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122 Years of Freemasonry in Dayton

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, May 24, 1931


122 Years of Freemasonry in Dayton

By Howard Burba


     When on April 7, 1788, a little band of home-seeking colonists stepped from their rough-hewn pirogues to the wooded banks of the Ohio river at a point now marked by the pretty little city of Marietta, they carried into the Northwest Territory something far more valuable than the spirit of adventure.

     Their faith in the future of the land they had but two years previously wrested from the crown was as firm as the hills over which they passed on their perilous journey to a new and a strange territory.  Their determination to carve from the wooded slopes and verdant valleys an earthly paradise at no time showed a wavering.  They had their flag, won at an awful cost at Concord and Bunker Hill and Lexington.  They had their charter of colonization issued by The Ohio Company and passed to them as they sat about their meat and drink in Boston’s famed “Boar Head Tavern.”  They had their Bible, carried over by their forefathers on the Mayflower.  They had their leader in Rufus Putnam.  And Rufus Putnam had locked within his heart and inspiring him to noble and humane purposes the secrets of Freemasonry.

     Freemasonry came to Ohio at the same moment that its first settlers arrived.  When it first came to America, no man can say.  Could Captain John Smith have honorably bared his secrets, he might have revealed that such an order was not unknown to Powhatan.  For had not roving adventurers visited America long years before the first settlement at Jamestown, and had not the old world known Freemasonry centuries before the foot of a white man had been planted in the new?

     Nobody knows how old freemasonry is.  Its own traditions invest it with great antiquity.  Its provable history begins in the Middle Ages.  It first appeared as a distinct social entity among medieval guilds of stone masons in England.  Masonic historians tell us that it differed from other trade guilds in several important respects, largely due to the fact that their calling compelled its members to travel from place to place, whereas other workmen were comparatively stationary.  It was, therefore, necessary for masons to possess secret and sure means of identifying one another.

     Masonry’s oldest existing document is a manuscript assigned to 1390 A. D., obviously a copy of still older records.  This give a legendary account of how Masonry was introduced into Britain in St. Alban’s time—the fourth century—and was widespread there one hundred years before the Norman conquest.

     The modern era of Masonry began in the first quarter of the eighteenth century, when representatives of certain old operative lodges in London formed themselves into a Grand Lodge.  That event formed a transformation in the charter of Freemasonry.  Thenceforth it was to be less and less a guild of working stone masons, and more and more a social and philosophical institution.

     Freemasonry was early introduced into the American colonies.  In 1730 the Grand Lodge of England declared New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to be a Masonic province.

     At the outbreak of the Revolution lodges were scattered through the Hudson and Mohawk valleys, and there were several in Virginia.  The original Grand Lodge disintegrated during the Revolutionary war, due to the departure for Canada of the fifth provincial Grand Master, Sir John Johnson, for Canada.  He took the warrant with him and it was necessary to secure another from England before a new organization could be formed.  This was done, however, on January 23, 1781, by lodges working in New York City.  After recognition of American independence was accorded by Great Britain, the independence of American Grand Lodges was likewise recognized by parent Grand Lodges.

     From the earliest settlement of America the fraternity grew with amazing rapidity until the outbreak of the anti-Masonic frenzy in 1826 gave it a setback from which it did not recover for twenty years.  Quite a few lodges became inactive, while many gave up their charters during that period.  It was Freemasonry’s severest test. But like every worthwhile institution in the end, it emerged triumphant, and stronger since it had been purged of the hypocritical and those frail of faith in righteous cause.

     Unlike other institutions, Freemasonry invites no person to join it ranks.  Each candidate must solicit membership of his own free will and accord.  A father who is a Mason in not permitted to invite his own son to join his own or any other lodge of Freemasons.

     It is essential to admission that each applicant profess belief in one ever living and true God.  In addition he must be freeborn, of lawful age and good repute, sound and whole of body and mind.  Membership is

restricted to men. The Grand Lodge in this state does not recognize as Masonic any organization that admits women to membership.

     Although encouraging religion and good citizenship, regular Freemasonry does not tolerate sectarian or political discussions within its lodgerooms.  Its principal aim is to promote the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God.

     A great deal of misconception prevails in the public mind as to the characteristic secrecy with which Freemasonry veils its activities from the non-Masonic world.  That secrecy applies only to the ancient forms, rites, and ceremonials by which Masons are always able to identify each other and through which the moral teachings of the craft are everlastingly impressed upon the mind.

