Canadian Past Grand Masters

Ziba Marcus Phillips

Wm. S. Buell

Prince of Wales No. 100

In 1792, when Right Worshipful Brother William Jarvis came out from England to act as Provincial Secretary to Governor Simcoe of Upper Canada, he brought with him a warrant appointing him Provincial Grand Master of Upper Canada. This office he occupied until he died in 1817. From that year until 1847 Ziba Marcus Phillips was the acknowledged authority among members of the Craft in Upper Canada, when any question of procedure came up or when any dispute required settlement. He was a man of much force of character, and yet he was of a lovable disposition, characteristics not often associated in one man.

Ziba M. Phillips was born in Oswego, in New York State, the son of a United Empire Loyalist of the same name. His father fought throughout the American Revolution - upon the British side - and after that war abandoned his property in the United States and obtained a grant of land in the Township of Augusta, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River between the towns of Prescott and Elizabethtown (re-named Brockville in 1812, after General Sir Issac Brock). He built a house close to the bank of the river, and was followed by several other U.E. Loyalists. Phillips, Senior, was a Mason, and as Sir Peregrine Maitland, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, was also a Mason, the little hamlet was named Maitland.

Here Ziba Marcus Phillips, Jr., was brought up. He went to a log school-house which stood at the water's edge. There was an old fort near by, and at times a detachment of British soldiers was quartered there. As a youth Phillips was attracted by the regimental apothecary shop. In 1805, an old English physician lodged in the Phillips house, and, as part of his pay for board, allowed young Phillips the use of his medical library and taught him much of medicine and surgery, asking the young man to accompany him upon some of his professional visits, as well as to assist him in making up his medicines. Eventually, in 1816, Brother Phillips commenced the practice of medicine, and was very successful, becoming immensely popular as a physician. He was made a Mason in 1807.

In 1811 there were rumours of war being declared by the United States, and Brother Phillips promptly joined the Canadian Militia, first enlisting in a battery of artillery at Prescott. He had developed physically into a magnificent fine young man, about six feet tall, slender but strong. In later life be became a very heavy man, weighing as much as 275 pounds. An extra large chair had to be provided for him.

During the war with the United States, Brother Phillips had many interesting experiences. He was present at the Battle of Queenston Heights, in October, 1812, when General Brock was killed; he took part in opposing the American Invincible Armada of the St. Lawrence, in November, 1813, when he was wounded, and he was wounded again in July, 1814, at the Battle of Lundy's Lane. He never fully recovered from those wounds. At Lundy's Lane he was taken prisoner after being wounded, and when he became conscious he found he was stretched on top of a number of muskets laid lengthways in the bottom of a wagon, which was being driven rapidly toward the Niagara frontier by a civilian teamster escorted by six American soldiers. He noticed that to one of the muskets alongside him a bayonet was fixed, also that the front or dashboard of the wagon was missing, so just as he felt the wagon was going down a hill he contrived to jab the horse with the bayonet. The poor beast promptly bolted, and the escorted soldiers were distanced. Then the wagon struck a tree and upset, and Phillips rolled out and managed to escape into the thick woods through which the road ran. By great good luck he came across a detachment of Canadians, and they were able in a short time to capture the wagon, the civilian teamster and the American escort. The teamster begged hard to be released, saying that he had been forced to come into Canada with his team because of his knowledge of the roads there. He mentioned, incidentally, that he had frequently been at a lodge in Stamford, Ontario, and as this fact was vouched for by one of the party whom Phillips had met, the teamster was afforded an opportunity to escape. The captured escort, however, were sent to Quebec as prisoner of war, where they remained for "the duration."

Phillips spoke French fluently, or rather the French-Canadian patois, much of which educated French-Canadians yet insist is really purer French than that which is spoken in Paris today. He was also friendly with the Indians and knew several Indian dialects, indeed that of the Iroquois was almost as familiar to him as English. They knew him as "the great medicine man' and they elected him an honourary chief.

