Charleston Free Masons

By: Illustrious McDonald “Don” Burbidge, 33º


NOTE:  THE LECTURE THAT WAS NOT TO BE.  Don was scheduled to give the presentation below (see SLIDES) at the College of Charleston (SC); however, several days prior to the event, he had to cancel.  No further explanation will be given on this website at this time.  Below are the SLIDES from Don's presentation.


Before we start tonight’s talk I would like to say that I am very honored to have been asked to talk to you on the subject of FreeMasonry in Charleston, SC. 

I will be providing you with a glimpse of a few of the early lodges along with a few of the Societies that were established in Charleston that included many masons in their rolls of membership.   


Masonry's only secrets are in its methods of recognition and of symbolic instructions. Its principles and aims have never been secret. A lodge is sometime referred to as a, “BLUE LODGE,” which is a term over the years meaning the three degrees of the lodge. The three degrees are the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and a Master Mason. In the early years, Master Masons wore blue lined aprons. Blue is symbolic of perfection, benevolence, truth, universal friendship, fidelity.  

Making a man a “Mason on Sight.” This event is at a Grand Master's prerogative, some constitutional requirement is set aside and a man is made a Master Mason without waiting or instruction between degrees.  


General Charles Pelot Summerall in 1934 had made his intentions known about becoming a Mason to the Grand Master of South Carolina. Soon after this he became a Mason on Sight on May 3, 1934 at Pythagorean Lodge No. 21, A.F.M. Those in attendance were from the various lodges of the city and throughout the state, the Grand Master, Past Grand Masters of this great state, and representatives of the armed forces.  


Almost 274 years ago the first documented mason arrived in Charles Town sometime in 1730; his name was Brother Thomas Whitemarsh. Brother Whitemarsh was an apprentice of Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia and also a member of St. John’s Lodge. On January 8, 1731 he published his first, “Gazette,” newspaper in Charles Town which became the eighth paper established in America.  

It should also be mentioned that Brother Benjamin Franklin was at one time the Grand Master of Pennsylvania Masons and was one of the 13 signers of the Constitution of the United States that was a Mason.   

During 1730 Dr. John Lining arrived in Charles Town at the tender age of 22 having just graduated from the Edingburg University of Medicine. Dr. Lining was the first doctor to shuck off some of the conventional medical practices of his contemporaries. He began, for instance, to let light, sunshine and fresh air into the rooms of his patients where the common practice of the day dictated the close darkness and stale air of a sick room. With his encouragement, the more healthful attitude of the sick began to take shape. He later on wrote the first paper that described, “yellow fever,” along with many more important papers. He also experimented with electricity and discussed his finding with Brother Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia. Due to his experiments with lighting bolts Charles Town houses erected lightening rods on their houses to reduce the damage causes by a lightening bolt hitting it during a storm.  

Brother John Lining was a member of Solomon’s Lodge No. 1 in Charles Town. The date he became a Mason is not known due to the many fires that destroyed the documents and buildings of the city. 

The early history, lodge minutes proceedings, and records of South Carolina Masonry were destroyed due to the destruction of fires and storms that have been documented in Charleston throughout the history of this great city. What information we do know of the history of the early years of Masonry we owe to the eminent Brethren, Frederick Dalcho and Albert G. Mackey. These two men have preserved the history of Freemasonry in South Carolina with the intentions that future generations would be able to learn from their writings.   


The first lodge to be charter in Charles Town was Solomon’s Lodge No. 1 which received its warrant from Lord Weymouth, the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England, in 1735. It bore the No. 45 on the registry of England, but that of No.1 on the provincial registry. The Lodge held their first meeting on Thursday evening October 28, 1736, under the following officers: John Hammerton, W.M., Thomas Denne, S.W., and Thomas Harbin, J.W. Solomon’s Lodge established itself in Charleston at Sheppheard’s Tavern that was located at the corner of Broad and Church Street.  


On August 20, 1737 appears in the, “South Carolina Gazette,” the following account,  “On Thursday night last (18th August) at the Solomon’s Lodge in Charles Town, a deputation from the Right Worshipful and Right Honorable John, Earl of Loundon, constituting and appointing a Provincial Grand Master of South Carolina, was read, when James Graeme, Esq., the present Grand Master of the said Province, proposed James Wright, Esq., to be Master of Solomon’s Lodge, which was unanimously agreed to by the Lodge.         

