FREEMASONRY IN WILLIAMSBURG, VIRGINIA
A History of Williamsburg Lodge No. 6, A.F. & A.M.
Along with Norfolk, Hampton, Yorktown, Fredericksburg, Port Royal and Petersburg, Williamsburg shares the distinction of being one of the earliest locations in Virginia where Freemasonry found a foothold in the eighteenth century. Although a hotly debated topic for years, no one today really knows for sure which of the earliest known lodges in Virginia was the very first one established in the Commonwealth. Today, the Grand Lodge of Virginia recognizes Norfolk Lodge as being the first one in Virginia, and the historic evidence to substantiate that distinction is certainly very strong, if not firmly conclusive in all respects.
Some evidence strongly suggests that a lodge of Masons was probably active in Williamsburg from as early as sometime in the 1730s. However, what is important is that if it did, in fact, exist as is suspected, this early lodge in Williamsburg did not last, nor did any records from it survive to prove its existence. One important bit of historical documentation that has survived is a notice that was printed in the local Virginia Gazette newspaper on April 21, 1751, which mentioned that there was a Masonic lodge, "... in this city some time ago." The "how long ago" to which the writer was referring is not known, but it certainly does provide a strong indication that an early Masonic lodge did, in fact, exist in Williamsburg, and certainly well before 1751. Another article, obviously written by a Mason in the defense of Freemasonry, was published in that paper much earlier, in 1737, and lends even more weight to the argument that a lodge was working in Williamsburg as early as the 1730s. Through old, surviving lodge records still held in the possession of Fredericksburg Lodge #4, we know that a lodge must have again been working in Williamsburg by 1752. One of its local members, Alexander Finnie, was a visitor to the Fredericksburg Lodge on several occasions in 1752 and 1753.
Because there were very few Masonic Halls built until around the mid-eighteenth century, like their English brethren, early Masons in Williamsburg met in taverns. The first Masonic records of the Williamsburg Lodge that have survived to this day indicate that the revived lodge in Williamsburg was certainly active and meeting in the Crown Tavern in 1762. The Crown Tavern stood on the south side of Duke of Gloucester Street, across from the Printing Office and Post Office, where today stands the reconstructed building named after a later owner, James Anderson. Meetings were convivial affairs, and were often combined with eating and drinking, which gave rise to formal "Table Lodges," a rather formal feast which incorporated Masonic ritual, eating a lavish dinner, toasts offered between meal courses, some business being conducted, songs being sung, and general brotherly fun and fellowship. The tradition of conducting "Table Lodges" fell out of favor for well over a century, but is being revived again by many lodges today.
The Williamsburg Masonic Lodge continued to meet at the Crown Tavern for several years before re-locating to the Market Square Tavern in 1773. By that time, this tavern was under the ownership of Gabriel Maupin, a lodge member, who was also a Saddle and Harness Maker and keeper of the Public Magazine located next door to his establishment, in Market Square. Maupin apparently rented a large room to the lodge for its meeting place for about two years, until the lodge was able to finish building a two story, wooden framed lodge hall on a nearby lot. This lot (#13), owned by William Lightfoot, was located near the corner of Francis and Queen Streets.
Rendering of the Original Lodge Building
The new "Mason's Hall"(as it was called by both locals and lodge members throughout its long history was not a very elegant or fancy building, being built in a rough, simple, fashion, in a "T" shaped configuration. The building was erected on land that was not owned but was leased from Lightfoot, which may account for why it was not finished in a more refined manner, due to the costs involved. It could be that the reasoning for this was that the members asked themselves, "why spend a lot of money to build an elaborate building erected on land that is not fully owned by the lodge?"
However, the lodge obviously did spend considerable funds to make a number of major improvements to the building. This work including putting in semicircular ceiling in the lodge room upstairs; installing louvered shutters to allow air circulation through them; and installing a cupola on the roof to exhaust hot air out of the attic space in the summer, thereby keeping the lodge room below a little more tolerable. These additions and improvements were made within only a two or three years after completing the building. Yet, there still was probably a limit to how much they could afford to do in that respect. The Revolutionary War was in full swing by that time (1777), and wartime monetary inflation and devaluation of the local colonial currency would soon make such large expenditures of money inappropriate, if not altogether impractical.
