Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top 10 Events in York Rite History

History is a passion of mine and I love all that I do on this blog. I wanted to change things up so in November I created a poll to see what my audience thought were the Top 10 Events that have affected the York Rite of Freemasonry. Out of the options available, here were the results of the Top 10:
  • The Regius Poem/Halliwell Manuscript
  • Formation of the first Grand Lodge
  • The First Recorded Conferral of Early Knights Templar
  • Thomas Smith-Webb's Monitor
  • Formation of the UGLE
  • Combining of the Royal Master and Select Master degrees
  • The Morgan Affair
  • Formation of the General Grand Chapter 
  • Formation of the Grand Encampment 
  • Formation of the first Grand Council
Let us look at each of these events briefly and what has caused them to stand out in history as a major, defining event.

The Regius Poem/Halliwell Manuscript

This manuscript is admitted to be the oldest genuine record of Craft of Masonry known today. It is said to have been written between the late 14th century and the mid-15th century. The text is poetic and begins with the history of the Craft, starting with Euclid’s invention of geometry in ancient Egypt. In it can also be found rules of conduct for Master Masons.

The manuscript was recorded in various personal inventories as it changed hands until it came into possession of the Royal Library, which was donated to the British Museum in 1757 by King George II to form the nucleus of the present British Library. The significance of the document as relating to Freemasonry was not realized until it was featured in an article on Freemasonry by James Halliwell in 1840. The text of the document states that Freemasonry was brought to England during the reign of King Athelstan from 924 to 939. It is from this assembly at York which is where the American Masonic term "York Rite" derives its name from.

Formation of the first Grand Lodge

The story of the first Grand Lodge is pretty well known. On Saint John the Baptists Day in 1717 four London-based Lodges came together at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern
in St. Paul’s churchyard established a Grand Lodge and elected Anthony Sawyer as their Grand Master. The actions of these Brothers have echoed through eternity and affected so much of our history. This was the first effort to centralize the authority over Freemasonry as prior to that, there was none. This body went to work standardizing the ritual and emplacing rules and policies, which we see with the publication of Anderson's Constitution in 1723 and all subsequent editions. One such thing was adopting only certain degrees to be included under the banner of Craft Masonry as all others were seen as detracting. Many of the degrees seen in the appendant bodies were originally controlled by the Lodge or a like entity, and much of American York Rite Masonry traces its origins back to these groups. Many Lodges outside of London and Westminster did not agree with the policies of the newly formed Grand Lodge and trouble started to arise.

Eventually, disagreements erupted over the conferring of the Royal Arch degree, and in 1751 the Fraternity in England would be divided among two opposing Grand Lodges who were referred to as the “Antients” and the “Moderns”. The former considered the Royal Arch degree to be the completion of the Master Mason degree while the latter did not. The Antients would create their own regulations under the name of Ahiman Rezon. This Great Schism affected the chartering American Masonry as you will find when traversing the Union that each Grand Lodge is identified as either "Ancient Free & Accepted Masons" or "Free & Accepted Masons"; those designations are a result of the two Grand Lodges issuing charters in the colonies. The fight for supremacy would continue for 6-decades when finally the two bodies reconciled and united in 1813 under the name of the "United Grand Lodge of England".

The First Recorded Conferral of the Knights Templar degree

The earliest written record available in America mentioning the Knights Templar is to be found in the records of St. Andrew's Royal Arch Chapter. On August 28th, 1769, William Davis received the "four steps" in this chapter and these four steps were called Excellent Master, Super Excellent Master, Royal Arch Masons, and Knights Templar. The earliest written record of a Royal Arch conferral was in 1744 in York, England, but in America, the earliest record of a Royal Arch conferral is in Fredericksburg Lodge in Virginia on December 22, 1753.

