EARLY MASONRY IN NEW BRUNSWICK
M.W.Bro. Arthur S. Robinson
The dry bones of history provide little interest for the great majority of people and even when the historian discovers and presents in an attractive way the stories of the past his audience is usually small. This is strange, too, for from a study of the past the pitfalls of the future may, in some cases at least, be avoided.
Something in the way of extenuation may be said, however, for our people because in colonial life the population was usually too busy in the struggle for bread to pay much attention to keeping records of those activities which claimed their waking hours. In most cases also their doings seemed to themselves too commonplace to adorn the pages of history.
This is all too true of New Brunswick. The forts and other places of historic interest were allowed to fall into ruins before it dawned upon those in a position to do anything about it that such things should be preserved. Fort Beausejour is a case in point. The barracks were allowed to fall; the bayonets, cannon balls, and so forth, were left lying around and, I am told, some of the cannon were used for fence posts in nearby Amherst. At any rate, by the time the Historic Sites Board was organized and got around to the task of making the place attractive to tourists and others, but little was left but the green mounds to which the embankments had fallen. Even then the Board did not always show the best sense. Instead of bracing up the remaining walls of the powder magazine which stood at the entrance to the fort and preserving what was left of it, gray stone lined with brick made of clay from the lands nearby, the whole remaining structure was torn down and the stone of the outside walls arranged in a pitiful little square a couple of feet high which gives scarcely a hint of what the magazine once was like.
I speak with feeling about the forts, for my boyhood home adjoined the land on which Fort Monckton stood and, as a child, I saw the bones of British soldiers washed out by the tide and left unheeded on the beach.
Our friends to the south of the international border have done much better in spite of the fact that they too were a colonial people. Along one wall in a lodge room in the Alexandria Memorial building is a glass case in which are displayed even the white gloves worn by George Washington, when Master of the lodge. The lodge room itself is no larger than many our own province.
Kicking around the old lodge room in which Midian Lodge used to meet were collars with silver handwrought jewels, solid mahogany pillars for the wardens, and other items of historic interest. These were rescued by a young member of The Corinthian Lodge and brought to Hampton Station lodge room.
How many times is that portion of one of our lectures brought to mind: "The lapse of time, the ruthless hand of ignorance and the devastations of war, have laid waste and destroyed many valuable monuments of antiquity upon which the utmost exertions of human genius have been employed."
My part in this evening's discussion is to deal with a portion of our history about which very little is really known. I must ask you, therefore, to try to conjure up the scenes in our province when there were no trains, no cars, no buses, no airplanes, no radio, no movies, no electric lights, no TV; when lodges often convened in keeping with the most favorable phases of the moon; when the roads in spring were narrow rivers of mud and in summer, narrow, dusty trails through woods and newly-cleared farmlands. Yet these men who rode by moonlight or horseback to attend the communications were our Masonic forefathers.
What a pity we have tonight no means of bringing vividly before our minds the crusty and pompous old martinets who presided over the military lodges in which, no doubt, the gavel was first sounded in what is now the jurisdiction of New Brunswick.
We must now remind ourselves that previous to 1784 were first, the days of exploration, of Champlain and DeMonts; of struggle between French and English for possession of the country; the rival trading groups; and of such men as D'Aulnay and LaTour. Acadia, or Acadie, included Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and a part of the State of Maine. It changed hands several times as the diplomats of Europe played with colonies they had never seen as if they were pieces in a game of chess. The French, however, were both adroit and unscrupulous in interpreting treaties. When treaty said Acadie was theirs it included the considerable territory already mentioned; but when treaty said the country was British it suddenly shrank in the estimation of the French to what is now merely the mainland of Nova Scotia.
To enforce this claim the Isthmus of Chignecto was fortified by Fort Beausejour, the blockhouse at Point de Bute and Fort Gaspereau on Baie Verte.
Halifax was founded in 1749 and the struggle for Canada really began to take shape in the East. The taking of Beausejour and Fort Gaspereau and the exile of the Acadians in 1755 meant British supremacy and during those stirring days the presence of our regiments including those from New England, Beausejour surrendered June 15, 1755. The French garrison was allowed to march out with the honors of war, with drums beating on the following day. The fort was renamed Fort Cumberland. Fort Gaspereau surrendered to Col. Winslow's force, without a blow being struck by either side. It was from then on known as Fort Monckton. Fort Lawrence had been built about two miles south of Beausejour some time before the siege of the latter. English garrisons now occupied the three forts and for several years later. The capture of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in 1758 and of Quebec City the following year settled the ownership not only of Acadie but of this Canada of ours.
The first permanent British settlement in New Brunswick was made at Sackville in 1761 by a party of New Englanders from Rhode Island and in 1762 a band of settlers from Newburyport, Massachusetts, took possession of a small clearing at the head of Saint John Harbor where, in former years, a French fort had stood. The settlement thus begun has grown into the prosperous and busy city of Saint John where we are met tonight.
