Vol. XXVII No. 4 — April 1949

The Green Dragon Tavern

In the early days of Freemasonry in England and subsequently in America, lodges met in inns and taverns.

These were not of the often casual type which the automobile has made so popular in this country; the early inn and tavern was often the largest and most substantial edifice in a town. It was often built with a large room expressly for meetings of societies, clubs, circles, groups of many varieties and characters.

A writer of the seventeenth century stated: “Taverns are the busy man’s recreation, the idle man’s business, the melancholy man’s sanctuary and the stranger’s welcome.” Eminent men met in taverns in London to discuss problems of science, religion, government, philosophy. Macauley said: “The coffee house was the Londoner’s home and those who wished to find a gentleman commonly asked not whether he lived in Fleet Street or Chancery Lane but whether he frequented the Grecian or the Rainbow,” in which tavern it may be noted met Lodge No. 75 in 1731, of which Henry Price, “Father of Freemasonry in America,” was a member.

In the time in which the mother grand lodge in London was formed (1717) lodges not only met in inns and taverns but often described themselves by their meeting place.

The four old lodges which formed the grand lodge, in London, can be described, as they were by Robert Freke Gould, noted English Masonic historian as

  1. Original No. 1, “Kings Arms,” St. Paul’s Churchyard
  2. Original No. 2, “Rose and Buffler,” Furnival's Inn
  3. Original No. 3, “Queen”s Head, Knaves Acre
  4. Original No. 4, “Horn,” Westminster

Other famous taverns associated with the beginnings of organized Freemasonry in London are “Goose and Gridiron,” “Rummer and Grapes,” “Apple Tree,” “Cheshire Cheese,” etc.

In America the same practice continued; our early lodges met in inns and taverns long before the first Masonic Temple was built.

The first meetings of the Grand Lodge of New The first meetings of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire were held in “The Earl of Halifax” tavern, in Portsmouth. In 1738 a lodge was holden at the “Harp and Crown” in Charleston, South Carolina, as reported in the South Carolina Gazette. The New York Gazette in 1739 advertised the meeting of a lodge at the “Montgomery Arms Tavern.” Lodge No. 18, Dover, Delaware, was opened and established “at the Sign of General Washington,” Dover. The first lodge on record in New Jersey, St. John’s in Newark, met in “The Sign of Rising Sun” tavern in 1761. An early lodge in Providence, Rhode Island, met in the “White Horse” and later in the “Two Crowns” tavern. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts met many times in the “Bunch of Grapes” and in the “Royal Exchange” taverns.

Most famous in American Masonic annals, however, is the “Green Dragon Tavern” in Boston, built at the end of the seventeenth or beginning of the eighteenth century. No actual picture of it exists; a picture drawn from contemporary descriptions, and corrected by old residents of Boston who had seen the old structure before its demolition shows it to have been a substantial house of two stories and a mansard roof upper story with dormer windows. It was perhaps fifty or sixty feet front and forty or fifty feet deep. There was a great chimney at each end. Inside was the famous “Long Room” — apparently a room the length of the house, in which not only St. Andrews lodge, but many societies, clubs and associations met. Behind the tavern was a garden and pond; in good weather, when the lodge was called from labor to refreshment, meals were served in the garden in sight of the pond.

The tavern was sometimes called the “Cradle of the Revolution,” because of the noted Revolutionary figures who there gathered, and the great event — the “Boston Tea Party” — which was there planned.

Between 1775 and 1792 Freemasonry in Massachusetts was largely nourished in the Green Dragon Tavern, particularly St. Andrews lodge and its Masonic activities.

St. Andrews lodge is believed to have been organized in 1752. There is no evidence to attest the fact, except circumstantial evidence, but it was here, four years later, that it reorganized under a charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland. St. Andrews would likely not have chosen this place for that reorganization had they not been accustomed there to meet. It did meet in the Green Dragon Tavern — soon to be called Freemasons Hall — until 1818 when it moved to the “Exchange Coffee House.”

Here, too, the Massachusetts grand lodge was organized on St. John’s Day in Winter, 1769, with the great Joseph Warren, who was to fall at Bunker Hill, as grand master. This grand lodge continued here to meet until the union with St. John’s Grand Lodge in 1792.

