May 31, 1801, is the most
significant date in the history of high degree Masonry in the United
States. On that day the Mother Supreme Council of the World was
opened by John Mitchell and Frederick Dalcho in Charleston, South
Carolina, and in the course of the year “the whole number of Grand
Inspectors General was compleated agreeably to the Grand
Constitutions.” By this act the Order of the Royal Secret of
twenty-five degrees (often called the Rite of Perfection) was
transformed into the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of
Before the creation of
the Mother Supreme Council, the high degrees were spread through an
inconsistent system of Inspectors, each of whom could appoint an
unrestricted number of Inspectors without limit to authority.
Records are scarce, but two Inspectors seem to have been working in
the Western hemisphere before 1761: “Lamolere de Feuillas, made a
Deputy prior to 1750 in France, and Bertrand Berthomieu, made a
Deputy by Feuillas in 1753 in the West Indies.” It is not known if
Feuillas or Berthomieu appointed further Inspectors.
In 1761 Etienne Morin
received a patent at Paris that authorized him to propagate the Rite
throughout the world. He arrived in Jamaica in 1762 or 1763 and soon
appointed six Inspectors General, including Henry Andrew Francken as
a Deputy Inspector General. Francken in turn established a Lodge of
Perfection in Albany, New York, in 1767 and created six other Deputy
Inspectors General. He also prepared at least three books with the
rituals translated into English.
Eventually fifty-two Inspectors descended from Francken, and at
least seventy-five Inspectors were appointed in American before
The Inspectors and Deputies did more than reproduce themselves; they
conferred the Ineffable (4°–14°) and Sublime (15° and above) Degrees
upon Master Masons and occasionally established bodies. Again
records are scarce, but at least the following eight bodies were
established before 1801:
1. 1764 - Loge de Parfaits d’Écosse, New Orleans, Louisiana;
2. 1767 - The Ineffable Lodge of Perfection, Albany, New York;
3. 1781 - Lodge of Perfection, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
4. 1783 - Lodge of Perfection, Charleston, South Carolina;
5. 1788 - Grand Council, Princes of Jerusalem, Charleston, South
6. 1791 - King Solomon's Lodge of Perfection, Holmes’ Hole (now
Tisbury), island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts;
7. 1792 - Lodge of Perfection, Baltimore, Maryland;
8. 1797 -
Sublime Grand Council, Princes of the Royal Secret, Charleston,
These basic facts of high degree activity before the creation of the
Supreme Council are well known and have been repeated in many
places. What they fail to do is to inform us how the high degrees
appealed to American Masons, how the Inspectors spread the degrees,
and how the bodies operated. The answers to these questions help us
understand the acceptance of the Mother Supreme Council.
The Appeal of the High
Degrees to American Masons
The Craft or Blue Degrees
were being conferred by 1730 in America, and twenty-three years
later in December 1753 Fredericksburg Lodge in Virginia recorded the
first conferral anywhere of the Royal Arch Degree. American Master
Masons soon realized that they had not received the entire account
of the Master’s Word and that the Royal Arch was required to
complete the story. Royal Arch Masonry became popular as more Masons
sought to complete their Masonic knowledge. The steady spread of the
Royal Arch was aided by the growing dominance in America of Antient
lodges that conferred the degree on the authority of their Craft
warrants. At least five Chapters independent of lodges were created
by 1794, the Grand Chapter of Pennsylvania was instituted in 1795,
and the General Grand Chapter of New England States was formed in
1796. The first Knight Templar conferral was in 1769, and there is
sporadic evidence of the order until 1796 when the first Encampment
(now Commandery) was formed in Connecticut. The ten degrees and
orders of what has come to be known as the American “York Rite” were
summarized and given wide publicity in Thomas Smith Webb’s
Freemason’s Monitor; or, Illustrations of Masonry (1797).
enthusiastically pursued further light in Masonry, but because the
Order of the Royal Secret was of French origin and had no tradition
in English lodges, these high degrees were little known. These
ceremonies must have seemed like alluring rumors only available from
remote non-English lodges or from traveling Masonic lecturers. The
fragmentary knowledge of Sublime Masonry was aided by occasional
tantalizing mentions in Masonic books.
