So there lies the brave De Kalb; the generous stranger who came from a distant land to fight our battles, and to water with his blood the tree of our liberty. Would to God he had lived to share its fruits![i]
– George Washington as he gazed upon De Kalb’s grave.
The Baron de Kalb’s heroics during the American Revolution – as well as his military activities in France prior to him arriving in the Colonies – are rather well documented but there remains an elusive aspect of De Kalb’s life. The particulars pertaining to where and when De Kalb became a Freemason continue to hide themselves from researchers.
That De Kalb was a Freemason there is little doubt as his contemporaries clearly regarded him as such. Following his death on 19 August 1780 from wounds received at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, he was buried with Masonic honors by a military lodge attached to the very British Army that he had opposed and the British commander, Lord Cornwallis, reportedly personally performed the Masonic ceremony.[ii]
There is another well documented acknowledgement of De Kalb’s membership in the fraternity of Freemasons. Known Freemason, close friend of De Kalb, and fellow Revolutionary War general – the Marquis de Lafayette – returned to the United States from France in 1824 and – on 9 March of the following year – presided over the Masonic cornerstone laying ceremony at the monument erected at the site in Camden, South Carolina, where De Kalb’s remains had been re-interred.[iii]
The fact remains, however, that no researcher has been able to pinpoint with accuracy the time and place that De Kalb became a Freemason – though there is one very plausible theory that involves General Mordecai Gist and a military lodge. Gist, who would later become the second Grand Master of the Ancient York Masons of South Carolina, was in proximity to De Kalb on the right side of the Patriot line during the Battle of Camden. Gist – at the time of the battle – was the Master of Army Lodge Number 27, which had been warranted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, and commander of the Second Maryland Brigade, which was part of the Maryland Line commanded by De Kalb.
…and the Baron DeKalb, if not made in it [Army Lodge No. 27], doubtless affiliated therein, while the “Maryland Line” were serving under his command in General Gates’ army of the South.[iv]
The search for Brother De Kalb’s elusive Masonic beginnings continues.
[i] Griswold, Rufus W. Washington and the Generals of the American Revolution, Volume II. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co, 1856, p. 271.
[ii] Chaplin, W.J., Editor. The Michigan Freemason, Volume VIII. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Ihling Brothers, 1877, p. 109.
[iii] Meace, Eric A. Of Heroes, Masons Trowels and Jewels. http://www.scgrandlodgeafm.org/History/LafayetteTrowel.htm (Accessed 7 June 2009).
[iv] Grand Lodge of A.F. & A.M. of Maryland. Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of Maryland. Baltimore: Griffin, Curley & Co, 1887, p. 8 of the Oration of Carter, John M.