The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts

1733 ~ 1933

R.W. Frederick W. Hamilton ~ Grand Secretary

In 1723 there came to Boston a young man of 26 named Henry Price, a member of some Lodge not now known but probably in London. He had a deep interest in Masonry and on visiting London in 1733 he obtained a commission from Viscount Montague (or Montacute, as it is sometimes spelled), Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England, appointing him Provincial Grand Master for New England. Back in Boston on July 30, 1733 he called together at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern ten Masons known by him, read his commission, and organized his Provincial Grand Lodge known thereafter as the St. John’s Grand Lodge. He then conferred the degrees upon eight candidates. The eighteen then petitioned to be formed into a Lodge. The original petition, with the eighteen autograph signatures, is in the possession of the Grand Lodge. Price then and there granted the petition and formally constituted the First Lodge in Boston, now in flourishing existence under the name of Saint John’s Lodge. This, as Price himself declared was the founding of regular and duly constituted Freemasonry in America.

In 1734 Price’s warrant was extended to cover “His Majesty’s dominions in North America”. Other Provincial Grand Master warrants were later granted by the English Grand Masters with very little regard for possible conflicts of authority. It does not appear, however, that any actual conflicts ever arose.

Previous to 1733 there unquestionably were self-constituted Lodge in several of the American provinces, especially in Pennsylvania, where in 1733, Benjamin Franklin was the leading Mason. In 1730 the Duke of Norfolk, Grand Master of England, issued a commission to Daniel Coxe, as Provincial Grand Master for New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Coxe’s commission limited to two years. No evidence has yet been produced to show that he did anything under it. Until such evidence is produced we must hold, as Price held, that the Lodges in Coxe’s territory and elsewhere in North America were not “regular and duly constituted”.

Franklin was evidently of the same opinion, as he communicated with Price and asked that he regularize him and his associates. Price appointed him Provincial Grand Master for Pennsylvania and announced the appointments at a meeting of Grand Lodge held on February 21, 1735.

Massachusetts Masonry immediately took on the missionary aspect that has ever since characterized it. In 1735 Price issued warrants for a Lodge in Portsmouth, N.H. and for one in Charleston, S.C. Before 1792 the Saint John’s Grand Lodge, as Henry Price’s body was called, had warranted forty-four Lodges of which we have record. The Massachusetts Grand Masters worked under English Masonic law. All Lodges worked under warrants from the Grand Master. Grand Lodge had no voice in their creation and Grand Masters did not always report their doings; so there are many omissions and uncertainties in the records. Twelve of those Lodges were in Massachusetts, including the Province of Maine. Thirty-two were outside of Massachusetts. Among these were four army Lodges attached to regiments operating against the French in Canada during the wars between England and France.

In 1751 another Grand Lodge was initiated in London, started by Irish Masons there in residence. They maintained that they had usages of greater antiquity than those practiced by the existing Grand Lodge and called themselves “Ancients” asserting that the existing body was “Moderns” or innovators. They established relations with the Grand Lodge of Scotland and Ireland and for more than half a century were formidable rivals of the older Grand Lodge. The two bodies differed on points of ritual, but the most striking difference lay in the powers given by Lodge charters. The Moderns confined their Lodges to the Entered Apprentice and Fellow-Craft degrees. The Master Mason Degree was given in an entirely separate body known as a Master’s Lodge. A Master’s Lodge was formed in Boston in 1738, and, so far as Price’s Grand Lodge was concerned, had a monopoly of the Master Mason Degree until 1792. The Ancients conferred the three degrees from the beginning. They also held that any Master Mason who had received any additional degrees could confer them under the charter of a Lodge, but not in a regular Lodge meeting.

By the middle of the  century there were Masons in Boston who did not care to affiliate with Price’s Lodges. A group of them petitioned the Grand Lodge of Scotland for a charter and received it in 1756, under the name of Saint  Andrew’s Lodge which is still in existence. This was followed in 1769 by a commission from the Grand Master Mason of Scotland appointing Joseph Warren Provincial Grand Master for New England and one hundred miles around the same.