The first American book
on Masonry was Benjamin Franklin’s 1734 reprint of Anderson’s
Constitutions of the Free-Masons. A total of 626 volumes dealing
with Freemasonry were published in America through 1800; ten of
these dealt with precursors of the Scottish Rite. For the interested
student of Masonry, these ten books provided hints of knowledge
beyond that found in lodges of English origin.
1787—The Memorial of Lodge, No. 40, on the Registry of
Pennsylvania, to the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge.
This ten-page pamphlet is a complaint that the Grand Lodge of
Ancient York Masons of South Carolina (the Ancients’ Grand Lodge)
was formed irregularly. However, page 5 gives intriguing hints of a
form of Freemasonry different from that in England. “Brother Joseph
Myers, Junr. was then, and actually is (under the jurisdiction of
the late Prussian Monarch) an Inspector General and Grand Master of
and over the Ineffable Degrees of Masonry. The second, brother James
Fallon, is and was a regular Past-Master … made and installed in a …
Lodge of Ineffable Masons at Philadelphia, under a regular
1797—[Charles Louis Cadet de Gassicourt], The Tomb of James Molai.
This is a 22-page translation of the 1796 French original. Page 8
explains that Jacques de Molay established four chapters with
twenty-seven members each who have special privileges in Masonic
Lodges: “When they enter a Lodge they have the exclusive right of
crossing in the middle of the carpet which is opposite the throne.
All Freemasons of Lodges are ignorant who they are.”
1797—Thomas Smith Webb, The Freemason’s Monitor; or,
Illustrations of Masonry.
This was the first American “monitor” of Masonic degrees, giving
prayers, charges, and non-secret portions of ritual. It was widely
distributed, translated into Spanish, and went through several
editions before his death. Part II of this book has descriptions of
the eleven degrees of a Lodge of Perfection on pages 227–66,
including information about who replaced Hiram Abiff at King
Solomon’s temple, how the ruffians were dealt with, and how the lost
word was recovered. Webb’s Monitor was extremely influential
in establishing and disseminating the “standard American” ritual.
Its widespread popularity must have brought the Sublime Degrees to
the curious attention of many American Masons.
1798—John Robison, Proofs of a Conspiracy against All the
Religions and Governments of Europe.
This is the first American edition of this influential book, which
created hysteria at the idea that the Illuminati were secretly
infiltrating the governments of the world and possibly America. On
page 384 Robison comments on Abbé Barruel’s rituals of the Knight of
the Sun and Knight Rose Croix. Here is another instance of
tantalizing references to Masonic degrees unfamiliar to most
1798—John Robison, Proofs of a Conspiracy.
The second American edition.
1799—Augustin de Barruel, Memoirs, Illustrating the History of
Jacobinisn, Vol. I.
Because there were three separate printers for the four volumes,
Walgren assigns each a separate entry in his bibliography. There are
more provoking hints of unseen forces in Freemasonry: “occult
lodges” (which de Barruel termed “arrieres loges”)
1799—Augustin de Barruel, Memoirs, Illustrating the History of
Jacobinisn, Vol. II.
The reader can find descriptions of the Degree of Elect (page 161),
Knight of the Sun (page 163n), higher degrees of Scotch Masonry
(pages 163–68), Degree of Rose Croix (pages 168–72), Mystical
Masonry (pages 172–74), and Knight Kadosh (pages 174–75).
1799—Augustin de Barruel, Memoirs, Illustrating the History of
Jacobinisn, Vol. III.
This volume deals specifically with Weishaput’s degrees of
Illuminism, but to the general Masonic reader it all points to even
more continental degrees unknown to English lodges.
1799—Augustin de Barruel, Memoirs, Illustrating the History of
Jacobinisn, Vol. IV.
Further mention of continental degrees: African Brethren, Knights of
the Eagle, the Adept, the Sublime Philosopher (page 81); Knights of
Palestine, Knights Kadosh, Scotch Directory (pages 97–100); Scotch
Architect (page 328).
