You know, or should know, that Masonry in its modern Speculative form began with the organization of the first Grand Lodge and of the Grand Lodge system in London, England, in 1717. It is also important to be aware that the earliest known record of an American Lodge is dated at 1730, only thirteen years after the constituting of the Mother Grand Lodge. In parallel with the evolution of the USA, Masonry moved from East to West. From England to New England, across the fruited plains, majestic mountains and beautiful deserts, to the Golden Coast in the West pioneers, travelers and seekers of all description sojourned, and settled.
The history of the Grand Lodge of California is inseparable from the history of the State of California. Those same brave pioneers who came west in search of wealth, fame, and opportunity came to bring their beloved fraternity, and all that it entails, with them. In some cases, bringing Masonry to "The New Frontier" was their primary purpose. Grand Masters of Eastern jurisdictions issued Charters to western-bound sojourners, giving them the right to work as Lodges in the Wild West, under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Grand Lodge. Other Grand Masters issued Dispensations, giving groups of Masons who found themselves in this Masonic Wilderness the right to meet and organize as California Masonic Lodges.
In 1849, gold was discovered near Sutter's Mill. Word quickly moved eastward, and men accordingly began to move west. Such a long, difficult and dangerous journey is not to be undertaken lightly, or alone. Men seeking their fortunes knew that to go it alone was an invitation to disaster. Accordingly, they banded together into traveling parties, and sought ways to fulfill the need for fraternalism and mutual assistance. Some had long been Masons, others joined Masonic Lodges, and together, as Brethren, they made their way West.
It is unsurprising; therefore, that many prominent leaders in this new frontier were members of our fraternity. With the number of Masons, and the prominence the Craft played in their lives and the lives of others, the obvious action was to create a Grand Lodge of Masons in California.
As early as March of 1850, Masons in California attempted to form a Grand Lodge. That attempt failed, but the following month saw success. Invitations were issued to all the Masonic Lodges known to be in California, and all past Grand Officers of other jurisdictions known to be living here, to send delegates to a convention. At this convention, a new Grand Lodge was to be formed. On April 17th, 1850, in Sacramento three Chartered Lodges presented credentials, and three Lodges under dispensation sent delegates.
The oldest recorded California Lodge is California Lodge # 1, which was chartered by the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia as California Lodge # 13.
The vault of Western Star Lodge #2, in Shasta City, California, contains many valuable relics, memorializing its move from Benton City, near Chico, in 1851. Others show the number 98, which was issued by the Grand Lodge of Missouri on May 10, 1848, when it was first Chartered.
The Grand Lodge of Connecticut issued a Charter to Connecticut Lodge No. 76 on January 31st, 1849. When the Grand Lodge of California was formed in 1850, it became Tehama Lodge #3.
The Grand Lodge of California, in April of 1850, thereby consisted of three Chartered Lodges. Total membership in those Lodges was 103. An inauspicious beginning, perhaps, but it led to fantastic growth.
In addition to Lodges Chartered by other jurisdictions, there were eleven dispensations issued by Grand Masters from Eastern jurisdictions. A few eventually became Chartered Lodges. Others thrived for a time and then faded away. The rest just never manifested at all. In most cases, a dispensation would be issued for a Traveling Lodge, to a group of Masons headed west. These early California Masons would hold meetings when and where they could, and some held together long enough to take hold in a California community.
The Grand Master of Indiana issued a dispensation to form Sierra Nevada Lodge, in Grass Valley, in 1848. The Lodge eventually failed, and its members later formed Madison Lodge, which was chartered under the Grand Lodge of California.
In 1849, the Grand Master of Louisiana gave a grant, similar to a dispensation, to a group that eventually became The Pacific Lodge at Benicia, and later was chartered as Benicia Lodge #5. The Lodge building they built was the first in California, and is still standing. In it are the first jewels used by the Lodge, made of tin and cut from cans of food. In the Lodge room, on the altar, is another relic from 1850, their Holy Bible.
