THE MOST WORSHIPFUL NATIONAL GRAND LODGE FREE AND ACCEPTED ANCIENT YORK MASONS PRINCE HALL ORIGIN – NATIONAL COMPACT U.S.A. The Origins of Compact Freemasonry In The State of Georgia Part I (1865-1900) By Bro. Christopher Belcher Bright Hope Lodge # 465 Inman, Georgia Most Worshipful Smooth Ashlar Grand Lodge Jurisdiction of Georgia The purpose of this paper is to submit findings on the beginnings of freemasonryamongst African-Americans here within the state of Georgia. Though my affiliation iswith the Most Worshipful Smooth Ashlar Grand Lodge, under the jurisdiction of theMost Worshipful National Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Ancient York Masons, Ipledge to present my findings with the utmost fairness which is due of anyone whochooses to present a document of historical account. For the sake of focus and length,there is a pre-requisite knowledge needed of the history of The Most Worshipful NationalGrand Lodge Free & Accepted Ancient York Masons. That historical information can beobtained via the website of the National Grand Lodge (www.mwnationalgrandlodge.org). Freemasonry for African-Americans in the state of Georgia began in the city ofSavannah, February 4, 1866 when the first lodge, Eureka Lodge No. 11, was establishedby the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. The second lodge ofAfrican-American freemasons was Hilton Lodge No. 13 established on December 27,1866 also established by the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge ofMassachusetts. The third lodge was established by the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge ofPennsylvania in the city of Augusta, Georgia. Banneker Lodge No.38 was established inthe same year. It is of importance to note that the Grand Lodges that granteddispensations for the fore-mentioned lodges were Grand Lodges subordinate to the MostWorshipful National Grand Lodge. On August 22, 1870, representatives of the abovementioned lodges met and formed the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Georgia(Colored) under the jurisdiction of the Most Worshipful National Grand Lodge. Bro.James Merilus Simms was elected the first Grand Master for the state of Georgia. Thethree founding lodges were re-warranted under the newly formed Grand Lodge and weredesignated Eureka No. 1, Hilton No. 2 and Banneker No. 3. The previous informationpresented is common knowledge to Georgia masons that are members of The MostWorshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia; however there has been a veil ofmystery in understanding the role that the National Grand Lodge played in the history offreemasonry amongst African-Americans in the state of Georgia.
Four years following the establishment of the Grand Lodge of Georgia by theNational Grand Lodge a rival independent Grand Lodge of African-American masonswas established. According to Herry Rutherford Butler, Grand Master of the MW UnionGrand Lodge AF&AM (which is presently the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge ofGeorgia), this rival independent Grand Lodge was established by members who left theCompact. But even our Grand Lodge was not without its dissentions. Some dispute having arisen at home of our grand session relative to the election of the grand master a split originated. I am told that one Bro. Gordan ran for grand master against Bro. Deveaux and was defeated. But his admirers bolted the grand lodge and went out. The life of the Gordon faction was of short duration. It was through the splendid work of Bro. Alexander Hamilton, then S. G. W. of the regular grand lodge, and W. E. Terry (now deceased) that at the time both bodies met in Savannah they buried their differences and united, and from that date the grand lodge has been known as the Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge for the state of Georgia and was so chartered and incorporated to do business in the state. (Butler, HR "The History of Masonry Among Men of Color In Georgia", pages 9-10)June 23-27, 1874 in convention the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free andAccepted (Colored) Masons for the state of Georgia was established. The three lodgesinvolved in the convention were: Excelsior Lodge No. 16, working under the jurisdictionof the M.W. United Grand Lodge of New York; Mount Moriah Lodge No. 56, workingunder the jurisdiction of the MW Hiram Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania; and St.Augustine’s Lodge No. 16 working under the jurisdiction of the M.W. Hiram GrandLodge of Delaware (Proceedings, MW Grand Lodge of Ga AF&AM, 1874 p. 4). Theprevailing sentiment was the establishment this Grand Lodge was not an invasion of theterritory of the Compact Grand Lodge. This Grand Lodge was in strong opposition to theNational Grand Lodge. Whereas, in this State there exists a Grand Lodge (so called) created by the abnormal National Grand Lodge, holding a warrant from them and working in subordination to their jurisdiction, which in the face, intent and meaning of the laws quoted cannot be a legal Grand Lodge. (Proceedings, MW Grand Lodge of Ga AF&AM, 1874 p. 4)To gain an understanding of the position of the Independent Grand Lodge, the authormust momentarily digress. During the time of the founding of the Compact Grand Lodgeof Georgia and the Independent Grand Lodge of Georgia, two ideologies were presentconcerning freemasonry amongst African-Americans. The differences were centered onthe system of government of the craft. The Compact Grand Lodge of Georgia systemdealt with being subordinate to a National Grand Lodge. The Independent Grand Lodges(also called State Rite Grand Lodges), believed that each state Grand Lodge should besovereign. In the United States, sovereign state Grand Lodges are considered the norm.