1800—Robert Griffith Wetmore, A Feeble Attempt to Promote the
Felicity of Campbell’s Mark Master’s Lodge in Duanesburgh[, New
On page 6 Wetmore says, “When I first became your neighbor, I was in
Possession of thirty degrees in Masonry (including those styled
ineffable) and therefore considered myself as having arrived to the
ne plus ultra.…”
Webb’s Freemason’s Monitor was the first authoritative guide
to working the ten degrees and orders of American York Rite: Craft
(three degrees), Royal Arch (four degrees), and Knights Templar
(three orders). It also gave exciting information about an exotic
type of Masonry known to few American Masons and must have generated
great curiosity among its readers. A typical American lodge room was
rather simply decorated with pillars in the west, an altar in the
center, and an illuminated “G” in the east. Compare this austerity
with the lavish description Webb gives for just one of the Ineffable
Observations on the Degree of Provost and Judge.
This lodge is adorned
with red, and lighted by five great lights; one in each corner, and
one in the center. The master is placed in the East, under a blue
canopy, surrounded with stars, and is stiled [sic], Thrice
The Worshipful Master of an American Craft or Blue Lodge wore his
usual clothes with a ribbon around his neck from which hung a
square. His apron was probably homemade and decorated by his wife,
sister, or mother. There are many images of George Washington and
Benjamin Franklin in such simple but dignified attire. Again compare
the description Webb gives to the luxurious dress of the presiding
officer of the “Degree of Knights of the Ninth Arch, or Royal Arch.”
The most potent grand
master, representing Solomon in the east, [is] seated in a chair of
state, under a rich canopy, with a crown on his head, and a scepter
in his hand. He is dressed in royal robes of yellow, and an ermined
vestment of blue satin, reaching to the elbows; a broad purple
ribbon from the right shoulder to the left hip, to which is hung a
triangle of gold.
After being enticed since the 1760s with allusions to and hints of
mysterious Masonic degrees preserving the full story of the Craft,
American Masons were given clear information in 1802. The Mother
Supreme Council published its Circular throughout the Two
Hemispheres, announcing itself and explaining the degrees under
its control. The Circular can be viewed as a wonderfully
written sales brochure, enticing candidates to join by explaining
why the Ineffable and Sublime Degrees are necessary to fully
understand Freemasonry. It gave many examples of why the High
Degrees are both superior and essential.
• The Supreme Council alone is governed with historically correct
Much of the history of
Masonry in the early ages is so mixed with fable and enveloped with
the rust of time that little satisfaction can be obtained; but as we
approach nearer to our own times we have authentic records for our
• The first three degrees are only a preparation for the higher
[The three first, or Blue
Degrees,] were formed as the test of the character and capacity of
the initiated, before they should be admitted to the knowledge of
the more important mysteries.
• The true Master’s Word
was lost to the Blue Degrees with the death of Hiram Abiff, but the
Ineffable and Sublime Degrees still possess it.
It is well known to the
Blue Master that King Solomon and his Royal visitor were in
possession of the real and pristine word, but of which he must
remain ignorant, unless initiated into the sublime degrees.
• The Ineffable and Sublime Degrees have preserved their ceremonies
Much variety and
irregularity have unfortunately crept into the Blue degrees in
consequence of … those who are unacquainted with the Hebrew
language, in which all the Words and Pass-Words are given … Not so
the superior degrees, they appear in that Sublime dress which their
founders gave them.…
• The Ineffable and
Sublime Degrees continue the tradition of the crusaders and base
their degrees on authentic records discovered in Palestine.
While [27,000 Masons
accompanying the Christian Princes in the Crusades were] in
Palestine, they discovered several important Masonic manuscripts,
among the descendants of the ancient Jews, which enriched our
Archives with authentic written records, and on which, some of our
degrees are founded.
From the introduction of the Royal Arch in 1753 to the Circular
throughout the Two Hemispheres in 1802, American Masons had been
advised directly and indirectly that the Craft degrees didn’t tell
the entire story of Masonry. Not every Mason was induced to pursue
further light, but for those that were, it must have been
challenging to know when to stop. Suggestions of yet one further
revelation—perhaps the ne plus ultra—might come with the next
visitor from overseas, in the latest publication, or at the hands of
an itinerant Masonic lecturer.
