Address Before Kershaw Lodge

No. 29, A\F\M\

Of Camden, South Carolina

By: Wilmot G. DeSaussure,


June 24th, 1876 

To deliver an address upon Free masonry, my brethren and friends, would seem to be but the repetition of a so often told tale as to pall upon the ear, and to trite to awaken any interest in the public mind. Such will not be the case with you, my brethren of the Craft, who knowing well the deep meaning contained within its symbolism, are ever ready to lend an attentive hearing to whosoever seeks to further elucidate its teachings. From you, therefore, I will have a patient audience while endeavoring to show, among other things, why the Feasts of the St. John are selected as symbolic days. Scarcely, however, dare I hope to excite in you, my unmasonic friends, any greater interest than the languid natural desire to hear one who has never before addressed you. Bear with me, however, a little, and upon even so apparently threadbare a subject, it may chance that some words may be uttered which will engage your attention, and cause you to leave this assemblage with other sentiments than those which induced you to honor me with your presence. Perchance some phase may be presented, which will lead you to believe that Masonry does not consist in mere idle forms and ceremonies; is no assumed mysticism, wherewith to allure the uninitiated, but contains within itself the germ of a profound philosophy, and is the advocate and teacher of high and noble purposes. You may be induced to believe that if correctly and sufficiently understood, it will deserve to be appreciated and venerated by all whose desire is to ameliorate the condition of mankind, and to forward the time ardently desired by the ancient prophets of the Hebrew faith, and chanted by the angelic choir of the Christian dispensation, “on earth, peace, good will towards men.” I would be utterly untrue to the lesson derived from a life’s association with pure and gentle women, and recreant to the faith in true womanhood drawn from such associations, did I not feel assured, my fair hearers, that if you are persuaded such is the true mission of Masonry, you will be henceforth deeply interested in all which pertains to it.

Of the origin of Free Masonry we are necessarily ignorant. Whether it is a child of the eighteenth century, or whether its birth was in centuries long anterior, it is now impracticable to say. In the British manuscripts upon the subject, as published in the Fabric Rolls, and cited by that eminent Masonic antiquary, Brother William James Hughan, it would appear as if its existence could be clearly traced as early as 1352. And in the Harleian, Sloane, and Lansdowne manuscripts, also quoted by the same eminent authority, the origin is said to be in ages long prior to that time. Without being presumptuous enough to express an opinion, where others so much more qualified to judge are in doubt, it is yet not audacious to say that a fair inference of its antiquity may be drawn from all the authorities cited. So jealous were those in whose custody we first find it, in the preservation of its secrecy, that silence and darkness shroud it. At this lapse of time, we are unable to lift the veil, or penetrate its hidden recesses.

In this aspect alone, I desire to read to you the following passage from the learned Hebrew historian, Josephus: It probably has no reference whatsoever to Masonry, on the part of the author, and possibly is merely a singular coincidence, but as connected with the wisdom and skill which according to such legends, were required for the building of the Temple at Jerusalem, upon the threshing floor which David, King of Israel, had purchased of Ornan, the Jebustie, when the pestilence brought upon his people was stayed by the Angel of the Lord standing thereby, it at least gives food for thought. In his book against Apion, Josephus says: “They say further, that Solomon, when King of Jerusalem, sent problems to Hiram to be solved, and desired that he would send others back for him to solve, and that he who could not solve the problems proposed to him, should pay money to him that solved them. And when Hiram had agreed to the proposals, but was not able to solve the problems, he was obliged to pay a great deal of money as a penalty for the same. As also they relate, that one Abdemon, a man of Tyre, did solve the problems, and propose others, which Solomon could not solve, upon which he was obliged to repay a great deal of money to Hirman.” The Mason may find in this passage a new suggestion relative to the plans which he is informed were daily laid down for the workmen engaged in the construction of Solomon’s Temple. So, also, in the discoveries of late years by the scientific explorations made in and around Jerusalem, he may find either singular coincidences in some of the things thus brought to light, or he may be led to believe that the legends are distorted traditions of actual occurrences. No general reader of history can have failed to remark that not only in all of the Aryan families of the earth, but also among almost all the peoples who inhabit it, there are vague traditions, finally becoming mythologies, of a creation, a deluge, a re-peopling: all of which contained in legends applicable to that particular people among whom it is found, as constituting them the progenitors of mankind as now existing.

