by Arthur B Sutton, PM (undated, but circa 1932)
(Secretary Royal Victoria Lodge No.443 E.C., Member Correspondence Circle of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No.2076, Irish Lodge of Research No. CC, St Claudius Lodge No.21 Paris, France and Representative Historical Society of the Grand Lodge of the Netherlands.)
To many students, history appeals as only a dry subject, while others find it extremely interesting; so, to some students of Masonic History, what is written by Mackey, Gould, Robbins and others, seems only a lot of dry-as-dust reading, while to those of us who have the fraternity at heart it is found to be extremely interesting. Anyone getting hold of the proper books can while away many an hour looking into the past story of the most wonderful Fraternity that has ever existed.
Freemasonry in the Bahamas
Looking backwards for many centuries I find that most of the old writers are inclined to advocate the fact that Masonry has existed since the world began, for, in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723, he starts off by saying that “Adam, created in the image of God, must have had the Liberal Sciences, particularly Geometry, written on his heart.” Again, he says, “Noah, and his three sons, all Masons true, brought with them, over the flood, the Traditions and Arts and committed them to their offspring.” And so we find that Masonry started travelling from earliest times and so on down the centuries until in 926 AD we find that Edwin, brother, as some say, son, as others say, of King Athelstance, obtained from his father a charter for travelling Masons, to enable them to form Lodges of their own and to make rules for themselves.
These travelling Lodges were given permits by the Pope and Priests to travel here and there all over the world, and so for century after century they went further and further into England, Italy, France, Germany and other countries, building great cathedrals and leaving their marks in every city they visited, growing stronger at times, then falling off in numbers, and then again growing steadily in influence and numbers far and near until in 1752 I find that the Governor of the Bahamas, John Tinker, was appointed “District Grand Master of the Bahamas and places adjacent,” and that in 1759, “James Bradford was appointed to the same office.” Naturally, the first thought that occurred to me was, “What Lodges did these two men govern here in the Bahamas?” The only information obtainable was from the Library at the Grand Lodge in London, where I found, through the Grand Lodge Librarian, Bro. Gordon P G Hills, that it was not unusual to confer such rank, although there were no lodges for them to govern. This seems a peculiar thing and I feel sure would not be done in our day. The next appointment to Grand Lodge rank under the English Constitution was in 1843, when W Bro George Campbell Anderson was appointed, but particulars of this will be given when we can get the history of Royal Victoria Lodge 443 written for the centenary in 1937.
I next find from Bro Robert F Gould’s History of Freemasonry (1882) that in 1785 a warrant to the Bahamas No.228 was issued by the Atholl Grand Lodge of England, but this Lodge died out before the union. A second No. 242, under the same jurisdiction was established in 1787 in Nassau. This survived the closing up of numbers in 1814, but died out before the repetition of that process in 1832.
A Scottish Lodge was established at Turks Island, under the Bahamas District Grand Lodge, in 1803, but is now extinct, as also one founded at Inagua in 1956, and one in New Providence in 1809. Lodges 275 Turks Islands, 298 Union, Nassau, and 372, Inagua, constituted Province No.39 under the Grand Lodge of Scotland. J F Cooke was appointed Provincial Grand master under the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1842. All of these Lodges have since ceased to function.
Lodges under the Grand Lodge of England were established at Nassau in 1837, No. 443 Royal Victoria, then No. 649, No. 647 Forth Lodge at Turks Island in 1855, and No. 1277 Britannia at Harbour Island. Of these No.443 and No. 647 Turks Island still work, but in 1870 No 647 asked to be removed from the District of the Bahamas as it was too inconvenient to send reports to Nassau, and requested to be allowed to report direct to England. This was allowed, as shown in an extract from a letter to the D.G.M. of the Bahamas, R.W. Bro T.W.H. Dillet, dated London W.C 8th January 1870, which states: “The Turks Island Forth Lodge No.647 Turks Island, West Indies, having represented to the M.W. Grand Master the great inconvenience to which the Lodge is exposed in consequence of the want of proper communication between Turks Island and Nassau, his Lordship has decided to grant their request to be removed from the Jurisdiction of the District Grand Lodge of the Bahamas, and to make their returns direct to this office. After 31st December, 1869, all returns and fees as requested by District Grand Lodge By-Laws being made to the District Grand Lodge up to date.
Notification of the Grand Master’s decision has been duly forwarded to Lodge No. 47 Turks Island.”
