Freemasonry and Nauvoo



In 1989, shortly after my appointment as Education Officer for Manoah Lodge, an education Programme, conducted during "Good and Welfare of the Craft" was initiated. Topics consist of widely varied subjects of general interest to the Brethren, the aim being to further Masonic education. Many of the topics are suggested by the Brethren, as is the case with the subject of this paper. An article, taken from a religious newsletter, dealing with changes to the Mormon Church was read out in Lodge. The article claimed that certain portions of the secret "Endowment Rituals" were being removed, these consisted mostly of oaths and penalties which were now deemed outdated. Similarities between the Mormon oaths and those taken by members of the Craft were quite startling! Questions were raised as to whether there was any connection between the two groups. My research led me to an excellent book written by Robin L. Carr, published by the "Masonic Book Club" and the Illinois Lodge of Research. This excellent work is titled "Freemasonry and Nauvoo" and I have made extensive use of it in preparing the following.


The events which took place in Illinois between 1839 and 1846 concerning the Freemasons and the Mormon Church remain contentious to this day. Reports made at the time were almost all partisan and heavily biased toward one party or the other, which makes finding the truth almost impossible. This document will attempt to present a historically correct account of the happenings which altered so drastically the course of history, particularly for the Mormons. There will be no attempt to judge or condemn the actions of any of the parties involved, just a presentation of the facts to allow you to reach your own conclusions. THE BUILD-UP

In order to comprehend some of the events which took place in those turbulent years, it is necessary to understand the mindset of the American people in the early 1800's. Life for most people was all hard work and no play; it was a time of religious experimentation and interest in the "Occult" was at a peak. People believed in "Black Magic" and a new type of magic called "Abrac" which was supposed to enable it's users to procure a better life-style. The War of Independence was just over and the Constitution had just been written. The law was still very much in the hands of the people, lynching and public flogging were still being held usually, in front of a large enthusiastic crowd. Lesser crimes such as mischief or fraud quite often resulted in the perpetrator being "tarred and feathered".


It was into these troubled times that Joseph Smith, founder and first Prophet of the Mormon Church was born on December 23 1805 at Sharon, Vermont. Smith was born into poverty brought on by a Father who had lost fortunes on many speculative ventures. In 1820 the family was living in Palmyra, New York where Joseph became interested in the occult and soon began claiming he could find water using a "Seerer Stone". Some of his clients had him jailed for fraud and it was during this time that he claims he was first visited by the angel "Moroni". He was told that he had been chosen by God to re-establish the "Apostolic Church" as it had existed during the time of Christ. In 1830 Smith published the "Book of Mormon" and shortly thereafter went through the legal steps to establish the Mormon Church. As the church community grew and the people began to practice the ideas revealed to them by the Prophet, their more traditional neighbours found it unnerving and suspicious. They began to make life miserable for the Mormons so in 1831, Smith moved the headquarters of the Church to Kirkland, Ohio. Here the flock found little peace or solace for the persecution continued, in fact, the Prophet himself was tarred and feathered. Soon members of the Twelve, the ruling body of the church began to challenge Smith's leadership because of the persecution they were experiencing. Their challenge however found very little support and as it turns out was the least of Smith's worries. His church was being inundated by religious fanatics and social misfits, the type which always seem to attach themselves to any new religious organization. Thus Kirkland which was to be the center of the church, was abandoned and Smith moved West to a place in Missouri near Independence, which his people named "Far West". Over two thousand came to establish Zion, their sacred city. The citizens of Independence watched in amazement and then trepidation as a strange, aggressive and zealous people descended upon them, laid the cornerstone for a great temple and organized an "Army of Zion". Soon night-riders appeared to harass the settlers. Smith responded by dispatching an army from Kirkland to protect the Mormons. This was taken as an act of aggression by Governor Lilburn Boggs and he promptly called out his militia. Smith was soon arrested and the Mormons were ordered out of Missouri. During the winter of 1839, some two or three thousand Mormons crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois where they settled near Quincy. In March of 1839, Brigham Young arrived in the area and began to use his considerable organizational skills to guide the faithful and oversee their activities. In April of 1839, Joseph Smith arrived and he began a careful examination of the surrounding area. He soon determined that the new settlement would be built near the town of Commerce, whose name he later changed to "Nauvoo" which in the "Adamic" language means "The beautiful place". Before long, there were 16,000 Mormons residing in Hancock County with more than 10,000 in Nauvoo. This was a shocking state of affairs for the residents of Illinois, especially those in Warsaw which prior to 1839 had been the largest city in the State. Once again the Mormons were being viewed with suspicion and in some cases, open hatred, inevitably, violence occurred. Joseph Smith reacted somewhat predictably and formed a local militia. The strange actions and war-like behaviour of the Mormons did nothing to ease the concerns of the locals. The area around Nauvoo was mostly swamp and infested with mosquitoes soon "swamp fever" was raging through the community. In 1840 a man named John Cooke Bennett contacted Smith and urged him to have the marshes drained; he also offered to supply a quantity of quinine. The swamps were drained and the quinine proved effective in stopping the fever. These acts endeared him to Joseph Smith who invited him to join him in Nauvoo to act as his advisor.

