In 1774 Schenectady was a frontier town of some 300 houses with a
population of about 2500. The homes resembled those still remaining in the stockade area
and were clustered between what is now Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River. The streets
were narrow and were not paved.
In the late 1760's Arent Nicholas VanPatten and Robert Alexander probably met daily at the tavern of their friend, Robert Clench - for they were Masons.
In 1769, a young Schenectady man was "Made a Mason" by Sir William Johnson, in St. Patrick's Lodge, at Johnstown. In the custom of Masons everywhere, these old-timers probably gathered around a table in the corner of the tavern tap-room and imparted their knowledge of Masonic history, traditions, landmarks, and ritual to young Christopher Yates.
In 1772 when John Hughan was raised by Master's Lodge, in Albany, and about the time that John Aaron Bradt was "Made" by Union (now Mt. Vernon) Lodge, also in Albany, the chairs were, no doubt, moved a little closer together and these brothers were welcomed into the "mystic circle."
A year later (1773), when Benjamin Hilton, Jr. and Cornelius VanDyck were raised by Master's Lodge, the group around the table in the corner probably became rather crowded. During the spring and summer months there must have been much discussion about meeting privately in a separate room and, of course, organizing a Masonic Lodge to save the long tiresome trips to Albany and Johnstown. A petition to form a lodge in Schenectady was presented to Master's Lodge in Albany, on October 4, 1773 and this is recorded in their minutes.
It was signed by Brothers Christopher Yates, John Hughan and Benjamin Hilton, Jr. and was directed to Right Worshipful Provincial Grand Master Sir John Johnson.
The petition requested that certain brothers "be formed into a regular body by the name of St. George's Lodge in Schenectady."
Robert Clench had settled in Schenectady in 1768 with his wife and six children. He purchased the tavern of Cornelius Viele on the south side of State Street where a small park is now located. Three years later, an Episcopal mission was established and Robert Clench and John Brown were elected wardens of St. George's Episcopal Church. It is probable that Robert Clench and other Masons who were active in the church suggested the name St. George's for the Lodge.
Master's Lodge presented the petition to Sir John Johnson complying with ancient Masonic custom that a new lodge should be recommended by the nearest existing lodge. The dispensation was granted on June 21, 1774 to form St. George's, Lodge No. 1 in Schenectady and to "make Masons according to the strict rules of Masonry." The dispensation appointed Christopher Yates, Master, Benjamin Hilton, Senior Warden and John Hughan, Junior Warden with full power to make by-laws and conduct the affairs of the Lodge. The first recorded meeting was held on August 18, 1774, when the by-laws were adopted. On October 1, 1774 the first candidate, Teunis Swart was initiated.
On December 19, 1774 a second dispensation was issued by Sir John Johnson and we have this on file. It stated that, "Whereas the former dispensation will expire on the 27th of December - we do hereby - in every particular renew, continue and prolong the duration of said dispensation." The charter was on the way and, when received, was dated September 14, 1774. It was signed by William Seton, Grand Secretary and Sir John Johnson.
The first meetings were held in Robert Clench's Tavern of the Crossed
Keys. While we cannot possibly determine all the practices and customs of that era, we
can, with the aid of the old minute books and other records, list some of the
characteristics of Masonry in the early years of St. George's Lodge No. 1.
The meetings of the Lodge were held fortnightly on Saturday evenings at 6 oclock. A social hour followed the business meeting and, according to the records in the Treasurer's book, generous amounts of wine and liquor were served.
The initiation fee was L5/10s/6d in York pounds. A York pound consisted of 20 shillings of 12 1/2 cents each so the fee was $13.81 1/2. L5 was deposited in the Lodge chest (the Master and Treasurer had keys). 8s was paid to the Tiler for his fee and 2s/6d paid the quarterly dues.