     Save for these things, there is nothing taught in a Masonic lodge which might not with propriety be discussed in any public meeting.  But these things make for solidarity and discipline; they are approved by the experience of the ages.  They are simply instrumentalities by which Masons express their ideals of morality and brotherhood.

     Rufus Putnam, whose name must forever stand first on the list of Ohio settlers, brought freemasonry to the state.  Busying himself in directing his little band of colonists at Marietta in the erection of homes and the planting of the wilderness, his daily life followed closely the tenets of the great fraternal institution to which he belonged.  And when the home fires were burning, when peace had been made with the Red Man and the sunshine of promise was at its zenith, Rufus Putnam called about him those of his brothers who had previously been initiated into the order, and there was formed at Marietta the first lodge of Ancient and Accepted Freemasons to be instituted in the Northwest Territory.  It was known as American Union Lodge No. 1.

     It was not until 1809 that Freemasonry found its way over the rugged Ohio river hills and across the valley of the Scioto to Montgomery county.  In that year there was convened at Chillicothe a session of the Grand Lodge of Ohio.  Its delegates represented the six Masonic lodges then operative in this territory.  They were: American Union No. 1, of Marietta; Cincinnati Lodge No. 13, of Cincinnati; Scioto Lodge No. 2 of Chillicothe; New England Lodge No. 48, of Worhtington; Erie Lodge No. 47, of Warren, and Amity Lodge  No. 105, of Zanesville.  The Grand Master of that pioneer Grand Lodge was Samuel Huntington, who at the time was serving Ohio as governor. 

     By horseback, a long and tiresome journey, Masons from Dayton, Troy, Urbana and Springfield, then but struggling settlements consisting each of a few log cabins, appeared before the assemblage in Chillicothe with a request for a charter for a new lodge.  Their pleas were heard and favorably acted upon in the form of a resolution which, since it meant the sowing of the first seeds of Freemasonry in Dayton, is well worthy of reproduction here.  The dispensation reads:



     “Samuel Huntington, Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ohio, Sendeth Greetings:

     “WHEREAS, a petition has been presented to me by Brothers George F. Tennery, Samuel Shoup, Aaron Cozad, Abraham Carey, Isaac VanDusen, H. M. Curry, Jonah Baldwin, John Boardman and Samuel Simonton, all Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, praying that they, with such others as may hereafter join them, may be erected, and constituted a regular lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, to be known and called by the name of Harmony Lodge No. 9, and praying that a dispensation may be issued to the said Brethren according to the prayer of their said petition and agreeable to the regulations of the said Grand Lodge.

     “Therefore, know ye that I, the said Samuel Huntington, by virtue of the powers and authorities vested in me by the said Grand Lodge do hereby constitute, authorize and appoint our trusty and well-beloved Brethren.  George M. Tennery, to be Master; H. M. Curry to be Senior Warden and Abraham Carey to be Junior Warden of a lodge to be known as Harmony Lodge No. 9, to be held alternately in the towns of Urbana, Springfield and Dayton, in the counties of Champaign and Montgomery, in the state of Ohio.  By these presents granted them the said Master, Wardens, Subordinate Officers and Brethren our full power and authority to admit and make Freemasons according to the most ancient and honorable customs of the Royal Craft in all ages and nations throughout the known world, and not contrarywise.  To elect and install their officers according to ancient usage, and to make such rules, by-laws and regulations as they may deem expedient for the good of the craft and the government of said lodge, contravening none of the ordinances of the Grand Lodge above said.  This dispensation to be in force until a regular warrant or charter can be made and granted to said Harmony Lodge No. 9 by the authority of the said Grand Lodge.

     “Provided always that the said Brethren of Harmony Lodge No. 9 shall pay due respect to the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ohio and the rules and ordinances thereof, otherwise to be of no force or effect.

     “Given under the hand of the Most Worshipful Grand Master, countersigned by the Grand Secretary, this 24th day of June, A. D. 1809, and of Masonry 5809, and sealed with his private seal.  

    “SAMUEL HUNTINGTON,  “Grand Master.”

    “ HENRY BRUSH,  “Grand Secretary.”


