History of Free Masonry in Keene, New Hampshire

Keene, as is known to many through the sketches of Mr. Frank Whitcomb, has a very interesting Masonic history. A year had not elapsed after Free Masonry had been welcomed to New England before New Hampshire was blessed with its light. During the early days of Free Masonry in this country there were two Grand Lodges in Massachusetts, organized in Boston: St. Johns Grand Lodge, deriving its authority from the Grand Master of England, which held its first meeting July 30, 1733, and Massachusetts Grand Lodge, deriving its authority from the Grand Master of Scotland, which was organized December 27, 1769. Each of these Grand Lodges chartered lodges in New Hampshire, and existed side by side with varying fortunes until 1792, when a grand union took place and all distinction between Ancient and Modem Masonry were abolished. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Grand Lodge, among others, had chartered Rising Sun Lodge, No. 4, at Keene, March 5, 1784, with Asa Dunbar, Esq., as its first Master. The charter of dispensation was signed by John Warren, Most Worshipful Grand Master, Paul Revere, Deputy Grand Master, and other Masons of note, and was issued to “Daniel Jones, Asa Dunbar, Alexander Ralston, Samuel Smith, Prentice Willard, Luther Eames, Jonas Prescott, Benjamin Ellis and Josiah Goldsmith, all Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons, resident in New Hampshire.” Among the places where meetings were held may be mentioned the Phoenix Hotel, the Ralston Tavern, the hall over the brick store now the southern addition to the Eagle Hotel, and the house now occupied by George Tilden, Esq., on Court street, which was moved from Main street, near the Eagle Hotel, to its present location many years ago. The Grand Lodge of New Hampshire was organized July 8, 1789, when there were but three lodges in the state, viz.: St. Johns (1736), and St. Patricks at Portsmouth, and Rising Sun, No. 4, at Keene. This fact may account for the change in the number of Rising Sun Lodge to No. 3, on the Grand Lodge register of New Hampshire.

Rising Sun Lodge having obtained a charter from the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire, dated August 3, 1792, returned the former charter to the Massachusetts Grand Lodge at once. A copy of this charter and the “Seal of Rising Sun Lodge, No. 4, Keene,” are in the possession of Mr. Whitcomb, together with the records, which are complete from the organization of the lodge, September 8, 1784, to September 19, 1805, at which time the charter was “arrested” by the Grand Lodge in special session “at the lodge-room in Keene,” on account of the “unpardonable conduct” of some of its members. By vote of the Grand Lodge the “seal [on the charter] was probably broken and the charter destroyed” in the presence of the Grand Lodge.

June 8, 1825, James Wilson, Jr., and others obtained a charter from the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire, under the name Social Friends Lodge, No. 42, James Wilson, Jr., becoming its first Master. This lodge held regular meeting in Prentiss, now Whitcombs block, till 1829, when, on account of the Morgan excitement, which arose in western New York in 1827, and rapidly spread throughout the country, it became dormant. James Wilson, Jr., (now well remembered by all as the late General James Wilson), received the degree of E. A., August, 1818, of F. C., October, 1818, < f M. M., November, 1818, in Union Lodge, No. 5 (now No. 2), Middlebury, Vermont. Having organized Social Friends Lodge at Keene, he continued to attend the Grand Lodge, where be had previously been Junior Grand Warden and Grand Lecturer, making himself conspicuous by the valued services be rendered, and became Grand Master of Masons in New Hampshire for the year 1829, and was again chosen in 1830 and 1831, serving the craft with fidelity and zeal. About this time the records of Social Friends Lodge were destroyed by fire, in the blacksmith shop of Oliver, Heaton, who was secretary of the lodge from 1826 to 1830.

In 1856 Dr. A. S. Carpenter and others applied to the Grand Master for a charter, but were refused, on the ground that one was already outstanding. At length John Prentiss found the lost charter of 1825 among his old papers, and the lodge was again allowed to go to work. Accordingly, the first meeting was held April 9, 1856. The meetings were held in Odd Fellows Hall, Balls block, until 1860, when the lodge leased the rooms in the east end of St Johns Hall. The lodge is in a very prosperous condition to-day, and represents property to the amount of $2,000.00, and the interests of more than 190 members. The meetings have been continuous and the records are complete since 1856.

April 6, 1869, Dr. A. S. Carpenter and others were granted a dispensation, and, on June to, a charter for a new lodge in Keene, to be called Lodge of the Temple, No. 88, and Dr. Carpenter was appointed its first Master. This lodge, too, is prospering, with an increasing fund in the treasury and too members. Its meetings have been continuos and its records are complete. The rooms in St. Johns building had to he enlarged in 1868, and again in 1874, to accommodate the increasing memberships.

The other associations of Masons established in Keene are as follows:Cheshire Royal Arch Chapter No. 4, dispensation granted by Thomas Smith Webb, General Grand King of the General Grand Royal Arch Chapter, May 4, 1816, to John Prentiss and others. Also charter granted to John Prentiss and others May i, 1819, by Thomas Smith Webb, Deputy General .Grand High Priest. The charter was declared forfeited and ordered to be stricken from the Grand Chapter books June 14, 1843. the Chapter having failed to make return since 1835. It was restored October 12, 1859. Records complete since 1859.

The first grand council of Royal and Select Masters of New Hampshire was formed at Keene, July 9, 1823. See New Hampshire Sentinel of July – I I, 1823, and New Hampshire Patriot of July 21, 1823, for list of grand officers. James Wilson, Jr., is mentioned as Grand Recorder. A council was then organized and left at Keene, probably in charge of James Wilson, Jr., which has twice since become dormant.

A dispensation (lost) was granted to Edward Gustine and others, February 5, 1872, John H. Elliott becoming T. I. Master of ” St. Johns Council No. 7.” The charter bears date, May 30, 1872. It became dormant again in 1875, was re-organized January i 1, 1884, and is now in a prosperous condition, with Rev. Josiah L. Seward, of Lowell, Mass.. at its head.

Hugh de Payens Commandery, Knights Templar, No. 7, was organized by Dr. Thomas E. Hatch, September 7, 1866, and was chartered September 25, 1866, with Thomas E. Hatch, first Eminent Commander. It is to-day an influential an prosperous order.

The Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, under the authority of the Northern jurisdiction ,was organized by Dr. Thomas E. Hatch, 33d degree, under the title ” Winslow Lewis Lodge of Perfection,” with meetings for February 5, May 5, August 5, and November 5, 1870, on the Directory; but the body made no, additions to its membership and soon returned its charter to the deputy at Nashua. The Accepted Scottish Rite was established in Keene, August 7, 1884, by the Supreme Grand Council Sovereign Grand Inspector General 33d and last degree for the United States of America.

Dr. George W. Flagg, 33d degree, deputy for New Hampshire, and Frank H. Whitcomb, 33d degree, Illustrious Commander-in-Chief, with their associates, were granted a warrant of dispensation to confer the Accepted Scottish Rite in the several bodies to be called: Ashuelot Lodge of Perfection, Monadnock Council Princes of Jerusalem, Cheshire Chapter of Rose Croix, and New Hampshire Consistory. The bodies of the Rite are popular associations of Masons, both influential and prosperous.

One hundred years have passed away since the first lodge was organized in Keene. The growth and progress of the institution have given birth to nine flourishing associations which are to-day harmoniously working together, in St. Johns hall, for the promotion of the moral and social welfare of the craft.

Hurd, Duane Hamilton. History of Cheshire and Sullivan counties, New Hampshire. Philadelphia: J. W. Lewis. 1886.

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