From the Treasurer's book we find that wine cost 3s/6d a quart or 42 1/2 cents; rum cost 2s/6d a quart or 31 cents. Tumblers cost 15s each or $1.87 1/2, candles cost 1s/6d per pound or 19 cents and were a frequent item of expense, a bunch of quills cost 1s/6d or 19 cents and firewood cost from 6 to 8 shillings a load or about $2.00.
Some of the payments recorded were: Paid Samuel Lighthall for ringing bell for Brother Cummings funeral-8s. Paid George Stewart for digging grave L1/3s. Paid Richard Rosa for making coffin for Brother Cummings - L1. Paid for relief of Brother Lynn 1Os/6d. Paid the Widow Watson as a New Year's gift L3/4s, paid for spitting stone (cuspidor) 4s. Paid for aprons 2L/6s. Paid for repairing shutters 8s.
A regular meeting was known as a public or general lodge night. Failure to attend subjected a member to a fine of two shillings. An extra meeting was a private lodge and the fine for non-attendance was only one shilling. Any person having been elected could request an extra lodge to be initiated, passed, or raised but he must pay the expenses of the evening. A member coming to Lodge after the appointed time was fined sixpence.
Every visiting brother except on his first visit and on Festival days paid two shillings to the Treasurer.
There were particular times of business when no visitor could be admitted to the Lodge.
At election time each member would choose a member to serve as Master and Treasurer and write the name upon a small piece of paper; roll it up and deposit it in the ballot box.
Two Wardens, a Secretary and a Tiler were appointed by the new Master. Stewards were not mentioned until 1797. Senior and Junior Deacons were first mentioned on December 17, 1798.
The title of Right Worshipful was first used in our minute book on December 27,1783 when Peter W. Yates, Master of Union Lodge (now Mt. Vernon) headed a delegation from Albany. At that time Wardens were known as Worshipfuls.
Article XV of our 1774 by-laws state "That if any Member of this Body do presume to curse, swear or blaspheme in Lodge or come there intoxicated or get drunk during Lodge Hours or make any Disturbance or Uproar therein or does not behave decent and is not silent on the third Stroke of the Master's Mallet shall pay a fine of three Shillings."
"Any member who was ever convicted of having spoken disrespectfully of the Society in general or his Lodge in particular shall be expelled forever."
If the Master neglected his duties or refused to fine Delinquents according to the rules he was required to pay the fines himself.
A transient person of good reputation or well recommended was often initiated at an extra or private lodge after ballot and upon paying the usual fee of five pounds to the Treasurer and eight shillings to the Tiler. The other two degrees were conferred without charge. "Provided such a transient person continues in good report."
A transient person was never admitted at a public or general meeting, except as a visitor, and did not sign the by-laws to become a member of the Lodge unless a new ballot was taken. Someday it would be interesting to trace the lives of the hundreds of Masons who have received degrees in old St. George's but who never signed the by-laws to consummate their membership.
The Master, when in open lodge, always wore a three-cornered cocked hat and later on
the usual beaver or silk hat. Other brethren had to content themselves with the various
wigs then in fashion.
The Secretary usually sat at a table on one side or in a corner of the Lodge room furnished with a pewter or silver ink stand, and a box to hold the Lodge minute book, by-laws, charter, petitions, bills, correspondence and cash.
The Lodge would probably be formed in a triangle, with the Master in the East, and the two Wardens in the West. The triangle from the earliest times was held in high veneration by our ancient brethren and was considered to represent the Deity. The symbol of the triad still permeates the ritual of the "Holy Royal Arch." This custom still continues in a few lodges in this country that retain their old customs.
Two large and imposing wooden columns would stand upright before the chairs of the Wardens. Two large globes representing the earth and the heavens would also be present in the Lodge. As a general rule the globes are today placed on the top of the columns at the inner door.
An altar was invariably situated in the center of the Lodge room, at which the candidate was placed during a portion of the ceremony. This practice is followed generally in this country and in Ireland and Scotland although it has been abandoned in some countries.