The old tavern was bought by St. Andrew’s Lodge in 1764 and a large Square and Compasses were erected on its front — it was this which led to the renaming of the tavern. The tavern resumed its old name when the lodge moved to the Coffee House.

Our forefathers were more particular as to the celebrations of the feasts of the Sts. John than we moderns; St. John’s Day in Winter (December 27) and St. John’s Day in Summer (June 24) were religiously kept by Colonial Masons.

A note will suffice to show the importance of these festivals in grand lodge eyes. At the annual communication of grand lodge, December 3,1773, the record reads:

The Most Worshipfill Grand Master (Warren) then desired the opinion of the Grand Officers present with respect to celebrating the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, 27th Instant.

Motioned and Seconded, The Feast be Celebrated the 27th Instant, at Masons’ Hall (at the Green Dragon).

Voted, The Stewards of the Grand Lodge of St. Andrew’s, and the Massachusetts lodges, agree for and provide the dinner, and that three Brethren be desired to joyn the Stewards.

Voted, Brothers Bruce, Proctor (and) Love.

Voted, The Festival be advertised in the “Public Prints.” In the "Boston Evening Post,” of December 20, 1773, the following advertisement appeared.

The Brethren of the Honorable Society of Free and Accepted MASONS, are hereby notified, That the Most Worshipful JOSEPH WARREN, Esq., grand master of the Continent of America; intends to Celebrate the Feast of St. JOHN the Evangelist, on Monday, the 27th of December Inst, at Free Masons’ Hall (at the Green Dragon), Boston, where the Brethren are requested to attend the Festival.

By order of the Most Worshipful Grand Master.

Wm. Hoskiss, G. Sec’y.

N.B., Tickets may be had of Mess. Nathaniel Coffin, junr., William Mollineaux, junr., and Mr. Daniel Bell.

The Table will be furnished at Two o’clock.

This “Feast” was held in the Long Room of the Green Dragon on the 27th, and the record names as being present, “M.W. Joseph Warren, Esq., Grand Master; Hon. Wm. Brattle, Esq.; Revelation Dr. Samuel Mather; Worshipful Joseph Webb, Esq.; and thirty-eight others, including the Grand Officers.”

This is not the place nor is there space to retell much of the early Colonial sentiment against Great Britain which culminated in the War of the Revolution. There was a long period of preparation, a time during which resentment at many of the acts and enactments of the mother country seethed and fomented, spread and became more intense throughout all the Colonies. Anti-British sentiment was particularly rife in Boston.

England began to bring things to a head by sending two regiments of troops to Boston, partly to quiet “the radicals” and partly to aid in the enforced collection of taxes. Boston was then a city of some twenty thousand people; a prosperous colony. Its citizens had the stiff-necked independence of the New England descendants of the Pilgrims, pioneers who fought Native Americans and cold; poverty and the wilderness, for the right to be independent and worship as they please. They were hardy of character and stern of justice.

Bostonians in general and Masons in particular resented the British troops. There was doubtless much baiting and persecution of individual soldiers by hoodlums and riffraff, but the resentment of the solid citizens of Boston was probably hardest to bear.

All this culminated in the "Boston Massacre” when on March 5, 1770, a riot occurred in which British soldiers fired on citizens and killed four.

As an immediate result Great Britain withdrew the troops and repealed many of the objectionable taxes — but not the tax on tea!

The patriots were determined that no tea should be landed to be sold, with the tax for the benefit of the East India Company added. Tea ships were sent home from New York and Pennsylvania, and others were interned in Charleston, but the governor refused clearance papers for three tea ships in the Boston Harbor.

Many political associations and clubs met at the Green Dragon tavern. Of these some were small, some large, some formed of men of one trade or craft, some of men from various walks of life. Among them were "The North-End Caucus” largely made up of North-end mechanics and the “Sons of Liberty.”

Warren was a member of one — perhaps both — as were Revere and other noted members of St. Andrews lodge.