On December 27, 1769, Warren opened a Provincial Grand Lodge known as the Massachusetts Grand Lodge consisting of St. Andrew’s and two military Lodges, Number 58 on the registry of England (Ancients) and Number 322 on the registry of Ireland. The military Lodges soon dropped out, but new Lodges chartered by the new Grand Lodge took their places. It is worth noting that, unlike the practice of the St. John’s Grand Lodge, the Grand Lodge voted upon charters. The Massachusetts Grand Lodge called itself Ancient. They used the Ancients’ ritual and not only conferred three degrees, but also used their charters as cover for the conferring of other degrees. In August, 1769, a “Royal Arch Lodge” was held under the charter of St. Andrew’s Lodge and conferred the Royal Arch and Knights Templar degrees. This Royal Arch Lodge was permanent and is now in existence as St. Andrew’s Royal Arch Chapter.

In the spring of 1770 a serious situation arose. One new Lodge was constituted in Gloucester on March 2nd. The military Lodges were withdrawn from the town after the “Boston Massacre” of March 5th. On May 11th a special meeting of Grand Lodge was held at which only six persons, all Grand Officers, were present and no Lodges were represented. A standing resolution was passed that “whenever Summons are issued for convening a Grand Lodge by the Grand Master or his direction, and the Grand Lodge in consequence thereof is congregated, the same is to all intents and purposes a legal Grand Lodge, however few in number, and as such may with the strictest propriety proceed to business”. This resolution was to be of the greatest importance sixty years later.

Between 1769 and 1792 the Massachusetts Grand Lodge chartered thirty Lodges. Sixteen, including one in the Province of Maine, were in Massachusetts, and fourteen, including one army Lodge, were outside Massachusetts.

The Revolutionary War brought confusion to both Grand Lodges. The Massachusetts Grand Lodge did not meet from March 3, 1775 to December 27, 1776. After the death of Warren at Bunker Hill, Joseph Webb carried on as Deputy Grand Master until March 8, 1777, when the Lodges assembled, assumed independence, and elected Webb Grand Master.

From January 27, 1775, to August 4, 1787, the records of St. John’s Lodge are blank, although there is ample evidence from other sources that it continued to function and as an independent Grand Lodge. Thomas Brown, the Grand Secretary, was a Tory and went to Halifax with the British garrison when Boston was evacuated, taking with him the records, jewels, etc. of the Grand Lodge. After the war was over, the record book was recovered, but although the records were continued in the same book, no attempt was made to write up the interim proceedings.

In 1792 the two Grand Lodges united, changing the name to The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and electing John Cutler Grand Master. Saint Andrew’s Lodge did not join, preferring to work independently under its Scottish charter. In 1809, however, it decided to transfer its allegiance, and Massachusetts Masonry was finally permanently unified.

In 1801, Grand Master Samuel Dunn made a great contribution to Masonry by devising the District Deputy Grand Master system.

In 1820 the Province of Maine was admitted into the Union as a State.  Upon petition of the thirty-one Lodges located in Maine, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts assented to the formation by them of the Grand Lodge of Maine, promptly recognized the new Grand Lodge, and paid over to it a thousand dollars as a fair share of the Grand Lodge funds.

A short period of great prosperity followed, but days of adversity were at hand. In 1826 the disappearance of William Morgan and the charge that he had been put to death for revealing the secrets of Masonry was the occasion, but not the cause, of a real persecution of the Masonic Fraternity, which extended throughout the country. The story is too long to be told here. Suffice it to say that the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts suffered with the rest, but less than some. Some Grand Lodges ceased to meet. Massachusetts never missed a Quarterly Communication, although the number of Lodges represented was often pitiably small. Thanks, however, to the Resolution of 1770 the question of a quorum could never be raised. The number of Lodges on the roster fell from 107 to 52, and Charles W. Moore, the great Grand Secretary who served from 1834 to 1868, says that not above ten were really active.

The depth of depression may be said to have been in 1833. The recovery was slow, and it is not until 1843 that we may call the persecution ended. Then old Lodges began to recover their charters and new Lodges to be formed.  A new code of Grand Constitutions, the basis of all subsequent Grand Lodge legislation, was adopted. Measures were taken to purify and improve the ritual, which had suffered greatly. An era of prosperity began.