Gabriel Maupin apparently acted as Lightfoot's agent, as the lodge was still making rent payments to Maupin at fairly regular intervals until at least 1777 (which is long after they had moved into the building and had started making modifications to it). Surviving records indicate that the lodge used the entire upstairs space for their meeting, storage and anterooms, while sub-leasing the downstairs floor rooms to a variety of tenants. These included Dr. William Rickman, Director-General of the Continental Hospital, who rented the rooms from September 1,1776 and, in 1779, to a lodge member, Walter Battwell, but it is not known today how long he used these rooms, nor for what purpose.
The lodge room on the second floor was fairly large (28 ft. long x 15 ft. 5 inches wide) and had a fireplace with two closets flanking it at the eastern end of the structure. Given this known placement of the fireplace in the eastern or "ceremonial" end of the building, we do not really know today just how the lodge room furniture was arranged. The ground floor was divided into two main rooms: a large (17 ft. 6 inches x 15 ft. 5 inches) parlour on the western end of the building, and a smaller (13 ft. x 15 ft. 5 inches) chamber with a fireplace at the eastern end. Two very small (roughly 11 x 9 ft.) chambers, one located upstairs and one down (and each with a fireplace in them), were located at the rear of the building.
Williamsburg Masonic Lodge (c. 1773)(Colonial Lot #13)Photo from "Jamestown Exhibition" (1907), Laird & Lee, publishersC. W. F. Negative #57-CL-209
It was in this humble building that the Grand Lodge of Virginia was founded in 1778 (Note: one of only about five or six surviving photograph known to exist of this original building is shown here, taken around 1900). The old lodge hall stood until about 1910, and was situated slightly to the northeast of where the current brick Masonic Temple now stands, more about this building and its fate will be mentioned later.
Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt, Virginia's Royal Governor during the 1760s, was also a Mason and, no doubt, must have attended one or more meetings of the local lodge. Although no lodge records survive today to prove or disprove this assertion, it is known that sometime in the late 1760s Lord Botetourt did present the lodge with a lavishly carved, ceremonial Masonic Master's Chair. This beautiful and historic chair has, thankfully, remained in the lodge's possession to this day, and has been used by every Master of the lodge since the eighteenth century.
The membership of Williamsburg Lodge during the eighteenth century reads like a "who's who" of colonial Virginian patriots and common folks, as well as notable families. Many of the men in the former category were simple tradesmen, tavern keepers and merchants, while several of the latter served their state and nation in more public roles as educators, judges, physicians, delegates, governors, congressmen and senators.
Rt. Wor. Peyton Randolph
Both the origins and some of the ritual work of Craft Masonry are several hundred years old, but no one today really knows how old Masonry is. Throughout much of the eighteenth century, Freemasonry was still slowly evolving into the form it is known today, and so not all Masons during that period advanced through all three "Craft" degrees of "Entered Apprentice," "Fellowcraft," and "Master Mason." Masonic historians now generally agree that the Master Mason Degree was a much later addition to the Masonic ritual than the other two degrees, and was not developed in England until about 1725. Thus, until the mid-eighteenth century, Masonic lodges in the North American colonies only conferred the two older degrees, which probably have their origins sometime in the Middle Ages. Due to the loss of some of the lodge's old records, no one today knows when Williamsburg Lodge first conferred the Master Mason degree.
Most lodges back then, including Williamsburg, conducted all of their business while open and working on the first degree. The only time the lodge opened in the other two degrees was to advance candidates to that degree. Therefore, many brethren never advanced past the first degree, or did so only after many months or years had passed. Since they could enjoy full membership privileges as Entered Apprentices, there was little incentive for them to advance further. However, Freemasonry must be experienced in progressive stages in order to receive the great moral lessons it teaches. Thus, The Grand Lodge of Virginia finally changed this practice in the early part of the nineteenth century, by requiring all lodges in the Commonwealth to conduct their business only while working in the Master Mason Degree. This has been the prevailing practice since that time and, so today, only those who have been raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason enjoy the full privileges of membership in Virginia lodges.
In 1778, brothers in Williamsburg Lodge paid their membership dues to the lodge on a quarterly basis, and were expected to regularly attend both stated and "called" meetings. Members were fined if they were absent from any meeting of the lodge without permission. Failure to pay such fines in a timely manner resulted in suspension of all membership privileges. Candidates were also expected to pay for the refreshments at special meetings specifically called to advance them to the next degree.
