the Wardens.

A Past Master? Maybe. But which one would you examine? You can’t get an accurate reading by examining just one of them. No, not a Past Master.

A member of the Craft? Not a good bet. Like the Past Masters, it will do no good to examine just one of them. No, not a member of the Craft.

The Secretary? This man is usually in his position for a multitude of years. Very often, he is also a Past Master. He sees and records the membership, the attendance, the financial matters, and everything that is said in the Lodge. He is in direct communication with the Grand Secretary and, therefore, sees many of these same things at the Grand Lodge level. Take his pulse!

[Author’s Note: As a fourth term Secretary, this opinion piece may be somewhat biased. I am also fully aware that there are exceptional stories in individual Lodges that will not match what I have said in this article.]

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Reason Behind the Ballot

What is the "will of the Lodge?" More importantly, what is the Lodge? The Lodge is all of its members...collectively and individually. The Three Musketeers would recognize what I am saying here. "Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno (One for all, all for one)."

This relates directly to the process of electing new members to the Lodge. The creators of the secret, unanimous ballot knew what they were doing and they had it right when they created the system. They knew what some seem to have forgotten, which is that the Lodge is more important than the petitioner. The harmony of the Lodge is more important than the petitioner. Remember, the petitioner is not yet a Brother. He is not yet of the Lodge and he is just a profane who is seeking light. That may sound harsh, but it is the naked truth.

Now, let me speak on the reason the ballot must be unanimous, or nearly unanimous in certain Jurisdictions. The Lodge decides who becomes a member. Not a majority of the Lodge...but THE Lodge (I wish I could emphasize that even more). Remember the phrase, "All for one, one for all." The creators of the ballot system knew that the task of deciding whether or not to admit new members was so important, and had such far-reaching implications, that it could not be left to the few or even to a majority. All of the members have to decide. The Lodge has to decide. Majority rule, though currently the best system for society, creates conflict. Unanimous rule, certainly a utopian concept at this time, creates harmony.

I'll now examine why the ballot is secret. Too easy. Why is your vote for the next President secret? See, even the profane have figured this one out. A voter or a balloter must have complete freedom to go with his conscience. Requiring him to divulge his vote or ballot and/or provide a reason for his decision can influence his action and, thereby, remove some of the freedom that a secret vote or ballot guarantees.

Are good men sometimes denied membership? Of course. It happens. You have to keep in mind, though, that the harmony of the Lodge trumps any perceived "rights" of the petitioner. Masonically speaking, the petitioner has no rights.

The secret, unanimous ballot system is as perfect of a system that I know. I'll say it again. The ballot system is perfect. Any perceived imperfection exists only within the man that holds the little white and black balls between his fingers. Changing an already perfect system will not fix that and may only make it worse. Education is probably the best way to combat any imperfections.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Are Freemasons Elevated?

I have lately detected a trend, amongst Freemasons, that regards a profane man as an equal to a Freemason. Since non-Freemasons are surely able to read this article, let me pause and discuss what a profane is.

According to one of the definitions of the word, and the one Freemasonry assigns to it, the adjective “profane” means “not admitted into a body of secret knowledge or ritual; uninitiated.” Freemasons will frequently turn this word into a noun, though it is not truly grammatically correct to do so. So, there you have it. A profane person is simply one that has not been initiated into Freemasonry.

I have been taught and I personally feel that Freemasons are elevated, at least in certain ways, above profane men. The profane man is not the equal to a Freemason. This has been the general attitude of modern Freemasonry for hundreds of years. This not to say that Freemasons should treat profane men badly, or look down their noses at them; but Freemasons, amongst themselves, should realize and appreciate their elevated status in society. To do otherwise, in my opinion, is radical thinking...Masonically speaking.

Could it be that this "equality thought" is the root problem for Freemasonry? Have some Freemasons forgotten, or never learned, that they are more elevated (enlightened) and, thus, more elite than their fellow profane man? Has this caused the Fraternity to initiate those that should not have been? Such thinking has caused Freemasons in general; especially those that possibly should not have been initiated in the first place, to cheapen their place in society. Some Freemasons seem to feel that they are just an extension of society rather than an elevation of society.

The rather neat thing about any organization that considers and portrays itself to be elevated or elite is that such an attitude is contagious. Some may misinterpret an elitist attitude as arrogance, however, that does not change the fact those organizations that truly believe they are elite have very little trouble in attracting new members. One only has to look at the military for an example of this. Certain branches and jobs within the military are considered by many to be elite examples of military service. Folks within those branches and jobs believe they are elite and exude confidence. This causes many outsiders, especially those with goal driven personalities, to almost beg for admission. Freemasonry used to be just like this. In some places, it still is. It could be like this everywhere.

If the majority of the Craft readopted an elevated or elitist attitude, without being arrogant, and truly believed in that elevated status; then almost all of Freemasonry’s ills could be cured.