There's very little documentation of St. Andrew's Chapter prior to this date, but it stands to reason that this Chapter was formed before August 28th, 1769. It is believed that British troops brought traveling Lodges over who worked these degrees and spread the degrees throughout the colony. William Davis was the first Mason to be recorded as receiving the Knights Templar and would be soon followed by Paul Revere and Joseph Warren. Soon records appear that these early York Rite degrees spread throughout the colonies. For some time Lodges performed the Chapter and other degrees such as the Knights Templar. Soon individual bodies began to form such as Chapters, who took on the role of conferring other degrees which were not the sole province of the Lodges. These degrees would eventually fall under a centralized system with the establishment of the General Grand Chapter, the Grand Encampment, and the first Grand Council with some direction from Thomas Smith-Webb and Jeremy Ladd Cross.

Publication of Thomas Smith-Webb's Monitor

Thomas Smith Webb, who was influenced by the work of William Preston, was the author of Freemason's Monitor or Illustrations of Masonry, which had a very significant impact on the development and evolution of the Masonic rituals, particularly the York Rite degrees and orders, practiced in the United States. On September 14th, 1797, he published this book which was a compendium of William Preston's work as well as his own alterations, additions, and works. This book plays such a significant role that many Grand Lodges in America still follow it today. It is to Thomas Smith-Webb we owe the charges of the degrees and the words regarding many an Emblem, including the Bee-Hive, Pot of Incense, Book of Constitutions, Sword and Naked Heart, All-Seeing Eve, Anchor and Ark, Forty-Seventh Problem, Hour Glass, and Scythe.

This Monitor was divided into 2 sections. The first section surrounded the origin story of Masonry; the opening and closing of the Lodge; the prayers used; management of the Craft; prerequisites for membership; lectures and rituals of the first 3-degrees; miscellaneous ceremonies such as cornerstone dedications; rituals of Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch Masons; and the government and history of Royal Arch and Templar Masonry in the US. The second section deals with the "Ineffable Degrees of Masonry” such as Secret Master, Perfect Master, Intimate Secretary, and several others; several Masonic songs by Webb; and a sketch of the history of Freemasonry in America. This monitor and revised rituals were the basis of most rituals adopted by many American Grand Lodges and the rituals used in the York Rite bodies.

Formation of the United Grand Lodge of England

As discussed above, the "Antients" and the "Moderns" had been in a dispute since 1751. Six decades later the Brethren would reunite and form the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE).

In 1809 the "Moderns", or Premier Grand Lodge, established a "Lodge of Promulgation". Their goal was to established regularity and return harmony between Scotland, Ireland, and the Antient Grand Lodge. In 1811, both of the British Grand Lodges appointed members of this Committee and they worked over the next 2-years on the Articles of Union. Finally, negotiations were completed.

In January of 1813, the Duke of Sussex became the new Grand Master of the "Moderns" and later that year the Duke of Kent became the new Grand Master of the "Antients". On Saint John the Evangelists Day in 1813, the Brothers of both of these Grand Lodges agreed to establish the UGLE with the Duke of Sussex as the Grand Master. A Lodge of Reconciliation was formed to reconcile the rituals practiced by the "Antients" and "Moderns". The Lodge of Reconciliation demonstrations were not officially recorded, but what is known is that the UGLE adopted the recommendations presented. This union led to a standardized use of rituals, symbols, and regalia. Although not considered a part of Craft Masonry and the first 3-degrees, the Royal Arch degree is intimately tied to Craft Masonry.