Also according to the Williamsburg Lodge By-Laws of 1778, those brothers who lived in town had to wait a minimum period of six months before they could be advanced to the next degree. Exceptions to this practice were often made, however, in situations where a brother was soon intending to leave Williamsburg to settle elsewhere. In meetings, no member could speak more than twice on any subject in debate without permission from the Worshipful Master. After their first visit to the lodge, any visiting brethren who did not maintain an active membership in another lodge had to pay a fee to help defray the costs of food and drink, just as any member of Williamsburg Lodge did.
Several of their names are still familiar to many people even today. Some of them were among the most prominent men of their day. Others were ordinary, "solid citizens." Their number included: Provincial Grand Master (1774) Peyton Randolph, attorney, civil leader and Speaker of the House of Burgesses; Rev. James Madison, president of the College of William and Mary; John Blair, Jr., attorney and politician; Dr. James McClurg, physician; Peter Pelham, gaoler, musician, and clerk of the governor's office; Benjamin Bucktrout, cabinetmaker; Alexander Finnie, tavernkeeper; Colonel William Finnie, Deputy Quartermaster General; Dr. Peter Hay, physician; Edmund Randolph, attorney, politician, Governor of Virginia, and Attorney General of the U.S. under Washington; Anthony Hay, cabinetmaker; Gabriel Maupin, tavernkeeper; James Hubard, attorney; William Waddill,
silversmith and engraver; Henry Tazewell, attorney, judge, Va. delegate, U.S. Senator, George Reid, merchant; St. George Tucker, law professor and judge; Jesse Cole, merchant; Edward Charlton, wigmaker; Littleton W. Tazewell, attorney, Va. Delegate, U.S. Senator, and Governor of Virginia; Nathaniel Walthoe, merchant; Dr. John Minson Galt, apothecary and visiting physician to the Public Insane Hospital; and James Monroe, an attorney, Governor of Virginia, U.S. Senator, U.S. Secretary of War, and a U.S. President. In keeping with an age-old Masonic tradition, regardless of their occupation, family background, education or notoriety, all of these men named above and scores of others, met in the lodge together "on the Level."
From surviving 1773 and 1778 copies of the Lodge's By-Laws, we know quite a lot about the routine practices of the lodge's usual operation during the last part of the eighteenth century. Monthly stated meetings of the lodge were held on the 1st Tuesday of each month at 6:00 PM. Other special or "called" meetings were held when and as they were needed, most typically to initiate or advance candidates. St. John's Day ProcessionThe two feast days of St. John the Baptist (June 24th) and St. John the Evangelist (December 27th) were annual occasions of great importance and celebration to eighteenth century Freemasons. The lodge typically celebrated these occasions on the Sunday that fell nearest to the actual Saints' day. On those days, lodge members marched in a solumn procession to attend church services together. The lodge would hold a brief ceremonial meeting in the afternoon, with virtually no business being conducted. That evening, a lavish dinner or feast was usually always held in a rented room at a local tavern for lodge members and their wives, and then a public ball was often added afterwards for the enjoyment of the entire community. In Williamsburg Lodge, the newly elected officers of the lodge were also annually installed on St. John the Baptist's Day.
A committee of senior members appointed by Williamsburg Lodge in 1773 applied to the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns) to obtain a "new" charter, which it subsequently received and was read in the lodge with appropriate ceremonial fanfare on March 1, 1774. This charter (#457), dated in London on November 6, 1773, and signed by the Deputy Grand Master and Grand Secretary, is the oldest surviving English Masonic charter in Virginia.
There is no other information that has survived to indicate what ever became of the "old" charter inferred by the old lodge minutes; the grand lodge body from which it was originally obtained; nor why the lodge felt it needed to be replaced. This document has apparently long been lost. The original charter was probably granted by the Grand Lodge of England sometime before it split in 1758 over a dispute over the ritual into two separate factions, the "Moderns" and the "Antients". Regarding the probable reason for the second charter application, however, the United Grand Lodge of England's surviving records today cannot shed any further light on this subject ( note: it is interesting to note that the Masonic ritual work as handed down and still used in Virginia lodges today contains many elements of both the old "Modern" and "Antient" English rituals.