The Spread of the High
Degrees by Masonic Lecturers
Freemasonry came to the
United States from many sources and in varied forms. The early
lodges had little guidance for their rituals and ceremonies,
probably relying on equal doses of oral tradition and printed
exposures. Four ritual exposures were published in America before
1801, all reprints of English originals: The Mystery of
Free-Masonry (1730); Masonry Dissected (1749/50);
Hiram: Or the Grand Master-Key (1768); and Jachin and Boaz
(1774–1801). “Prior to the publication of Morgan’s work, [Illustrations
of Masonry by one of the fraternity (1826)], [Jachin and Boaz]
was the most important exposé published on American soil, and
greatly aided ritual uniformity.” While there were doubtless other
imported exposures available, it was Jachin and Boaz with its
Antient working that most influenced American ritual. It went
through ten American editions before 1801, while the other three
American exposures were never reprinted.
We may infer from its popularity that Jachin and Boaz was
used widely, if informally, by American lodges to guide their
Nature abhors a vacuum,
and into the vacuum of American Masonic ritual appeared itinerant
Masonic lecturers. These uniquely American entrepreneurs traveled
the country teaching uniform workings of the three Craft Degrees,
the four degrees of the American Royal Arch system (Mark Master
Mason, Past Master, Most Excellent Master, and Royal Arch), and
“side” degrees. The great unifier of American ritual was Thomas
Smith Webb, who is known to have used Jachin and Boaz to
teach his students. Webb formalized the ceremonies in Jachin and
Boaz, adjusted the language to American vernacular, and filled
in the procedural gaps. He extended the language and forms of his
Craft work to the Royal Arch and taught and certified other
lecturers. In 1797 Webb published The Freemason’s Monitor,
which was a teaching tool that helped cement his ritual
codification. As noted before, it also must have piqued interest in
the high degrees.
Little is known about the
business practices of Masonic lecturers, but we can make some
reasonable inferences from the 1782–1808 register of Abraham Jacobs
and the 1817–1820 diary of Jeremy Ladd Cross. If we assume that each
Inspector of the Order of the Royal Secret was an itinerant lecturer
of some sort, then perhaps a total of 100 to 150 such peddlers
offered their services to Masonic bodies and individual Masons. In
addition to “lecturing” on the Craft and Royal Arch Degrees (which
meant teaching the ritual and floor work from memory), these
lecturers sold or gave side degrees to their customers and chartered
various bodies under their authority.
Jeremy Cross’s diary
gives us a good idea about the business of a successful lecturer.
While his diary entries are for 1817 to 1820, finances then could
not have been too different from the period before 1801. His fee for
lecturing for a day in 1817 seems to have been $4, about $55 in
2003, and he established Councils of Select Masters for $20, about
$275 today. He became a Masonic lecturer in 1814, but by 1818 was
still in debt and hoping to settle down.On
August 17, 1817, he started out from Haverhill, New Hampshire,
traveling by coach and boat, and arrived in Richmond, Virginia, on
December 4, a trip of 635 miles. He often stayed with Masons and
regularly dined with them even when he stayed in a hotel. During the
seventeen-week trip to Richmond, he established at least six
Councils of Select Masters ($120/$1,650) and spent some twenty-nine
days lecturing in Lodges and Chapters ($116/$1,595). His total
income for the trip down to Richmond was about $236/$3,245.
To get a very rough
estimate of his expenses, note that during his stay in Washington,
D.C., he paid $8.75 for 3 1/2 days room and meals at Thomas
Crafford’s Union Hotel, or $2.50 per day. The cost for lodging in
smaller towns must have been less, say about $1.50–2.00 per day. If
he used hotels or taverns for one-half to two-thirds of his trip and
stayed with brothers the rest of the time, then he spent about
$90–$160 on lodging, very nearly half of his income. By the time we
add in his transportation and miscellaneous expenses, it’s easy to
see why after four years of lecturing he was still in debt.
His diary is imprecise on the number of Councils created, the days
of paid lecturing, and his fees, but we can still get a feel for the
economics of his 1817 trip from New Hampshire to Virginia by looking
at his diary entries for October 9–16, 1817, a particularly busy
eight days for him.
J. L. Cross’s
Diary for October 9–16, 1817
9th. At 4:00 A.M. I took my seat in the stage and by 8:00 I
arrived at Lantwecks Bridge, a small village south of New
Castle, [Delaware] stopped at a small Tavern.… I met the
Brethren in the Eve and gave a Lecture.
