During the winters of 1779-80 and 1780-81, George Washington was in Morristown with the encampment of the Continental Army. Among the soldiers from the Connecticut Line and a few from the Pennsylvania Brigade were men who belonged to the Society of Cincinnati. These men were members of a Military Lodge named American Union Lodge.
The Society was named after the Roman leader Cincinnatus who was thrice called from his estates to lead Rome out of difficulty. The farmer soldiers had left their plows to fight for freedom. As most armies are composed of young men, it is well taken that some of these men married girls from the surrounding country, and the Encyclopedia Britannica states that men who had migrated from the northern counties of New Jersey in 1788 established the town of Cincinnati, Ohio. They had followed the call of Jonathan Heart, who presided many times over American Union Lodge here, and who had gone a few years before to the fertile valley of the Ohio River and established the established the town of Marietta. It is only natural that when this Lodge was founded in 1803 that it was named Cincinnati, as its first members in establishing the Lodge were also members of the Society of Cincinnati.
This flow blue plate is covered with most of the symbols of Freemasonry. It was made for the 150th Anniversary (1803-1953) of Cincinnati Lodge No. 3 F. & A.M. of Morristown, New Jersey. On the reverse reads a small bio of their Lodge history, “Warrant granted to Cincinnati Lodge No. 17 November 8, 1803. First Communication held on December 5, 1803, at Montville, New Jersey. Moved to Hanover (Whippany) November 11, 1806 where it continued to meet until December 26, 1844, when it was removed to Morristown Lodge No. 17 and was changed to No. 3 November 8, 1842. This plate was made by Vernon Kilns USA and measures 8 1/2 inches in diameter.
The Institution of Masonry, kindred to many of the societies and rites of times, owes its continued existence to its ability to render needed service and inspiration to mankind. We shall review, briefly, some of the incidents in the early life of one branch of this great institution, American Union Lodge, No. 1, out of the experiences of those who were instrumental in effecting this historic Lodge.
The siege of Boston in 1775 and 1776 brought together many New England Masons in the Continental forces from whose ranks the several Army Lodges were formed. The record of our own Lodge reveals a preliminary meeting at Roxbury, Massachusetts, attended by Brother Joel Clark and fifteen others. A choice of officers was made and the minutes of the meeting laid before the Grand Master, praying that the officers nominated might be confirmed and a dispensation granted for holding a regular Lodge. The minutes state: The Right Worshipful Grand Master, Richard Gridley, Esq., having been waited on according to appointment, was pleased to grant a warrant to Joel Clark, Esq., appointing him first Master of American Union Lodge. The siege of Boston in 1775 and 1776 brought together many New England Masons in the Continental forces from whose ranks the several Army Lodges were formed.
The record of our own Lodge reveals a preliminary meeting at Roxbury, Massachusetts, attended by Brother Joel Clark and fifteen others. A choice of officers was made and the minutes of the meeting laid before the Grand Master, praying that the officers nominated might be confirmed and a dispensation granted for holding a regular Lodge. The minutes state: The Right Worshipful Grand Master, Richard Gridley, Esq., having been waited on according to appointment, was pleased to grant a warrant to Joel Clark, Esq., appointing him first Master of American Union Lodge.
This venerable instrument which called our Lodge into existence was issued in the name of John Rowe, Grand Master, on Feb. 15, 1776, and bore the signature of Richard Gridley, Deputy Grand Master; William Burbeck, Grand Senior Warden; and William Hoskins, Grand Secretary. It was addressed to Master Brother Joel Clark. The Lodge is authorized to meet in Roxbury, or wherever it shall remove on the continent of America, provided it is where no Grand Master is appointed.
By virtue of the warrant the brethren met on February 16th, an Entered Apprentice Lodge having been opened, proceeded to elect the following subordinate officers: John Parks, Senior Warden; Thos Chase, Junior Warden; Jonathan Heart, Secretary, and Samuel H. Parsons, Treasurer.
“And each accepted and took their seats with the usual ceremonies.” Jacob Dickerson was appointed Tyler during the Lodge’s pleasure and a committee of three named to prepare a “body of laws for the regulation of this particular Lodge.” Four persons were proposed to be made Masons, three of whom were elected to receive the Entered Apprentice degree. On February 20, the organization was completed and the first Masonic work was done. The Lodge was opened in due form with the officers in their proper stations and eleven members and three visitors present. The Entered Apprentice degree was conferred and “the committee having made a report and the laws read, they were agreed to and ordered to be entered,” and a Masonic body destined to experience every vicissitude of fortune in the Revolutionary Army and finally to light the torch of brotherly love and service anew in the great Northwest was launched on its career.
These were the times that tried men’s souls. The Army was before Boston, which was held by 10,000 British troops, well equipped and well supplied, while their ships commanded the ocean….
