Vol. XXIV No. 4 — April 1946

Freemasonry and the Sea

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheels kick and the winds song and the white sail's shaking
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.

— John Masefield

Ask the first brother you meet in lodge what connection Masonry has with the sea and the chances are a hundred to one that he will either look puzzled and, fail to answer, or tell you; “Why, none that I know of.”

Yet the connection exists, perhaps the more interesting that is so tenuous.

First mention of the sea in lodge is in the words of the first verse of Genesis . . . "And darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. . . .”

Freemasonry knows the Anchor and the Ark; it has ritual which is at times of a Wayfaring Man but as often of a Seafaring man; the trees, felled and prepared in the forest of Lebanon were conveyed by sea on floats to Joppa; a ship-wrecked mariner may make a Masonic appeal which his brethren will heed; some rituals speak of an embargo upon all shipping; Moses conducted the Children of Israel through the Red Sea into the wilderness; geometry, we are taught among other things, enables the geographer to “delineate the extent of seas"; in the Master’s Degree we hear a prayer in which the waters fail from the sea; the Temple was begun four hundred and eight years after the passage of the Red Sea.

Of the Anchor and Ark symbols, Oliver Day Street, past grand master of Alabama and author of Symbolism of the Third Degree, says in part:

The Ark as a symbol in the third degree has been supposed by some to refer to the Jewish Ark of the Covenant, but — all the Ancient Mysteries contained allusions more or less clear to the Deluge and Noah’s Ark. There being so many other symbols common to Masonry and the Mysteries, it is not surprising to find the Ark also employed as a Masonic symbol. To the pre-Christian ages, the idea of a regeneration, or a new birth, was as familiar as it is to us. In the Ancient Mysteries, the tradition of the Deluge and the Ark, by which the human race was reputed to have been both purified and perpetuated, was in a variety of forms employed to teach this doctrine of regeneration.

In the Funeral Ritual of the Egyptians, it is by means of the Ark or boat that the deceased passed to Aahlu or the place of the blessed in Amenti. We are all familiar with the Grecian myth which represents Charon as ferrying the shades of the departed over the river Styx. The Ark has for ages been the symbol of the passage from this world to the next.

The anchor does not seem to have belonged to ancient symbolism. Kip, in his Catacombs of Rome, says that the primitive Christians looked upon life as a stormy voyage and that of their safe arrival in port the anchor was a symbol. Though apparently of Christian origin as a symbol, there is nothing narrow or sectarian in its significance and it may with equal propriety be employed by Jew or Gentile.

There are four references to the anchor in the Bible, one of which Hebrews 6:19 is germane here; “Which hope we have as an anchor to the soul, both sure and steadfast. . . .”

On the continent of Europe, “female Masonry” as some called it, or Masonry of Adoption, was popular in early days of the organized Craft. Begue-Clavel, an authority on androgynous Masonry gives an amusing account which is nautical in character;

About 1730 Female Masonry was instituted. We do not know who was its inventor; but it made its first appearance in France, and it is evidently a product of French wit. The rules of this Masonry, however, were only definitely settled after 1760, and it was recognized and sanctioned by the governing body of Masonry only in the year 1774. At first it assumed various names and various rituals, which have not reached us. In 1743 it had some nautical emblems and a vocabulary; and the sisters used to make the fictitious voyage from the Isle of Felicity under the sail of the brothers and piloted by them. It was then the order of the Happy Ones (Felicitaires), which comprised the degrees of cabin boy, of captain, of commodore, and of vice-admiral, and had for admiral (that is to say, for grand master), Brother de Chambonnet, who was its author. The candidate was made to swear to keep the secret concerning the ceremonial that accompanied the initiation. If it was a man he swore “never to take anchorage in any port where a vessel of the order was already found at anchor." If it was a woman, she promised “not to receive a strange vessel in her port, so long as a vessel of the order should be there at anchor.” She was sworn sitting in the place of the commodore, or president, who was kneeling during this formality. A split in this order gave birth in 1745 to the order of the Knights and Ladies of the Anchor, which was only a refinement of the first and preserved its forms.