On the anniversary meeting of Solomon’s Lodge No. 1, on December 28, 1738 the South Carolina Gazette paper printed the following announcement: 

“The day was ushered in with firing of guns at sunrise from several ships in the Harbor, with all their colors flying. At 9 o'clock all the members of Solomon’s Lodge, belonging to the Ancient and Honorable Order of Free and Accepted Masons, met at the house of Honorable James Crokatt, Esq., Master of the said Lodge. At 10, proceeded from thence, properly clothed with the Ensigns of their Order, and Music before them, to the house of the Provincial Grand Master, James Graeme, Esq., where a Grand Lodge was held.  At 11 o’clock, the Lodge went in procession to Church to attend Divine Service, and in the same order returned to the house of Mr. Charles Shepheard, where, in the Court-Room, to a numerous assembly of ladies and gentlemen, the newly elected Provincial Grand Master made a very eloquent speech of the usefulness of Societies, and the benefit arising therefrom to mankind. The assembly having been dismissed, Solomon’s Lodge proceeded to the election of their officers for the ensuing year, when Mr. John Houghton was chosen Master; Dr. John Lining, Senior Warden; Mr. David McClellan, Junior Warden; Mr. Arthur Strahan, Secretary, and Mr. Alexander Murrary, Treasurer. After an elegant dinner, Capt. Thomas White invited all brethren on board the Hope. There several loyal health’s were drank, and at their coming on board and return to shore, they were saluted by the discharge of 39 guns, being the same number observed in each of the different salutes of this day, so that in all there were about 250 guns fired. The evening was concluded with a ball and entertainment for the ladies, and the whole was performed with much grandeur and decorum.”


The Sons of Liberty at times would hold their meeting’s under a live oak tree in the pasture of Mr. Mazyck’s property, which they named on October 1,1768,  “The Liberty Tree.” Under this tree Christopher Gadsden first advocated colonial independence in 1766, and where 10 years later the Declaration of Independence was first heard and applauded by South Carolinians. Christopher Gadsden and his fellow revolutionaries, who led public meetings protested the British Stamp Act and later the Tea Tax under this tree.  

George Flagg drew up the list of people at the meeting at the Liberty Tree, in 1766. These meetings at the Liberty Tree were public meetings and continued as such during the Revolutionary period. In the South Carolina Gazette the following account was published about a meeting held by the “Club 45” members. 

“About 5 o’clock they all removed to a most noble “LIVE OAK” tree, in Mr. Mazyk’s pasture, which they formally dedicated to LIBERTY, where many loyal, patriotic, and constitutional toasts were drank, beginning with the glorious “NINETY-TWO” Anti-Rescinds of Massachusetts-Bay, and ending with, unanimity among the members of our ensuing Assembly not to rescind from the said resolution (to boycott England), each succeeded by three huzzahs. 


Again on May 31, 1773 printed in the, South Carolina Gazette,” we find the following announcement: 

“The Marine Lodge of Masons, which is the “Junior” in this Town, is the First that is possessed of a Lodge Room, having lately purchased a very convenient one.”

                                                    The South Carolina Gazette

                                                          May 31, 1773


It was from Lodge Alley that Charlestonians openly defied the British government in the early days before the Revolutionary War. On November 7, 1777, as a means of protesting the harsh treatment shown to Boston, Charleston’s Sons of Liberty Boys met in the Masonic Lodge-Room in Lodge Alley and constructed a “rolling stage” or parade float. Upon it effigies of the Pope, the Devil, Lord North, and Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts and floated it in the Bay.  

At the Grand Communication of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of AYM of Pennsylvania a petition signed by Brother Edward Weyman, Brother David Hamilton and seven recently made AYM brethren was read and granted on December 23, 1782. This set in motion for the formation of Marine Lodge No. 38, which was to meet in the City of Charles Town, South Carolina, at the Lodge room in Lodge Alley. Brother Weyman and Hamilton then demitted from Lodge No. 2 of Pennsylvania. Master Richard Wistar, dated December 26, 1782 signed a demitted and an endorsement of the same from the Grand Lodge dated January 25, 1783. The appearance of Worshipful Brother Wistar’s name in the South Carolina record of August 1783 indicates that he took up residence in this state shortly thereafter. 

The seven petitioners mentioned above were “made” by courtesy of the only existing AYM Lodge then in South Carolina, Lodge No. 190, operating under the Grand Athol Lodge of England. 

When the “Grand Lodge of South Carolina, Ancient York Masons,” was formed by the five “Ancient: Lodges in Charleston on January 1, 1787, Marine Lodge, No. 38, was a prominent factor. It is a noteworthy fact, that at least three of the principal officers were Pennsylvania Masons, viz. Hon. William Drayton, Grand Master; Hon. Mordecai Gist, Deputy Grand Master; Edward Weyman, Esq., Senior Grand Warden. 