• $4 for lecturing
10th. Spent the day with Maj. Moody in viewing the small but
pleasant village. I spent the evening at his house … and
returned [to the Tavern and] had some further chat with the
Brethren & received my penny.
The “further chat with the Brethren” might mean lecturing,
and “received my penny” means he was paid.
• $4 for lecturing?
$8 for lecturing October 9 & 10
11th. After breakfast I started for Dover, [Delaware] … and
arrived in Dover about 2:00 P.M. I soon became acquainted
with the Hon. William Hall.… Lectured with the Companions in
• $4 for lecturing
12th. Sunday. …
Cross faithfully observed the Sabbath and did no work on the
13th. Spent the day mostly with Br. Hall. In the Eve I met
the Companions. Exhibited the work in the Chapter and
established a Council of Select Masters.
This could be private instructions for Br. Hall.
• $4 for lecturing
• $20 for a Council of Select Masters
14th. Spent the day with Bro. Hall and the Eve with the
This could be more private instructions for Br. Hall.
• $4 for lecturing?
15th. … gave some directions to lay out $20 in provisions &c
Ordering $20 in provisions indicates he probably stayed at a
16th. Settled with the Companion and received my wages, took
dinner with [Dr.] Naudim and at 2 P.M. took the stage and
rode to Milford, [Delaware] where I [arrived] at sun down.
Stopped at Mr. Godwin’s Hotel.
$32 for lecturing October 11, 13, & 14 and for establishing
the Council of Select Masters on October 13
A $4 daily lecturing fee
appears to have been the accepted rate. The Grand Lodge of
Massachusetts on July 22, 1805, appointed Benjamin Gleason to be
Grand Lecturer, and after one year lecturing the Massachusetts
lodges he received $1,000 or about $15,600 in 2003. If Gleason
lectured about twenty-one days a month, then he received about the
same compensation per lecture as Cross.
Cross’s fortunes as a
lecturer significantly improved in May 1818 when the Grand Lodge of
Connecticut appointed him “Grand Lecturer, to visit the several
Lodges in this jurisdiction, and instruct them in the correct mode
of working and lecturing; and that each subordinate Lodge be
required to pay into the Treasury of the Grand Lodge the sum of ten
dollars, at or before the next Grand Communication, for the purpose
of defraying the expense of such visitation.” Further, “each Lodge
shall pay Bro. Cross’ expenses when actually employed by such Lodge
in giving lectures and instructions; and no Lodge shall be bound to
pay said sum of ten dollars, unless they first have had the benefit
of said lectures at least two and a half days.”Cross was now making
the “standard” $4 per day plus expenses, and he had
more-or-less guaranteed employment with each of the Connecticut
lodges. In 1818 there were about fifty-eight lodges in Connecticut,
which would generate about $580/$9,048 in lecturing fees; he also
instituted about a dozen Councils of Select Masters for another
$240/$3,744. Another boost to his prosperity came in 1819 when he
published The True Masonic Chart; or, Hieroglyphic Monitor.
This popular book went through eight editions by 1850 and was
followed by The Templar’s Chart or Hieroglyphic Monitor in
1820 (two editions by 1850) and a business of selling engraved
aprons and other Masonic supplies.
Abraham Jacobs does not
appear to have lectured in the Craft degrees, nor does his register
indicate what his fees were. However, we know that Cross and Gleason
received $4 per day to instruct in the seven Craft and Royal Arch
Degrees at about this same time and that Cross received $20 to
establish a Council of Select Masters, conferring only one degree.
Further, in 1806 Antoine Bideaud of the Southern Supreme Council
conferred the 4° through 32° in New York City on J.J.J. Gourgas and
four others for $46, or about $1.50 per degree. Thus it is not
unreasonable to suppose that Jacobs received $10–20 per individual
when he conferred the thirteen degrees of the Lodge of Perfection
and the Council of Princes of Jerusalem, perhaps giving a discount
for a larger class of candidates.
On November 9, 1790,
Moses Cohen initiated Jacobs “a Knight of the Sun, with full power
to initiate brethren and constitute Lodges,” and this is what he
did. He conferred the Ineffable, Sublime, and other “side” degrees
to supplement his income from teaching Hebrew. While his register
gives no information about his income, it does give us insight as to
how he conferred degrees, from which we can conjecture the methods
of other Inspectors.