     During the remainder of 1809 meetings were held alternately in the four towns.  The first record we have of a session of Harmony Lodge in Dayton was one held in the courthouse here in September of that year.  That there had been other meetings, however, is indicated by a penciled note to the effect that this was the “third stated communication.”  It is believed that the first two were held in the home of Hugh McCullom.  On Sept. 18, 1809, the lodge was convened at the residence of Samuel Simonton in Springfield when Isaac Vanmeter was installed as secretary and Samuel Robinson as treasurer.  The worshipful master, who has been named by the Grand Lodge when the charter was granted, was George Tennery, of Urbana.

     There is a record of another session two days later in Urbana, the same being held in the courthouse at that place.

         At that time it was a common occurrence for a petition for membership to be presented at a meeting in one town and ballot had and the degrees conferred in another.   As this was prior to any such conveniences as railroads, or even stagecoaches, it was quite a labor for the master to travel from place to place to hold meetings.  In view of that fact, at a stated communication in Springfield on December 9, 1809, a resolution was favored requesting the Grand Lodge to divide Harmony Lodge No. 9 into separate bodies that there might be one lodge for Dayton and Troy and another for Urbana and Springfield.

     On the 5th day of January, 1810, the division was sanctioned.  It was not, however, until 1812 that the lodges were renumbered, and at that time Harmony was officially designated as No. 8, the newly constituted body serving Dayton and Troy being christened St. Johns Lodge No. 9.

     The charter members of St. Johns, oldest Masonic body in Dayton, and from which has sprung the seven other Blue Lodges in the city, were: Samuel Shoup, George Grove, Aaron Cozad, Jerome Holt, Hugh McCullum, William Smith, John Cox and David Steele.

     While George Tennery was the first Worshipful Master of the lodge, and he was succeeded by Alexander Ewing, the honor of being the first to hold that office after its division into two separate and distinct lodges belongs to Charles Smith.  He occupied this, the highest chair in a Masonic Blue Lodge, for five years, being succeeded in 1813 by Aaron Cozad.

     Looking back over the rolls of this pioneer institution of long and honorable history one has, in a way, a directory of the substantial families of early Dayton.  The very progress of the city itself can be read in the names here to be found, men who loomed large in the civic, religious, political and business life of Dayton.

     While St. Johns received its dispensation in 1812, at a time when the country was engaged in a war to which this section contributed most heroically, it was not until two whole years had elapsed before the membership roll had swelled to a score of names.  Two years after St. Johns was christened the total membership was 24.  For some years now the membership has not fallen below 1,000.

     Dayton Lodge No. 147, also entitled to be classed as a pioneer since its charter was granted on August 21, 1847, was the first offshoot from old St. Johns.  John Sayre was its first Worshipful Master.  Then for a period of 21 years Dayton was the home of but two Blue Lodges of Masonry.  In 1868, however, the Civil Was a matter of history, peace having settled over the land and reconstruction being well under way the wisdom of forming still another Blue Lodge was apparent.  To that end a little scattering of members from both St. Johns and Dayton Lodges sought and were granted permission to petition the state Grand Lodge for a charter for Mystic Lodge No. 405.  Christian G. Emerick was Mystic’s first Worshipful Master.

     Since that time five other Blue Lodges have received dispensations.  They are, in order, Stillwater Lodge No. 616, instituted June 3, 1912; Horace A. Irvin Lodge No. 647, charter granted Oct. 15, 1919; Aero Lodge No 1648, charter granted Oct. 16, 1919; Miami Valley Lodge No. 660, chartered Oct. 12, 1920; Conservancy Lodge No. 661, chartered in the same year and month.

     It is a long step from the landing of that little handful of pioneers on the wooded slopes of the Ohio river at Marietta to the magnificent temple in which Masonry is enshrined on the banks of the great Miami. It has been marked by sacrifices, by discouragements, by tests of loyalty and fidelity that tried men’s souls.  But it has been a well-earned victory.

     Surely as the members of this ancient and honorable body pause at the threshold of their temple to gaze back across the housetops of their home city toward those wooded slopes of the Ohio at Marietta, they must find an inspiration that passeth understanding.  Back along the trail blazed by Freemasonry through the hills and across the valleys, on and on toward the land of the setting sun, they view the handiwork of those who builded as the Master architect of the Universe willed. They have come with their faith unshattered and hopes undimmed from the temple of Solomon to this of their own handiwork.  Their hearts are gladdened by their own good deeds as they journey on to still another temple—the one not made by hands.