John Cooke Bennett played such a significant role in the events which followed that a short sketch of his history is warranted. Bennett was a Mormon who had been made a Freemason in Ohio, in 1838 he moved to Illinois. Having political aspirations he quickly took steps to advance himself. On February 20 of 1839, Governor Thomas Carlin commissioned Bennett as a Brigadier- General in the Militia and on July 24 1840 promoted him to the rank of Quarter-Master General. This meteoric rise is exceptional and has never been explained. At Joseph Smith's invitation, he subsequently moved to Nauvoo. His first task was to head a mission to Springfield Illinois to petition the government for a charter for the city of Nauvoo. He returned not only with the charter, but one which gave the city and its Prophet startling powers. The one which caused most consternation was the right to establish its own laws and its own militia. As a reward, Smith had Bennett elected Mayor of Nauvoo and appointed his friend as Chancellor or the Mormon University, President of the Agricultural and Manufacturing Association and Commander of the Nauvoo Legion. We will leave the Mormons at this point and look at the Freemasons.


Freemasons such as Ben Franklin, George Washington and John Hancock had played a significant and positive role in the War of Independence. Freemasonry was flourishing in New York State in the early 1800s. However, people not included in its society were suspicious of its doings and intentions. They heard tales of the craft with its strange rituals and its magic. They read of a strange new magic called "Abrac" which was imparted to all new Masons and which could abate all troubles. Given the economic situation of the times it is easy to see why these people were upset with the Masons for not sharing this magic with them. Then, amazingly the secrets of Freemasonry were revealed to them by one William Morgan and were found not to be magic at all.

William Morgan soon vanished without a trace and the Masons were blamed for his disappearance. Fear and mistrust of the Masons spread and the Anti- Masonic Party was formed, an organization which still exists to this day. Many lodges closed and others went underground. Freemasonry came to Illinois in 1805 when the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania chartered the first lodge. Some years later there were enough lodges to form a Grand Lodge of Illinois but this lodge fell victim to anti-Masonic hysteria. A second Grand Lodge of Illinois was founded in 1840 in Jacksonville. As our story unfolds, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Illinois was Abraham Jonas who was also Worshipful Master of Columbus Lodge Number 6.


It is widely believed that John Cooke Bennett was the driving force behind the formation of the Lodge at Nauvoo. He was a long-time Freemason who could see the need for the tried and true structure of the Craft in the developing Mormon Church. In 1841, Bodley Lodge #1 of Quincy Illinois, was approached to sponsor a new Lodge in Nauvoo. Lodge records indicate that the brethren of Bodley Lodge refused to recommend the application since they did not know any of the proposed members. Despite this refusal, the matter appears to have been taken out of the hands of local lodges and was given the personal attention of Grand Master Abraham Jonas. How and why Brother Jonas issued the dispensation is not known, it is known however that he had political aspirations and the Mormons represented a large voting block. He may also have succumbed to pressure from his Deputy Grand Master, Judge James Adams who had financed the formation of the Grand Lodge and was a secret convert to Mormonism. Within two years, Judge Adams was elevated to the rank of Patriarch of the Mormon Church. In any case, Brother Jonas did not act on the application until after the Grand Lodge session which took place on October 4th and 5th of 1841. By doing so the matter could be attended to in a positive manner with as few objectors around as possible. On October 5 1841, Jonas issued a dispensation to Nauvoo Lodge, Bodley Lodge immediately protested and the dispensation was revoked. On October 15 1841, Jonas defied Grand Lodge and issued a second dispensation ! On December 29, 1841, George Miller, the Worshipful Master named in the Dispensation, called a meeting which was held in the office of Hiram Smith. The purpose of this meeting was to draft bylaws for the Lodge. The following day, the lodge was opened in due form on the first degree. This is where the proceedings started to get shady ... only after bylaws have been unanimously approved by the full membership of a Lodge may petitions be accepted and acted upon. Yet at this first meeting (Dec 30 1841) forty one petitions for the degrees were read and approved. There are two sets of Nauvoo Lodge minutes in existence for this period, one set is in Illinois, the other in Salt Lake City. Apparently the second set of minutes was made to cover up irregularities in membership applications. Amongst the first petitioners was Brigham Young, Sidney Rigdon and several other high ranking officials of the Mormon Church. On February 17 1842 the Lodge passed a resolution to hold their Installation on March 15 1842. At 9 AM on March 15 1842, Nauvoo Lodge opened in the 3rd Degree with Grand Master Abraham Jonas presiding in the East. The lodge went to refreshment and labour resumed at 3 PM and a procession marched to a nearby grove where it's Officers were installed. At 7 PM, Grand Master Jonas allowed by special dispensation, balloting on petitions by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, and ordered that "If the ballots were found clear to confirm the three degrees as speedily as the nature of the case will admit". The Lodge processed the petitions, balloted and conferred the First Degree. They then adjourned until the next morning when the Second Degree was conferred with the Third Degree following later in the afternoon. It is interesting to note at this point that Joseph Smith later claimed that Freemasonry had strayed from its original goals and designs and that he had been appointed by God to restore and lead "Masonry to the higher degrees". It is also of great interest that the "Mormon Temple Ceremony" which was adopted on May 4, 1842 (just two months after Smith became a Freemason) contained many rituals, symbols and ceremonies which had been associated with Freemasonry for generations. Former Mormons report that the familiar Bee-hive, all seeing eye and square and compasses with coinciding meanings are all present. The white leather apron and several identical signs and grips are also found. After its institution, many meetings were held at Nauvoo Lodge, mostly to process petitions. In fact it was discovered that between March 15, 1842 and August 11, 1842, Nauvoo Lodge had processed almost 350 petitions !