On nineteen days from
June 10 to July 3, 1792, Jacobs conferred the thirteen degrees from
Secret Master through Prince of Jerusalem on sixteen brothers in
Augusta, Georgia. His register entry for June 14 was typical of how
the degrees were conferred.
14th. This day conferred the degrees of Provost and Judge
on Brother Zimmerman and Prescott, also the degrees of Intendant
of the Building, or Grand Master in Israel. Brother James
Gardner attended and received the degrees of Secret Master
and Perfect Master, with every requisite instruction.
Usually one or two degrees were conferred each evening, but since
not everyone could be present, degrees were repeated, as on June 14.
Jacobs had no assistance in conferring the degrees, and so the
ceremonies were anything but “full form.” It is reasonable to ask:
Why did it take so many evenings to confer the degrees? The
explanation may be in the phrase from June 14 in Jacobs’ register,
“with every requisite instruction.”
Arturo de Hoyos, Grand Archivist and Grand Historian of the Supreme
Council, 33°, S.J., believes that Jacobs dictated the ceremonies to
the candidates, and they transcribed the rituals for their personal
use. In support of this contention, the Archives of the Supreme
Council, 33°, S.J., have several small unbound books with individual
degrees transcribed into them. Consider the title page of one
undated book with the Knight of Kadosh rituals written on
fifty-eight of sixty-four 12´16.5 cm pages.
Knight of Kadoch
or White & Black Eagle
Inspector of all lodges
Gd elected Knt of
What is significant is that “24th” is marked out and replaced by
“29th.” Prior to 1801 the Degree of Kadosh was the twenty-fourth in
the Order of the Royal Secret, but the Circular throughout the
Two Hemispheres lists the Kadosh as the twenty-ninth degree (and
it later became the thirtieth). Thus de Hoyos dates the manuscript
to sometime before 1801. It was prepared under the aegis of the
Order of the Royal Secret, but soon after its owner must have
transferred allegiance to the new Supreme Council and the ritual was
renumbered and renamed in a different hand. Note that it was only
necessary to renumber degrees above 22°, Prince Libanus, since the
two systems agree through there, and it is only such renumbered
degree books that can be confidently dated as being written before
1801.The Supreme Council invited all holders of patents from the
Order of the Royal Secret to turn them in and receive a patent from
the new body.
Few of these books are
extant for probably several reasons. First, there were never very
many recipients of these degrees, as witnessed by the few bodies
established before 1801 and the paucity of comments in Grand Lodge
proceedings. Next, during the American Anti-Masonic Period of
1826–42 renouncing Masons were encouraged to destroy all of their
Masonic paraphernalia. Finally, no less an authority than Albert
Pike encouraged the destruction of earlier and unapproved versions
of Scottish Rite degrees and recommended that “old and worthless
cahiers of degrees, be committed to the flames.”
We can now assemble a
model of how the Inspectors spread the high degrees. Armed with
their patents, they gathered from one to several candidates,
summarized the degree ceremonies, and taught the words and grips.
After each abbreviated ceremony the Inspectors dictated the rituals
to the new members who transcribed them for their personal use. Some
Inspectors, like Abraham Jacobs, encouraged their candidates to
apply for warrants from appropriate authority, though obviously few
followed through.Unfettered by Grand Lodge regulations the
Inspectors were free to peddle their wares wherever they found
willing candidates. Their customers, either lured by sales pitches
for exclusive degrees or drawn by the promise of further light in
Masonry, eagerly paid for the information. The degrees were
conferred as well as possible by the Inspector with perhaps a few
brothers assisting. The new candidates were then permitted to
transcribe the rituals for their later study and use, perhaps in
organizing a high-degree body with a warrant.
