The only image of J.J.J. Gourgas extant is this portrait by F. D’Avignon in New York City, a lithograph on paper c.1850.
From the collection of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington.
The gravesite memorial marking the burial place of John James Joseph Gourgas was completely rehabilitated during the course of many months. Earth was moved; intrusive trees and vegetation were removed; eight headstones were returned to their original placements; the monument was sandblasted to look like new; brickpavers were laid; and curbstones were set. Bayview-New York Bay Cemetery in Jersey City also is home to dozens of Masons, including five Grand Masters of New Jersey, and several notable Scottish Rite figures.
More than a year in the making, yesterday was the occasion of the rededication of the gravesite memorial where John James Joseph Gourgas was laid to rest in 1865.
Known as the “Conservator of the Scottish Rite,” it was Gourgas who safeguarded the rituals and records of the AASR during the darkest days of the scandal following the “Morgan Affair.” Spanning from 1826 to about 1840, this period saw the AASR go dark, and most grand lodges nearly collapse, as the American public rejected Freemasonry, fearing it was ruling the country from the shadows. Gourgas, as Sovereign Grand Commander, personally took charge of keeping administrative matters current and maintaining contact with Masonic leaders around the world until whenever the controversy finally would end.
A brief biography of Gourgas was researched and written by Ill. Mike Lakat, 33° of the Valley of Southern New Jersey. Excerpted:
His Masonic life began when he became an Entered Apprentice on May 19, 1806 at Lodge L’Union Francaise No. 14 (now No. 17) and was listed as member No. 207 on the lodge rolls. He received both his Fellowcraft and Master Mason degrees on June 9, 1806 and in 1807 became Custodian of the Seals and Records for the lodge. On May 16, 1808 he demitted, and there is no further record of his membership in any lodge. This situation was not uncommon at the time insofar as lodge records were not maintained as they are today. Regardless of his status with the lodge, he was recognized as an active and full-fledged Mason. In fact, in tribute to his Masonic career in 1864 his lodge elected him to honorary membership.
On July 26, 1806 he was initiated into the Sovereign Grand Chapter of Rose Croix d’H-R-D-M of Kilwinning at New York City and became the Chapter’s secretary. On August 4, 1806 he was elevated by Antoine Bideaud, 33° to Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret 32°. Two days later Bideaud established the Sublime Grand Consistory 30°, 31°, 32° and Gourgas was named its secretary. On November 12, 1808 John Gabriel Tardy appointed Gourgas Deputy Inspector General of the Rite of Perfection. According to the register of Abraham Jacobs, published in Folger’s The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (1881), Gourgas also received the degree of Select Masons of the Twenty-seven and the Dublin Royal Arch.
On May 1, 1813, Emanuel De La Motta, of the Supreme Council at Charleston, initiated J.J.J. Gourgas and Sampson Simson into the 33°. Then, on August 5, De La Motta, acting as the Grand Commander in a “special sitting,” initiated four others, and the Grand and Supreme Council of the Most puissant Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the Thirty-third Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States was organized. Daniel Decius Tompkins was chosen first Sovereign Grand Commander. Within seven years Gourgas went from Master Mason to a coroneted 33°. On that day, he was also named the first Grand Secretary and served in that position until 1832.
On March 7, 1832 the second Sovereign Grand Commander, Ill. Bro. Sampson Simson, resigned and Gourgas became the third Most Puissant Sovereign Grand Commander, a position he held until September 4, 1851....
Ill. Bro. Gourgas died in New York City on Tuesday February 14, 1865 and was buried in New York Bay Cemetery (now Bayview-New York Bay Cemetery) in Jersey City. He was buried by his family with little or no notice or recognition from his brethren. Since his death he rested in virtual anonymity along with seven other members of his family. The gravesite was neglected, but was rediscovered and rededicated by Supreme Council in 1938 during the 125th anniversary year of Supreme Council.
This shot of the top of the monument was takenon a sunny day recently, before the restorative sandblasting.
Why bury the New York City resident across the Hudson in Jersey City? One brother of the Valley of Northern New Jersey discovered why:
In 1852, the Common Council of New York City, then consisting solely of Manhattan Island, passed a resolution that banned further burials within the city limits in response to public fears stemming from cholera epidemics in 1832 and 1849, which were believed to have contaminated the well water supplying the city. Entrepreneurs quickly bought up land in Queens, the Bronx and New Jersey to establish new cemeteries. The New York Bay Cemetery was a scant six miles from the Bedford Street home of Ill. Gourgas. Maps from that era show how it would have been a short ride from St. John’s Chapel to the waterfront, where the coffin would be loaded onto a ferry bound for Paulus Hook on the Jersey side of the Hudson River, to be transported a few miles overland to Greenville and the cemetery overlooking the bustling harbor of New York....
St. John’s Chapel was built as an uptown annex by Trinity Church in 1803 to serve those parishioners who moved from crowded lower Manhattan to more fashionable residences near today’s Washington Square Park and Canal Street areas. The Gourgas residence on Bedford Street would have been located about one half mile north of the chapel. Having worked in lower Manhattan in my younger days, I knew that no such church existed on Varick Street. I later learned that the chapel had been razed in 1918 for the widening of Varick Street and for the construction of the Holland Tunnel. The entrance to the tunnel, in fact, occupies the land where St. John’s had stood.