The following year many of these pushed up the River and planted the first permanent settlement on the River now known as Maugerville, named from Joshua Mauger who was at that time the agent of the Province of Nova Scotia in England and through whom the lands on which the colony settled had been obtained. In 1765 the township of Maugerville was made the County of Sunbury of the Province of Nova Scotia and included the entire valley of the Saint John River.
I must now skip many pages of the annals of our Province and how this settlement and that was founded and come at once to the landing of the Loyalists. Of the American Revolution we shall not speak at all. My school books tell me three thousand landed at Saint John, May 18, 1783.
On the walls of my room at school, I had two pictures: one of a group which had just landed quite near where the city now stands. They were dressed in the velvets and satins of the so-called gentry. The other picture was of another and quite different group, farther away, plainly dressed and sitting on their few trunks and boxes or standing about in sober little knots of men and women already sensing something of the labors and hardships which lay ahead of them.
The next year, 1784, all that portion of Nova Scotia which lay to the north of the muddly little Missiguash River was formed into a separate province under the name of New Brunswick.
Thus I have reached the boundary of my subject and thus I have condensed that part of the common story of our past into a couple of pages, for this background had to be given against which to bring out some of the Masonic features and heroes of the Craft in those early days.
As I have already mentioned, the military lodges were, without doubt, the first Masonic organizations of any kind in New Brunswick.
Colonel Robert Moncktoll was assisted in taking Forts Beausejour and Gaspereau by Colonel John Winslow in command of 2,000 New Englanders, and a detachment of the 40th Regiment and some other troops were left as a garrison and remained there till it seemed no longer necessary. Freemasonry was active in the New England forces among whom were Col. George Scott, Major Jedediah Prebble, Captain John Huston, Lieut. John Endicott, Ensign Paul Prichard, and Lieut. Robert Fletcher. Also in a copy of a list of the members of St. Andrew's Lodge, Boston, 1763, after the name William Bell, in the column headed "Where Made," are the words "At Seconeto," which could mean nothing else than "Chignecto" where Fort Cumberland is located.
From August 1757 to May 1758 a detachment of the 46th Regiment garrisoned the Fort. The historian of the Regiment records that the Lodge, No. 227, Irish, was "very active, doing good and affective work while associated with the brethren throughout the Province (N.S.)". This last sentence is significant. It would imply, at least, that there may have been a considerable number of Masons in the area other than those belonging to the military lodges and that the brethren of the military lodges shared their fellowship with those outside.
During the same period another Regiment, the 28th Foot, with the Irish Lodge No. 35, was also stationed at the Fort and from May 1758 to May 1759 six companies of the 43r. Regiment with its Lodge under dispensation from No. 136 (Irish) garrisoned the Fort. Captain John Knox and Sgt. Miles Prentis were members of the Lodge at this time.
From 1765 to 1768 a detachment of the 29th Regiment with Lodge No. 322 Irish was on duty at the Fort.
The most important event after 1768 till the Fort was finally abandoned was the attack upon it by the American rebel Jonathan Eddy but this has no place in Masonic history.
During the American Revolution attacks were made upon Fort Frederick, near Saint John. In 1777 Fort Howe was built and garrisoned by Major Gilford Studholme. This officer played a very important part in official life of the Province, being one of the first Executive Council or advisors to Governor Thomas Carleton and, in the capacity of Crown Agent for the settlement of the Loyal Refugees within the district of the Saint John River, his exertions were unwearied. Was this distinguished man a Mason? We have no authentic record that he was, but so many mentioned in connection with his life such as Major Batt, Lt. Col. Gorham, and Samuel Denny Street and many others at Fort Frederick, Fort Howe and Fort Cumberland were such active Masons it is difficult to think he could have remained outside the magic circle. He is described as of amiable manners, benevolent, of liberal spirit, hospitable, and generous to all strangers. He was with Major Batt when Eddy's rebel forces were dispersed at Fort Cumberland, and it was he who drove that other rebel leader, John Allen, and his followers from the Saint John River Valley.
Active Masonic lodges existed in the 24th, 27th, 29th, 40th, 45th, and 47th Regiments as already intimated.
At this point let us take a closer view of some of the military men who were Masons in the forces engaged in this country:
Col. John Winslow, descended from the early governors of the Plymouth Colony. It was he who was given the unhappy task of supervising the exile of the Acadians. He rose to the rank of Major-General and became a councillor of the Province of Massachusetts. He died at Marshfield in 1774, aged 73.
Capt. John Huston, a member of St. John's Lodge, Boston, was a trader at Fort Lawrence previous to the siege of Beausejour in 1755. He remained in Chignecto and represented Cumberland County in the assembly at Halifax in 1759. He died at Canard, aged 85.
Joshua Winslow, a brother of Col. John, was also a trader at Fort Lawrence previous to the siege. He became Paymaster-General of the British Forces in America and died at Quebec in 1801. Joshua Winslow was one of the consignees of the tea which was the bone of contention in the famous "Boston Tea Party" in 1773.
