Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bro. Washington on St. John’s Day

December 27 is the Feast Day of Saint John the Evangelist, and therefore is one of two major celebrations for Freemasonry (June 24, the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist, is the other). On the 27th of December, 1779, while encamped at Morristown, New Jersey during the Revolution, the Masonic brethren serving under Gen. George Washington celebrated the Feast Day in the Masonic style of that period, with a church service, a lodge meeting, and a meal together.

From the records of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey:

“...the headquarters of Washington, at the close of the year 1779, were at Morristown, in this State. The American Union Lodge, which was an army Lodge, whose Warrant had been granted by Colonel Richard Gridley, Deputy Grand Master of Massachusetts, was at that time with the army under Washington at Morristown. At the festival meeting of this Lodge, held to celebrate the festival of St. John the Evangelist, December 27, 1779, the record shows the presence of sixty-eight brethren, one of whom was George Washington.”

One of George Washington's Masonic aprons
is displayed in the museum of the Grand Lodge
of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
(Magpie Mason photo.)
 Considering the hardships faced by the Continental forces at Morristown (better informed historians know it was Morristown, not Valley Forge, that was the site of the most grueling, bitter winter for the troops during the war), it is not surprising that Masonic paraphernalia was not on hand for this celebration. The daunting feat of sending to Newark for the proper regalia was successful, and St. John’s Lodge No. 1 answered the call, providing the needed items. (St. John’s Lodge still exists, and will celebrate its 250th anniversary on May 14, 2011.)

It was at this meeting where a project was launched to bring some order and unity to the Masonic fraternity in the colonies by establishing a single grand lodge for America. Mordecai Gist, representing the Masons in the armed forces of Maryland, was made president of the committee that several months later would formally issue the call for this general grand lodge… with Gen. and Bro. George Washington as its Grand Master.

From this committee’s petition:


The Grand Masters of the Several Lodges
in the Respective United States of America.

Union.     Force.     Love.

The subscribers, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons in convention, to you, as the patrons and protectors of the craft upon this continent, prefer their humble address.

Unhappily, the distinctions of interest, the political views, and national disputes subsisting between Great Britain and these United States have involved us, not only in the general calamites that disturb the tranquility which used to prevail in this once happy country, but in a peculiar manner affects our society, by separating us from the Grand Mother Lodge in Europe, by disturbing our connection with each other, impeding the progress, and preventing the perfection of Masonry in America.

We deplore the miseries of our countrymen, and particularly lament the distresses which many of our poor brethren must suffer, as well from the want of temporal relief, as for want of a source of LIGHT to govern their pursuits and illuminate the path of happiness. And we ardently desire to restore, if possible, that fountain of charity, from which, to the unspeakable benefit of mankind, flows benevolence and love. Considering with anxiety these disputes, and the many irregularities and improprieties committed by weak or wicked brethren, which too manifestly show the present dissipated and almost abandoned condition of our lodges in general, as well as the relaxation of virtue amongst individuals, we think it our duty, Right Worshipful Brothers and Seniors in the Craft, to solicit your immediate interposition to save us from the impending dangers of schisms and apostasy. To obtain security from those fatal evils, with affectionate humility, we beg leave to recommend the adopting and pursuing the most necessary measures for establishing one Grand Lodge in America, to preside over and govern all other lodges of whatsoever degree or denomination, licensed or to be licensed upon the continent, that the ancient principles and discipline of Masonry being restored, we may mutually and universally enjoy the advantages arising from frequent communion and social intercourse....”

While Washington was not named in this petition, it was made known that he was the choice of the brethren to serve as the Grand Master. Washington did not accept the position, and the general Grand Lodge in America never came to fruition.


Brad Hart said...

This is excellent stuff, Magpie! I think it got buried by other posts but I hope others will read it. Definitely worth the time.

Magpie Mason said...

I'm always overshadowed by giants, but thanks for the kind words Brad.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And interesting, Jay, that even Masonry---for all its universalism and supposed theologico-political influence---couldn't bridge the political divide between America and the Mother Country.

Nor did it, as proposed in 1779, even achieve One Grand Lodge in America.

Nor did it ever, even come 2010. But that's OK, that's the American Way. Think of it as Mason federalism.

Magpie Mason said...

Hi Tom,

There are many things Freemasonry can do, but most of them concern the psyche and spirit of the individual man. Because it is a human society, it is imperfect and suffers errors and failures. These become even more obvious when seen by the critical eye of retrospection.

Not only could a single grand lodge not be established for all of America, even under George Washington's auspices, but at this same time there were competing grand lodges in England itself, differentiated along lines of class and ethnicity. Human foibles again.


Tom said...

Bro. Washington on St. John’s Day was a very interesting piece of American and Masonic history. May I have your permission to use part of this piece in a short talk in my lodge.
Tom Brown, St. Stephens #63, South Amboy, NJ

Magpie Mason said...

Hello Bro. Tom!

Yes, please do, and give my regards to the brethren. I haven't visited St. Stephen's in years.

Publicity Lodge 1000