Evidence indicates that the old Operative Masons were in possession of a very old and secret ritual, or set of ceremonies, inherited by them from ancient times. Also, it is probable that they performed these ceremonies out-of-doors, perhaps on the two St. John's Days. Again it is probable that this ritual was brought indoors, and that it is the nucleus at least of the present-day ritual. It was the existence of this ritual, handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation, that explains why the Craft of Masonry survived through all manners of changes whereas the other organized crafts broke-up and went out of existence.
During the ceremony of "Making a Mason," the picture of "The Lodge," previously drawn by the Tiler on the floor in chalk and charcoal would be visible to all present. The picture would display the usual symbols of the Craft and would include the two ashlars. After the "Making" it was compulsory for the candidate to obliterate this drawing with the assistance of a mop and pail. How else would he learn his lesson? On this picture of "The Lodge," it was also customary to place three lighted candles, arranged in a form of a triangle. This custom has long been obsolete being superseded first by a tracing cloth and later by the modern tracing board. In certain old lodges in England the three lighted candles are still arranged around the tracing board, and we continue the practice in our usual arrangement around the altar. After 230 years it is pleasant to realize that the Masons in Schenectady still hold to the traditional candles and have not modernized with gas or electricity.
The actual ceremony of initiation was always followed by a social hour when members sat around the room smoking and drinking and sometimes eating. Pipes for smoking were the long clay pipes, generally 15 inches long, known as churchwardens. Liquid refreshments included brandy, wine and rum and were regularly supplied in a good lodge, having been previously purchased by the Stewards. The Tiler was obliged to bring a sufficient quantity of water to the bench at the south side of the door leading to the Lodge Room.
Refreshments have always been a part of our Masonic heritage as it was customary to furnish food and drinks at meetings of the craft. Many men who attended Lodge came long distances and the transportation in those days was very slow. Food and drink have always been necessary to sustain the body as well as the spirit.
A large number of aprons made of white lambskin were kept by the Tiler for the use of visitors. The same pattern was used for the various degrees, the only distinction being the manner in which the apron was worn. Old aprons and prints illustrate that in former times the apron was rounded at the lower corners and the flap was semi-elliptical in form. Masonic jewels were always suspended from a collar terminating in a point at the center of the breast. They were never hung as a badge from a bar nor were they worn as a pin or ring.
While the traditional color of Freemasonry is white it has been the custom of this lodge to use blue or to decorate the white with blue and gold. However, in recent years innovations have been made and our blue and gold decorations were changed to the silver decorations commonly used in other lodges.
We find a most interesting and certainly patriotic record in the old book of minutes on
August 7, 1779 as follows:
"The last two meetings no Lodge was opened on account of not a sufficient number of members appearing, they being employed in gathering the harvest."
While this might seem to be a normal type of work at that time of year, the Lodge members were merchants, tradesmen, craftsmen, professional men and soldiers and few, if any, were farmers. The Mohawk and Schoharie Valleys near Schenectady were fertile and were the granary of the American Revolution. The wheat raised here was ground into flour in Schenectady and fed Washington's army wherever he was located in the Colonies. Sir John Johnson and other Tories knew this and had timed their raids the previous year when the wheat was still stored in the barns and succeeded in destroying most of the crop. This caused a shortage of food in the Continental Army and resulted in Col. Willet being placed in charge of the northern frontiers the following year. He sent the men from all settlements from Schenectady to the west out to harvest the wheat, under guard of the Militia regiments. This wheat was carried to Schenectady as fast as it was harvested and that year was successfully used to feed Washington's Army.
Following the Revolutionary War, St. George's acknowledged (in 1784) the authority of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York, which had been formed in 1776. St. George's was represented, by proxy, for the first time at Grand Lodge on April 6, 1792.
