The History of Marine Lodge No. 38, Charleston, S.C.

By: Ill. Bro. McDonald “Don” Burbidge, 33º

 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

Why did men leave comparative security and comfort of established homes in Europe and England to endure the dangers and hardships of a primitive land? The answer is that man will dare any hardship to obtain freedom. Most of our pioneers came to America to escape religious persecution. The desire to worship in their own manner, to establish homes, businesses, and to achieve security is always strong. Unfortunately, many early settlements were composed of Colonists interested only in freedom for themselves. 

No doubt, Freemasonry, the exponent of liberty and justice, exterted its influence for many Freemasons took leading roles in the stirring events, which resulted in establishing our self-governing nation. 

Located within the most ancient confines of Charleston, an area well inside of the town’s old walls, in a section where the French Huguenots once lived and worked was “Simmon’s Alley,” which later was renamed “Lodge Alley” in reference to the Masonic Lodge located there. It was a thruway for merchants working at the docks on East Bay Street during the 1750’s. 

One of the oldest streets in Charleston, Lodge Alley is a visual example of Charleston Old World Ties, exemplifying the definition of an alley as a street but not a main thoroughfare. Such alleys, a narrow and without walkways and usually with the drain running down the middle, were usual in European cities. The paving of Lodge Alley, formed of small regularly shaped granite blocks of uniform size, observes this pattern- two horizontal rows with a course of “Belgian Block” laid vertically down the middle. Just so were alleys placed in old English towns, like York, and many towns in Normandy.

The ten-foot width and the construction of Lodge Alley makes it typical of early 18th Century Charleston. 

In Charles Town the mechanics were always an important and numerous class. As the Colony grew and prospered their influence became significant and many of them became leading figures of the Revolutionary War. Between 1760-1774 one of the most valuable and vigorous mechanic industries in Charleston was shipbuilding and related “Marine” work, which had a reputation for excellence throughout the colonies and in Europe. 

The tasks of the shipwrights (or Marine) were manifold. In addition to constructing new vessels, there were endless alterations and repairs to be made on the ocean carriers. When a ship came to port “her cargo was unloaded, her sails and rigging stored in some nearby loft and her crew lodged at the various ordinaries. She was then conducted to shallow water and careened by the aid of fall and blocks. Next a lighter, with steaming kettles of pitch and tar, was run up beside her bottom, so that the workers could caulk up every leaky seam.

After this the various groups of artisans had their turn, for glaziers were needed to replace the broken glass, iron workers to fit in new bolts, cooper to repair damaged hogs-heads, sail makers to patch the torn canvass, carpenters to make new hatches or replace masts or spars which had gone overboard, painters cleaned and painted the weathered woods of the ship. If the shipwrights were not thus busied, they made parts for sale or sometimes prepared lumber for exportation. This is the origin of the word “Marine” as an artisan lodge name. 

Lodge Alley also illustrates Charleston’s distinction as one of the cradles of Freemasonry in America. The Alley takes its name from the Marine Lodge No. 38 that is situated on its course about midway from East Bay Street to State Street. This site was acquired as early as 1773, making it one of the oldest Masonic Lodges in the country and the most important lodge room in Charleston today. 

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.

The Sons of Liberty also meet here and 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. Gadsden and his fellow revolutionaries, who led public meetings protested the British Stamp Act and later the Tea Tax.  

The list of people at the meeting at the Liberty Tree, in 1766, was drawn up by George Flagg, also these meetings at the Liberty Tree were public meetings and continued as such during the Revolutionary period. In the South Carolina Gazette the following 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. 

In the evening, the tree was decorated with 45 lights, and 45 skyrockets were fired.  

About 8 o’clock, the whole company, preceded by 45 of their number, marched in regular procession to town, down King-Street and Broad Street, to Mr. Robert Dillion’s tavern; where the 45 lights being placed upon the table, with 45 bowls of punch, 45 bottles of wine, and 92 glasses, they spent a few hours in a new round of toasts, among which, scarce a celebrated Patriot of Britain or America was omitted; and preserving the same good order and regularity as had been observed throughout the day, at 10 they retired.   

Seeking to prevent the tree from becoming a Patriot shrine, the British cut it down and burned the stump, during their occupation of the city in 1780-82. The root was later retrieved by Judge William Johnson, who had it made into caneheads, one of which was given to Thomas Jefferson. 

