Sunday, September 5, 2021

‘On this date in 1781’

On this date in 1781, the Atholl warrant that conceived the Grand Lodge of New York was declared.

The history of Freemasonry in New York perplexes the reader who ventures into its yesteryears. Little is remembered about what is surmised to have been the first lodge in the colony, except that it met in the Montgomerie Arms Tavern in Manhattan on first and third Wednesdays, according to notices placed in the pages of the New York Gazette by Secretary Charles Wood in 1739.

Probably a lodge of “Moderns” Grand Lodge of England guys, but who knows? The fortunes of the Moderns and the Ancients see-sawed in New York for about forty years, until the end of the American Revolution, when the prominent Moderns fled to England or Canada or the Caribbean. But shortly before that, the Ancient Grand Master, the Duke of Atholl, issued the warrant that established the Ancients’ Provincial Grand Lodge of New York. The Rev. William Walter, a British Army chaplain with a Masonic story worth reading, was made Provincial Grand Master. (In case you thought Sir John Johnson, a Modern, was the last PGM.)

That warrant for this new Provincial Grand Lodge of New York is the legal basis for the very same Grand Lodge of New York that today Freemasons the world over esteem and aspire to emulate.

Unfortunately, and most likely due to the war, this founding document dated September 5, 1781 did not reach New York for about another year. Then, on December 5, 1782, the Provincial Grand Lodge convened for the first time at a place named the Assembly Hall at Roubalets in Manhattan. Officers were elected and installed, and a real grand lodge otherwise began to organize.

For brevity and clarity, I will skip a variety of details and ensuing events to bring us to 1784.

It was on February 4 (this already is several months after Evacuation Day) when the Provincial Grand Lodge met to conclude its Masonic business and “dissolve the political bands,” as it were, with the free State of New York.

Chancellor of New York Robert R. Livingston was made Grand Master of the nascent Grand Lodge of New York.

Naturally, there’s a lot more history in this story. For example, Livingston and his team had to see about converting Modern lodges and Ancient lodges and Irish lodges and Scottish lodges into New York lodges. But, suffice to say, the conception of our Grand Lodge of New York can be commemorated today, thanks to our ancestors in 1781.


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