Email this page

Traduzca esta pßgina al espa˝ol
Traduire Cette Page A Franšais
▄bersetzen Sie Diese Seite Zu Deutsch


  Print this page



A TYPICAL LODGE

It would require many volumes to give even a condensed history of the hundreds of Masonic lodges in the United States and British America. The Grand Lodges represent a total membership of more than a million. They are in full affiliation with the English Grand Lodge, of which the Duke of Connaught is Grand Master, and the Grand Lodges of Ireland, Scotland, Cuba, Peru, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, and also with the Masons of Germany and Austria. They recognize and affiliate with the Masons under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Council of France, but are not in affiliation with the Masons under the jurisdiction of the Grand Orient of that country. In Spain, Italy and other Roman Catholic countries, Freemasonry is under the ban of the Church, and the membership is meager and scattered.

Inasmuch as we are dealing only with the Blue Lodges, an account of one will serve as an illustration of the history of all. A general similarity of the main features will be found, varied, of course, by local circumstances and surroundings. Those in the North felt little or no effects of the great Civil War, or, as our brethren in the South prefer to call it, the war between the States. But in their section, the times, to say the least, proved strenuous.

I select for my illustration Hiram Lodge, No. 40, of Raleigh, N. C., and am indebted to Brother John Nichols for the facts which follow:

This lodge was chartered in January, 1801, and its connection with the prosperity and progress of the State for mote than a century past has been marked. Many of the men who became famous not only in the history of the State itself, but in the councils of the nation, were made Masons in Hiram Lodge, No. 40. A history of the anti-Masonic excitement caused by the Morgan incident is given elsewhere. At the convention held in Washington, in 1842, Hon. Kenneth Rayner was the delegate who represented the Grand Lodge of North Carolina. He was a man of brilliant ability, an eloquent orator and a leading member of Congress for many years. He possessed considerable wealth, but all of it was swept away during the crimson years between 1861 and 1865.

In the political campaign of 1848 Kenneth Rayner was the competing candidate against Millard Fillmore for the Vice-Presidential nomination. They were warm personal friends and submitted their claims to a conference. Fillmore beat Rayner by a single vote. It will be seen that, had one of Fillmore's supporters changed to Rayner, the latter would have become President of the United States.

Thirty-three years later, Kenneth Rayner, old, poor and feeble, was Solicitor of the Treasury, having been appointed to the office by President Grant. When Garfield became Chief Executive, a persistent effort was made to have Rayner ousted. The hungry politicians were clamoring for his modest pay and would not cease their efforts. Garfield resolute refused every appeal. Finally a leading politician impatiently demanded:

"Why do you insist, Mr. President, in keeping in office a nondescript without any party, when there are so many good party men fully competent to take his place?"

To this direct appeal Garfield made the noble reply:

"Though he is an old man and out of favor with fortune, he was a host in his day. He is still an able and accomplished lawyer; he fills the office admirably and he sorely needs the salary. He may not have many friends, but he has at least one, and a mighty important friend, for it is I, and I am not going to turn him out. I will not remove from a little place in the Treasury, whose duties he fully meets, an old man who came within a single vote of filling the place I fill, and of being President of the United States. You are wasting your time in coming to me; I shall refuse to listen any further."

President Garfield was a Mason of high standing in Ohio. Perhaps that fact did not influence him in retaining Rayner. Perhaps it did.

The public school system of North Carolina was established about 1840. The success of the beneficent movement was largely due to the Masons of the State. The, Grand Lodge in 1842 appointed a committee to inquire into the expediency of establishing a seminary of learning for the benefit of the poor children of the members of the fraternity and for such others as the means would permit. Some time later, Hiram Lodge, No. 40, pledged itself to contribute fifty dollars annually, in addition to the individual subscriptions for such purpose, the latter amounting to a considerable sum.

An interesting fact or two should be noted at this point. Down to 1844, nearly all the business of the lodge was transacted on the Entered Apprentice's degree. Members who were neglectful in their attendance were frequently fined, and it required a pretty good excuse on their part to escape the infliction.