The dispute among rituals as to whether the second section of the Master’s Degree should be concerned with a “seafaring man” or a “wayfaring man” is doubtless never to end; with equally good arguments on both sides, who shall decide?

The Old Testament, which gives so much to the legends of Masonry, is of little help. True, there “wayfaring men” are mentioned six times and there is but one “seafaring man,” but neither is spoken of in the connection in which he appears in the third degree.

Into the merits of that friendly controversy this Bulletin would not dare to go! But of the seafaring man in another connection, some words of bygone days may not be without interest.

In the Transactions of the American Lodge of Research 1931, Richardson Wright has an interesting story to tell of real Masonic seafaring men.

Pick up the trail of the hardy mariner in the records of Tun Tavern lodge of Philadelphia at its communication of July 20th, 1780. (Brother Worrell, on account of his speedily going to sea, was raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason.) So runs the account.

Twelve years before this, in 1768, Brother John Marsh of Portsmouth, R.I., was writing to Brother Abraham Savage, grand secretary at Boston, explaining why the Portsmouth lodge was not to be represented at a grand lodge communication; “as the weather and traveling at this season of the year is very uncertain, and the great hurry of our brethren in the mercantile way, in dispatching their ships to the West Indies in order to secure their freights, makes it impossible to ascertain the members that could be present from the lodge on this happy occasion."

Down in Fell’s Point, Md., Lodge No. 15 was composed largely of seafaring men who, while in port, received their degrees. The applications of these sailors and shipmasters were considered cases of emergency, and it was held that their home was wherever it might be. Many a mariner from a New England port would receive his degrees even though he might rarely come into the port of that lodge again. He would be raised tonight, sail with tomorrow’s tide — and frequently his Mother lodge would never hear from him again!

What romantic glimpses these three items open up of the brethren who plied the trade of the sea in frail sailing vessels — in those days when ships were ships and not tin pots. Brother Worrell was evidently hurried through so that he might catch the tide. The Portsmouth brethren must get along on their seapath. Romantic indeed!

Then turn to the factors that first caused the Mother Country to lay sumptuary legislation on the Colonies. What do we find? That New England skippers had captured the West Indian trade — a sore thorn in England’s side.

From New England the boats carried to the West Indies, below decks, lumber, shingles, staves, hoops, fish, pork, beef and corn, and, tethered on deck, horses and oxen. Some carried rum to Africa and brought back slaves to the West Indies. Some took sugar to Holland. Some brought mules back from Barbary to the West Indies.

To New England they brought back salt, molasses, sugar, rum, coffee, cotton and pimento. From the molasses New England made its famous rum. Little Rhode Island alone in one year consumed 14,000 hogsheads of molasses. In fact, New England rum soon drove French brandies from the African coast trade.

All this coastal, European & West Indian trade was very profitable to New England, but it took the profits from the pockets of English shippers.

No, these Portsmouth brethren could not promise to attend that grand lodge in Boston — they were too busy starting — though quite unintentionally — one of the important causes of the Revolutionary War.

There we have examples of both the bypath and the highroad. If we stuck merely to the bypath of these mariners speedily receiving their degrees, we would probably only fetch up in some such a Masonic cul-de-sac as the problems of rapid raisings or making Masons at sight.

Masons have been seafaring men not only as individuals but as lodges. In Henry Sadlers Thomas Dunckerley: His Life, Labours, and Letters (1891) it is recorded that the records of the mother grand lodge show that a warrant bearing date January 16th, 1760, was issued for a lodge to be held on board His Majesty’s ship Vanguard. This vessel, in company with several other ships of war was shortly afterwards ordered to Quebec, Captain Swanton of the Vanguard being the Senior Naval officer, and Dunckerley occupying as gunner in the same vessel.

At this time the English Freemasons in Canada laboured under great difficulties. After the capture of Quebec in the winter of 1759 the masters and wardens of some eight or nine military lodges, had elected as acting grand master Lieutenant Guinnett 47th Foot, without doubt the first British Subaltern ever called to a Masonic Throne. The number of Masons so increased “as to oblige the Grand Master to grant Warrants from under his present authority, until opportunity might offer for them to apply to a greater.”