The Provincial Grand Lodge of South Carolina approved a grant for a new lodge to be established in Charleston, South Carolina on May 3, 1755. The new lodge designation was called, “Union Lodge No.4” which was later renamed to “Union Kilwinning Lodge No.4.”  The reason for the name change was due in part to the amount of Scots on the rolls of the lodge over the years. 

The original membership of Union Kilwinning Lodge was limited to sixty-three members, in 1867 it was increased to 89, and again in 1867 it was increased to 125 total members, and in the early 1900’s the limit of new members were omitted from the By-Laws of the lodge.  


In the minutes of 1868 February and March there is an account of the presentation to all the Masons of Charleston by seven Brethren of Washington, D. C. of a marble Alter.  

The letter accompanying the Altar states, “This is to inform you that a few of us who were permitted, some months ago, to visit your State on a mission of fraternal love, remembering the kindness and the true Masonic Spirit with which we were received, on that occasion, and being desirous to give an expression of the profound esteem in which we hold our brethren of South Carolina, we have forwarded to Charleston a white marble Altar to be presented by the undersigned to the Masonic Fraternity of your City. We beg of the Fraternity, to accept this gift from brothers, all of whom have bowed before that sacred Altar of Masonry.” And “we shall remember that we are a Common Brotherhood, bound together by strong and indissoluble ties, which no change of circumstances or time can ever break.” The donors, J. P. Hamlin, George W. Goodale, M. L. Merrell, Charles Stewart, J. F. Gedney, Henry Brick and George R. Price, all of Washington, D. C., sign the letter, their names also appear on the Alter.  


Another priceless possessions of Union Kilwinning Lodge No. 4 are the candlesticks that are a set of 3 total and are used by some of the Lodges in Charleston that meet at the Orange Grove Masonic Center. The candle sticks were presented to Union Lodge No. 4 in 1759 by the Grand Lodge of Scotland and at the same time the Lodge added “Kilwinning” to its original name of “Union.”  

Charleston Masons and the early Social Clubs of Charleston 

In the 1700’s in Charles Town persons of like national origin tended to organize their own clubs for the purpose of charity and pleasure. There were clubs representing all principle national elements in the province. The Scotch had their St. Andrew’s Society, the English their St. George’s Society, the French their South Carolina Society. As early as 1736 there was a Welch Club which celebrated the anniversary of their patron saint. There was an Irish Society in 1749 and a German Friendly Society in 1766. 

In 1748 the organization of, “The Charleston Library Society,” by William Burrows was one of, “a group of seventeen aspiring young intellectuals,” who agreed to raise a fund of ten pounds sterling and import recent magazines and pamphlets from London. These seventeen men held together by the bond of reading habit, including a school master, two planters, a peruke maker, a doctor, a printer, two lawyers, and nine merchants with the hopes of educating the youths of the city. 

The library Society soon was supported with rules and organization and in 1750 the eminent, Dr. John Lining who was a resident of Charleston, meticulous observer and recorder of weather data, experimenter in electrical phenomena, and correspondent of Benjamin Franklin (a known Mason of Philadelphia) is listed as the president.

On April 21, 1762, Rev. Robert Smith established, “The Society for the Relief of the Widows and Children of the Clergy of the Church of England in the Province of South Carolina.” 11 clergymen of the city attended the first meeting of this Society. One of the rules of the society was that each Clergy member would provide a, “Charity Sermon,” to a church other than his own on the appointed date. On this occasion the Rev. Robert Smith provided the Mason’s of Charleston with his sermon titled, “Charity Sermon for the Masons No. 100,” which was first read on December 27, 1762 then again in December 1784. This sermon was re-discovered a few years ago in the vaults of St. Philip’s church by Mrs. Dot Anderson who in turn presented me with a copy of the original sermon.  

If the name of Reverend Robert Smith might sound familiar it should be as this is the same person that with 60 of his own students he was teaching in his home established the, College of Charleston, in the year 1790.  


From its founding on October 18, 1790, Illustrious John Mitchell was one of the Commissioners of the, “Orphan House at Charleston.” A tablet commemorating the first meeting of the Commissioners on October 28, 1790 lists Illustrious John Mitchell second after Brother Major Charles Lining, and he is recorded as being present at every meeting thereafter until 1794. The minutes show no one more active than Colonel John Mitchell in promoting public support for the Orphan House and in the management of its affairs during the difficult first years.  