With the beginning of the Revolutionary War, however, interest in being tied to English Freemasonry waned quickly in the wake of the increasing patriotic fervor for political and economic independence. Even so, the members of Williamsburg Lodge found themselves divided in their loyalties. Yet, the surviving lodge records are silent as to what effect (if any) this difference of opinion might have had upon the brethren and their Masonic relationships. However, it is most probable (if long-standing Masonic tradition and practice was followed) that each man left his personal opinions and views at the door when he came to the lodge hall, where there is still never any discussion of either organized religion or politics in a Masonic lodge. Still, all was apparently not well.
St. John's Day Procession
In honor of the approaching St. John the Evangelist's Day, on December 3, 1776, the lodge, as usual, had voted to "...dine and Sup and have a Ball for the entertainment of the Ladies at house of Mrs. Campbells as usual here to fore." The times were serious enough, however, to cause the lodge just two weeks later (on December 17th) to cancel the ball that they had been planning. Since a war had begun only months before, no doubt they felt, upon further reflection, that such celebrations were too frivolous for the tenor of the times.
However, at that same December 3, 1776 meeting, the lodge empowered the Worshipful Master to write to all the regular lodges in Virginia to request that they send representatives to a convention to be held the following spring in Williamsburg. The stated purpose and intent of this convention, which was held on May 6, 1777, was to discuss the need to elect a Grand Master for Virginia. The reasons cited for this proposal was that with the Virginia lodges all holding charters from the various Grand Lodges of England, Ireland, and Scotland, there was no central authority to which the lodges could appeal to settle disputes. Nor was there any standardization in the ritual work they were each using, so the Craft could never meet in a general Annual Communication to share in the bonds of common fellowship. Thus, there was general agreement within most (but not all) of the lodges that they needed to consider electing a Grand Master in Virginia.
After holding several meetings later in 1777 to further discuss this proposition, the group met once again in Williamsburg on June 23, 1778. Before that meeting, the position of Grand Master had first been offered to George Washington, and then to Right Worshipful Warner Lewis, Past Master of Botetourt Lodge in Gloucester, both of whom declined. Therefore, on June 23, 1778, representatives of all the Virginia Masonic lodges duly elected John Blair, Jr., Past Master of Williamsburg Lodge #6, as the first Grand Master of Masons in Virginia. Blair was formally installed as Grand Master in the Williamsburg Lodge Hall at a meeting of the assembled lodges held on October 13, 1778. Over fifty brethren were present for the occasion. The Grand Lodge of Virginia was also thusly created that day, which was the first Grand Lodge constituted in North America.
Despite these significant Masonic events, the years of the American Revolution were very hard on Williamsburg. The town was occupied at various times by British, American, and French troops, who typically camped around the city and who also quartered some troops in private houses, as well. The British were especially harsh on the town's citizens, enforcing martial law for a time. Over a hundred members of the lodge had left the city to serve in the American military forces, and a very small number of them gave their lives during the struggle for independence. Despite the absence of so many members, Williamsburg Lodge and the Grand Lodge of Virginia managed to continue to meet sporadically both in the lodge hall and at the Raleigh Tavern, throughout those turbulent years. Even with those few remaining members to look after things, some of the lodge's oldest written records and its regalia were apparently stolen or were somehow lost during this period.
However, rather than the absence of the men and lodge members, it was the removal of the capital of the new state of Virginia to Richmond which dealt the town and the lodge its cruelest blow. Williamsburg thus began a slow, but inexorable, decline. On October 28, 1786, the Grand Lodge of Virginia issued numbers to all of its subordinate lodges. Williamsburg was awarded the number "6," and is still so designated, despite the fact that the lodge was forced to suspend operations at least three times after that date, for varying lengths of time. Many people also moved to Richmond when the state capital moved in 1780. As a result, business and commerce in Williamsburg quickly declined. Those few Masons who were left in Williamsburg apparently found it very difficult to sustain the lodge for an extended period with so few members left, and with reduced chances of getting any new members to join.