Another dispensation issued by the Grand Master of Louisiana formed Davy Crockett Lodge #7. Ruben Clark was Master in 1851, and served the State of California as Architect and Builder of the State Capitol building in Sacramento. 1852 saw the name changed to San Francisco Lodge #7, as the Lodge moved from the jurisdiction of Louisiana to the Grand Lodge of California.
The Grand Lodge of California gained three more Chartered Lodges.
In September of 1850, the Republic of California became a State in the United States of America. Five Months earlier, the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of California was formed. Jonathan D. Stevenson of San Francisco became the first Grand Master. On April 19th, 1850, assisted by a full corps of officers, he opened the first session of the Grand Lodge of California in ample form.
From 103 members in three Chartered Lodges, the Grand Lodge of California grew. By November of 1850, Jennings Lodge No. 4 of Sacramento; Benicia Lodge No. 5; Sutter Lodge No. 6 of Sacramento; Davy Crockett No. 7 of San Francisco; Tuolumne Lodge No. 8 of Sonora; Marysville Lodge No. 9; San Jose Lodge No. 10; and Willamette Lodge No. 11 of Portland, Oregon, were chartered. The Grand Lodge of California had grown to 304 Masons; nearly tripling it's size in members and quadrupling in Lodges in seven Months.
The day following the formation of the Grand Lodge of California, the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin issued a Charter to Lafayette Lodge # 29, in Nevada City. While technically a breach of courtesy for one Grand Lodge to issue a Charter to a Lodge in the area of another jurisdiction, this was done in all innocence. Communications and transportation were not then what they are today. In addition, they did not have the Internet to make things as speedy as we know them. In 1851, a fire destroyed the Charter, and the Lodge was immediately re Chartered as Nevada Lodge #13. It remains so known to this day.
The year 1850 was a busy year for the Grand Master of Illinois. He issued dispensations for two Lodges in California. The first, Laveley Lodge in Marysville later became Marysville Lodge #9, and still later changed it's name to Corinthian Lodge #9. The second Illinois Lodge in California, Pacific Lodge, near Oroville, held it's meetings at a place called Long's Bar. Formed in 1850, it faded from the scene, and it's members were allowed to affiliate with California Lodges.
Grants and dispensations were also authorized and issued by Grand Masters of New Jersey, Virginia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Florida. None of these lasted very long, most never advanced beyond the Traveling Lodge stage.
Human organizations tend to grow, change and shrink. By 1860, two Lodges had moved to the jurisdiction of Oregon, thirteen had surrendered their Charters; two had lost them for cause. Grand Lodge now consisted of 128 Lodges and 5055 members.
With a stabilizing population, the establishment of more cities, towns and communities, and the settlement of this wild new frontier winding down, more growth, changes and evolution inevitably follow.
Mining has been, from the beginning, a major industry in California. Wherever a successful mine can be found, a town to support that mine will be nearby. Fascinating names were established for these towns and no less fascinating names for the Lodges Chartered therein. A few examples include: Rough and Ready at a camp by the same name in Nevada County; Indian Diggings Lodge in El Dorado County; Saint Mark 's Lodge at Fiddletown; Oro Fino, at a town by that name in Siskiyou County; Violet Lodge at Spanish Flat; Rising Sun Lodge at Brandy City; Mount Carmel Lodge at Red Dog, Nevada County. These and more, added color to the local landscape, and made Masonry a part of the community.
Brother John Whicher, former Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of California tells an interesting story of a characteristic mining camp in the early days of California.
