Some Ordo, Some Chao

A Brief History of Boston-Lafayette Lodge of Perfection

Information excerpted from Ill∴ William Nilsson Woodland's book, Some Ordo, Some Chao.

Boston-Lafayette Lodge of Perfection was formed in 1895 after the merger of two co-existing Lodges of Perfection took place.

Boston Grand Lodge of Perfection was conceived of in 1825, born in 1842, died in 1850, revived in 1852, committed suicide in 1855, and was reincarnated in 1863 before finally merging in 1895.

Lafayette Grand Lodge of Perfection was born in sin and schism in 1862, was legitimized in 1867, and also merged in 1895.

The result was Boston Lafayette Lodge of Perfection, but the story starts with the chaos that was the Scottish Rite in the United States before the Supreme Council succeeded in bringing Ordo ab Chao, or “Order out of Chaos.”

In the early 1800’s, both the Scottish and York rites were building their organization, but there was some overlapping and confusion in the Craft.  In 1801, the Supreme Council of the 33o was established in Charleston, SC by Masons who had received the rite from France via the West Indies.  The Northern Masonic Jurisdiction was formed in New York City by a certificate granted by the Supreme Council of the now Southern Jurisdiction in August 1813.

While these two were the only legitimate ruling bodies of the Scottish Rite in the US, there were others claiming to be as well.  Most died off rather shortly, but some endured for decades with prominent, legitimate Masons as members.  The longest lived was set up by Joseph Cerneau, a French citizen living in New York.

The First Lodges of Perfection were part of the Rite of Perfection that was imported from France, which brought the eleven “Ineffable Degrees” together. This Rite, separate from the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite at the time, created six Lodges of Perfection in the last quarter of the Eighteenth Century, but none of them lasted into the Nineteenth.

At the beginning of Boston Lodge of Perfection, only Royal Arch Masons were eligible to receive its Scottish Rite Degrees.

In 1825, a group of Masons obtained warrants from Charleston to set up A Grand Council of Princes of Jerusalem and a Grand Consistory of Sublime Princes of the Royal Secret in Boston; however, they never acted upon them although there were legitimate Scottish Rite Masons living in Boston.

In 1842, Masons in Portsmouth, NH wanted to establish a Lodge of Perfection. Men from Albany, NY traveled to Portsmouth on several occasions to assist in setting up that Lodge.  On one of these trips, they visited Boston and met with five interested brethren.  They demonstrated the work of the Scottish Rite degree, and assisted in qualifying officers for work in the Council of Princes of Jerusalem and the Lodge of Perfection. Relying on the legitimate, but long dormant charter, the five brothers voted themselves into office. Once established, they conferred the degrees on seven other Masons.  Of the seven, three were to become Grand Masters of Masons in Massachusetts, Edward A. Raymond, Simon W. Robinson, and Winslow Lewis, Jr. Of the rest, Abraham A. Dame, was a past Deputy Grand Master, and John J. Loring and William Eaton, were future Grand Wardens.

A charter dated January 21, 1842 designated Dame as the first Thrice Potent Grand Master, and the lodge was designated “Boston Grand Lodge of Perfection, No. 1” as well. No.1 was generally left out of the records, and the “Grand” went out of use by 1872, although it remained in the by-laws until 1906.  The “Grand” remained in the officers titles until the merger with Lafayette Lodge of Perfection in 1895. The charter limited the number of members to 27.  This was to cause problems later in its history.

More problems were ahead. In 1845, it was proposed that the lodge should receive Master Masons as candidates, but in January of 1846, they voted to retain the Royal Arch membership requirement. In 1848, they voted to take Benjamin Franklin Baker, a Master Mason, in as a member. This caused dissention within the Lodge and the Charter was revoked. There were no meetings recorded for two years, but in March of 1852, five members met and proposed four candidates for the degrees.  At the head of the list was Brother Baker.  The lodge continued to meet without a charter until one was issued in May 1852.  Charter in hand, they elected new officers. The new Thrice Potent Grand Master?  Benjamin F. Baker!

The lodge met irregularly and admitted only three candidates over the next two years.  A members question about “finances” caused some dissention, and the lodge did not hold its scheduled election of officers as a result.

Incensed that the Supreme Council had charged the lodge $40.00 for the new charter, the lodge adopted a resolution that (1) gave the Boston Board of Masonic Relief the entire treasury of $132.83, (2) the charter to be returned to the Supreme Council, and (3) that the lodge should adjourn until the fourth Monday in December, 1854.  The did not meet again until May of 1855, at which time eight members voted to go out of business, and the Secretary recorded “at 8 o’clock the Lodge dissolved.”  It stayed that way for nine years.

During the nine years, additional trouble was brewing at the Supreme Council: Edward Asa Raymond, Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts, 1849-51, was named Sovereign Grand Commander He was overshadowed by the activities and energy of Killian H. Van Rensselaer, Deputy for Western Pennsylvania and Ohio.  In a Supreme Council meeting in Boston in August 1860, Raymond refused to act on a motion, blocked a motion to adjourn, and then declared the Council closed.  The next day, immediately after the opening and the reading of the minutes, he closed the Council “sine die,”  or indefinitely, and walked out.

The following day, the Council met without the Grand Commander, filled some vacant positions, and elected Van Rensselaer as Lieutenant Grand Commander, and adopted a resolution that the Council should elect a new Sovereign Grand Commander.  The matter was laid over until May 1861, when Raymond and his close friend Simon W. Robinson were expelled.  Van Rensselaer was authorized to act as the chief officer and he became Sovereign Grand Commander a year later.