Britannia Lodge No. 1277 was chartered on the 16th July 1869 to meet at Dunmore Town, Harbour Island, on the first Tuesday of every month. The officers were as follows:-
Henry Lightbourn WM
William Albury SW
Benjamin Ingraham JW
J W Roberts, Robert G Sawyer, William Sawyer, Robert T George and Thomas B Sweeting.
At least two of the above, H C Lightbourn and Benjamin Ingraham, will be remembered by some of the brethren of Royal Victoria Lodge.
Britannia Lodge was erased on the 4th September, 1901, as it never made a single return to the Grand Lodge after the record of its foundation. So the only one of the original Lodges which remains since 1752 is Royal Victoria Lodge No.443
The meeting place of these old Lodges in Nassau is given as the Public Building and at Webster’s Tavern.
Prior to 1812, the Court House was situated at the Northeast Corner of Bay Street and Prison Lane (now Market Street). This was a wooden building comprising Court House and Jail, and it is hard to understand how a Masonic Lodge could hold its meetings there. So far as Webster’s Tavern is concerned, an exhaustive search of the papers of the latter part of the 18th century from 1770 up only reveals the information that a firm of Wine merchants – Evans and Webster – had their establishment “on the Bay”. As it is a well-known fact that the Bay extended all along the front of the city, I can only conclude that the tavern was somewhere along the water front.
LAYING OF CORNER STONES
Two of these old Lodges, Nos. 242 and 298, on the 16th August, 1810, laid the foundation stone of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. It is stated that:
“Early in the afternoon the Master, Wardens and Brethren of Lodges 242 and 298 of the Ancient Craft of Masonry, met at their respective Lodges clothed in the Badges and other Insignia of the different orders of Masonry. The procession, headed by the Band of the British West Indies Regiment, set out in the usual order and halted at the Court House, where the Trustees of the Church, their Secretary and Minister, His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief, members of the council and many of the principal inhabitants of the Colony had previously assembled and joined the procession and proceeded to the site of the intended structure, and there Lewis Kerr, Esq., representing the Provincial Grand Master, laid the stone with the formalities usual on these occasions.”
I find that the Provincial Grand Master at this time was Joseph Hunter, but can find nothing on the records about this Worshipful Brother, for the reason that the two Lodges mentioned were under the Scottish Jurisdiction and very little information can be obtained about Scottish Masonry in the Bahamas.
These Lodges also laid the corner stone of the Hog Island Lighthouse, the following account of which is given in the Royal Gazette of 12th October, 1816:
These two Lodges of Nassau having been requested to lay the Foundation Stone of this Building, with the usual ceremonies of Freemasonry, Wednesday, the 2nd day of October, 1816 was appointed for the purpose. Accordingly, between two and three o’clock of that day, Lodge No.242 marched from the Lodge Room in Shirley Street to the House occupied by the Union Lodge No. 298 on the water side, where both Lodges embarked in boats prepared for the occasion; and moved down the Harbour, in procession, to the sight of the intended Light House, preceded by some other boats conveying the Band of H.M. 2nd W.I. Regiment, the commissioners of Pilotage, the Contractor, etc., etc., and several distinguished visitors. Having arrived ad the place of destination, at the West End of Hog Island, the procession disembarked and went ‘in order’ to a temporary enclosure, erected and fitted up at the spot.
The officiating Master, after a few preparatory arrangements, explained to the bystanders the proposed business of the day; and received in form from the Designer (Brother Alexander M’Bride) a plan of the intended Building and a set of working Mason Tools that had been newly constructed for that particular work.
The following prayer was then read: ‘Almighty God, Architect of the Universe, who by Thy mighty word didst speak into being the numberless Grand Lights of thy high vaulted firmament, grant, we humbly beseech Thee, Thy blessing on the undertaking now before us: vouchsafe that the Beacon whose Foundations are this day laid in Thy name, may fulfil the just hopes of its founders, that with Thy aid, it may prove an unerring aid to the benighted Mariner, and a lasting and useful monument of public munificence; and as the flame to burn on this rising column will lead the storm beaten Vessel from darkness, peril and alarm, into the port of security, so may the Light of Thy Word, Oh Lord, be a Beacon to us all, to guide us from the dark and troubled sea of this life, into the bright and peaceful harbour of Thine eternal Grace and Glory in the world to come. And this we humbly pray in the name of Thy only Son, Jesus Christ the Redeemer.’