“Gen. Washington was obliged to present a bold front but was unable to undertake any active movements or explain the reason for his inaction.” At any moment they might be attacked by the enemy and none could tell what the final outcome was to be. Amid these conditions the American Union Lodge was born.
February 20 to April 2, 1776 meetings were held in Roxbury, Massachusetts. On March 28, Grand Master John Rowe was present.
In April, 1776, the Army, having moved to New York City, a meeting was held on April 23 At Bridgewater Hall. Eleven subsequent meetings were held between that date and August 15. The Battle of Long Island brought to an end the series of convocations. Two of the brethren were killed and nine others, including the Worshipful Master, Joel Clark, were captured.
February 15, 1779, Secretary Heart issued a call for a meeting at Reading, Connecticut, April 7. Joel Clark had died in prison, and Gen. Samuel H. Parsons was chosen as Worshipful Master.
A meeting was held at Nelson’s Point, New York, June 24, 1779 at which Gen. George Washington was present. It was during this second sojourn in New York that Brother Rufus Putnam, afterwards leader of the pioneer settlement to Marietta, and eventually the first Grand Master of Ohio, was initiated, passed and raised. Brother Moses Cleaveland, who was one of the leaders of the Connecticut pioneers to northern Ohio, was made an Entered Apprentice.
During the Army’s occupation of New Jersey in the winter of 1779-80 a few meetings were held in Morristown. The meeting of December 27, celebrating the festival of St. John the Evangelist, was the largest in numbers, thirty-three members and sixty-nine visitors, including General Washington.
No record of meetings in 1781, but meetings were held at different places in New York. The last meeting was held April 23, 1783.
From now on the meetings of the Lodge were very irregular and but little Masonic work was done.
The war was over and the soldiers returned to their homes to take up the duties of peace. The Lodge had come into existence while the conflict was in its infancy and had continued to its close. Her first Master had died a prisoner. Her second, General Samuel H. Parsons, had rendered distinguished service to his country, attained the rank of Major General and was a member of the military court which had tried Major Andre. Major Heart, the third Master, enlisted in time to take an honorable part in the battle of Bunker Hill and continued in the army until he met a soldier’s death striving to rally Gen. St. Clair’s troops in the West. The members came from Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia….
More than once disaster had brought the Lodge to the brink of destruction, but it had survived and, though the brethren knew it or not, in the providence of God it was destined to light the fires of Masonry in a land which they had not seen. An interval of seven years elapsed and when the Lodge again assembled, it was to find a permanent home on the banks of the Ohio.
The little band of pioneers who landed at Marietta on April 7, 1788, and those who come after them, contained members of American Union Lodge and others of the fraternity who were anxious to erect an altar of Masonry in the wilderness. Soon this came to pass and the wandering of the Lodge had ceased. Here it was to remain, a powerful influence for good in the settlement for generations yet to come. In the words of Brother Martin R. Andrews: “The year 1790 marks the beginning of a new era in the history of American Union Lodge.” For five years it continued to be in reality a military Lodge, receiving and initiating recruits as they passed on their way to conflict. Yet the Lodge had found a permanent home. She stood at the portals of the great Northwest, and at the altar many a pioneer halted long enough to light a torch which he could bear far away into the wilderness. This, then. was the Golden Age of our history, not because it was free from trials and cares, for the whole period is full of struggles and perils. Rest is not the ideal of men who meet for the purpose of learning how to labor for the good of others. The period was truly golden in the opportunities it afforded the little group of brothers on the frontier to make their influence felt throughout a vast empire and into successive generations.”…
Jonathan Heart, third and last Worshipful Master of American Union (Army) Lodge, was mustered out of military service in December, 1783. Two years later Brother Heart, as a captain in the army raised for the protection of the western frontier, brought the Warrant of American Union Lodge to the west. In November, 1785, a detachment of troops under Major and Brother John Doughty had been sent to the mouth of the Muskingum River and there erected Fort Harmar. Under the leadership of General Rufus Putnam the Ohio Company of Associates – New England veterans of the Revolution – landed at the mouth of the Muskingum, opposite Fort Harmar, April 7, 1788, and began the settlement of Marietta, the “Plymouth Rock of the West.” Log cabins were built and a stockade, called Campus Martius, was erected as a refuge against the Indians. Such was the beginning of the first permanent settlement planted within the limits of the Northwest Territory.
On June 25, 1790, ten Brethren including Bro. Rufus Putnam, all residents of the nearby settlement of Marietta, forwarded a petition to Worshipful Bro. Heart who was stationed at Fort Harmar, requesting him to form them into a Lodge. In answer to their petition, Bro. Heart replied in part: “The Warrant (of American Union Lodge) was granted by Richard Gridley, Deputy Grand Master, whose authority extended to all points of North America where no special Grand Lodge was appointed…. It will, therefore, follow that there being no special Grand Master of this Territory, a more ample authority for holding a Lodge in this country could not be obtained.”