Combining of the Royal Master and Select Master degrees

The exact origin of these two Cryptic degrees is highly debated. Albert Mackey, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Southern Jurisdiction, states:
There is abundant evidence in the archives of the supreme Council, that the historical facts detailed in the preceding report are correct. Thirty years ago, a Council of Royal and Select Masons was unknown. The degrees were entirely conferred by Inspectors-General, whose authority for so doing was derived from a patent granted by Supreme Council of the 33°. There are many old Masons now in the Southern and Western as well as in the Northern States received from Bro. Barker, the accredited agent of the Supreme Grand Council, whose seat of government is at Charleston. And indeed we think we may safely say, as the report we have cited clearly implies, that the subordinate councils now existing in the South and West were originally organized by Royal and Select Masters, who received their degrees from, and owed allegiance to, the Supreme Council of Charleston.
Regardless of this debate, it is believed that these degrees were first to be conferred in America around the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th. The exact date that Jeremy Ladd-Cross, considered the father of the Cryptic Rite in America, started teaching both the degrees Royal Master and Select Master in a Council is not known, but there is an excerpt from his diary from March 21, 1818, that Jeremy Ladd Cross conferred both degrees to Companions in Middletown, CT. He spent much of his time in Connecticut and established many Councils here and in October 1818, while at the Grand Chapter meeting, made the recommendation that the following year the Councils meet to form a Grand Council which would be established to govern and regulate the Councils and ritual under its jurisdiction, but this will be further discussed later.

The Morgan Affair

One of the biggest events to affect all of Masonry was the Morgan Affair. Anti-Masonry had been around since 1723 with the establishment of the Gormogons. Towards the end of the 18th century, there was a spike of anti-Masonic sentiment stemming from inflammatory sermons given by Jedidiah Morse. Strong anti-Masonic sentiments would not rise again until the Morgan Affair.

On March 13th, 1826, William Morgan, a supposed Mason, living in Batavia, NY, signed a contract for a book that was to expose the secrets of Freemasonry; some believe that it was out of resentment for his Masonic affiliation being questioned by the Batavian Masons. Morgan's membership in the Lodge was later questioned, but this occurred after he had received the degrees of Royal Arch Masonry.

Prone to drunkenness Morgan bragged about his book and soon everything came to a head in September. He was arrested for theft, but upon making bail was rearrested for failure to pay a debt of $2.68 and upon his release from jail he disappeared by means which were never agreed upon by the "eyewitnesses". Anti-Masons push that he was kidnapped and killed by a band of Masons. Several Masons were arrested and convicted of kidnapping, but there was never proof that he was killed.

Even after his disappearance, his book was still published. All of these circumstances culminated in an uproar of public outrage. Regardless of reality, ALL Freemasons were seen as guilty of the murder of William Morgan. Soon anti-Masonic propaganda spread into all avenues of society to include churches and politics which led Thurlow Weed, a NY politician, to form an anti-Masonic movement in February of 1828, gathering discontented opponents of President Andrew Jackson, known to be a Mason, into the Anti-Masonic political party. In many places in New England and America, Masonry ceased to exist for a number of years, but would come back, stronger. This event still has some effect on Freemasonry today, though many may not realize it.

The Formation of the General Grand Chapter

One of the biggest accomplishments and momentous occasions for Thomas Smith Webb was that he presided over the convention that was held in Boston in October of 1797, which would lead to the formation of the 
the "Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the Northern States of America", which is the oldest national Masonic body in the United States.

The road to this started with St. Andrew's Chapter in Boston and King Cyrus Chapter in Newburyport appointing committees to standardize the ritual between the two which was accomplished. After this reconciliation, the matter of forming a Grand Chapter was started. On August 2nd, 1797, Thomas Smith-Webb, a Companion from Temple Chapter in Albany (NY), was recorded to be in attendance at the Boston Chapter. I cannot find what exactly transpired at the meeting, but the establishment of a national or regional body for the Royal Arch Masons must have been a topic of discussion because on September 11th, 1797, St. Andrew's Chapter passed a motion that the High Priest correspond with Thomas Smith-Webb on the "subject of a union of the Chapters." On the 24th of October of the same year, representatives from three Massachusetts Chapters met in Boston to form a Grand Chapter. This Grand Chapter also sent letters to the Chapters from New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Vermont asking them to form Grand Chapters of their respective States.