However, there were many attempts in mainstream freemasonry to institute a NationalGrand Lodge. The concept has been topic for many debates. On the independent GrandLodge side of this debate reference is made towards Mackey’s Jurisprudence regardingthe illegality of the National Grand Lodge. The counter-argument is that Mackey’sJurisprudence was published eight years after the formation of the National Grand Lodge(Lewis, 2007, p.19,55-56). The year of 1878 was an important year in the history of African-Americanfreemasonry in Georgia as well as the nation. The year was one of compromise andhopeful reconciliation. On May 8, 1878, a convention of masons independent andcompact was called in the city of Willmington, Delaware. The purpose of the meetingwas to settle the differences amongst the independent GLs and the National Compact. Asa result of the convention were drafted resolutions that were to: (1) Form A Grand LodgeUnion to settle disputes. (2) Recommend that the National Grand Lodge shut down. And,(3) That the two factions of masons in each state merge immediately (Roundtree, 2007,).For the resolutions to be binding it had to be ratified by two-thirds of the independent andCompact Grand Lodges. This DID NOT happen. This was a significant point ofcontention for the Grand Lodge of Georgia (Compact). It has been written by otherGeorgia Masonic scholars that the Grand Lodge of Georgia (Compact) withdrew from theNational Compact as others had done during that time. However, there is not anydocumented proof that this occurred. The Grand Lodge of Georgia (Compact), from circa1878, ceased to make returns to the National Grand Lodge to the National Grand Lodge.It has been debated amongst Masonic scholars that the Grand Lodge of Georgia(Compact) remained a subordinate of the National Grand Lodge for ten years beyond1878. There has not been any evidence presented to show to the contrary. According tothe proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Georgia (Compact), the foreign correspondencecommittee had problems achieving recognition from independent Grand Lodges invarious states (Proceedings, 1885, p. 18-21). In fact a good contingency of IndependentGrand Lodges still believed the Grand Lodge of Georgia was still a part of the compact atthe time of request for recognition. (Proceedings, 1885, p.19) It can be concluded that theGrand Lodge of Georgia (Compact), was involved in rebellious acts that were equivalentto what other Grand Lodges that left the compact had done. The only problem with theactions of the Grand Lodge of Georgia (Compact) was that the independent Grand Lodgeof Georgia was already established, which meant to leave their mother, the NationalGrand Lodge and remain “regular”, they would be forced to merge or be “healed” intothe independent Grand Lodge of Georgia. It would be safe to say for nearly ten years theGrand Lodge of Georgia was on the proverbial fence. The virtual stalemate between the two African-American Grand Lodges lasted fornearly ten years until unique motivation came into play via the National Grand Lodge.Motivation came from the National Grand Master, the Honorable Captain William D.Matthews. Captain Matthews’s autocratic style of leadership was a reflection of his CivilWar military experience (Lewis,2007., p.55). In 1888, Captain Matthews issued hisinfamous manifesto. Captain Matthews was well within his constitutional right to issuehis manifesto. It is a very ironic consequence that the executive order that was issued inhis manifesto was constitutionally drafted by the independent Grand Lodges thatwithdrew from the compact (Roundtree, 2007 p.16).