Many of our members served in the Civil War and not a few lost their lives. Dispensations were issued for ten army lodges, connected with as many different regiments of Massachusetts’s troops. As usual in similar circumstances, the war and the years immediately following brought a great increase in membership. While definite figures are not available, it is probable that our numbers more than doubled in those few years.

There followed a period of consolidation and reconstruction, the dominating figure of which was the great Grand Master William Sewall Gardner, 1869, 1870, and 1871. After Gardner came a period of steady prosperity and regular growth which lasted until the entry of the United States into the World War. This enormously, and not altogether wholesomely, stimulated Masonic activity. Our losses in the service, although many of the members went to war, were not large, but men who were going to war and, for a few years, returned soldiers, flocked into our Lodges. On August 31, 1917, we had 75,685 members in 255 Lodges and on August 31, 1923, we had 115,585 members in 308 Lodges. There were no army Lodges, but M.W. Leon M. Abbott, who was Grand Master during the war years 1917, 1918, and 1919, appointed a number of special Military Deputies who served with the army and navy.

The great increase in membership caused by the Great War threw burdens on the Grand Lodge for which the organization and resources, which had been built up under simpler conditions, were not adequate. M.W. Dudley H. Ferrell, Grand Master in 1923, 1924, and 1925, began the work of reorganization, and M.W. Frank L. Simpson, who succeeded him in 1926. 1927, and 1928, carried on the work most efficiently.

The Williams and Davenport Memorial buildings were added to the Masonic Home. The Home had been in operation since 1911, but there was urgent need for larger accommodations. The capital cost was met by the bequests of William H. Williams and Orlando H. Davenport, but operating costs had to be met. There was also need for a hospital to minister to the wants of our brethren and their dependents that were afflicted with chronic or incurable diseases and for whom no adequate care could be provided in ordinary hospitals. The munificent gift of the Juniper Hall estate of R.W. Matthew J. Whittall, presented by his widow, furnished the nucleus of such a hospital. An additional fully equipped according to the best hospital standards was erected at a cost of over $200,000. The Fraternity contributed $100,000 to the building cost and another $100,000 to a maintenance fund. The Grand Lodge provided the rest of the cost and assumed the maintenance expense, an amount much in excess of the income from the fund.

Calls for assistance to the Lodges in their relief work greatly increased, especially after the financial depression set in 1929.

Our experience in and after the First World War showed the need of much better instructed members than were being produced by the older methods, and a beginning was made on building up a Department of Education. This was developed in the next administration, that of M.W. Herbert W. Dean, by creating a statewide system of Lodges of Instruction. Under the continuing care of successive Grand Masters almost all the Lodges are enrolled in the Lodges of Instruction, and the educational program has steadily increased in effectiveness. This was pioneer work on the part of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

Experience also showed the need of organizing and directing those mutual services that Masons owe each other and are glad to render when shown the need and the opportunity. This resulted in the organization of a Masonic Service Department with statewide activities.

All this called for much larger resources than the Grand Lodge had at its disposal. Previous to this time the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, unlike other Grand Lodges, had no per capita tax on its members. In 1924 the Grand Lodge, by a nearly unanimous vote, established Grand Lodge dues, to be paid by every member. This provided the necessary revenue for carrying on the work of the Grand Lodge. It should be emphasized that by far the greater part of this added resource goes to the relief work of the Grand Lodge. The small remainder is used for Service and Education.

The last quarter century may be summarized as a period of reorganization and development. To use a mechanical metaphor, the machinery has been tightened and tuned up. The work of the District Deputy Grand Masters has become more intensive and effective than ever before. The Masters of Lodges have been brought into closer touch with the Grand Lodge and the Grand Master. Their sense of responsibility has been deepened and their zeal and efficiency has been increased. The Lodges have co-operated cheerfully in all the enterprises of the Grand Lodge. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts faces the future with a spirit, an organization, and a competence to meet the problems that time will bring, better than it has possessed at any previous time in its existence.