The Operation of High
Degree Bodies in America before 1801
According to the first
U.S. census in 1790, the total population was 3,893,635, and the
five largest cities were New York City (33,131), Philadelphia
(28,522), Boston (18,320), Charleston, S.C. (16,359), and Baltimore
(13,503). Five high-degree bodies were located in three of the five
largest American cities, with Charleston alone accounting for three
bodies. Albany (3,498) was the nineteenth largest American city and
had one body. The surprise location for a high degree body is
Holmes’ Hole on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. The
1790 census shows only about 350 people in the town, though the
surrounding Dukes County had a population of 3,245, which if it were
a city would have ranked it as the twentieth largest. Thus the
bodies of the Order of the Royal Secret were mostly located in the
largest urban centers, which should have given them excellent
exposure to Masons.
We have very few extant records of any of these bodies.
• The first hauts
grades body in the U.S. was established in New Orleans. Loge
de Parfaits d’Écosse opened there on April 12, 1764, and worked
the “Bordeaux system,” but being first did not guarantee longevity.
Shortly after France ceded New Orleans to Spain through the 1763
Treaty of Paris, Freemasonry either went underground or died out
completely in the city. Only one document remains of Parfaits
d’Écosse, the minutes of two meetings; we know nothing about its
operations or influence.
The hauts grades did not formally return to New Orleans until
• The Ineffable Lodge of
Perfection of Albany was chartered by Henry Andrew Francken in 1768.
Its register is in the archives of the Supreme council, 33°, N.M.J.,
and records 123 meetings from 1768 to 1774, with no meetings held in
1772. The extant minutes are banal, and do not reflect the promise
of the sublime perfection of Craft Masonry.
• The Minute Book of the
Lodge of Perfection in Philadelphia, established by Solomon Bush,
has been preserved by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and was
reprinted in 1915. It records the meetings from the first in 1781 to
the abrupt last one in 1789. While the members did write to
Frederick the Great, the proceedings are otherwise unexceptional.
• Isaac Da Costa
organized the Sublime Grand Lodge of Perfection in Charleston in
1783. “On the 13th of June 5796 the Lodge room, records, jewels and
furniture of the Ineffable Lodge of Perfect and Sublime Masons were
consumed by fire, which, added to other causes, suspended the
meetings of the of the Sublime Lodge (except some occasional ones
for special purposes).…”
• Five years after Da
Costa organized the Lodge of Perfection in Charleston, Barend M.
Spitzer, Abraham Forst, Joseph M. Myers opened a Grand Council of
Princes of Jerusalem in 1788 in the city. Its jurisdiction over
Lodges of Perfection and Councils of Princes of Jerusalem was
recognized at least by Abraham Jacobs who instructed his initiates
to apply to Charleston for a charter.
• King Solomon’s Lodge of
Perfection at Holmes’ Hole (now Tisbury), on the island of Martha’s
Vineyard, was created by Moses Michael Hays, Deputy Inspector
General, in 1791, when he was serving as Grand Master of the Grand
Lodge of Massachusetts (Antients). In 1797 the body surrendered its
charter to the Grand Lodge and received a new charter with the same
name but solely as a Craft Lodge. King Solomon’s Lodge of Perfection
surrendered its jewels, charter, and records in 1822, and all were
destroyed when the Grand Lodge in Boston burned.
• Henry Wilmans, “Grand
Inspector, General,” established a Lodge of Perfection in Baltimore,
but the only remaining document is the “Constitution and Laws of the
Grand Elect, Perfect, and Sublime Masons” signed by seventy-seven
members in 1792, four of whom became Grand Master of Maryland. There
is a reference in 1804 to Concordia Lodge No. 13 of Baltimore
settling a rent account with “Sublime Lodge” for $150. This seems to
indicate that the Lodge of Perfection survived at least twelve
years. Nothing else is known about it.•
Charleston became the center of American high degree Masonry in 1797
when a Sublime Grand Council of Princes of the Royal Secret was
opened there under authority from Hyman Isaac Long. This was the
last high degree body to be formed before 1801.
The only Ineffable or Sublime bodies still working in 1801 were
probably in Baltimore and definitely in Charleston. While not many
of these bodies survived more than a few years, those in Charleston
provided the fertile ground from which emerged the Supreme Council
of the United States. Most of these high-degree bodies operated near
several blue lodges and other bodies. Their mere presence brought
the Sublime Degrees to the attention of other Masons in their area,
but attention was not enough to insure success or interest.