Among the Grand officers who signed the charter of Hiram Lodge was Colonel William Polk, one of the bravest soldiers of the Revolutionary War. He was an intimate friend of General Lafayette, who, when he made a tour of this country in 1825, paid a visit to Raleigh. At the conclusion of Governor Hutchins's speech of welcome to the distinguished French patriot, Lafayette and Colonel Polk rushed into each other's arms and wept their gratitude that they, who had so often borne the brunt of battle together in their youthful prime, had been spared to meet again amid such peaceful, happy scenes. There was scarcely a dry eye among those who witnessed the touching scene.

Some of the oldest citizens of Raleigh hold pleasant memories of "Uncle Dick Ashton," who rarely missed a meeting for the thirty years preceding the middle of last century. He was Grand Tyler for twenty years, and one of the brightest of Masons, who was never restrained by modesty from assuming any station to which he was invited. He was popular with everybody, for his peculiarities were never repellent, and he had the kindest of hearts. He was quite advanced in life when the Royal Arch Chapter, which had been dormant for some time, was revived and the Chapter officers provided themselves with the gorgeous paraphernalia appropriate to their respective offices. Uncle Dick was the guard, or tyler, for the Chapter, as well as for Hiram Lodge. When the officers appeared, "arrayed in all their glory," he was observed sitting at his station, with bowed head, disconsolate visage, and with no apparent interest in the brilliant assemblage around him. A Past Grand Master walked up to him and inquired the cause of his dejection. With a breaking voice and moist eyes the old man replied in tremulous tones:

"I have served you all these many years; I have tried at all times to do my duty, and here you fellows are in your fine Sunday clothes and I have not been furnished with so much as a jacket."

It was amusing and yet sad. The next day an order was given to a dressmaker of the town for a jacket and other garments for Uncle Dick. A member bought a broad-brimmed straw hat, then quite fashionable, and another picked up for him a rusty, old-fashioned, crooked saber that had done service in the Revolution. At the next meeting of the Chapter, Uncle Dick appeared in full robes, and none was prouder or happier than he. The jacket, sword and hat are still the property of Raleigh Chapter, No. 10. They are carefully preserved among the relics, and have often been used in conferring the Past Master's degree.

The years between 1850 and I 86o were prosperous ones for North Carolina. Many public enterprises were begun and the resources of the State were rapidly developed. The fine building for the education of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind was completed and occupied; the Insane Asylum was established; the Methodists built a fine Female School; St. Mary's School was greatly improved; Goldsboro and Charlotte were joined by railway, making connection with other roads on the south and east; still other lines joined the Atlantic with the mountains on the west, and the public school system was thoroughly reorganized.

Masonry kept pace with these advancements. The membership of Hiram Lodge had doubled and its members were identified with the material and moral progress of their State. All was hopeful and promising when the dark clouds burst and the country was plunged into the greatest war of modern times. To quote Brother Nichols:

"States had taken up arms against sister States, citizens against citizens, Masons against Masons. The Southern soldier was captured and carried to Northern prisons. The Northern soldier in like manner was brought to Southern prisons. Many were sick or wounded or both. The signs of distress were seen in all these places of confinement, North and South. Masons all over the country, whether in the cold, desolate prisons of the North or the poorly supplied ones of the South, or in hospitals, or on bloody fields of battle, never failed to recognize the unerring signs of distress or the magic words of a brother's appeal.

"In the city of Raleigh there were several hospitals where the sick and wounded were brought for treatment. Among these there were, of course, a number of Masons. Some made themselves known as brethren, others were found to be such, while there may have been many who passed over the river who never gave the sign of distress nor received the fraternal grasp of a brother's hand. Of course, there were many deaths among them, and the Masons of Raleigh were called at frequent intervals to pay the last tribute of respect to a departed brother."