In a dissertation on the origin of all the Rites of Masonry known, said to be translated from a French author, we read: “The cradle of Masonry is placed by the most judicious historians in that country which was first inhabited, namely the plateau of Tartary, and it is said that it was transmitted to us by the sages of India, Persia, Ethiopia, and Egypt. In immeasurable antiquity, according to Indian monuments, the sages sought for light on the banks of the Ganges, and in the beautiful countries of Hindostan. Their doctrines were simple, and freed from every sort of all worlds, which guarded his work, and caused reproduction to spring from destruction. It spread through Persia, taken up by Zoroaster, cultivated by the Magi, it altered as everything in this world alters. Ethiopia received the Brahmins and their doctrines Followed by a throng of his compatriots; Osiris came down from the mountains of Ethiopia, and by a most glorious conquest rendered barbarian Egypt subservient to his laws, giving it the precious gifts of civilization.

These benefactors of the human race thought that it was impossible to impact pure light to uncultivated nations; they therefore disguised this truth under emblems, which the multitude took literally, and which had its worshippers in the temple of Sais, of Thebes, of Heliopolis, and in magnificent Memphis. From this sprang two religion of lettered people, who contemn these objects, or only regard them as allegorical symbols, under whose veil are hidden moral truths or great effects of nature. Among the initiated of Memphis, were men found who possessed great influence over the fate of the world.”  Our Illustrious Brother Rev. Dr. Frederick Dalcho, a good and true man, a devout Christian, and one who, by the rectitude of his life, and the benevolence of his heart, evinced that he was a firm believer in the religious persuasion to which he belonged, and at the same time an earnest and studious Mason, thus speaks: “I have no doubt but that our society was originally formed by the votaries of religion and science, for the purpose of concentrating the wisdom of the times, and of securing and perpetuating to future ages, the fruits of their ingenuity and labor; the few individuals whose minds were illuminated by the first emanations of science, were viewed by the ignorant multitude with an eye of jealousy and distrust. To secure their labor from interruption and themselves from calumny and reproach, the primitive philosophers associated together for the cultivation of the arts and sciences.  Enveloped with the veil of mystery, and secure from vulgar eyes, they were occupied with reasoning on the wonderful operations of nature, and the divine attributes of nature’s God. Emerging from the ignorance and blindness in which they had been overwhelmed, they traced the divinity through the walks of his power and his mighty deeds. Contemplation, at first, went forth admiring, but yet without comprehension from whence all things had their existence. Contemplation returned, glowing with conviction, that one, great, original, of infinite power, of infinite intelligence, and of benevolence without bounds, was the master of all. The opposition which was given by idolatrous nations to the religion of the most High God, and the persecutions and barbarous sufferings which his worshippers received from the hands of the infidels, were, most probably, other powerful reasons for the establishment of secret societies, wherein they could profess themselves to be worshippers in that temple whose bounds were from the distant quarters of the universe and where they could adore the author of their being without fear and without danger.” And our Illustrious Brother Albert Pike, one of the most learned Masons of the world, if not the most learned heart; whose learning has illumined so wonderfully all to which he has applied himself, and whose Masonic writings command the respect and admiration of all Masons, whether in America or in Europe, who are privileged with their reading; a man, whom to know is to love, writes thus: “These truths were covered from the common people as with a veil, and the mysteries were carried into every country that, without disturbing the popular beliefs, truth, the arts, and the sciences might be known to those who were capable of understanding them, and maintaining the true doctrine incorrupt. Though Masonry is identical with the ancient mysteries, it is so in a qualified sense. Each people, at all informed, had its mysteries. After a time the temples of Greece and the school of Pythagoras lost their reputation, and Free Masonry took their place.” Fortified by opinions such as these, you will not be surprised, my friends, that I profess my belief in the great antiquity of Masonry. If these authorities carry to your minds, my brethren of the craft, the convictions that they have brought to mine, you will unite with me in greater veneration for so time honored an institution. While I will indulge the hope that when the character and purposes of Masonry are told, you, my brethren, will regard it with even greater love than you now do, and you, my friends, will look upon it as an institution to be cherished and supported.

Assuming, then that Masonry owes its origin to the ancient mysteries, it is a pertinent inquiry, where did such mysteries originate, where did they go, and what did they teach? In his chips from a German workshop, Max Muller expressively says: “The history of distant ages and distant men, apparently so foreign to our modern interests, assumes a new charm as soon as we know that it tells us the story of our own race, of our own family, nay, of our own selves."  

Archbishop Whately, in his lectures on Political Economy, in discussing the subject of civilization, observes, “According to the present course of nature, the first introduction of civilization among savages is, and must be, man in a more improved state; in the beginning, therefore, of the human race, this, since there were no means to effect it, must have been the work of another being. There must have been, in short, a revelation made to the first, or to some subsequent generations of our species, and the miracle (for such it is, as being an impossibility, according to the present course of nature,) is attested, independently of the authority of Scripture, and consequently in confirmation of the Scripture accounts, by the fact that civilized man exists at the present day.”