In this short time, they had conferred 286 EA Degrees and 243 had been raised to the Sublime Degree ! The total membership for all other Lodges in Illinois was 227 ! This astonishing expansion at Nauvoo was not lost on the other Lodges who took immediate steps to have the Grand Lodge consider removing Nauvoo's Charter. Several committees were formed and many reports filed with the result that in October 1843 the Charter was revoked. The reason given was not the great number of degrees conferred but that Nauvoo had refused to submit its reports to Grand Lodge for inspection. The failure to obey Grand Lodge was considered to be disrespectful and contemptuous. Nauvoo Lodge totally ignored the revocation of their charter and continued with their plans to open their new Masonic Temple, which was slated for completion on April 5, 1843. An invitation went out to all Lodges and 550 Masons and guests attended the gala affair. Grand Lodge censored all regular Freemasons who attended for participating with a Clandestine Lodge. During the time period that Nauvoo Lodge was in existence (legally) the Mormon Church was facing many serious problems from within. John Cooke Bennett, who had risen so quickly and become so influential within the Mormon Church, was to have his past uncovered with calamitous results. Joseph Smith discovered that Bennett who told everyone that he was single, had abandoned a wife and child in Ohio. It was also discovered that he had been expelled from a Masonic Lodge in that state. When confronted, Bennett appeared contrite, several weeks later, reports of Bennett attempting to seduce a number of women in Nauvoo began to circulate and he was excommunicated. Bennett did not take this lightly and he wrote a number of books and set about lecturing on the evils of Mormonism. He revealed many of the secrets of the Church including the fact that the ruling members were engaged in polygamy. This further enraged practically everyone, dissent rose amongst members of the church. William Law, one of Smith's trusted aides started his own newspaper to expose Smith; he retaliated by destroying the paper and running its editors out of town. In June of 1844, Joseph Smith was jailed in the town of Carthage Illinois on charges of treason and levying war against the state. Before he could come to trial, a group of men with faces blackened stormed the jail and shot Joseph Smith to death. Many of those present were believed to be Masons ! Nauvoo Lodge soon closed, ending perhaps one of the strangest periods in Masonic history.


Joseph Smith denied to his death that he had practiced polygamy but history shows that he may have had as many as 43 wives. After his death, several of his wives claimed that their sons were rightful descendants of the prophet, this of course led to further problems for the church. Brigham Young finally won control of the Mormon Church and relocated them first back to Kirkland Ohio and then on to Utah. Nine men were indicted in the death of Joseph Smith, of these, five were actually arrested. Three of these men petitioned Warsaw Lodge for membership while under indictment. The Lodge minutes show that they considered the indictments but since the three had not been actually found guilty they were accepted. Membership in Warsaw Lodge afforded the men the protection of their bretheren, many of whom felt that the passing of Joseph Smith was a positive step. Grand Lodge suspended the Charter of Warsaw Lodge for one year, they however, did not resume operation for five years for fear of retaliation by Mormon death squads.