FREEMASONRY IN TENNESSEE: The First 100 Years
By: Worshipful Brother Brian H. Magill
Freemasonry began in Tennessee when the region was known as the "Territory South of the Ohio". The largest cities were only settlements of cabins, set beside streams and connected by narrow trails. These settlements were transformed into thriving communities by pioneers from North Carolina and Virginia, who helped lay the foundations of Freemasonry in Tennessee.
Prior to 1769, what is now Tennessee was part of North Carolina, a hunting ground for many Indian tribes, such as the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and many others. In 1776 it had grown to sizeable proportions and the region was admitted to the Provincial Congress of North Carolina, under the name of "Washington District."
In April 1784, this entire region from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi, was ceded by North Carolina to the Federal Government under a plan suggested by Congress as a means of liquidating the National Debt. Therefore, left without government assistance or protection, the people convened at Jonesboro and established the State of Franklin. However, the North Carolina Assembly repealed the "Act of Cession" in the autumn of 1784, but it wasn't until February 1788 that the State of Franklin was abolished. This re-adoption was short lived as, in the following year the Assembly again ceded the entire territory to the national Government and in 1790, the territory was called the "Territory South of the Ohio".
William Blount was appointed as Territorial Governor, with his capital Jonesboro and then Knoxville. In 1794 he established the Territorial General Assembly and, two years later, the State of Tennessee was founded.
Saint Tammany Lodge No. 1 (its name was changed to Harmony Lodge No. 1 in November 1800), was organised in Nashville in 1789, under a Dispensation from the Grand Lodge of North Carolina. This was the first Masonic Lodge in Tennessee.
No record of its first officers and members exists so far as is known, but Andrew Jackson is listed as a member in 1805, and apparently received his Degrees in this Lodge. Another Lodge, which features in the records is Cumberland, was formed in 1812. From 1812 until 1860, Lodge Officers were elected twice yearly, although the Master was often re-elected for several terms.
In the records of Grand Lodge, 1814-1822, the first meeting of Grand Lodge shows 36 Past Masters of Cumberland Lodge admitted, but only 5 had actually presided over the Lodge. Apparently, these Brethren were only nominal Past Masters.
Having confirmed upon them the Past Master degree which, at that time, was construed as investing them with all the rights and privileges of an Actual Past Master. However, in an amendment to the Constitution adopted on 3rd October 1826, it stated:
"No Mason shall be eligible to an office in Grand Lodge unless he has passed the Chair in some regular Lodge, except in case of emergency."
However, the new Constitution adopted in 1842 was more specific, stating:"Past Masters of regular Lodges who shall have passed the Chair in a Lodge under the jurisdiction of this Grand Lodge."
It is quite clear that, prior to October 1815, the Past Master's Degree was liberally conferred by Lodges and that Past Masters thus created had all the rights and privileges of Actual Past Masters.
As Nashville grew, new Lodges were formed. First among these was Nashville No. 37, chartered 1821, but which expired in 1818. Then came Phoenix No. 131 (1847), Nashville 142 (1848) and Sequoyah 156 (1848); but four years later, in 1852, these three amalgamated as Phoenix No. 131, which has continued as one of the strongest Lodges of Nashville. Next came Edgefield No. 254 (1856), Claiborne No. 293 (1860), Corinthian No. 414 (1870) and Germania No. 355 (1868).
The 1890's produced East Nashville No. 560 (1892) and West Nashville No. 612 (1899), while the new century produced Buena Vista No. 639 (1906), Observance No. 686 (1917), Doric No. 732 (1927) and Jere Baxter No. 742 (1934).
In May 1825, the City of Nashville and the Grand Lodge were honoured by a visit from the distinguished French patriot and Mason, General LaFayette, while on his tour of America, and the Grand Lodge, together with Cumberland No. 8 and Nashville No. 37, along with the three Royal Arch Chapters at Nashville, Franklin and Clarksville, united in one of the most memorable occasions in the annals of Tennessee Freemasonry. General LaFayette was introduced by Andrew Jackson in Grand Lodge and was seated at the right hand of the Grand Master, who informed him that he had been unanimously elected as an Honorary Member of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, to which he suitably replied.
In September 1826, William Morgan, who claimed to be a Mason about to publish the secrets of Freemasonry, disappeared from his home in Batavia, New York.
This disappearance was attributed to the Masonic fraternity by his confederates. The affair generated much anti-Masonic feeling, which continued for several years, resulting in the closure of Lodges and Grand Lodges throughout the nation. It began in September 1826, grew in intensity and was at its height in the political campaign of 1828, when Andrew Jackson became President and courageously upheld the banner of Freemasonry in the face of bitter antagonism.