The first regular session of Lodge was held at Campus Martius on June 28, 1790. Its officers were: Jonathan Heart, W.M.; Benjamin Tupper, S.W.; Rufus Putnam, J.W.; Robert Oliver, Treasurer; and Anselm Tupper, Secretary. It was the first meeting of a Masonic Lodge held on Ohio soil and with one exception the first ever held in the Northwest Territory. When the By-laws of the Lodge were signed later in the year, eighty-six members attached their signatures. Still being some doubt, however, in the mind of Bro. Heart as to the regularity and recognition of the newly organized Lodge, letters were sent to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. On December 6, 1791, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts replied in part: “Your Warrant is beyond doubt a perfect and a good one….until a Grand Lodge is founded and established in your territory…l confirm your Warrant as good and perfect, as you are where no Grand Lodge is established.” On May 21, 1792, a letter was received from the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania which read in part: “It was with equal surprise and pleasure the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania received intelligence of the formation of a Lodge in the midst of the immense wilderness of the West….As the account which you have given of the origin of your warrant is perfectly satisfactory and as the succession to the Chair has been uninterrupted, your authority for renewing your work appears to be incontestable.” Thus were the Brethren assured of the right to carry on the work of the Craft in their new land.
Bro. Heart in the latter part of 1791 accompanied the ill-fated expedition of General and Bro. Arthur St. Clair against the Miami Indians. On November 4, 1790, a desperate battle was fought in what is now Mercer County in Western Ohio, with fatal consequences to the whites. Over nine hundred men and officers, including Bro. Heart, lost their lives in St. Clair’s defeat. Following the death of Bro. Heart, American Union Lodge on December 5, 1791, “resolved that the Brethren wear a Masonic badge of mourning two months as a mark of respect to the character of a person so much esteemed, both as a man and a Mason, and the one who first illuminated this part of the Western Hemisphere with the light of Masonry.”
Some years later another unfortunate circumstance occurred. On March 24, 1801, fire destroyed the Lodge hall and with it were lost its Warrant, furniture, jewels and implements. On November 7, 1803, Wor. Bro. Putnam reported that he had received a Charter from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, “renewing the rights, privileges and precedence of this Lodge as heretofore established.”
The early Masonic home of American Union Lodge is an historic matter of special interest. From the date of establishment of the Lodge until 1794, the home of Major Sergeant at Campus Martius was used. Following this date, for several years the Lodge met a different places and in many records of the Secretary the place of meeting is not given. From January until August 1800, the Lodge had met at Campus Martius, but for the remainder of the year and the early part of 1801 the meetings were held at Bowen’s Inn. After the fire of March 24th a new home was necessary and Lincoln’s Inn was secured as a temporary movement where meetings were occasionally held. From December 5, 1803 until 1810 the office of Bro. Putnam was used as the meeting place.
Ohio became a state in 1803, and Chillicothe continued to be the capitol of Ohio until 1810. Prior to the year 1810, Masonic Lodges had been established at Marietta, Cincinnati, Warren, Worthington, Zanesville and Chillicothe. These Lodges were widely separated and travel between the settlements was chiefly on horseback. It was probably at the legislative sessions at Chillicothe that discussion relative to the formation of a Grand Lodge of Ohio first took place.
Following the discussions, the initiative was taken by Erie Lodge No. 47 of Warren. At a meeting held March 11, 1807, a committee was appointed to correspond with the other Lodges then in the State. On July 6, 1807, Bro. Rufus Putnam laid before American Union Lodge a letter received from Erie Lodge requesting the assistance of American Union Lodge in forming a Grand Lodge of Ohio. Similar letters were received by the other Lodges then in the State and as a result of this correspondence representatives met a Chillicothe on January 4, 1808, in a Grand Convention. Brothers Ichabod Nye and William Skinner were chosen by ballot and represented the Lodge at the Chillicothe conference.
On January 7, 1808, the Brethren then in session took steps which led to the organization of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, F. & A. M., on which occasion a series of resolutions signifying conditions associated with membership were adopted. Bro. Rufus Putnam of American Union Lodge was chosen Grand Master and the first Grand Communication was to be held on the first Monday of the year 1809, “at whatsoever place the Legislature of Ohio shall then be in session.”
For many years all the regular business of the Lodge was conducted in the Entered Apprentice Degree, as was then usual, and a custom in vogue when under the rules of the United Grand Lodge of England. Regardless of the degree in which they labored, the roots of Masonry were firmly established in a new land and helped immeasurably in building “A Home in the Wilderness.”
For more historical facts, please contact John D. McKeever, GSol.