Before, however, proceeding to it, I desire to use the language of Brother Albert Pike, as showing what that belief was, as its eloquent simplicity is far more expressive than any words in which I could couch it. Listen, then, to him; “Forever, in all nations, ascending to the remotest antiquity to which the light of history, or the glimmerings of tradition reach, we find seated above all the Gods which represent the luminaries and the elements, and those which personify the innate powers of universal nature, a still higher Deity, silent, undefined, incomprehensible, the Supreme, one God, from whom all the rest flow or emanate, or by Him are created. God made man in his own likeness; he communicated to him knowledge of the nature of his Creator, and of the pure, primitive, undefiled religion. He stamped his own image upon man’s soul. That image has been in the breast of every individual man and of mankind in general, greatly altered, impaired, and defaced; but its old, half-obliterated characters are still to be found on all the pages of primitive history. Of the original revelation to mankind, of the primitive word of Divine truth, we find clear indications and scattered traces in the sacred traditions of all the primitive nations. Although amid the ever growing degeneracy of mankind, this primeval word of revelation was falsified by the admixture of various errors, and overlaid and obscured by numberless and manifold fictions, inextricably confused, and disfigured almost beyond the power of recognition, still a profound inquiry will discover in heathenism many luminous vestiges of primitive truth. For the old heathenism had everywhere a foundation in truth.”

If then I am asked what is Free Masonry my reply is, in the language of its monitorial books, “a beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.” Do not be misled by what I have previously said, into believing that either any other conscientious Masons, or I think that it is a religion, or a rival of religion, or an antagonist of religion. It is neither the one nor the other. Just the reverse; every good Mason will be a better Mason for being a conscientious observer of the particular religious creed to which his faith has led him. But I will also add that every good religious man will be a better man for being a conscientious Mason. I again resort to the language of Brother Albert Pike: “To every Mason there is a God, one supreme, infinite in goodness, wisdom, foresight, justice and benevolence; creator, disposer and preserver of all things. How or by what intermediates he creates and acts, and in what way he unfolds and manifests himself, Masonry leaves to creed and religion to inquire. Thus Masonry disbelieves no truth and teaches unbelief in no creed, except so far as such creed may lower its lofty estimate of the Deity, degrade him to the level of the passions of humanity, deny the high destiny of man, impugn the goodness and benevolence of the Supreme God, strike at the great columns of Masonry, Faith, Hope, and Charity, or inculcate immorality, and disregard of the active duties of the Order. There is no pretence to infallibility in Masonry. It is not for us to dictate to any man what he shall believe. In its idea of rewarding a faithful and intelligent workman by conferring upon him a knowledge of the true word, masonry has perpetuated a very great truth, because it involves the proposition that the idea which a man forms of God, is always the most important element in his speculative theory of the Universe, and in his particular plan of action for the Church, the State, the community, the family, and his own individual life.