There was much contention among the early lodge members when attempts were first made to number lodges. In England it was considered quite sufficient to be known as the Lodge at the Sign of the Crossed Keys. But as the numbering system progressed it became a mark of distinction to hold a low number with the accompanying prerogatives of age. This is one reason our members held firmly to their old English charter until all rights and prerogatives were guaranteed and a low number assigned. Although St. George's recognized the authority of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York it continued to operate under the original English charter. It refused, although repeatedly requested, to surrender its old charter maintaining that it was valid and sufficient. In 1819 the Lodge was declared clandestine by the Grand Lodge of New York and all Masonic intercourse was cut off. The Lodge then surrendered its charter and applied for a new one being one of the last of the old lodges to surrender its original charter. The new charter was dated April 29, 1822 and was signed by Darrel D. Tompkins, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York and Vice President of the United States.
The new charter stipulated that the Lodge was "to take and hold date from September 14, 1774, the date of its old charter this day surrendered, and that the old charter should be returned to the Lodge "for safe-keeping but not used for Masonic purposes." The old charter was never returned but remained in Grand Lodge until 1901 when Peter Ross, Grand Historian, copied it for his history of Masonry in New York. It has since been mislaid and cannot be found by the Grand Secretary.
In 1843 it was discovered that the charter of 1822 was missing having been mislaid or possibly stolen. The Grand Lodge issued a dispensation dated January 5, 1844 to permit St. George's to carry on the customary lodge work. A new charter was issued on June 8, 1844 to replace the 1822 charter. Finally on April 4, 1849 the missing charter was found and returned to the Lodge and in due time to the Grand Lodge. Thus, St. George's Lodge has worked under three dispensations and three charters during 230 years of continuous existence.
The original English charter assigned St. George's Lodge number 1 and this was used until 1800 when the Grand Lodge of New York assigned number 7 to St. George's. In 1819 a long standing controversy about the ages of several lodges was finally settled by the Grand Lodge of New York and number 8 was assigned to St. George's. In 1839, following the Morgan trouble several lodges surrendered their charters and St. George's was assigned the present number 6.
In the course of its history, St, George's met in at least 10 different places. From
1774 through 1777 the Lodge met at Robert Clench's Tavern of the Crossed Keys. In the
December 20, 1777 minutes was written "whereas this Lodge was denied the benefit of
meeting in order to keep Lodge by Brother Robert Clench, therefore resolved by the
unanimous consent of the members present that the Lodge shall be moved and continue during
pleasure to the house of Brother Abram J. Truax who has provided a room for that purpose
at the expense of the Lodge."
Brother Clench remained loyal to England at the outbreak of the war and this was probably resented by others in the town. Charges were brought against him but nothing was proved and in 1778 he claimed allegiance to this country. Later he again became active in the Lodge.
From 1779 to 1782 the Lodge met at the Inn of Brother John Aaron Bradt located on the north side of State Street near Washington Avenue. Between 1782 and 1790 they met part of the time at the "Widow Clench's House" and part of the time at John Hudson's Schenectady Coffee House. This building was at the southwestern corner of Union and Ferry Streets. In 1790, a committee was appointed to "contract conditionally for a lot to erect a building for a Lodge." The committee purchased a house and lot on the south side of State Street where the Penn Central now crosses. The second floor of the house was renovated for a Lodge Room and the first floor was occupied by Andrew Ryner, the Tiler -at first rent free and later at annual rent of $20.00. This building was the second in the state and the third in the United States to be used exclusively for Masonic purposes. The Masons in Albany built the first in the country in 1768, the Masons in Richmond, Virginia built one in 1780 and St. George's Lodge renovated theirs in 1790. The building was enlarged and remodeled in 1795 and the committee's report in our records gives a detailed description of the work done and the size and arrangement of the rooms. The Lodge met here for 45 years until the Utica and Schenectady Railroad was constructed in 1835. The building was purchased by the railroad company for $900.