Other Massachusetts Masons were Lieut. John Endicott, already mentioned of Col. George Scott's battalion, Capt. James Wickles of the Sloop "Endeavor", one of the transports conveying troops to the siege. Paul Prichard, previously mentioned, was a member of Winslow's battalion and Robert Fletcher belonged to Scott's battalion.
Jedidiah Prebble, who was wounded in the siege, was born in Maine and had been a sailor. He became Brigadier-General in 1759. He was for 12 years a representative in the General Court and a Councillor in 1773. In 1778 he was appointed a judge of the Court of Common Pleas and in 1780 became a State Senator. In 1769 he was a petitioner for the renewal of the charter, granted in 1762 for a Masonic lodge at Falmouth, now Portland (Maine). As Col. Prebble he is mentioned as being present at a St. John's dinner in Boston in December 1760.
These glimpses will give some slight idea of the caliber of the men prominent in Masonry in the period preceding 1784.
Here are a couple of incidents which may be of interest:
In the Revolution, the 46th Regiment served with great distinction but had its "ups and downs." During this period its Masonic chest was actually taken by the Americans but was returned under a flag of truce by General Samuel H. Parsons with the message that he was "not warring against benevolent institutions."
Again, in 1805, in Dominica, the Regiment had a similar experience; The French seized the Masonic property including the warrant. The French restored all but the warrant and the Grand Lodge of Ireland issued a new one.
Let us now turn to the situation in New Brunswick previous to 1784 and shortly after. There is little to tell because so little is known.
Dr. Thomas Walker, P.G.M., of the Grand Lodge of New Brunswick, considered in his day a veritable oracle in all branches of Masonry, in an article entitled "The Grand Lodge of New Brunswick" writes as follows:
The history of Freemasonry in New Brunswick may be said to have commenced the 7th of November 1783, when Jared Betts wrote from St. Ann's, Nova Scotia, now Fredericton, N.B., (the capital of the Province erected the very next year), to Joseph Peters, Secretary of Lodge No. 211, Halifax, to know if he could proceed under a warrant which he held granted by Dermot who is described as "the Grand Master of Ireland." The authority of this warrant was denied but a dispensation was actually issued from two warranted lodges, Nos. 155 and 211, then existing in Halifax.
These two lodges apparently assumed all the functions of a Grand Lodge.
"On August 22nd, 1792, a warrant was granted by the Provincial Grand Lodge at Halifax to Ephriam Betts and others at St. Ann's for Solomon's Lodge No. 22. New Brunswick was made a separate province in 1784 and the first lodge instituted there, September 7th, 1784, was Hiram Lodge. The second Lodge instituted was St. George Lodge, Maugerville, in 1788. The third lodge was instituted at Fredericton in 1789.
According to Dr. Walker, Hiram Lodge rebelled in 1799 against the authority of the Provincial Grand Lodge at Halifax by which it had been warranted. On September 7th, 1796, its warrant was withdrawn by the Provincial Grand Lodge and its 22 members expelled for "apostacy."
There were, the Doctor claims, contempory with this lodge five in New Brunswick, namely: No. 541 at Fredericton; St. George, No. 19, at Maugerville (1788); Zion, No. 29, at Kingston; Kings County, N.B. (1792); Hiram York No. 23, at Fredericton (1793); Solomon, No. 22, at Fredericton (1792). The first of these lodges was chartered by the Grand Lodge of England and the others by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia. All of these ceased to exist many years ago.
THE GRAND LODGE
The Grand Lodge of New Brunswick was organized in Confederation Year, 1857. Of the lodges active in New Brunswick at the present time, St. John's No. 2, constituted April 5th, 1802, under a warrant issued by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia, is admitted to be the oldest in New Brunswick.
Comparing the work of the few who have attempted to write the early history of New Brunswick lodges and whose writing I have seen, I find variations in dates, etc., not serious differences, but enough to indicate the difficulty they must have experienced in endeavoring to piece together the hits of evidence appearing in old letters and documents found mainly in Halifax.
I am greatly indebted to Bro. R. V. Harris, P.G.M. of Nova Scotia and Grand Secretary of that jurisdiction, for his help in regard to the military Lodges which operated in the Regiments which played a part in the early events of British rule in Nova Scotia and what is now New Brunswick. I tender him my sincere thanks.
Even in the recollection of many of you present marked changes have taken place. A visitation which a few years ago consumed two or three days can now be made, by means of the motor car, after the work of the day is completed. Masonic education is being more widely diffused. The publication of the cipher ritual under M.W. Bro. Hoyt in his term of office and of the "Little Brown Book" and the "Little Green Book" shortly after, have had an excellent influence and have produced a much more satisfactory uniformity in ritualistic work. Nor must we forget Bro. Guy Humphry, P.G.M, who really made the first effective move in reference to the ritual which Bro. Hoyt took in hand and saw carried through to a successful issue The so-called rural lodges can now do excellent degree work and the old unpleasant superiority which, we must admit, the city lodges sometimes were unwise enough to allow to creep into their attitude is fast disappearing and the whole atmosphere which prevades the communications everywhere today is more in harmony with the true spirit of Masonry.