Amid celebrations in Charleston over the repeal of the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act went nearly unnoticed. Couched in the same sweeping terms as the Irish Declaratory Act of 1719, it pronounced the American Colonies subordinate to and dependant upon the Crown and Parliament. While Charleston rang with cheers and huzzahs, a more sober meeting at the Liberty Tree was taking place. There Gadsden and the mechanics gathered privately, and in the words of George Flagg the painter, “Gadsden harangued them at considerable length, on the folly of relaxing their opposition and vigilance, or of indulging the fallacious hope that Great Britain would relinquish her designs and pretensions. He drew their attention to the preamble of the act, forcibly pressed upon the folly of rejoicing at a law that still asserted and maintained the absolute dominion of Great Britain over them. Then reviewing all the chances of succeeding in a struggle to break the fetters whenever again imposed on them,” the mechanics joined hands and swore their defense against tyranny,” but, like the silversmith Grimke, some must have thought, “Thank God” the province was “now again, the land of Liberty.” 

Generally speaking however, the vast majority of South Carolinians including the business community had been largely loyal and peaceful until they were driven to despair by the continuing high handed actions of the English parliament. For example, following the repeal of the Stamp Act on March 18th, 1766, the Colonial Assembly at Charles Town sent written thanks to London and voted to erect a marble statue of William Pitt who had fought so persistently for the welfare of the Colonists. The stature was completed and placed at the intersection of Broad and Meeting Street. This was hardly the action of a rebellious population at this time.  

During the summer of 1768 Brother Edward Weyman of Charles Town journeyed to Philadelphia for personal family reasons and during his stay attempted to visit one of the City Lodges. He was refused entry and this experience triggered a significant change in his Masonic career. He had, as a member of a “Modern” subordinate Lodge of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of South Carolina, evidently approached a Lodge of Ancient York Masons, whose policy was one of non fraternization.  

Edward went to Philadelphia in the summer of 1782 as stated above where he obtained a dispensation from DGM Alexander Rutherford of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania. This he presented to Lodge No. 2 Ancient York Masons in Philadelphia and requested that he be entered passed and raised in the “Ancient” way. In July 1782, an emergent meeting of Marine Lodge No. 2 in Philadelphia which was opened in due form, on the first degree of Masonry with 7 members and 5 visitors present, when Edward was balloted for and accepted. The Lodge reconvened on July 25th, 1782 at 5PM, when in compliance with the dispensation, all three degrees were conferred in succession the same evening.  

Upon Edward’s return to Charles Town, he immediately began to sell the idea of AYM to the brethren in his former “Modern” lodge.  

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, 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. 

Marine Lodge No. 38 appears to have been represented by proxy upon the September 25, 1786, when the Grand Lodge asserted its Independence. No returns or further reports from this Lodge have been found in the Archives of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. It is known, however that Marine Lodge, No. 38 (in Charleston), became an active body, spreading Masonic light and charity in the town wherein it was located, and in 1787, became one of the five “Ancient” Lodges that formed the Grand Lodge of South Carolina Ancient York Masons.   

The Lodge Alley Inn located in Charleston, South Carolina is named after the adjoining ten-foot wide alley, Lodge Alley. Located within strolling distance to the City Market, Rainbow Row, High Battery, Waterfront Park, Museum, Theaters, Galleries, and much more. The Lodge Alley Inn in 1983, along with 15 separate warehouse buildings were incorporated into the design, allowing many of the Inn's rooms to retain their original 18th century pine floors and brick walls. The Inn gained immediate approval from historic preservationists. 

Reference Materials:

The South Carolina Gazette

Editor: Lewis Timothy

Dated: May 31, 1773 

The South Carolina Historical Magazine

Editor: Joseph I. Waring

Volume: 75

Dated: 1974 

Charleston’s Sons of Liberty

By: Richard Walsh

Dated: 1959 

National Register of Historic Places Inventory

Charleston, South Carolina

Date: September 1973 

The Charleston News and Courier (locale newspaper)

August 20, 1973

Page 1B 

The Lodge Alley Inn

Various Pamphlet’s concerning their establishment

 Old Masonic Lodges of Pennsylvania

“Moderns” and “Ancients” 1730-1800

By: Julius F. Sachse, Ltt. D.

Volume II

Covering Period 1779-1791

Printed: 1913

Page: 144-152 

Josh Silver: Librarian to Archivist & Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

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