From 1835 to 1844 'the Lodge met part of the time at the house of the Master, General Isaak Maus Schermerhorn on Washington Avenue near State Street. On January 27, 1844, according to the minutes, the Lodge met at the new Lodge Room in the Lyceum Building at the corner of Yates and Union Streets. They leased the upper story of this octagon shaped building and paid $900 for it. In return they received the use of the upper floor, $650 of the Schenectady Lyceum and Academy stock and the free education of four children of Masons.
In January 1856, they leased the upper floor of the Brown building on State Street for $150 per year. The Lyceum stock was sold and the Lodge met in this building for 13 years.
A new Masonic Temple was designed and built on Church Street in 1869. It was the meeting place of St. George's and other Schenectady Masonic Bodies for fifty years. It is now the Civic Playhouse. The next Masonic Temple at the corner of State Street and Erie Boulevard was purchased and renovated for the use of all Masonic Bodies in 1919. St. George's and the other Masonic Bodies moved into the new Temple and commenced regular meetings there in 1921. Renovations of the fifth floor was completed and dedicated in 1932. St. George's Lodge regularly held meetings on the fifth floor from that time to June, 1996, when the Temple, which had been sold 2 years before, was taken over by the Schenectady County Alcoholism Council.
It is interesting to note the first meeting of St. George's Lodge in the State and Erie Temple was opened with a gavel presented for that purpose by Brother Frank R. Buell on October 11, 1917.
This gavel was made from the wood of a Revolutionary Sloop-of-War and is bound by a silver band bearing the following inscription: "This piece of wood is a portion of the vessel Revenge, Liberty or Enterprise belonging to General Long's fleet abandoned July 6, 1777. This vessel was dug up on Lake Champlain by the Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Dredging Co. while excavating for the new Lock for the Barge Canal at Whitehall, New York 1913." This Gavel is safely preserved in our archives.
St. George's now meets in the Schenectady Masonic Community Center, a newly renovated facility which was purchased for Masonic and community use and stands at 394 Princetown Road, Schenectady, New York. St. George's Lodge No. 6, one of the oldest lodges in the State of New York, shares this facility with one of the newest, Schenectady Lodge No. 1174, as well as many concordant bodies. This building was dedicated as a Masonic facility on September 12, 1999 by Stewart C. McCloud, Grand Master of Masons in the State of New York, during a visit to our Lodge on the occasion of our 225th Anniversary.
As one reads the minutes of St. George's Lodge one becomes aware of the fact that they
contain the names of many of Schenectady's most prominent citizens.
Starting with Revolutionary times we find the names of many of the area war heroes, some of whom were killed in action. While the military records of Lodge members in subsequent wars are not so complete, we know that many Brothers saw military service. The only known casualty in later wars was Brother Leslie Alheim, who was killed in action during World War II. No members were lost in the first World War.
Almost two thirds of all the Mayors of the City of Schenectady have been members of the Masonic fraternity during the past two hundred twenty five years and all but two or three of these Masons have been members of St. George's Lodge. Many of the Mayors also served as Master of the Lodge.
While limited space prohibits the naming of all the prominent members of the Lodge, there are a few whose unique contributions to local or Masonic history should be noted.
Brother Jacob Driesbach, a member of this Lodge, was one of the first of the great animal trainers and menagerie men. He was variously billed as Herr Driesbach, a German explorer from Africa or a Dutch explorer from South America. The truth of the matter is that he was born and raised at Fort Plain, New York. To Driesbach we are indebted for animal acts and living statuary tableaus as they appear in today's circus and for the use of live animals in theatrical productions.
Brother Thomas B. Clench (Master 1808 and 1811-1814) was captain of the boat that carried Governor DeWitt Clinton and the Erie Canal Commissioners on a fact-finding trip from Schenectady westward along the Mohawk River. Clench's intimate knowledge of the river and surrounding country provided the information required by the Commissioners to make their decisions regarding the entire canal project and to set the general route for the water-way across the State. On this trip Clench was assisted by Brother John V. Vanlngen who also served as Master of the Lodge in 1809.