I, therefore give each state, Grand Lodge, subordinate lodge or lodges in such open rebellion until the 8th day of March 1888, to return to their allegiance, and to report to the National Grand Secretary, John A. Mulligan, 117 James Street, Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. Failing to comply with this order, I shall commission Grand Masters with full power and authority in those rebellious states, and organize Grand Lodges according to the precedent which was laid down in 1733. (Brock, 1980 p.83)The Grand Lodge of Georgia (Compact), who had not sent returns to the National GrandLodge since circa 1878, who could have been considered as a rebellious entity, did notadhere to the manifesto of Captain Matthews. The next event of significance regardingAfrican-American freemasonry in Georgia occurred some three months after the deadlinemandated by Captain Matthews. The legality of the two bodies of freemasons in Georgiaas per the standards of the National Grand Lodge past the date of 8 March 1888 is and hasbeen the talking points of debate of African –American Masonic scholars. On June 26, 1888, the two bodies of African-American freemasons met in sessionto form the Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge of Georgia of Ancient Free andAccepted Masons for the state of Georgia. This point of history, through the name of“Union”, which was a part of the title of the newly formed Grand Lodge, could havepossibly united the state of African-American freemasonry under the banner ofIndependent (state-rite) freemasonry. There was an issue regarding participation of alllodges in the process. The lack of participation from more than 15% of the compactlodges for all intensive purposes ensured the survival of the compact within the state ofGeorgia.Compact Lodges Not in Attendance @ The Union Merger(Proceedings, Union Grand Lodge AF&AM, pp. 9,10 & 17-34) Lodge City Corinthian Macon Friendship Covington Saint Luke Camilla Tuscan Monroe Saint Marks UD Dawson Phenix Macon Banneker Augusta35 Compact Lodges WERE presentThe re-organization of Compact freemasonry within the southern United States wasmethodical and took years to reach Georgia. With the Matthews manifesto and hissubsequent actions, there were definitely rough edges to be refined. The CaptainMatthews re-organization reached Georgia in 1892 with the establishment of the MostWorshipful Smooth Ashlar Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Ancient York Masons. TheHonorable Dick Bowen served as its first Grand Master from 1892-1896. The following
graphic represents a summary of the events for the formation of the first Grand Lodge ofAfrican Americans through the merger to Compact re-organization.From the time of her inception, the Most Worshipful Smooth Ashlar Grand Lodge hasbeen a vital part of the growth and progress of the National Grand Lodge. In a timeperiod of less than thirty years, the M. W. Smooth Ashlar Grand Lodge went from re-organization under National Grand Master Captain William D. Matthews to over fourthousand members (Proceedings, National Grand Lodge, 1921, p.26). During that timestrong movements had been made to make a strong presence in Georgia’s major cities.The excerpts from the following report, made by National District Deputy L. W. Paden ofGeorgia, shows the sustained viability and commitment to growth of the Compact withinthe state of Georgia. To the Officers and Members of the Most Worshipful National Grand Lodge of F. A. A. Y. Masons (National Compact)in and for the United States of America.
Greetings: I entered actively into the work of York Masonry in the year 1908. I was commissioned a District Deputy Grand Master under the administration of Prof. S. S. Simmons, the Grand Master for the state of Georgia, and instructed to work up Masonic Lodges and assigned, mainly, to the jurisdiction in and about the City of Atlanta, Ga. There were but two lodges of our Craft at that time in the city with a total membership of about fifteen brethren including myself. Alone and unaided I began the work with an indomitable will and full of confidence to win and succeed in the cause that I know had the right stamp, and, if you please, to “beard the Lion in his den,” for the “State Rites” or so-called Masons, numbered about 175 members at that time. Within a period of seven months I succeeded in getting together eighteen men and notified the Grand Master who came and organized us under the name of Empire Lodge No. 320, with myself as Master. I served this office for three consecutive years. Encouraged by this beginning I labored on with greater energy and six months later had worked up another Lodge and organized it under the name of Pittsburgh Union with fifteen men. I soon discovered that it took time and patience in the pursuit of my cherished ambition in the interest of York Masonry, but undaunted by the flight of time and the fightings within and foes without, I am happy to report as the result of my persistent and untiring efforts, the following Lodges and Courts have been added to the banner of York Masonry: Pride of East Atlanta Westside Lodge Keystone Lodge Pride of Georgia Cherokee Lodge Plato Lodge I am proud to report that the Craft in its onward march have now left behind them the lowest vales and are slowly and surely making its way upward to the highest hills and with the proper support of the Grand and National Bodies will eventually and in the near future reach the top. (Proceedings, National Grand Lodge, 1921, p. 18-20) In conclusion, organization of freemasonry in Georgia among men of color wasone of great trials and struggles. To this day, Compact freemasonry is alive and well inthe state of Georgia. Many Georgia Grand Masters have served as National GrandOfficers. The Most Worshipful Smooth Ashlar Grand Lodge has hosted NationalTriennial Sessions. Though the trials of its creation, rebellion and re-organization; theNational Compact has been a part of the Masonic history of African-Americans inGeorgia since 1865.