With this difficult state of affairs to contend with, the lodge in Williamsburg went dark sometime in the early 1790s. It was briefly revived for a few years, then went inactive once again from about 1802 to 1811. After being revived thereafter one more time, Williamsburg Lodge #6 was forced to cease operating sometime in 1827-8. It would remain dark for twelve long years. This latter interruption was probably brought about, in part, both by a quarrel within the lodge, as well as the so-called "William Morgan Affair" of 1826.
The assumed kidnapping and murder of William Morgan (supposedly by his fellow Masonic brothers but never proven) for his threatening to reveal Masonic secrets by printing an expose book, caused widespread public outcry and rising anti-Masonic feelings among the general population for about eight years. This single event almost destroyed the Craft in the U.S. The Morgan Affair also led to the creation of the nation's first political third party, the "Anti-Masonic Party." The party only lasted long enough to support one candidate to run in the 1832 presidential election, but the man (who was actually a friend of Masonry!) was later defeated for the office by Andrew Jackson, who also happened to be a Mason.
It wasn't until 1848 that Williamsburg Lodge #6 could, once again, be revived. The lodge started to work again under a dispensation granted by The Grand Lodge of Virginia, dated April 21, 1848. It received a new Charter from The Grand Lodge of Virginia, which is dated December 13, 1848, keeping its old number 6, and under which it has continued to work uninterrupted now for over one hundred and fifty years, a remarkable achievement. The lodge continued to pay rent to the landowner where the lodge hall stood on Francis Street from 1849, assessing each brother for a proportionate share of the total rent due each year. They paid this rent annually, but were not financially able to finally purchase the land on which the hall stood until the late 1890s.
The lodge continued to meet (albeit very sporadically after 1862, during the War Between the States from 1861 to 1865. From May 1862, however, the town was occupied during the remainder of the war by Federal troops, some of who also broke into the lodge hall and carried off some of the lodge's regalia and at least two bound minute books for the years 1775 and 1773-1779. These two volumes, in particular, eventually found their way somehow into the Library of Congress by the early twentieth century, and it took two separate acts of the U.S. Congress (one in 1916 and another in 1939) for Williamsburg Lodge #6 to be able to finally retrieve them.
By late 1891, we can only assume that the lodge had either physically outgrown its small, old meeting hall, OR that the by-then one hundred and seventeen year old building was in poor repair and was deemed unsuitable for the lodge's meeting needs. Regardless of the actual reason(s), in November of that year Williamsburg Lodge #6 began meeting at Mahone's Store, which was located on the southeast corner of Duke of Gloucester and Botetourt Streets (where Tarpley's Store is located today). In January 1895, the lodge again moved its meeting place to Spencer's Store, which was located in what is today Market Square on the southwest corner of Duke of Gloucester and a now-removed section of South England Street, which was formerly there before the Williamsburg Restoration. After the lodge met at this location for about four years, they moved, once again, in January 1899 to the Peninsula Bank Building which formerly stood just a few doors to the west of Spencer's Store.
It was during this period around the turn of the twentieth century and in the years immediately thereafter that Williamsburg Lodge desired to purchase the old Mason's Hall with a view to restoring it. By this period, it had been subjected for over a decade to a variety of uses and many tenants, including a stint serving as a schoolhouse, but it was in very poor shape and much in need of repair. After finally buying the land, for five years or so, the lodge tried diligently to create interest and to raise funds to restore the building, including hiring an architect, S.R. Remington. In 1907, Remington took detailed measurements of the old building, and from them drew a series of floor plans and elevations, which also thankfully survive today. His drawings tell us all that we now know about the ancient lodge hall's floor plans and it's architectural design.
Masonic Lodge (c. 1910)Old Photograph Lent by Mrs. V. Lee Kirby to C.W.F. for reproductionC.W.F. Negative #74-PE-1379
Original No. 6 Lodge Building
Sadly, however, by 1910 the old building had deteriorated too much to be restored or repaired and it had to be torn down sometime that year. The bricks from its foundation were saved, however, and were incorporated into the fireplace in the downstairs social hall of the current Temple building, which was later built on the site of the old one, in 1931. These vestiges of the original building still remain there to this day, and a bronze plaque has been placed there to describe their historical significance. The current Temple was built with the cooperation of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, through the influence of the Rev. Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, a co-founder of the Restoration, who was also an affiliate member and Chaplain of Williamsburg Lodge No. 6 from 1904-1908. The current Temple building has well served the lodge now for almost seventy years.