Probably because of his knowledge of these languages, Phillips was frequently detailed to carry despatches and for similar duties. He frequently showed himself to be a man of ready resource. On one occasion he had been sent with a brigade of teams which was transporting supplies and specie from Montreal to the forces in the western field of action. The drivers of the teams were all French, and they knew that the sealed bags in the boxes contained gold and silver, but they did not know that Phillips understood their patois. One evening, as the brigade was nearing a roadside tavern, where they were to put up for the night, Phillips heard the Frenchmen plotting to make off with the money in the bags. He placed a man whom he could trust in charge of the wagon containing the specie, and he sent another man with a note to the garrison at Prescott for assistance, which he knew could not be expected for several hours. After supper he invited all the teamsters into the bar room and started them drinking, singing and dancing. After a while he suggested to them that, as there was a sick man upstairs, they should take off their boots and socks and dance in their bare feet. This they did, and the landlord (whom Phillips had taken into his confidence and promised to pay well) plied them with more liquor. Bye-and-bye, the teamsters became drowsy, and one by one dropped asleep on the benches on the floor. When they awoke they found themselves under arrest, as a detail of militiamen had arrived in response to Phillips' note of request. They were marched to Prescott for disciplinary purposes.

Brother Phillips was a captain at the close of the war. He eventually became lieutenant-colonel, and commanded the 2nd Regiment, Grenville Militia.

In 1817, after the death of Right Worshipful Brother William Jarvis, a convention of the Craft was called and met at Kingston, Ontario. Of this convention, Brother Phillips was chosen to be chairman, and he drafted a petition to the United Grand Lodge of England praying for the appointment of a Provincial Grand Master to succeed Right Worshipful Brother Jarvis. There was no response from England. Again a convention was called in 1818, again in 1819, and again in 1820. On each of these occasions Brother Phillips was elected President, and at each convention a communication of a similar nature was sent to the Grand Lodge in England. Finally, in 1822, Right Worshipful Brother Simon McGillivray was sent out from England with a warrant as Provincial Grand Master, and a meeting of the Provincial Grand Lodge was held in September that year, and the Craft was re-organized. At that meeting Right Worshipful Brother McGillivray produced a patent appointing Brother Phillips "in acknowledgement of the eminent services rendered by him in the interests of Masonry" an Honourary Member of the Provincial Grand Lodge, with the rank of Past Deputy Provincial Grand Master. Endorsed upon the patent is a memorandum that the Provincial Grand lodge had resolved "that this Provincial Grand Lodge entertains the highest sentiments of respect for Bro. Z.M. Phillips for his distinguished abilities and unwearied exertions in promoting the welfare of the fraternity in this Province."

Right Worshipful Brother McGillivray did his work well, but he remained in this country only a short time. For a decade after he returned to England the affairs of the Craft languished, and the Provincial Grand Lodge passed into a dormant condition. In 1832 Brother Phillips made an unsuccessful effort to restore it to life. Early in the forties the Craft again commenced to become active. An application was made to Brother Phillips as the recognised Masonic lawgiver and oracle of the Province. The Grand Lodge of England neglected the affairs of the Canadian Masons. No replies had been made to letters sent to England. So Brother Phillips, with a view to placing Masonry on a firmer foundation, took it on himself, in the absence of any duly constituted authority, to call the Craft together. He notified the brethren of every Lodge in the province, and a convention was held in February, 1842. Brother Phillips occupied the chair, apparently with much dignity, and finally another petition was drafted and forwarded to the Grand Lodge of England. But the urgent prayers of the Canadian Craftsmen met with no response. Again in 1844, Brother Phillips called a convention, and on this occasion a Provincial Grand Lodge was formed. This aroused the Craft in the western portion of the Province, but Brother Phillips was very tactful, suggesting the appointment of Sir Allan N. MacNab as the head of the Craft in Upper Canada.

This was the beginning of the movement which eventually, in 1855, resulted in the formation of the Grand Lodge of Canada. But Brother Phillips did not live to see this satisfactory solution to the Masonic situation in this country. He died in September, 1847, and was buried with Masonic honours in the Township of Augusta, where he had spent his youth and early manhood.

Reprinted from The Square, Jan. 1924.