On the 24th of June 1760, Brother Simon Frasier, Colonel of the Highland Regiment, was elected to preside over the lodges, and Brother Dunckerley, of His Majesty’s ship the Vanguard, who had a power from the Grand Lodge of England to inspect the state of the Craft wherever he might go, installed Brother Frasier in his high office.

Roving commissions, empowering a seafaring brother to exercise the functions of a provincial grand master, “where no other Provincial is to be found,” were known both before or after Dunckerley discharged the mission with which he was entrusted. The Vanguard sailed for the West Indies in October 1761, but in the meanwhile Dunckerley had been appointed to the Prince, a larger ship, for which vessel a Warrant or Charter was granted by the Masonic authorities May 22nd, 1762.

The lodge thus established in 1762 appears to have closely followed the fortunes of its founder, for in the second edition of the Engraved List for 1764, No. 279, which in the previous issue was described as “On Board the Prince," is now represented as being held “On Board the Guadaloupe.”

Both “sea lodges” were ultimately revived on terra firma by Dunckerley, the one in the Vanguard being now the “London No. 108”; and the other in the Prince and Guadaloupe having become the “Somerset House” — which after various amalgamations is now the “Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No. 4.” Mackey states that the Grand Lodge of England warranted three Naval lodges; one on board His Majesty’s Ship the Vanguard, on board the ship Prince at Plymouth; in 1762 and a lodge, warranted in 1768 on the ship known as Canceaux at Quebec. A petition for a fourth Sea lodge to be known as Naval Kilwinning and to be held on board the Ardent was made, in 1810 to the Grand Lodge of Scotland, but the petition was refused. There seems to be no question as to Dunckerley being responsible for the formation of the first of the Sea lodges here mentioned although he had nothing to do with the third.

New York chartered four “sea and field lodges” during World War One.

In the United States there is an historic example of “seafaring men” carrying Masonry from port to port. At the meeting of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, November 7, 1848, a charter was ordered issued to “California Lodge No. 13" to be located “in the town of San Francisco, Upper California,” for the benefit of the nine brethren presenting the petition.

They carried the charter around the Horn to the Golden Gate in the gold rush of the days of ’49 where, later, “California Lodge No. 13” became “California Lodge No. 1” on the register of the Grand Lodge of California when that grand lodge was formed in 1850. This lodge furnished the first grand master of the new grand lodge, and is a prosperous and virile lodge to this day.

Every Master Mason at the time he is raised hears (or should hear!) of the building of the temple. He learns that the trees, previously cut and prepared in the forests of Lebanon were “conveyed by sea on floats to Joppa.” There is Biblical evidence for this, as the curious may find in 2 Chronicles 2:16

And we will cut wood out of Lebanon as much as thou shaft need: and we will bring it to thee in floates by sea to Joppa; and thou shalt carry it up to Jerusalem.

And Ezra 3:7

They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.

There is something about the sea which draws brethren together; on ocean liner after ocean liner Masonic meetings have been held, that those who follow the Ancient Craft may get to know each other.

Few and small though the Masonic references to the sea actually are they are a note of color in the Masonic picture; perhaps a word may be borrowed from a singer of Masonry and say that the notes of the sea are a bar in the great symphony of Masonry; sounding the “thunder of the ritual:”

As battle weary men long for the sea
 Like tired children, seeking Mother’s breast,
 And in its restless endlessness find rest,
Its crashing surf a soothing systole;
As seeks the storm-tossed ship the harbor’s lee,
 So mariners upon life’s deep, hard-pressed
 To weather boiling trough and mounting crest,
Steer for the shelter of Freemasonry.
Her ancient waves of sound lap on the strand
 A melody more God’s than man’s. We hear,
 Like gentle murmurs in a curved sea shell
Which whispers of some far off wonderland
Where lightning flashes from blue skies and clear,
 The rolling thunder of the ritual.

The Masonic Service Association of North America