The three elements of consecration being produced in silver Chalices, were successively sanctified, and deposited in a large silver Ewer held by a Past Master. The Brethren advanced to the East Side of the Foundation; where a stone was prepared; and then with the usual solemnities raised, lowered and finally adjusted with care, according to the ancient usages of the craft; a small collection of coins and medals, with a Legend recording the date and other important incidents of the commencement of the structure being previously in due form deposited in a cemented phial, in a cavity under the stone.
The officiating Master then raising the elements of Consecration with a short benediction, consecrated the stone as laid in solemn form, and then striking its upper surface thrice with the mallet, returned with the Brethren to their former places.
The officiating Master then delivered a short address to the Brethren and bystanders concerning the importance of the proposed Building, on the score of Humanity, as well as of commercial advantage; and concluded by returning to the Designer the Plan of the work and his tools, with appropriate encouragement and instructions.
The ceremony was closed with the Grand Honours of Masonry, accompanied by the Military band in attendance and a discharge of Artillery at Hog Island point, consisting of ‘Three times three guns,’ which were answered from the ramparts of Fort Charlotte on the opposite side of the Harbour by an equal number.
The Masons and a number of other Guests, at the polite invitation of the Contractor (James Wood, Esq.) partook of an excellent collation in a house near the site of the intended Light House. The Lodges then returned in procession as before to their respective Lodge Rooms.
Owing to the roughness of the weather only a few ladies were present on the occasion; which was otherwise very respectfully as well as numerously attended.”
The corner stone of Christ Church, now the cathedral, was also laid by the Freemasons. The corner stone of the steeple of Christ Church, which was erected in 1830, was laid in due form by the Worshipful Master and Brethren of Union Lodge No.298, who used to hold their annual service on St John’s Day in Christ Church.
During the early part of 1830
“It having been found necessary to take down the steeple, in consequence of the dangerous state that it was considered to be in, Thursday 24th June 1830 was fixed as the day to lay the corner stone of the new and enlarged one. The hour appointed for the performance of the ceremony was four in the afternoon, but a very heavy rain having begun to fall before three, the Brethren of Union Lodge who had been requested to assist at the ceremonies could only move from their Lodge room at five o’clock, when preceded by the band of the 2nd W.I. Regiment the Lodge proceeded in procession to the Church, where they were met by the Church Wardens and Vestry. The members of the Lodge were conducted to a platform prepared for the occasion. And the Worshipful Master (William V Munnings Esq., Jr.) and several officers of the Lodge took their respective places, soon after which His Excellency the Governor arrived on the ground and was conducted to a station near the platform. The ceremony then commenced by Mr Heild, one of the Church Wardens, reading a copy of an inscription written for the occasion, to be deposited in a glass bottle under the corner stone, and exhibited a drawing to the steeple as it is to be connected with the Church. The Secretary of the Lodge then read a Latin inscription and these inscriptions, together with various coins in the bottle having been deposited, the Chaplain of the lodge having read certain verses appropriate to the occasion, the Stone was laid in due form. The Worshipful Master delivered an animated address in the course of which he explained the various instruments used in architectural pursuits, compared them respectively with the Moral influences which if observed would have the effect of making every bright young Mason a good man and a worthy member of Society.
The ceremony concluded with a very solemn Appeal to the Throne of Grace delivered by the Rev Mr Strachan, rector of St Matthew’s Church and officiating Minister of this Church”.
The corner stone of the present church, the sixth on the same site, was also laid by the Worshipful Master and Brethren of Union Lodge in 1837. In this connection, the Royal Gazette of 27th September, 1837, says:
“Christ Church, in this town, having from decay and being considered unsafe, been taken down some time ago, and a sum of money having been granted from the Colonial treasury for rebuilding it upon a more extensive and approved plan, yesterday (September 26th 1837) was fixed by the Commissioners for directing the work for its commencement, and His Excellency the Lieut-Governor having consented to lay the corner stone, with Military, Masonic and Civil honours, according to general usage, His Excellency accordingly repaired to the site of the edifice where a party of Military, with the Band of the 2nd W.I. Regiment, the Masonic Lodge, Civil Officers, etc., were in attendance, and the ceremony of enclosing in the foundation a crystal bottle with coins of the present time and laying the corner stone with the oblation of Corn and Wine in the accustomed form was gone through.”
The Church was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Jamaica on the 5th June 1845, and in 1861, when Nassau was made a separate See, it was designated the Cathedral.
This, as far as I can gather, was how Freemasonry came to the Bahamas and a few of the things it has done, and I trust that this short account of what to me is an intensely interesting study may prove of use to the Brethren, should at any time some visiting Brother desire information as to how Freemasonry came into existence in this, our Colony.