"Of the numerous mining camps of early days, " says Brother Whicher, "one only need be noted. The largest mining camp in California was Columbia, in Tuolumne County, known as the 'Gem of the Southern Mines'. Gold was discovered there in the spring of 1850, and within one month, the stampede from nearby camps resulted in a population of 6000 miners. Every week brought more treasure-hunters, and flush times counted 30,000 men madly digging in the hills thereabouts, 15,000 being in the city limits. By 1865, Columbia was dead. It contained forty saloons, a long street devoted to fandangos and hurdy-gurdies, four theaters, one Chinese theater with a stock company of forty native actors, three jewelry stores, a bull ring, 143 faro banks with a combined capital of $2,000,000, four hotels, two military companies, two hose companies, three express offices, four banks, four newspapers, two churches, a Sunday school, a division of the Sons of Temperance, and Columbia Lodge No. 28, of Masons. The principal bank was that of D. O. Mills, the steps leading to the building being of white Columbia marble, and the counters of mahogany. It contained huge gold scales with a capacity of $40,000 in dust and nuggets. The camp produced within a radius of three miles and shipped $125,000,000 in gold. The Masonic Lodge was a power in the work of maintaining order and decent government, but after the gold-fever and the mines had subsided, the membership fell to a low ebb, and in 1891 the old Lodge, established July, 1852, consolidated with Tuolumne Lodge No. 8, at the historic town of Sonora, where it still carries on. There are innumerable ghost cities on the Mother Lode, but Columbia was the gem of them all."
Many of these Lodges no longer exist. Towns, particularly mining towns, were successful only as long as the mines they supported produced a profit. During our 150 years as a Sovereign Grand Lodge, nearly 300 Lodges have become extinct. Freemasonry in the Grand Lodge of California, notwithstanding, has still survived. At the 2000 Annual Communications, there were 90,914 Masons in 388 Constituent Lodges, which can be found in every city and in or near most of the smaller towns in the state. The age of the average California Mason is 80 years.
In the earlier days of the settlement of California, most of the growth was in the North end of the state. More recently, the South end has seen the same pattern. In 1860, San Diego Lodge #35, Los Angeles # 42 and Lexington # 104 were the only Lodges in the Southern half of the state. That was in 1855. Today nearly forty-five percent of California Lodges are south of Tehachapi. In the County of San Diego, at the southern end of the state, there are currently 29 Chartered Lodges.
A fraternity, any fraternity, is whatever its members make it. Who those members are will play a large part in making it what it is. Let us look at some California Masons with whom you may - or should - be familiar.
La Loge La Parfaite Union, of San Francisco, commonly called "the French Lodge", has the honor of being the first non-English-speaking Lodge in California. And, in addition to being a Lodge with great individuality, because of its using the French ritual, it stands out as well as the Lodge whose Master (1898 and 1899) Alexander Kaufman Coney, saved the life of a Brother who later became President of Mexico.
In his early years, Coney went to sea and sailed all over the globe.
During these years he became a Mason in Silentia Lodge No. 198, New York City, in 1875. And, during these years as Purser of the vessel City of Havana, while docked in New Orleans, he managed to assist a stranger who came aboard the ship one summer evening. After some conversation, the stranger introduced himself as a Mexican revolutionary leader named Dr. de la Boza. He identified himself as a Mason as well, for whom the Mexican government had offered a large reward. He asked Coney, as a Brother Mason in distress, to conceal him aboard the ship until the vessel reached Vera Cruz.
Coney knew it was against ship rules to take anyone aboard in this manner, but he knew that here was a Master Mason in distress and it was his duty to help him. On the way, the vessel stopped at Tampico where Dr. de la Boza had an extremely narrow escape from being caught, again with Coney's direct assistance. He finally escaped in the darkness of night when the vessel finally reached Vera Cruz. He continued with his revolutionary efforts, eventually rising to the Presidency of Mexico.
Coney, however, did not know what became of him until several years later while he was on a visit to Mexico City. While sightseeing in the city one day, he was recognized and brought by several uniformed officers to the Presidential Palace. There he learned, to his amazement, that the Brother whose life he had saved was not a Dr. de la Boza, but General Porfirio Diaz, President of Mexico.
Coney turned down a check for $50,000 (the amount of the reward that had been offered for General Diaz when Coney had originally assisted him to escape his enemies). Thereafter, he became Diaz's lifelong friend, and served as Mexican Consul General in St. Nazaire, France; in Paris, and later in San Francisco. He affiliated with La Parfaite Union in 1878.