Tennessee was not immune from this disturbance, but the Grand Lodge of Tennessee patiently waited until the storm had passed before taking action with the affected Lodges. For two years efforts were made to revive these Lodges, but with little effect, as in the Annual Communication of 1838 it was recommended that 26 Lodges be stricken off and agents appointed to receive their jewels, furniture, etc. and return them to Grand Lodge.
With the reduction of anti-Masonic feeling, Masonry saw the dawn of a new era of Masonic progress. In October 1841, Wilkins Tannehill returned to Nashville, after an absence of nine years, and was re-elected as Grand Master. Realising the condition of the Order, he convened the Grand Lodge in Special Communication, July 18th to 21st, to place certain topics before it for consideration.
4. Consideration of the establishment of a Masonic Orphanage or College.
5. Definite prohibition of the acceptance of promissory notes for Fees and Dues.
At the annual meeting in October 1842, the programme begun by the Grand Master in July was largely adopted, and the proposal for founding an Orphanage or Masonic College was launched.
The Corner Stone of the Masonic College was laid on 22nd February 1849. A procession was formed, consisting of the students of the College and members of eight Lodges and Chapters, all arrayed in appropriate Regalia. The procession paraded the streets of the City to the College grounds, where the ceremony was performed By Dr. R. C. Cooper, Grand Master, assisted by Thomas McCullough, Deputy Grand Master, and W. C. Crane, Grand Chaplain.
During the entire existence of the College, there was a marked divergence of opinions as to the wisdom of the enterprise. Despite this, the Board of Trustees estimated the date of completion of the new building as September 1850 and called it the "Masonic University".
The Masonic revival begun in the 1840's continued through the 1850's and, resulted in 87 new Lodges being created. However, in the early 1850's the rumblings of war were already afoot and people read the news from Washington with growing alarm. In 1860, when war seemed inevitable, James McCallum of Pulaski, was chosen as Grand Master and it was to him that fell the task of guiding the Craft through the coming civil war.
On 1st May 1861, he assembled the leaders of the Craft and issued a Memorial to the Grand Lodge of New York, and the Craft in general, that is perhaps without parallel in the annals of Freemasonry:-
The Memorial of 1861
Grand Lodge of Tennessee Free and Accepted Masons, Nashville, Tennessee, 1st May 1861
Most Worshipful Sir and Brother,
In addressing you this communication, we are sure no apology need be offered. The unhappy circumstances under which our country is now labouring are such as to arouse the deepest feeling of every heart. But recently occupying a position of proud prominence among the nations of the earth, the hope of the lovers of civil and religious freedom, we find her now apparently upon the verge of a conflict of arms, that unless speedily arrested, will form a dark and bloody epoch in the history of the human race.
From the contemplation of the horrible spectacle of State arrayed against State, friend against friend, and even brother against brother, we shudderingly look around for some means of escape from the dire calamity that seems so certainly impending over us as a people. With deep mortification, and sorrow and dread, we look into the dark gulf of human passion, we see its billows heaving with fearful excitement.
Horrified by the sight, we instinctively raise our feeble arms and in hopelessness of spirit, exclaim, "Great God, is there no help in this time of need? Who may stay the wrath of the whirlwind?"
For the causes that have led to the unparalleled spectacle now presented to the world, it is no province of ours to inquire. The wrongs have been committed by both parties to the dreadful combat that seems to be so rapidly approaching, we are not called upon to admit or deny. The causes and the wrongs will be fully judged by the future historian, and when this page of impartial history is written, the dark record of a nation torn by contending factions, rent asunder by animosities engendered by fierce conflicts and the rage of battle, precious lives destroyed, with ruined cities and devastated firesides, tears of bitter anguish will fall upon the leaf of a nation's disgrace, and if possible blot it out forever.
While it is no part of our duty to investigate the causes that have produced the present state of antagonism in political affairs, neither is it our province to suggest a remedy. But as Masons, as members of a common Brotherhood, as Brethren bound together by fraternal ties that are not broken save by the hand o death, we can safely appeal for a cessation of the unnatural strife that is now raging around us, and whose surging billows threaten to overwhelm all in a common destruction. We therefore confidently appeal to the 500,000 Masons of our land to step forward, and pouring the oil of peace upon the troubled waters of civil war, roll back the raging tide, and in one united demand, make their voices heard in arresting the terrible havoc of fraternal strife.