On Saturday May 7, 1791 President George Washington (also a Mason), with the City Intendment and Wardens, visited the Orphans House, and Illustrious John Mitchell is listed as the senior Commissioner receiving him, afterwards entertaining him at breakfast in the Commissioners’ Room.  

The Charleston Orphan House was at the time the oldest municipal orphanage in the United States, at the instigation of John Robertson, a philanthropic citizen and a member of City Council. It’s main purpose was to establish the Institution for the “purpose of supporting and educating poor and orphan children and those of poor and disabled parents who are unable to support and maintain them. During the 1800’s the Orphan House was a well-known child care institution that was completely self-sufficient entity.  

The children were fed by homegrown food, dressed in homespun clothing, and educated in the building by former students trained by the Principal of the School. This method of management was established in order to reduce the cost of maintaining the children. A Board of Commissioners annually elected by City Council governed the Orphan House. This Board met weekly, with each member alternating his services as a Visiting Commissioner. The Visiting Commissioner primarily investigated applicants for admission or indenture; however, he also conducted religious services on Sunday afternoon and inspected the house, grounds, and staff.  

The Charleston Orphan House stood at the corner of Calhoun and St. Philip Streets. Built on the site of the Revolutionary War Barracks, the Institution was officially occupied October 18, 1794.  

Another good friend of President George Washington living in Charleston at the time of his visit was General Mordecai Gist who served under the President during the revolutionary war.  

In a letter written by General Mordecai Gist to the President George Washington before his visit to Charleston he asks the following of the President in his letter:

Sir-Induced by a respect for your public and private character, as well as the relation in which you stand with the brethren of this society, we, the Grand Lodge of the State of South Carolina, Ancient York Masons, beg leave to offer our sincere congratulations on your arrival in this State. 

We felicitate you on the establishment and exercise of a permanent government, whose foundation was laid under your auspices by military achievements, upon which have been progressively reared the pillars of the free Republic over which you preside, supported by wisdom, strength, and beauty unrivalled among the nations of the world. 

The fabric thus raised and committed to your superintendence, we earnestly wish may continue to produce order and harmony to succeeding ages, and be the asylum of virtue to the oppressed of all parts of the universe. 

When we contemplate the distresses of war, the instances of humanity displayed by the Craft afford some relief to the feeling mind; and it gives us the most pleasing sensation to recollect, that amidst the difficulties attendant on your late military stations, you still associated with, and patronized the Ancient Fraternity. 

Distinguished always by your virtues, more than the exalted stations in which you have moved, we exult in the opportunity you now give us of hailing you brother of our Order, and trust from your knowledge of our institution, to merit your countenance and support. 

With fervent zeal for your happiness, we pray that a life so dear to the bosom of this society, and to society in general, may be long, very long preserved; and when you leave the temporal symbolic lodge of this world, may you be received into the celestial lodge of light and perfection, where the Grand Master Architect of the Universe presides.

   “Done in behalf of the Grand Lodge.

                                                                                “M. Gist, G. M.

“Charleston, 2d May, 1791.”  

In the return letter President Washington's writes to M. Gist the following: 


I am much obliged by the respect, which you are so good to declare for my public and private character. I recognize with pleasure my relation to the brethren of your Society, and I accept with gratitude your congratulations on my arrival in South Carolina.  

Your sentiments, on the establishment and exercise of our equal government, are worthy of an association, whose principles lead to purity of morals, and are beneficial of action. 

The fabric of our freedom is placed on the enduring basis of public virtue, and will, I fondly hope, long continue to protect the prosperity of the architects who raised it. I shall be happy, on every occasion, to evince my regard for the Fraternity. For your prosperity individually, I offer my best wishes.

                                                                                   “Go. Washington.”  


On May 31, 1801, Illustrious John Mitchell established the first Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite Masons in Charleston with his good friend, the Reverend Frederick Dalcho. 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 which was called, "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.  


Illustrious Frederick Dalcho was the Assistant Rector at St. Michael’s church. Following a number of part-time associations with St. Michael’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina, he was retained as an assistant minister on February 23, 1819. In 1824 he established with others“The Charleston Gospel Messenger and Protestant Episcopal Resgister”, a monthly journal of the Church’s activities.  This paper was published monthly until 1853. His monumental work at this period was a history of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the first published history of any diocese in America.  Consisting of more than 600 pages.  


Other published theological works of Dr. Fredrick Dalcho were; A Letter on Public Baptism (1817), The Evidence from The Prophecy for the Truth of Christianity (1820), Evidences of the Divinity of Jesus Christ (1820), and Practical Consideration founded on the Scriptures relative to the slave population of South Carolina, by a South Carolinian (1823).  

