A Focus on Masonic Research, News, and other Tidbits

Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.

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Thankfully, in current times, technology enables us to take measures to secure historical documents.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.