Is it possible, in this enlightened age, this age of Christian progress, of advancement in all the arts and sciences of civilized life, there are none to step forward whose voices shall be sufficiently potent to stay the madness of the hour, and compel a peaceful solution of the issues now presented for the consideration of a people whose freedom has been the pride and boast of an admiring world? Shall the alternative be presented, of section arrayed against section; shall we be compelled, both North and South, to listen to the tread of armed legions, whose swords are even now ready to leap from their scabbards for the purpose of being bathed in the blood of those who should, by every tie of interest and consanguinity, be linked in bonds stronger than those forged of brass and steel?. And when the contest is ended, as end it must, what will be gained by the victors?
What mind will be able to count the cost of thousands upon thousands of precious lives sacrificed in the horrible contest, the cries of the widows and orphans rising night and morn to heaven, mothers weeping in bitter anguish over the dead bodies of loved ones laid in the dust by the hands of a merciless destroyer, blackened ruins of once happy homes, devastated fields, where once peace smiled upon the industrious husbandman, the helplessness of childhood even affording no barriers to the destructive march of contending armies.
And then, end as it may, the victory will be attained at a sacrifice of human life that will cause the stoutest heart to tremble in deepest anguish. Let the battle once commence, and who may live to see its termination?
Considering all these things, the blessings of peace, and the horrors of domestic war, is there no appeal that can be effectual for peace? Will you not add your earnest efforts for a peaceful solution and settlement of all the questions now agitating the minds of the people of every section?.
We appeal to you, and through you to the thousands of Masons in your Jurisdiction, to stop the effusion of blood while yet they may. We make no suggestion as to how this shall be accomplished. As Masons we make no decision as to who is right or wrong, or as to the proper course to be pursued for securing the object we have so deeply at heart. Restore peace to our unhappy country, and surely heaven will bless every faithful effort towards its accomplishment.
But if all efforts fail, if every appeal for peace shall be thrust aside, if the sword must still be the last resort, and accepted as the final arbiter, we beseech the Brethren engaged in the awful contest to remember that a fallen foe is still a Brother, and as such is entitled to warmest sympathies and kindest attentions. If war can not be averted or turned aside, let every Brother use his utmost endeavours, and, as far as lies in his power, rob it of some of its horrors.
While each is true to sense of public and patriotic duty, on whichever side he may be arrayed, we earnestly urge that he shall also be true to those high and holy teachings inculcated by our Order.
Praying that God, in His infinite mercy, may yet incline the hearts of his people to ways of peace and paths of pleasantness, and that He may dissipate and disperse the storm-cloud of destruction which seems to hang so fearfully above us, we subscribe ourselves, faithfully and fraternally, in the bonds of Masonry.
James McCallum, K.T., Grand Master of Grand Lodge
John F. Slover, Deputy Grand Master of Grand Lodge
Lucius J. Polk, K.T., Gnd Commander of Gnd Commandery
Thomas McCullough, K.T., P.G.M., Grand Lodge
Archelaus M. Hughes. K.T., P.G.M.
Charles A. Fuller, K.T., 32_, P.G.M., P.G.H.P., P.G.G.
John McClelland, K.T., 32_, W.M. Cumberland Lodge No. 8
The civil war, however, could not be averted and Tennessee, being the central battleground and with the people being so bitterly divided, suffered more than perhaps any other State. However, throughout those terrible years the spirit of Masonry was displayed in countless incidents of heroism and kindness to the helpless, needy, or fallen or captured foe.
There were many distinguished Brethren called to the Grand Lodge above during this period, but the ones we would know about were Andrew Jackson, P.G.M. and ex-President of the United States; and Samuel Houston, ex-Governor of Tennessee and Texas and ex-President of the Texas Republic.
There were many tributes to General Andrew Jackson, but one of the most moving and eloquent was from Edmund Dillahunty, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee:-
Since our last Annual Communication, a great man has fallen among us. Past Grand Master Andrew Jackson has gone to the tomb, full of years and full of honours. With no inheritance but an honest name, the lofty structure of his fame was the conception of his own genius, the result of his own labours. The party strifes with which his name was associated, in unequalled eulogy and unmeasured denunciation, will sink into forgetfulness with the occasions that engendered them or be remembered as incentives or warnings to the statesmen of coming times; but the impress of his stern, unyielding will and the glory of his achievements on the battlefields of our country, will de durable as time, imperishable as history.