I always wondered why there is a St. John’s Lane right outside the Holland Tunnel near Canal Street. St. John’s Lodge used to meet way downtown, in today’s Financial District, but not really near this St. John’s Lane.
This ceremony of rededication was very impressive. The NMJ Deputy for New Jersey, MW William H. Berman, Grand Master of New Jersey (and 33°), and Ill. John William McNaughton, 33°, Sovereign Grand Commander of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction all consecrated the monument with the ritual elements of Corn, Wine, and Oil, respectively.
Elements of consecration – Grand Master Berman, left, pours the wine. Grand Commander McNaughton, right, pours the oil.
Memorial wreaths bearing the inscriptions Deus Meumque Jus (God and My Right) and Spes Meo in Deo Est (My Hope is in God) flanked the monument. These are the mottos, respectively, of the 33° and 32°.
|Awarded only 35 times previously in its 71-year history, Grand Commander McNaughton presented the Gourgas Medal to the New Jersey Scottish Rite brethren, the first time the honor was conferred upon a group. (We are going to take turns wearing it!)|
|SP Mike Porter contributed much to the solemnity|
of the ceremony.
|Before the ceremony, Supreme Council opened at Peninsula Lodge No. 99 in nearby Bayonne. Here Thurman Pace, left, greets Mark Tabbert of the George Washington Masonic Memorial. (Peninsula is the Magpie Mason’s mother lodge.)|
|Here is one of the prize possessions of my lodge. This is a Korberger Bible. A generation after Gutenberg revolutionized communications with his printed bible, Anton Korberger (sometimes Koberger) started printing his own bibles in Nuremberg. It is bilingual, with text in Latin and German, and dates to the 1470s. This has been in the lodge’s possession since 1901, and has been the VSL on which Masters of Peninsula are obligated.|
SP Moises Gomez, 32° researched the Masonic VIPs interred at this cemetery.
MW Bro. Roland Joseph Behrens (1907-1986) – Grand Master of Masons in 1964; Trustee of the Masonic Home of New Jersey and the Masonic Charity Foundation of New Jersey; and Assistant Manager of the New York Stock Exchange.
MW Bro. Herbert Rupert Cruse (1879-1949) – Grand Master of Masons in 1927; coroneted 33° in 1928; Trustee of the Masonic Home of New Jersey in 1928; Active Member of Supreme Council, AASR-NMJ in 1943.
MW Bro. William Louis Daniels (1862-1927) – Grand Master of Masons in 1919; coroneted 33° in 1920; Director of George Washington National Masonic Memorial in 1921; namesake of William L. Daniels Lodge No. 269, warranted in 1927.
Bro. Edward I. Edwards (1863-1931) – U.S. Senator and 37th Governor of New Jersey.
Ill. Allen H. Fish (1897-1944) – Coroneted 33° in 1938; Commander-in-Chief of New Jersey Consistory, 1940-44; also served as Treasurer-Secretary of the Valley of Jersey City.
Ill. James W. McCarthy (1872-1939) – Commander-in-Chief of New Jersey Consistory, 1924-39; U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, 1928.
Bro. Arthur Harry Moore (1879-1952) – U.S. Senator and three-term Governor of New Jersey.
RW Bro. Jacob Ringle (1835-1917) – The “Father of the Masonic Home,” and District Deputy Grand Master of the 11th Masonic District.
Ill. John Sheville (1824-1882) – Founded Jersey City Lodge of Perfection in 1866; Deputy for New Jersey in 1866 and again 1870-76.
MW Bro. Fred Emory Tilden (1860-1930) – Grand Master of Masons, 1913; Grand High Priest of Royal Arch Masons, 1924-25; coroneted 33° in 1913. Son of MW Thomas West Tilden, and his father’s successor as Superintendent of this cemetery.
MW Bro. Thomas West Tilden (1838-1905) – Grand Master of Masons, 1891-92; Grand Commander of Knights Templar, 1884-85; namesake of Tilden Lodge No. 183, warranted in 1906; father of MW Fred Emory Tilden; Superintendent of this cemetery.
York Lodge No. 197, F&AM, State of New York – The lodge purchase burial plots for its brethren, accounting for a great many of the Masonic headstones in this cemetery.
c.1650 – Gourgas family flees religious persecution in France, settling near Geneva, Switzerland.
1717 – Revival of Freemasonry in London, founding of Premier Grand Lodge of England.
1737 – Ramsay’s Oration introduces the idea that “Higher Degrees” exist, involving knighthoods and Templar lineage. In the next two decades, more than 1,100 Masonic degrees proliferate in France alone.
1740 – Loge la Française (French Lodge) constituted in Bordeaux. This lodge made Stephen Morin a Mason, and was among the first Craft lodges to begin working the “Scottish Degrees.”
1758 – Rite of Perfection, a system of 25 degrees, established by Chapter of Clermont in Paris.