James W. Robinson, one of the organizers of San Diego Lodge No. 35, born in Ohio, migrated to Texas in 1824. He took up the practice of Law in Nacogdoches, and became very active in State politics. On November 12, 1835, the Texas provisional council elected him Vice President of the Texas Republic. He was later appointed one of the first district judges of Texas. In December 1836, he was captured in the Battle of San Antonio and was taken to Mexico City as a prisoner of war. He was able to persuade General Santa Ana to free him in order for him to try to arrange an armistice. In 1850, he and his wife moved to San Diego where he built a two-story adobe house in the middle of the intersection of two streets, which he occupied for the remainder of his life.
Hilliard P. Dorsey, the first Master of Los Angeles Lodge No. 42, in 1854, came from Georgia, where he was born in 1821. During the Mexican War, he served as a Captain of the Mississippi Regiment under Jefferson Davis. He came to California in September 1849. He pioneered in the cultivation of walnuts near San Gabriel. However, he is most remembered for having fought a duel with another Lodge member during his year as Master, even though Grand Lodge had ruled that dueling between Brother Masons would be penalized by expulsion. Nevertheless, the duel took place two weeks later; each suffered a severe wound, and Grand Lodge expelled them both.
Domenico Ghirardelli, the founder of one of California’s oldest business firms, Ghirardelli's Chocolate Company, was a member of Lodge La Parfaite Union No. 17. He was born in Raphalo, Italy, in 1817, and migrated first to Lima, Peru, where he became close friends with James Lick. In 1849 when news of the California gold discovery reached Peru, Ghirardelli followed Lick to San Francisco. After first trying his luck as a miner, he soon returned to his confectioner's trade, and opened a "Candy & Syrup Manufactory", producing only the best French and American candy. Over the years, the business evolved, until it finally focused only on chocolate in its North Beach site in 1895.
Peter Lassen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1800, and in 1830 he came to the United States and worked his way through St. Louis, Missouri, and overland to Oregon City. From there, he made his way south to San Jose in 1840-41, where he worked as a blacksmith. He moved on to Sutter's Fort, and in 1844, he became a Mexican citizen and was granted a ranch area in what is now Tehama County. After the Mexican War, he traveled overland to Missouri with Commodore Stockton, and then returned in an immigrant train of twelve wagons with the Reverend Saschal Woods, carrying the Charter of Western Star Lodge No. 98, under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Missouri. This Lodge was supposed to have been opened on Lassen's property, in a small settlement he established on Deer Creek. However, it moved to Shasta during the gold rush of 1849-1851, and Lassen became the Charter Junior Warden of Western Star Lodge No. 98 (now No. 2). He was killed somewhat mysteriously in 1859 while prospecting for gold in the Honey Lake region of what is now Lassen County.
Initiated Three Times
The first Master of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 44, Philip Shepheard, was initiated three times and passed twice!
Born in Plymouth, England, in 1813, his early life was as a sailor. During his seafaring years he was initiated an Entered Apprentice in a French Lodge that met in a cave near Alexandria, Egypt. However, he had to leave before he could be passed, so he applied for his Fellow Craft degree in an English Lodge at Kingston, Jamaica. However, his French work was so different from that of the English Lodge that he had to be initiated again. Then once more before he could be passed, he had to sail. He tried again in New York, and here again the work was so different from either the English or French that another initiation was in order. But once again, he had to leave before getting the Fellow Craft degree. Finally, while in port at Rio de Janeiro, he was passed in St. John's Lodge No. 703.
He arrived in San Francisco as Captain of the vessel Arkansas in December 1849, and applied to California Lodge No. 1 for the Third Degree. But, by then, he had such a jumble of French, English, and American work in his mind that the Lodge decided that he had to be passed again. He finally became a Master Mason in California Lodge sometime between November 1850, and May 1851. In 1853, he withdrew from California Lodge to help organize Mount Moriah Lodge No. 44, and he remained a member until his death in December 1865.