The first Lodges in this country were established, so far as is known positively, sometime in the decade from 1726 to 1736, but it is still in doubt in which of those years the earliest Lodge was warranted and established. We in Charleston was warranted in 1735, and at or about the same time any Lodge in either of the above named States can prove a warrant of earlier date, then, necessarily, it is entitled to the honors of seniority. In 1737 a Provincial Grand Lodge was in existence. Some interruption in the continuance of this Grand Lodge appears to have taken place, for a revival of it occurred in 1754, since which a Grand Lodge has been in continued existence in South Carolina. Prior to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Sir Egerton Leigh, viz: on 19th June, 1774, then Grand Master, dissatisfied with the politics of the Province, and holding to his allegiance to England, left the country. In 1777 the Grand Lodge declared itself independent of its provincial character, and took the title of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of South Carolina, and Colonel Barbard Elliott was elected first Grand Master of Masons of South Carolina. In 1877, therefore, the Grand Lodge of this State will have completed its centennial, having an unbroken existence, except as interrupted by the falling of Charleston into the hands of the British. After the close of the war of the Revolution, a number of Lodges were organized under the authority of the Athol, or York Grand Lodge of England, and a Grand Lodge, designated as that of the Ancient York Masons, was formed. Between the real Grand Lodge and this there was much of rivalry and jealousy. In 1808 a union took place through the exertions of good men and Masons of both organizations. It lasted, however, but for a short time, since some of the more zealous, if less wise, of the Ancient York Constitution refused to remain. This was not reconciled until 1817, when the judicious counsels of the same brethren, or nearly the same, who had brought about the union of 1808, again prevailed, and a firm union was established, and the united Grand Lodge took the name of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina. How this our common mother has thriven, you, my brethren, are witnesses. At the union, in 1817, an article was adopted declaring “Pure Ancient Masonry to consist of three degrees, and no more, Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch. Up to the earlier years of the present century the Royal Arch Degree was conferred under the sanction of the Master Mason’s Lodges. The records, still preserved, of some of the Lodges in this State, contain minutes of the conference of such degree. Towards the close of the last century, separate organizations, in the form of Chapters, were constituted for the conferring of the Capitulator Degrees, and the Lodges began to give those degrees up. The earliest Royal Arch Chapter organized in this State was in 1805, but the degrees were conferred in Lodges, and especially in the interior of the State, up to 1813. The degrees of Cryptic Masonry in this State, and probably in the United States, were first conferred in the Sublimed Grand Lodge of Perfection, A\ and A\S\Rite, at Charleston, in February, 1`783. And by far the large number of Councils now existing in this State were warranted by the Supreme Council, 33°, A\S\Rite of the Southern Jurisdiction. The control over these degrees in the jurisdictions embraced in the geographical territory of that Supreme Council was not finally given up until about 1866. Temporal Masonry in South Carolina was introduced in 1780; and South Carolina Commandery, No. 1, of Knights Templar, at Charleston, is now the representative of the body in which such degrees were first given; with only occasional interruption, such Commandery has continued to work from that period to the present time. It is probably the oldest Commandery in the United States. The A\and A\S\Rite was introduced in 1778, and established by a Sublime Grand Lodge of Perfection, at Charleston, in December, 1782: there is some doubt whether the rite was not introduced at Albany, New York, in 1777. And a Supreme Council 33° of that Rite was organized at Charleston, on 31st May 1801. Such Supreme Council is the oldest Supreme Council of the world, and is designated as the Mother Council; its Orient is still at Charleston. On the Continent of Europe, the majority of the Lodges working the symbolic degrees, work according to the A\ and A\S\ Rite; in the United States, the Supreme Councils have refused to interfere with the symbolic degrees, or issue warrants for Lodges to work such degrees. It is of consequence to the Master Masons of the United States to understand the work as used on the Continent of Europe, and probably steps will be taken to instruct the Masons of South Carolina therein. This is a brief epitome of our general Masonic history.

Brethren of Kershaw Lodge, your particular history extends back to about 1815. At that time a Warrant of Constitution was granted by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of South Carolina to Kershaw Lodge, and to it was assigned the No. 55. After the union of the two Grand Lodges, its number was changed to 29. It has had an unbroken continuance of over sixty years. You, and the community in which you live, know better than I do who have been its members, and what assurance such membership has given that “our Order is good, and our calling honorable.” The participation in 1825, by that distinguished man and Brother, General LaFayette, with the members of Kershaw Lodge, in laying the corner-stone of the DeKalb monument in this town, is of itself a sufficient evidence that “our Order could not have existed for so long a series of ages,” unless it had been patronized by such illustrious men. You have my brethren, another and striking illustration with you this day of what has been said of the character of Masonry. Three years ago, Kershaw Lodge gave to South Carolina, as its Grand Master of Masons, that pure man, gallant soldier, earnest patriot, General Joseph Brevard Kershaw, whose name is identified with the current history of this State. During an intimate acquaintance with him of over thirty years, I have never known from his lips other than words of charity towards his brother man. The identification of such a man with Masonry, is the surest guaranty to every South Carolinian of the high and noble purposes of the institution.

Your patience, I fear my hearers, has been exhausted, and you have wearied with hearing the words of others. But I have been unwittingly led on to this length, by the interest which I have myself felt in the subject, and from a profound and conscientious sense of the benefit which I have personally derived from pursuing Masonic studies. Ever as I have ascended from step to step in the various degrees, has there come to me a greater humility; a more earnest desire to discharge the duties which life had laid upon me, and a more conscientious faith in the charity and love of my great Master. And I can tell of the mission of Masonry in no words so strong, as is contained in the following eloquent language of General Albert Pike: “It is not possible to create a true and genuine Brotherhood upon any theory of the baseness of human nature. There can be no genuine Brotherhood without mutual regard, good opinion and esteem, mutual charity, and mutual allowance for faults and failings. It is those only who learn habitually to think better of each other, to look habitually for the good that is in each other, and expect, allow for, and overlook the evil, who can be brethren, one of the other, in any true sense of the word.”

How would you be,

If He, which is the top of judgement, should

But judge as you do? O, think on that,

And mercy then will breathe within your lips,

Like man new made.

                                            Measure For Measure

 24th June, 1876


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