Raymond continued to claim the title, but 37 of the 42 bodies in the jurisdiction rejected him in favor of the Van Rensselaer Supreme Council.   Remember Joseph Cerneau, with his competing Scottish Rite?  The Cerneau bodies under the leadership of Edward B. Hays absorbed Raymond and the five bodies that followed him. Raymond died in 1864, and his friend Robinson became their Sovereign Grand Commander when Hays resigned in 1865.

The Hays-Raymond Council enlisted some distinguished Masons including three who later became Sovereign Grand Commander of the legitimate Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.  They went on the offensive in Boston and in 1862 created the “Grand Consistory of Sublime Princes and Commanders of the Royal Secret, 32o.”  Civil War veteran, General Samuel Crocker Lawrence received his Scottish Rite degrees in that body, and was created a 33o Mason, and became the Deputy for Massachusetts and an Active Member of the Hays-Raymond Supreme Council. Crocker was a respected Mason and was instrumental in brokering the merger of the two feuding councils in the Union of 1867.  He later became the Deputy for Massachusetts, Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts, Lieutenant Grand Commander, and Sovereign Grand Commander.

The Hays-Raymond Consistory established Lafayette Grand Lodge of Perfection, on July 11, 1862, with Richard M. Barker as its first Thrice Potent Grand Master. Samuel Crocker Lawrence was the second officer titled, “Hiram King of Tyre, Deputy Grand Master.” Lafayette Grand Lodge of Perfection was established in Freemasons Hall of the Winthrop House at the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets. 

Remember the legitimate Northern Masonic Jurisdiction?  Angered at the in-roads made in Boston by Hays-Raymond, they encouraged Boston Masons to petition for the restoration of Boston Grand Lodge of Perfection in 1863. When nine Petitioners requested its issuance, a dispensation was forthcoming naming sixteen Bostonians of the 32o, and authorizing them “to open and reorganize Boston Grand Lodge of Perfection.” Things moved fast, as the groundwork had been done, the very next day William Sewall Gardner, Deputy for Massachusetts presided over the first work of the revived lodge, initiating one hundred and ten candidates.

During all this time, Samuel Crocker Lawrence and several other distinguished masons in both organizations were negotiating for a merger to join the two competing Councils.  As Hays and Raymond were now both dead, emotions were cooler and in May 1867, and the “Union of 1867” was signed formally uniting both organizations into one Supreme Council with Killian H. Van Rensselaer as Sovereign Grand Commander.

The merger of the two Supreme Councils was followed by the mergers of many of the subordinate bodies in locations where two or more occupied the same territory.  It took a year or two for most of the bodies to complete mergers with several taking two years.

It took a lot longer to push the strong willed Lodges of Perfection of Boston into each other’s arms.  In fact, more than 20 years!

Boston Grand Lodge of Perfection was not thriving, initiating only 24 candidates between 1868 and 1869.  A year passed without a meeting of the lodge and then two meetings in 1871, with only six candidates that year.

In contrast, the young Lafayette Lodge of Perfection was going strong with many meetings and a membership of over 250.  In 1870, it dropped “Grand” from its title, and began to have dinners after most of its meetings. A tradition carried on to this day by its successor Lodge.

Boston was down, but not out. On March 2, 1871 with a Past Thrice Potent Master presiding, the lodge took up the issue of surrendering the charter.  The issue was defeated and the record reflects “on motion it was voted that it is the desire of this body to retain the same, and continue our organization by taking prompt measures to put ourselves in complete and energetic working order.”  One week later, Seranus Bowen, MD was elected Thrice Potent Grand Master. He was one of the most energetic leaders the lodge had seen to that date, and was re-elected annually serving until 1875. At the start of his administration, there were only 40 members and the treasury contained $100, with obligations of over $50.  He never missed a meeting, and conferred the degrees on 232 men, and the treasury was strong.  In 1871, Boston also dropped the use of the word “Grand” from its name, but retained it in the titles of their officers.

Over the years, with strong pushes from the Deputy and Supreme Council, occasional discussions of merger took place with committees established, but no real progress was made.  Meanwhile, depressed business conditions were having an effect on both lodges. By the mid 1880’s relations between the lodges were getting warmer.  Leaders of Boston Lodge made occasional visits to Lafayette, and in January 1889 at the installation of George H. Allen as Thrice Potent Master of Boston Lodge, the presiding TPM of Lafayette, Benjamin W. Rowell served as Marshal, and the courtesy was repeated the following year.

Finally on January 3, 1895 the committees representing both lodges met and with unanimous agreement decided that both lodges would surrender their charters and that a new charter would be issued to a new lodge to be known as Boston Lafayette Lodge of Perfection.  Implicit, but unspoken in the agreement was that the new lodge would take its precedence from 1842.

On February 18, 1895, members of both lodges gathered for the annual meeting of Lafayette Lodge of Perfection, both TPM’s were present and surrendered their respective charters, books and papers to Samuel Wells, 33o, Deputy for Massachusetts.  Wells granted dispensation to form and open Boston Lafayette Lodge of Perfection, the Acting Secretary was authorized to cast one ballot for the officers recommended by the committee on consolidation.  There was one change to the written reports, the word “Grand” was dropped from all titles of the new lodge.  Moses C. Plummer, 32o, from Lafayette was the newly elected Thrice Potent Master, with a line of officers representing both of the former lodges.

Thus began the career of Boston Lafayette Lodge of Perfection, with many more ups and downs in its future, and many soon to be distinguished Masons achieving high rank within the Scottish Rite and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.  The story of Boston-Lafayette continues to be written today, and only time will tell where that may lead us.

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