1761 – Morin travels on business (he was a wine merchant) from France to the West Indies.
1762 – Morin introduces Rite of Perfection degrees to the West Indies.
1767 – First Lodge of Perfection forms in the Americas at Albany, NY.
1770 – Various rites consisting of 33 degrees proliferate in France and are exported elsewhere.
1777 (May 23) – J.J.J. Gourgas born at Lake Geneva.
1786 – Grand Lodge of New Jersey formed at New Brunswick.
1786 – Grand Constitutions of 1786 published in Prussia. Attributed to Frederick the Great, this founding document establishes the system of Supreme Councils recognizable today.
1801 – Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite formed at Charleston, SC.
1803 – Gourgas emigrates to the Boston area.
1806 – Gourgas initiated Entered Apprentice (May 19) at Lodge L’Union Française No. 14 (now No. 17) in New York City. Passed/Raised June 9.
1806 – Gourgas initiated into the Sovereign Grand Chapter of Rose Croix d’H-R-D-M of Kilwinning at New York City and became the Chapter’s secretary. On August 4, 1806 he was elevated by Antoine Bideaud, 33° to Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret 32°. Two days later Bideaud established the Sublime Grand Consistory 30°, 31°, 32° and Gourgas was named its secretary. On November 12, 1808 John Gabriel Tardy appointed Gourgas Deputy Inspector General of the Rite of Perfection.
1807 – The Cerneau Supreme Council is formed. This is another of several Supreme Councils that would vie for authority over the Scottish Rite in the northeastern United States.
1813 – The 33° conferred upon Gourgas by the Mother Supreme Council. Northern Masonic Jurisdiction created by a patent issued by the Mother Supreme Council. Daniel D. Tompkins, governor of New York, named Sovereign Grand Commander. Gourgas named Secretary, and serves in that capacity until 1832, when he becomes Sovereign Grand Commander.
1826 – Capt. William Morgan abducted and presumed murdered at Batavia, New York.
1826-40 – The “Morgan Affair,” the fear of Masonic conspiracies to rule America via a shadow government of Freemasons, nearly destroys the fraternity. In New Jersey, by 1840 only eight lodges remained (down from about 60), with a combined membership of approximately 40 brethren, essentially returning to the original size of 1786.
1845 – Northern Masonic Jurisdiction recovers sufficiently to issue a patent to the Ancient and Accepted Rite in Britain (with appended document urging the British to reserve the 18° and above to Trinitarians).
1851 – Gourgas retires as Sovereign Grand Commander.
1865 – (February 14) J.J.J. Gourgas dies in New York City. He was buried in a nondescript grave at Bayview-New York Bay Cemetery in Jersey City, New Jersey. Hardly any recognition from the brethren.
1867 – The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction we know today is formed upon the consolidation of several competing Supreme Councils.
1938 – Supreme Council dedicates the Gourgas gravesite memorial on the 125th anniversary celebration of Supreme Council’s founding.
2009 – NJ Council of Deliberation re-dedicates the gravesite memorial.
Prompted by the first memorial service to Gourgas in 1938, Sovereign Grand Commander Melvin M. Johnson secured Supreme Council’s approval for the establishment of a special decoration to be known as the Gourgas Medal, which could be awarded by a vote of Supreme Council, or on the individual initiative of the SGC, upon any Scottish Rite Freemason of any Jurisdiction, for “notably distinguished service in the cause of Freemasonry, humanity or country.” The award was not given for several years thereafter, but in 1943 was voted to Senator Harry S. Truman, who did not actually receive the Medal until November 21, 1945, by which time he had succeeded to the Presidency of the United States. Recipients of the Medal are:
1946 Melvin M. Johnson
1949 His Majesty King Gustav
1952 Kaufman T. Keller
1952 Roscoe Pound
1953 Winfred Overholser
1954 Mark Wayne Clark
1956 George E. Bushnell
1959 Christian A. Herter
1963 Edward W. Wheeler
1964 Richard A. Kern
1968 George A. Newbury
1971 John W. Bricker
1973 Norman Vincent Peale
1974 Gerald R. Ford, JR
1975 Robert P. Taylor
1978 Stanley F. Maxwell
1978 George E. Gardner
1980 Robert H. Felix
1981 Louis Williams
1982 John H. Van Gorden
1983 Edmund F. Ball
1984 Warren N. Barr, Sr.
1986 Raymond C. Ellis
1988 Thomas F. Seay
1989 Francis G. Paul
1990 Charles E. Spahr
1995 Richard B. “Red” Skelton
1998 Carl H. Lindner, Jr.
1998 Robert O. Ralston
1999 John H. Glenn, Jr.
2002 W. Clement Stone
2003 Samuel Brogdon, Jr.
2006 Walter E. Webber
2006 Ronald A. Seale
2009 New Jersey Council of Deliberation
N.B. On Monday, November 9, the Valley of New York City will assist the U.S. Daughters of 1812 in unveiling the restored gravesite of the first Sovereign Grand Commander, Daniel D. Tompkins. 131 East 10th St., Manhattan.