In response to these letters delegates of Chapters from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York met in Hartford (CT) on January 24th, 1798. At this meeting, the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the Northern States of America was created. Originally Grand Chapters were styled as "Deputy Grand Chapters", but this was changed in 1799. It was here that this body sought to take the name "General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons", but there is no evidence that any action was taken until 1806 when a newer version of the Constitution was adopted.

It was his work of establishing this body that would lead to the establishment of the Grand Encampment of Knights of the United States of America in New York City in 1816.

Formation of the Grand Encampment

As Freemasonry started to grow at the beginning of the 19th century, the Grand Encampment (now called Grand Commandery) of Massachusetts and Rhode Island desired to create a centralized government over the Encampments around the United States.

Soon word began to spread and by 1816 delegates from the Grand Encampments of New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania assembled in Philadelphia on June 11th, 1816, for the purpose of joining all the encampments in the United States under one General Grand Encampment. No records of this convention exist, but what is known is that after several days of deliberation the delegates from New England and New York left the convention and it was subsequently dissolved.

The failure of this convention surrounded some points of difference between the delegates of Pennsylvania and the others. The first point of contention surrounded that the Grand Encampment of Pennsylvania considered itself subordinate to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and could have been considered an adjunct body other than a sovereign body. Second, there was an argument over the conferring of Mark Master and Most Excellent Master degrees prior to one receiving the orders of Knighthood; Pennsylvania considered these degrees unnecessary and the other delegates did not. Third, there was a contention as to conferring the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross. Fourth, the delegates from Pennsylvania were unwilling to accept the ritual as revised by Thomas Smith-Webb.

The delegates from New England and New York still focused upon accomplishing their goals agreed to meet in New York City. On June 20th they met and accomplished their goals. On the 21st of June, the General Grand Encampment of the Knights Templar and Appendant Orders for the United States was formed and a Constitution was ratified. Delegates reported back to their respective Grand Encampments for the adoption of that which was accomplished.

Many would believe that Thomas Smith-Webb would have been elected as the first General Grand Master, but it was DeWitt Clinton of New York who was elected to this position. Webb was elected as Clinton's Deputy. This may have been for political reasons, but regardless Templary began to expand until The Morgan Affair and the Civil War when it dwindled, but afterward, it began to grow again to the body we have today. Pennsylvania would join the Grand Encampment in 1854. At the 13th Conclave in 1856, the General Grand Encampment would be known as the Grand Encampment and from this, the Grand Encampment of the states would be known as Grand Commanderies and the constituent bodies would be known as Commanderies.

Formation of the first Grand Council of Select Masters

This event is closely tied with that of the combining of the Royal and Select Master degrees previously discussed. About a year after this combination, Companions from Connecticut Councils met on May 18th, 1819, in Hartford. This convention was called to order by Talcott Wolcott, Illustrious Master of the Hartford Council; and Lymna Law (Grand High Priest of Connecticut) was selected as Chairman and John Gannett as Secretary to preside over the establishment of the Grand Council of Select Masters. The next day a Constitution was presented and adopted outlining the government of the organization, established the powers of the Grand Council, the duties of the Councils, and the regulation by which fees and new charters would be established. In one of its articles, it established that both the degrees of Royal and Select Masters would be covered by the fees of initiation.

The establishment of this independent body started a chain reaction that separated the Cryptic degrees from being controlled by other organizations such as the Royal Arch Chapters. Soon many Grand Councils would be formed and on August 25th, 1880, the General Grand Council of Royal and Select Master of the USA, was established by the 17-Grand Councils who were present at this convention. While it sits in the middle of the degrees conferred in the York Rite, the Cryptic degrees were the last ones to be organized under a sovereign, independent, and centralized body. In many states, particularly those in the West, the Council was the last body to form and up through the 20th century, many Masons were not required to go through the Cryptic degrees before joining the Commandery.

Each of these events had a significant impact on the York Rite of Freemasonry. These are not the only ones, but they are the ones that were voted by my audience. I have enjoyed researching these topics and it has helped me better appreciate the history even more.


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