M.W. John Blair and M.W. George Elridge Kidd
Notably, Williamsburg Lodge No. 6 has a long tradition of providing men who have served the Grand Lodge of Virginia in positions of leadership, including at least nine men with ties to the lodge who eventually served as Grand Master of Masons in Virginia in the years between 1778 and 1990 (note: some of these brethren were initiated and/or raised in Williamsburg Lodge, but later moved elsewhere and were technically members of other lodges at the time of their election as Grand Master). These men include John Blair, Jr. (who served from 1778-1784); Edmund Randolph (1786-1788); Thomas Matthews (1790-93); Benjamin Day (1797-1799); Robert G. Scott (1828-1830); George C. Dromgoole (1830-32); William Booth Taliaferro (1874); James Noah Hillman (1938); George Eldridge Kidd (1966). Several others also served as elected and appointed officers of the Grand Lodge of Virginia over the years, and at least one, Nathaniel Beverly Tucker, served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Missouri (1821-24). All of these men, at one time or another, passed through the portals of the lodge in Williamsburg throughout its' long and venerable history. Thus, the history of Freemasonry in Williamsburg and the Williamsburg Lodge #6 today shines so much brighter because of the Masonic Light and luster that was eventually spread to other parts of Virginia by many of these good men and brothers.
New Masonic Lodge (1931)Photograph (1940), C.W.F. Negative #N-6350
Lodge Room Today
Today, Williamsburg Lodge No. 6, A. F. & A. M. continues to work and to flourish through the dedicated efforts and love of its officers and members. There are still many, dedicated, "good men and true" who have passed through the West Gate here, who try to live their lives by the tenets and precepts of Freemasonry that they have learned from and found withinWilliamsburg No. 6 this ancient and venerable fraternity. However, Freemasonry is far too often misunderstood by outsiders. Because of the traditional veil of secrecy and mystery which has long surrounded Masonry, some people suspect that they must be up to no good, and want to believe that there must be nefarious principles, dark rites, and hidden agendas at work within our meeting places. Nothing could be more untrue or wrong!
Freemasonry stands up for the freedom of the individual, and for the freedom of Man to make up his own mind about the nature of our world and his own place within it. In a non-sectarian way, Masonry supports the churches, as well as the local, state, and federal governments, and urges its members to be peace-loving and law-abiding citizens at all times. There are no real secrets in Masonry except for a few signs, handshakes and words that serve as modes of mutual recognition. Aside from these, it is no secret about where Masons meet; when they meet; what they stand for, and what moral lessons that Masonry tries to teach to its members. Contrary to what some misguided individuals may believe, or publicly state, or print: Freemasonry honestly has NO hidden agendas, conducts NO satanic or anti-Christian ceremonies or rites, and has concocted NO secret plots to overthrow any established government of any state or country in order to establish some imagined "New World Order," run exclusively by Masons. Such ideas would be truly laughable if there still weren't those few people (with their own agendas) who insist that Masonry is a sinister force in the world. Both in fact and in truth, Freemasonry today serves our society only as a force for good.
What Masonry truly means has long been (and can still be!) found within the walls of this local Williamsburg Lodge of friends and brothers, who each share in the pride of its long history, written by those brethren who have gone before us. We would be pleased and proud to share more about it with interested men of good moral character, and a personal belief in a Supreme Being. Thus, we would invite inquiries from those individuals who would like to know more about Freemasonry in general and/or about our lodge, in particular. To become a Freemason, a man has to first ask someone who is a Mason to tell him more about it.......we are then quite willing to answer most questions!
In closing, we are pleased to say that the great principles of Freemasonry: Friendship, Morality and Brotherly Love, continue to shine brightly like a beacon from Williamsburg Lodge No.6, and this Temple. Thus might it ever remain so as this venerable lodge begins yet another new century, and a new millenium, as well. So mote it be!
Brother M. Kent Brinkley, M.M., MPS.Williamsburg Lodge No. 6, A.F. & A.M., Civil War Research Lodge No. 1865, A.F. & A.M., Mason's Hall Lodge No. 1785, A.F. & A.M.Williamsburg, VirginiaMarch 1, 1999