The earliest record of a black member of St. George's Lodge was in 1844 when Richard P. G. Wright and his son, Theodore S. Wright affiliated. The father was a Mason as early as 1821 and held offices in both Royal Arch and Scottish Rite bodies. His son was born in Schenectady, graduated from the Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained by the Albany Presbytery. He served as pastor of the first black Presbyterian church in New York City. He was raised in Martin Lodge and also received the Mark Master's degree, Both father and son died in 1847.
One member of St. George's Lodge, whose death wrote a unique chapter in Masonic history
was Brother and Lt. Commander John E. Hart.
The time was April of 1863. New Orleans was occupied by Butler's army having fallen before the combined forces of the Union Army and Farragut's Fleet. Brother Hart, in command of the USS Albatross, was patrolling the lower Mississippi River opposite St. Francisville a few miles north of New Orleans. At the time St. Francisville was a hot bed of secessionists and a refuge for Confederate soldiers. It is not known by whose order or for what reason, the Albatross opened fire on the town. It is recorded, however, that the bombardment lasted for a considerable time inflicting much damage to the town and particularly to the Grace Church. After the firing ceased, Brother Hart, who had been confined to his small stateroom, stricken with fever, was found dead in his bunk. Conflicting accounts state that he had died from pneumonia or that he had died at his own hand.
Brother Hart having made it known that he desired a Masonic funeral service, a small boat put out under a white flag in an attempt to make the necessary arrangements. Two brothers, Samuel and Benjamin White who lived near the river and turned out to be Masons, contacted the boat and were informed of its mission. The brothers stated that Captain William W. Leake of the Confederate Army, and Senior Warden of Feliciana Lodge of St. Francisville, was home on leave and would be informed of their request.
When informed by the brothers White, Captain Leake's reply was "As a Mason, it is our duty to accord Masonic burial to a Brother without taking into account the nature of our relations outside Masonry. Go tell the Union officer to bring his Captain ashore. There are a few Masons in town. I shall find all I can. You two are Masons. I shall want you at the funeral service."
Brother Leake's response is particularly notable since during the bombardment he had huddled with his wife and three children, under the steps of their brick house as shells burst all around them.
Presently the ship's boat returned with Brother Hart's body, clothed in his uniform of an officer in the United States Navy. The boat was met by the White brothers and four members of Feliciana Lodge No. 31 of St. Francisville, wearing their Masonic regalia above their Confederate uniforms. The Masons from the Albatross and the Confederate Masons identified themselves to be Masons and the body was borne to the white wooden home of Feliciana Lodge where the ancient Masonic funeral was conducted.
The body was then carried to the graveyard of Grace Church where amid the shell holes from the dead officer's own guns a grave had been prepared in the Masonic plot. After the graveside service, the shore party from the Albatross saluted and returned to their ship which immediately weighed anchor and steamed down river.
Captain Leake survived the war, became Master of Feliciana Lodge and lived to be honored for fifty-five years of service to the Craft. Upon his death in 1912, his body was laid to rest beside the enemy he had buried as a brother. Subsequently, the United Daughters of the Confederacy at St. Francisville persuaded the United States Government to place a simple marble headstone on the two graves. On Sunday, January 8, 1956 the special Committee on Burial Places of Past Grand Masters of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, unveiled a monument which covers the entire grave space, and briefly cites the story, stating in part, "This monument is dedicated in loving tribute to the universality of Free Masonry." Worshipful Brother Eugene W. Baxter, then Master of St. George's Lodge, attended the ceremonies.
This incident which so vividly displays true Masonic brotherhood, so powerful it could stop a war, if only for a few brief hours, gives one cause to wonder if it could happen today.
Despite an ever changing world with flights in space, technology increasing at an exponential rate and an ever increasing affluence of life, Masonic teachings of the brotherhood of man have remained unchanged and, if tested, should not be found wanting.
Back to the Historical Links