The Masonic Writings of Ill Frederick Dalcho

A Founder Of The Supreme Council, 33°

By: McDonald "Don" L. Burbidge, 32°, K.C.C.H.

In addition to helping found the Supreme Council, 33°, Brother Dalcho made many literary contributions to Freemasonry.

Brother Frederick Dalcho is well known as a founder on May 31, 1801, of the Supreme Council, 33°, in Charleston, South Carolina, a bicentennial the Scottish Rite will be celebrating by holding its Biennial Session in Charleston in October 2001. Few, however, are familiar with the literary contributions he made to Freemasonry throughout his life, contributions that helped foster the growth and development of both the Craft and the Rite in America.

The impetus for Brother Dalcho's first literary contribution to Masonry came on May 31, 1801, when he and Colonel John Mitchell, founding Sovereign Grand Commander of our Order, organized the first meeting of the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry at Shepheard's Tavern in Charleston, South Carolina. During this session, a resolution was adopted stating that Brothers Frederick Dalcho, Isaac Auld, and Emanuel De La Motta, Esq., would draft and submit a report to the Supreme Council for the next meeting. This report was to cover the subject of Free and Accepted Masons of all Degrees, Ancient and Modern. At the next meeting, they submitted the report, "Circular throughout the Two Hemispheres," agreeing to have it published and sent to all corners of the world. It announced the establishment of the Supreme Council in Charleston, South Carolina, and included a history of Freemasonry.

In the "Circular," Brother Dalcho suggested an origin for the term Freemason, saying the word Mason derives from Greek and literally means a member of group professedly devoted to the worship of the Deity. According to his suggestion, the use of the prefix free may have come from the time of the Crusades, when every man engaged in the expedition was required to have been born free and under no vassalage or subjection. The term accepted, Dalcho asserted, derived from indulgences the Pope granted to all those who would confess their sins and join in the enterprise for the recovery of the Holy Land. 

Then, on September 23, 1801, Brother Dalcho delivered his first "Oration" to the "Sublime Grand Lodge" located in Charleston, South Carolina. In his opening statement, he stated, "The duty of this evening, to which I am called by the honor of your appointment, is a task infinitely more important, and arduous, than my feeble abilities are equal to: And nothing but the high respect I have for the Society, which have [sic] honored me with the appointment [as Chaplain], could have induced me to have accepted it."

In 1806, members of the "Illustrious College of Knights of K. H. and of the Original Chapter of Prince Masons of Ireland" took notice of the orations delivered by Dr. Dalcho in 1801 and 1803. It directed John Fowler to contact Bro. Dalcho, and on October 17, 1806, Bro. Fowler wrote for permission to reprint Dalcho's orations. Dalcho replied four months later expressing his gratification at the request and readily acceding to it.

Illustrious Dalcho began his early career as an army doctor, receiving his medical degree in 1790, but toward the end of the first decade of the nineteenth century, he showed an increasing interest in the affairs of the church and devoted himself to theological studies. During this period, his religious involvement manifested itself in his Masonic service.

In 1807, the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons and that of Ancient York Masons of South Carolina united under the name of "The Grand Lodge of Ancient Freemasons of South Carolina." At the first Annual Communication, Brother Dalcho was elected Grand Chaplin. After the installation of Grand Lodge officers, a procession was formed and paraded to St. Michael's church where Rev. Brother Dalcho delivered the service.

He based his sermon on the text John 12:36, "While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light," and remarked that Freemasonry, like the "Religion of the Redeemer," is eminently calculated to dispense "peace on earth, and good will towards men." If the moral and religious state of the community in which it flourishes is not increased and refined by its influence, the failing must be charged to individuals and not to the principles of the institution. The general application of Masonry's principles and practice to the spiritual and temporal welfare of men cannot be doubted. It binds its members by the strongest sanctions "to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly before God" and to "love the Brotherhood." During his tenure as Grand Chaplain, Brother Dalcho faithfully performed his duties and, for many years, delivered a public address or sermon on the Festival of St. John the Evangelist.

Aside from being honored as an outstanding clergyman, Brother Dalcho was also regarded as a lawgiver and peacemaker. In 1807, for instance, Dr. Frederick Dalcho published his first Ahiman Rezon under the sanction of the Grand Lodge of Ancient

York Masons of South Carolina. Much ink has been spilled regarding the meaning of this title, though the nature of the book is clear. Masonic scholar A. G. Mackey, who traced the words to Hebrew origins, said they meant "Will of Selected Brethren."

The Grand Lodge of Virginia interpreted the words as meaning "Law of Prepared Brothers." Brother Dalcho, however, interpreted the words as "Secrets of a Prepared Brother." Later writers, such as W. S. Rockwell, used the terms "Royal Builder," meaning "Freemason." In any case, it is a Book of Constitutions stating the statutes and customs of the Order. It is not "secret," but published and available to all interested parties. Some American Grand Lodges to this day still apply this term to their Constitutions. 

On December 27, 1817, Dalcho, as Grand Chaplain, delivered a sermon before the Grand Lodge of Ancient Freemasons of South Carolina at St. Michael's Church in Charleston. Again, as in 1807 a decade earlier his sermon's text was John 12:36. Dalcho remarked: May "the light of the everlasting Gospel burn in your hearts with a pure and steady flame, guiding your footsteps unto all righteousness, and directing your conduct in every scene and condition of life." 

Then in 1821, he was requested to prepare a second edition of the Ahiman Rezon, which was published the following year and included many useful notes. This work was at once adopted by the Grand Lodge of South Carolina as its Book of Constitutions. In the book's opening pages, Dalcho provided the reader with his personal beliefs regarding Masonry:

"Freemasonry comprehends within its circle every branch of useful knowledge and learning, and stamps an indelible mark of pre-eminence on its genuine professors, which neither chance, power, nor fortune can bestow. When its rules are strictly observed, it is a sure foundation of tranquility amidst the various disappointments of life. It is a friend that will not deceive, but will comfort and assist us in prosperity and adversity." 

In 1823, after many years of faithful service, Brother Dalcho wrote a letter of resignation to the Grand Lodge of South Carolina. It is perhaps his best-known document and explains how Freemasonry influenced his life: "Freemasons are under stronger sanctions than other men are; and, therefore, that more is required of Freemasons than of others. His heart tells him that man lives not for himself alone; that he is surrounded by human beings who, perhaps, his opinions and example may, in some wise, injure or improve. He feels an accountability resting upon him, which controls his passions and regulates his conduct. He considers himself as a light to the world, to guide the wayfaring man through the journey of life; and to lead him to the temple, 'not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.'... Then ought they not to show, in their lives and actions, the happy influence of Masonic principles over worldly feelings and personal considerations, and be an example for the imitation of others? Unquestionably, my Brethren, they ought. And, to the honor of the Craft be it recorded, that they are many, and, I trust, very many, who are strictly governed by the principles they profess."

In the latter part of his life, Brother Dalcho dedicated himself to religious writing, helping to establish a monthly journal, The Charleston Gospel Messenger and Protestant Episcopal Register. Although Brother Frederick Dalcho passed away on November 24, 1836, the lives he touched through his addresses, sermons, and the other writings he left behind will continue to inspire others for generations to come. A Founder Of The Supreme Council, 33°A Founder Of The Supreme Council, 33°. 

  “Reprinted with permission of the Scottish Rite Journal, October, 2002”

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