On September 21-27, 1924 the Supreme Council held their Biennial meeting in Charleston, SC. At the opening ceremonies Past Grand Master of South Carolina James D. Richardson provided everyone in attendance the history of the Supreme Council that was established in Charleston, SC on May 31, 1801.  

On September 24, 1924, Sovereign Grand Commander Cowles reminded everyone in attendance about the adoption by Congress of the Sterling-Reed bill. This bill established a federal department of education with a secretary in the President’s cabinet and giving federal aid to public schools, and in the general educational program of the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction. 


On September 30 through October 1, 2001 the Scottish Rite Supreme Council again honored Charleston, SC and Illustrious John H. Mitchell along with the 10 other “Gentlemen of Charleston.” Col. John H. Mitchell will always be remembered as the one who succeeded in establishing the Supreme Council for the 33° in the United States of America.  

Over 4,000 Brethren from around the world attended this event. Representatives from 38 Sister Supreme Councils, their Sovereign Grand Commanders, representatives and delegations, were present on this historic occasion and were each welcomed by Sovereign Grand Commander C. Fred Kleinknecht, 33º. 


There are four coordinate bodies within the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction:

1. Lodge of Perfection, 4°-14° (presiding officer - Venerable Master) 

2. Chapter of Rose Croix, 15°-18° (presiding officer - Wise Master) 

3. Council of Kadosh, 19°- 30° (presiding officer - Commander) 

4. Consistory, 31°- 32° (presiding officer - Master of Kadosh) 


Selected Scottish Rite Masons who have held the 32° for at least four years and who have rendered signal service to Masonry may be nominated. Those chosen to receive the rank and decoration of Knight Commander of the Court of Honor have it conferred upon them in an impressive ceremony of investure in which they receive the designation of K:.C:.C:.H:. and may be recognized by the wearing of the red cap with a dark red band trimmed in gold. 

The first of these is the Rank and Decoration of a Knight Commander of the Court of Honour (KCCH), which may be conferred after a minimum of 46 months after receiving the 32º and sometimes much longer and is strictly limited in numbers.   

All Scottish Rite jurisdictions nominate a select few members to receive the 33º Degree, Inspector General Honorary, in recognition of outstanding service to the Rite, or in public life, to the principles taught in the degrees. In the Southern Jurisdiction, the Supreme Council chooses 33º members from among those who have previously received the rank and decoration of Knight Commander Court of Honor. The Inspector General Honorary is bestowed in a Ceremonial of Investiture in recognition of outstanding service to the Rite, or in public life, and to the principles taught in the degrees.  


On September 28, 2001, when the Supreme Council meet in one of the Executive Session held at the Charleston Place Hotel a resolution was adopted establishing the terminology and logo for the Scottish Rite Childhood Language Disorders Clinics. The logo was of a Sunrise with the wording Rite Care, “Scottish Rite Masons Helping Children Communicate.”  

As of August 27, 2003, 165 "Rite Care Clinics," were established in America to help those special children requiring special attention. The focus for these clinics, are to help the children lead as normal a life where otherwise this might not happen. Not only does these clinics help children they also help needing adults as well.

In 2003 Illustrious Michael D. Smith, 33º, S.G.I.G., was elected Chairman of the Board of Trustees to raise $10 Million Dollars in 5 years for the Scottish Rite Foundation of South Carolina, Inc. to establish and operate numerous Rite Care Clinics in South Carolina. 


I thank each and everyone in attendance for allowing me to talk about the Masonic Fraternity located in Charleston. 

McDonald L. "Don" Burbidge was raised a Mason on November 19, 1975, and is currently a member of Summerville Lodge No. 234, Summerville, S.C., the Scottish Rite Bodies of Charleston, S.C., and the Scottish Rite Research Society. On February 14, 1976, he received the 32°; on October 19, 1981, he was invested a K.C.C.H.; and on October 30, 1999 he was corseted a 33°. Ill. Burbidge was strongly involved with the year 2001 celebration of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Scottish Rite in Charleston and has had several articles and photographs published in the Scottish Rite Journal since 1999. He is currently the Historian for the Charleston Scottish Rite Center and has been the photographer of the Valley since 1974. He and his wife, Kathryn, have two children, a daughter named Kelley Floyd, a nursing student at Charleston Southern University who will be graduating in May 2004 and Brad who is 20 years old. He is employed at the Robert Bosch Corporation since 1973 and also is employed part time at Stanley Steemer for the past 5 years.

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