It is not possible to prove that the “tea party” was a St. Andrews Lodge idea, or that it was executed entirely by members of the lodge. It was probably a combined action by the “North-End Caucus” men, the “Sons of Liberty,” members of St. Andrews lodge and there can be no doubt that the whole plan was made, and doubtless rehearsed, in the “Long Room” of the Green Dragon Tavern.

John W. Barry, Iowa, told the story briefly and well in The Builder, 1916.

Mistaking the attitude of the Americans, as well as that of their King, The English East India Company had offered to refund the tax by selling tea at a less price in America than in England. The King insisted on his claimed right to tax without consent. So Burke’s resolution of conciliation was voted down in Englands Parliament by 270 against 78. The issue was joined: England claimed the right to tax without consent; the Americans denied such claim. England said: ‘Land the tea’ — A gathering Dec. 16, 1773, in ‘The Old South-Meeting House' said ‘No.’ A messenger had been sent to Milton to urge Hutchinson, the King’s representative, to order the tea back to England. Long after dark his refusal was delivered by Rotch the messenger. At once Adams announced: ‘The meeting can do nothing more to save the Country,’ When the church doors opened there were 40 to 50 men disguised as Mohawks. Says Avery, ‘in two or three hours, 342 chests of tea valued at about 1800 pounds sterling were emptied into the sea.’

The smoothness of the performance suggests a master playwright and many rehearsals. When the work had been completed the crowd quietly dispersed, and before daybreak Paul Revere was riding fast to Philadelphia with the glorious news that ‘Boston had at last thrown down the gauntlet for the King to pick up.’

The “Sons of Liberty” met at the Green Dragon Tavern where St. Andrew’s lodge also met regularly. This was the lodge of Paul Revere and Joseph Warren. It was a 'North-End lodge’ whose secret meetings alternated with the ‘Sons of Liberty,’ who controlled all the early Revolutionary movements. The men were the same in both.

The record of that lodge on Nov. 30, 1772, showed only seven members present and in the record is this statement: “N.B. Consignees of Tea took up the brethren’s time.” On December 16, the night of the Tea Party, the secretary, after noting that the lodge closed until the next night, makes the T entry thus: — “On account of the few members in attendance” and then fills up the page with the letter “T” made big. Gould says this record is the only one of that now famous Tea Party at Boston.

That Tea Party was as dignified a Masonic event as the laying of a Corner Stone — as indeed in very truth it was. Here is what that eminent authority John Fiske says of it:

“For the quiet sublimity of reasonable but dauntless moral purpose, the heroic annals of Greece and Rome can show no greater scene than that which the Old South-Meeting House witnessed on the day (night) when the tea was destroyed.”

Avery says: “An authoritative answer to the oft asked question, ‘Who emptied the tea?’ has never yet been given. But Paul Revere was well on his way to Philadelphia before morning.”

Who made up the band of “Mohawks” who threw the tea into Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773? There is no authentic record. But historians are convinced from circumstantial evidence that the Mohawks who made cold tea of Boston Harbor included Joseph Warren, Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, Joseph Webb, Thomas Melville, Adam Collson, Henry Purkett (Purkitt), and Samuel Peck.

It is stated as a matter of fact by some historians that among the St. Andrews lodge members of the tea party were Collson, Chase, Gore, Ingollson, Peck, Proctor, Purkett (Purkitt) and Uran.

Overemphasis on incidents alone is decried by all historians; it is the overall picture, not the highlights, which must be studied to see the correct perspective of an era.

The Boston Tea Party was such an incident. There would have been a Revolution without it. The Green Dragon Tavern, its “Long Room,” the “North-End Caucus,” “the Sons of Liberty” and St. Andrews lodge did not cause the revolt of the American Colonies.

But they helped. They crystallized sentiment. They produced a happening which had all the inspiration which mystery, picturesqueness, patriotism and daring could add. They did something which has rung down through the years as an expression of the determination of Colonial Americans not to be slaves. They produced a deathless story for posterity.

It is, therefore, with considerable pride that Freemasons can recall the Green Dragon Tavern, and exult that in days when a brave heart and a determined spirit were essential if the United States was to come into being, Freemasons were in the front ranks of those who said “No one shall pay tax on this tea!”

The Masonic Service Association of North America