Bodies of the Royal
Secret before 1801 operated without any central direction; there was
no state or national leadership to direct them. In contrast, there
were Grand Lodges in twelve of the original states by 1791, with
Delaware forming its Grand Lodge in 1806. Some Grand Lodges
permitted their lodges to work the Mark, Royal Arch, and other
degrees by virtue of their warrants. By 1801 the York Rite was
beginning to take off. There were Grand Chapters of Royal Arch
Masons in at least seven states, Royal Arch Masonry was seen as the
logical and natural extension of Craft Masonry, and the Knights
Templar had a “Grand Encampment in the City of Philadelphia.”
A subtle but important distinction between operations of the York
Rite and the Order of the Royal Secret may be that the Ineffable and
Sublime degrees had an intellectual appeal, while the York Rite
degrees—especially the Chapter degrees—had popular elements of
boisterous fun. This difference can be seen by the willingness of
initiates of the Order of the Royal Secret to pay for the privilege
of just transcribing rituals—certainly a scholarly approach to
Masonry of greatest appeal to the literate. Few of the men elevated
by Inspectors participated in meetings because there were hardly any
bodies for them to attend, but they seemed to be satisfied to read
and study the rituals.
We really don’t know what
happened during pre-1801 American Masonic meetings, but the
exposures of the American Anti-Masonic Period (ca. 1826–42) let us
make tenuous inferences about that earlier era. David Bernard’s
Light on Masonry (1829) was the major exposure of the time,
going through five increasingly detailed editions between April and
December 1829, and Avery Allyn’s A Ritual of Freemasonry
(1831) was its chief competitor. Both books sought to destroy the
fraternity by exposing its rituals and portraying it in the worst
possible light. Thus any negative depiction must be considered in
light of the authors’ ultimate goal. Their descriptions reflected
local ritual variants that may or may not have been more widely
popular. Arturo de Hoyos points out that such variants are an
expected consequence of the York Rite’s tradition of mouth-to-ear
ritual. The written tradition of the Ineffable and Sublime Degrees
allows much less variation.
If Bernard’s and Allyn’s
exposures can be believed, the degrees of a Royal Arch Chapter
offered participants rowdy, mischievous initiation pranks. These
degrees, especially the Royal Arch, provided a logical conclusion to
the Master Mason Degree, while seemingly providing some innocent fun
during the ceremonies—a popular combination much more successful
than merely transcribing and studying rituals. Their descriptions of
the Royal Arch Chapter Degrees, the most widely worked of the high
degrees, tell of several opportunities to embarrass and surprise the
candidates. Allyn even provided comical drawings of the ceremonies,
highlighting the discomfiture of the candidate.
In contrast with the
Chapter degrees, their descriptions of “Eleven Ineffable Degrees,”
are austere and solemn, almost like historical plays.Bernard had
advanced to the 6°, Intimate Secretary, and Allyn had received none
of the Ineffable and Sublime Degrees, so they had little firsthand
evidence of what went on in a Lodge of Perfection.
However, neither author would have missed an opportunity to
emphasize any negative aspect, even rumored. The simplicity of their
descriptions supports the idea that the ceremonies were indeed
serious without amusing features for observers. The Ineffable and
Sublime Degrees may not have spread rapidly because they lacked the
humorous initiation possibilities of the Royal Arch Chapter Degrees.
We will likely never know.
The Supreme Council of
the United States appeared at a time when American Masons were
becoming aware there was Masonic knowledge beyond the Craft Lodge.
This awareness was spread by itinerant lecturers, books, and bodies
of the Order of the Royal Secret. The Order, with its largely
uncontrolled Inspectors, lacked the organizational infrastructure to
survive. Its daughter, the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, had
the characteristics that guarantee greatness. In two hundred years
it has grown to become the largest and most widespread branch of the
Masonic fraternity. Today it has even greater possibilities of
greatness than in 1801.
I am indebted to two of
my fellow Mackey Scholars who have generously given me invaluable
assistance. Ill. Bro. Arturo de Hoyos, 33°, Grand Archivist and
Grand Historian, Supreme Council, 33°, S.J., provided me with
support, inspiration, and guidance through many conversations about
the Order of the Royal Secret. Ill. Bro. Alain Bernheim, 33°,
refined my references and suggested important enhancements
to the text.