But it is not as a warrior or statesman that Masons cherish his name or pour out offerings to his memory. It is in the relations of social and domestic life; in his constancy, fidelity and zeal in the performance of the duties of friendship and charity; that we claim him as our brother and "boast of his Masonic virtues, that poured honour on the Craft while they mingled with home affections, and made lovely and delightful the fireside circle of the Hermitage."
In the years 1822 and 1823, he presided over the deliberations of this assembly with honour to himself and profit to the brethren. In 1824, he was punctual on his attendance as Grand Master until his successor was elected, when he retired from the office with the full confidence and affection of those whose labours he had aided, and his active co-operation was withdrawn from our organised bodies. But, when the wild fanatic formed a league with the vile and corrupt demagogue and the base and unprincipled politician, whose unholy object was to immolate our venerable Institution on the impure altar of personal ambition and party aggrandisement, he boldly maintained his ancient faith and rolled back the angry tide that threatened to overwhelm it. Success did not harden his heart. After honours had been showered upon him, and he had left the proudest and brightest station of human ambition, his kindness was not withdrawn from the lowly, or his sympathy from the sorrowful. Misfortune ever shared his bounty. His house was the home of the afflicted, the seat of generous hospitality, and the centre of the silent charity, which has no record but in heaven.
Whatever may have been our partialities or oppositions to his public acts, his name should live in the grateful recollection of his brethren, and the memorials of his virtue should be preserved in the archives of our Order. The tokens of respect to his memory, and the manner of making them known, I leave to the consideration and wisdom of the Grand Lodge.
When the veterans of the war returned home to Tennessee there was little to be seen but devastation and ruin. However, through all the divisions, Masonry rose superior to political and civil strife as veterans of both sides united in their Masonic labours to rebuild shattered communities. But war was not the only disaster that the people of Tennessee had to contend with.
In 1867, the greatest flood ever known in the State occurred when the waters of Chattanooga reached 57 feet, 10 feet higher than ever before, leaving thousands homeless. However, the greatest calamity ever to assail the people was the scourge of Yellow Fever, which first invaded Tennessee in the 1850's, when 13,183 people died, and returned again in the late 1870's. Of the 45,000 people in Memphis, 25,000 fled, many dying of the disease. Among the 20,000 remaining, 17,600 contracted the disease.
From Lodges in the State, and from Lodges and Grand Lodges in may other States, came help in generous measure.
The Grand Master, in his Annual Address, said: "May God bless each and all of our Brethren everywhere who have so nobly helped us in this, our time of affliction."
The 1880's were a period of progress, with 28 new Lodges being formed. This decade was also marked by more calamities, though Tennessee was spared. The great Michigan Fire in 1881; the Yellow Fever epidemic in Pensacola, Florida, in 1882; the Galveston Fire of 1885 and the Charleston earthquake in 1886 gave to grateful Tennessee Masons an opportunity to repay the liberal aid bestowed upon their own suffering Brethren by the Masons of those States in 1878, which they did in generous measure.
Another important event in the history of Freemasonry in Tennessee took place on 11th August, 1886, when Marcus B. Toney and W. H. Bumpas obtained a Charter of Incorporation from the State of Tennessee for an organisation known as the "Masonic Widows and Orphans Fund and Home." Grand Lodge approved the establishment of such an Institution and commended it to the Masons of Tennessee. The first building cost $30,000, and was opened on 10th December 1892.
There was much discussion as to how the Home should be funded, also the acceptance of the Home as Grand Lodge property. It was not until 27th June 1897 that Grand Lodge assumed ownership of the Home.
To pay for the upkeep, they increased the per-capita tax to $1, of which 50 cents was assigned to the Home, and from then the Home grew and prospered.
Wherever you may chance to be; wherever you may roam;
Far away in foreign lands, or just at home sweet home,
It always give you pleasure, it makes your heartstrings hum,
Just to hear the words of cheer: "I see you've travelled some."
When you get the Brother's greeting, as he takes you by the hand,
It thrills you with a feeling that you cannot understand;
You feel that band of Brotherhood, that aid that's sure to come,
When you hear said in a friendly way: "I see you've travelled some."
And if you are a stranger, in strange lands all alone,
If fate has left you stranded, dead broke and far from home,
Oh, it's a grand and glorious feeling, it thrills you; makes you numb,
When he says with a grip of fellowship: "I see you've travelled some."
And when your final summons comes, to make a last long trip,
Adorned with Lambskin Apron White, and gems of fellowship;
The Tyler at the Golden Gate, with Square and Rule and Plumb,
Will size up our pin, and say: "Walk in: I see you've travelled some."
"The History of Freemasonry in Tennessee"
by Charles A. Snodgrass and Bobby J. Demott