Raleigh was a recruiting station, besides containing a number of hospitals. In the latter part of 1863 a Mason's Relief Association was organized by Hiram Lodge. Its object was to look after the sick and wounded Masons and to provide, as far as possible, clothing, food and medicine for the needy. It was agreed that the Federal soldier who was a Mason should receive the same care and attention as the Confederate soldier, whenever it was possible to reach him. The existence of this association was known to Masons only. The good which it did will never be fully known in this world.

As bearing upon this interesting subject, the following is an extract from the Key Stone, a Masonic paper published in Raleigh during the war:

"Masonic Dinner to Prisoners. - On or about February 22, 1865, several hundred prisoners of war were stopped at Raleigh for a few days. A large number were quartered at Camp Holmes, and on the day designated the Masons who were prisoners, we are informed, were given a bountiful dinner by Masons of the guard who stood sentinel over them."

Brother Nichols relates the following personal experience:

"Among the sick and wounded Confederate soldiers in the hospital tents on the grounds of Peace Institute was a young lieutenant, who had been wounded in one of the battles of Virginia. At one time he had been a member of my family. He was also a member of Hiram Lodge. Of course I felt a special interest in him and frequently visited him.

"One day he said to me that among the Federal prisoners in a room in the building was a young soldier who was a Mason. I at once called to see him, and found that my information was correct. He had evidently been a handsome young man before sickness, although now much emaciated. From that time on he did not suffer for any comforts that were at our command. In due course there was an exchange of prisoners, and this young man and his fellow-soldiers were returned to their Northern homes. This was in 1864. In 1867, three years after, I was in the city of New York making some purchases in the line of my business. A tall, handsome young man was waiting on me in the establishment where I was trading. In the midst of our business he stopped, looked at me and said:

"'Which State are you from?'

"I told him from North Carolina.

"'I have seen you before,' said he, 'but cannot remember where. I was in a hospital in Raleigh at one time during the war, and it may have been there.'

"I asked him if he remembered what hospital it was.

'It was a large, unfinished brick building,' said he.

"'Perhaps it was there, as I sometimes visited that hospital,' I replied.

"Looking at me with his keen black eyes, he said, in a tone and manner that could not be misunderstood:

"'Are you a Mason?'

"I responded in the affirmative, and then he replied:

'I thought it was you when I first saw you.'

"We then talked over some of the incidents of hospital experience, each becoming thoroughly satisfied of the other's identity. That night I went with him to his lodge, where, after introduction, I received a most enthusiastic welcome.

"I will not pursue the story further, but will simply remark that 'incidental expenses' during the balance of my stay in New York were not heavy."

Trying days were at hand for Hiram Lodge. General Sherman entered Raleigh on the morning of April 3, 1865, the advance under General Kilpatrick being the first to appear. The citizens hoped that the town would be spared, but were in dread lest an overt act by some rash person should draw down the wrath of the Federals, who were flushed with the decisive successes that had come to their arms. There was thankfulness, too, that the long, terrible war had come to an end.

Brother Nichols relates that after he had obtained protection for his family, as did many others, he set out with another Mason to secure, if possible, a guard of protection to Masonic Hall. The provost-marshal to whom they applied was not a Mason and was not disposed to show the fraternity any consideration. While he was making curt inquiries as to the loyalty of the order, a young major came forward and asked the provost-marshal to assign to him the duty of protecting the interests of Masons of Raleigh. This was done, and not the slightest molestation of Masonic property occurred.

On Friday night, April 4, 1865, the saddest calamity that ever befell the American people occurred in the city of Washington. It was the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States. The following Monday evening, April 17, was the regular meeting of Hiram Lodge, No. 40. There were present at this meeting quite a number of Federal Officers - Masons, of course - and among them was the young major who interested himself in giving us a guard for the protection of our property.

