A Focus on Masonic Research, News, and other Tidbits

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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.


Wayfaring Man 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!

The Palmetto Bug said...

I'll have to follow-up on the Pennsylvania No. 29 angle and on how involved Gist may have been involved in DeKalb's Masonic career. That could be an interesting subject.

Side note: The Marquis de Lafayette was also a Mason and laid the cornerstone of DeKalb's monument at Camden. The designer of the monument was none other than Robert Mills. I have read that Lafayette was the protégé of DeKalb. I will try to dig into their Masonic relationship as well.

This article is actually a piece of a larger project. I posted it on here as a test run. The larger project has works cited and, I hope, will be interpreted as a quality piece of scholarly work once completed.

Magpie Mason said...

"...and, therefore, he was an Ancient York Mason as opposed to a Free and Accepted Mason."

Bro. G,

That jumped out at me. Never before have I read about or thought of those two terms as representing the different groups.

Very interesting. Thanks for that.


Karen Lavoie said...

Very delighted to find your information on Mordecai Gist. My husband and I were recently in the De Young Museum of Art in San Francisco and whom should we see on the wall was the painting of Mordecai Gist. I drug my husband over to it and for a moment he thought it was just another Peale portrait. When I pointed out to him it was a Gist, we were delighted. My husband, William Gist Lavoie, is descended through John Gist and before him Christopher Gist. My mother-in-law, Gist Pierce Lavoie, did research at the Peabody Museum in Baltimore to discover all this history. We would love to know more about Mordecai's Masonic history as my husband is also a Mason and a Shriner here in Los Angeles. Thank you for any reply you might make.
Karen Lavoie

The Palmetto Mason said...

Mrs. Lavoie,

You and/or your husband can contact me at palmettobugblog@yahoo.com. I will be happy to provide any additional information I may have on Gist.