The news of the assassination had reached Raleigh late in the afternoon of that day, and it caused a profound sensation among the Federal troops. About dark there was a restlessness and spirit of insubordination manifested among the soldiers, and a riot was feared by the officers in command. In order to prevent such a calamity the guards at every street crossing were doubled, and messengers were sent up and down the streets to every place where the people might have assembled to warn them to disperse at once and repair to their homes. Hiram Lodge had just opened for business. Suddenly we heard the hasty footsteps of some one ascending the stairs to the hall, and the low clanking of the sword of an officer. There was a rapid knock at the door, and I was requested to go to the anteroom. There I met a Federal captain (a Mason, as I afterward learned, Captain W. C. Whitten, Ninth Maine Regiment), who hurriedly told me of the excitement among the soldiers in camp and suggested that the lodge be closed and that the members go to their homes at once. Orders were promptly obeyed.

There are a few Masons still living, perhaps, who remember that terrible night. I say terrible night because the impending danger of riot, murder and burning of the city was feared by every one who understood the condition of affairs. The wise and prudent management and strict discipline of the Federal officers prevented what might have been a calamity of most serious consequences.

A few years ago in Washington City I was in conversation with a member of Congress from the State of Iowa. Learning that I was from Raleigh, he told me that he came here with the Federal troops in 1865, and asked me many questions about the city and some of our citizens with whom he became acquainted, and related several incidents that occurred while here. Among them (which he told in a jocular manner) was that of two young brother Masons who came rather excitedly to the provost-marshal's office seeking a guard for the Masonic Hall, and how quickly the lodge was closed on that eventful Monday night to which I have just referred. When I learned that he was the young officer that had befriended us I was as much surprised as he was to learn that I was one of the excited young Masons looking for a guard. It had been nearly thirty years before, and we had both grown older and much changed in personal appearance.

The gentleman thus referred to by Brother Nichols was Hon. Edwin H. Conger, then a member of Congress and afterward Minister to China. His confinement within the walls of Peking during the Boxer outrages, and the admirable tact and wisdom which he displayed in that crisis that drew the attention of the civilized world, will be gratefully remembered by his countrymen. He died May 18, 1907.

In a private letter from Brother Nichols, he gives me several interesting facts which deserve record in this place. His brother, P. Nichols, was a captain in the Sixty-seventh North Carolina troops. In the winter of 1863-64, the Federals occupied Newbern, from which point they frequently made cavalry raids into the interior.

Captain Nichols, serving in Virginia, obtained a furlough to visit his family, who lived near Rocky Mount Station, in North Carolina. After spending a brief time at home, he set out on his return with a number of companions. Making their way to the station, they were waiting for their train, when a troop of Federal cavalry swooped down on them and made the little party prisoners. Before they could escape, they were hustled off and landed in prison at Newbern.

When Captain Nichols, who was of fine, soldierly appearance, made himself known as a Mason to several brother officers, he was paroled until the opportunity came for sending the prisoners to Johnson's Island. Before the time for the departure of the boat with the prisoners, the Masonic Federal officers told Captain Nichols that he was going to a cold country, where he would need comfortable clothing, and that it would never do for him to take the voyage without considerably more than the poor fellow possessed. So they provided him with new shoes, a warm overcoat, two blankets and some money - all of which proved valuable indeed to him.

"I tell you," said the captain to his brother with a laugh, when he came home after the close of hostilities, "they treated me so well up North that I was half tempted to take the oath of allegiance and stay there; but when I thought of my wife and two little boys, who were likely to suffer because of such action, I determined to brave it out and remain true to my country."

Referring to Captain Nichols, his brother adds:

"He returned home a better Mason and a more patriotic American citizen. He spoke enthusiastically of his treatment at Newbern and was loud in his praises of the conduct of his Federal brethren."

It is a singular coincidence that on the same night that the Masonic lodges in Raleigh voted a subscription for the general fund for the help of the Masonic brethren who were prisoners at Camp Mangum, the Masonic lodge at Elmira, New York, voted a subscription to look after the Confederate prisoners who were Masons and were detained in the Federal prison at that place.


Go To Previous Page                    Go To Next Page


Back To Low 12
Back To Page One

 No ę Copyright.
"Corky" .
Free To Use.


All material in this site may be used
to educate everyone, Masons and
non-Masons alike about Freemasonry

 

Page Crafted By Corky
pineilse@swbell.net

The Pine Island Webwright