Masonic Paper: Further Light on Freemasonry in the Bahamas 1752-1882

by Ralph D Seligman, District Grand Master, District of Bahamas and Turks, United Grand Lodge of England (Hon Past Grand Deacon, Grand Lodge of Ireland)

Very little has been written on the early history of Freemasonry in the Bahamas other than the pamphlet of Arthur B Sutton written and published in 1932 and T A Thompson’s History of the Royal Victoria Lodge No. 443, Nassau which was written in 1937 and published in 1961.

Further knowledge of some of the events and personalities mentioned in those works have come to my notice over a period of years resulting in this paper which will principally deal with

  1. the first Provincial Grand Master in the Bahamas
  2. an old Ancient Lodge No.242, Nassau, which became extinct before the Union in 1813.
  3. a remarkable Bahamian Mason, Stephen Dillet
  4. the Irish Regimental Lodge no. 192 which was in Nassau in 1790.

I also propose to correct a number of inaccuracies and inconsistencies in those works.

I start with W Bro Sutton’s most interesting pamphlet, the only aggravating feature of which is that it is undated – I found out the date by sheer coincidence because I am a member of the Irish Lodge of Research No. CC and am in possession of the published transactions of that Lodge which date back to 1914. (Incidentally two papers I originally gave to the Bahamas Installed Masters were subsequently given by me in Dublin to Lodge CC and have been published in its Transactions.)

As will be seen from the flyleaf of W Bro Sutton’s pamphlet he was an Associate member of the Correspondence Circle of Lodge CC – by a stroke of good fortune, I happened to notice in Lodge CC’s Volume of Transactions for the years 1929-33 a list of gifts received and listed to a meeting held in April 1933 and included in this list is the following “from the Author, a pamphlet entitled “Freemasonry in the Bahamas, by Arthur B Sutton, P.M” 1932 – so now we know with certainty the date of the pamphlet.

W Bro Sutton’s opening observations included the appointment in 1752 of John Tinker, the Governor of the Bahamas to be “District Grand Master of the Bahamas and places adjacent” and he states he received this information from the Grand Lodge Librarian in London, Bro Gordon P G Hills who told Bro Sutton that it was not unusual to confer such a rank in those days upon the Governors of Colonies even though there were no Lodges for them to govern.

W Bro Sutton has fallen into a slight error here in reference to Governor Tinker’s appointment in 1752 as District Grand Master of the Bahamas in that what are now known as Districts under the Grand Lodge of England were until 1866 known as Provinces exactly in all respects as Provinces were then and still are in England (see e.g. the Prestonian Lecture for 1989 by R W Bro Sir Lionel Brett, published in the Transaction of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, Volume 103 for the year 1990, 154 at page 160 under ‘Provinces, Districts and Groups’).

In Mackey’s Encyclopedia of Freemasonry in the Article “Bahama Islands’ the Governor’s correct Masonic style is given as being appointed ‘Provincial Grand Master’ in 1752 but the name is unfortunately misspelled as “Tinkler” – however the Article does give an additional tidbit of information that Brother ‘Tinkler’ had been made a Freemason in 1730.

A further and perhaps more serious misspelling of the name of our First Provincial Grand master is to be found in the Historical Supplement of the Masonic Year Book, published by the Grand Lodge of England inn 1969 on page 48 of which under the list of Provincial Grand Masters for Central and South America and West Indies he is listed as “Hon John Tucker” for 1752.

This matter is of importance in the light of the fact in January 1992 the District Grand Lodge of Jamaica is holding a celebration of the 250th Anniversary of the Appointment of its First Provincial Grand Master in 1742 and who I trust is correctly listed on page 42 of the Supplement as Ballard Beckford.

The significance of this is that only eleven years hence, in 2002, we will be celebrating the 250th Anniversary of our First Provincial Grand master and I hope this paper will serve towards rehabilitating him to his correct style and title.
Whoever will be presiding over the 2002 celebrations will be well advised to familiarize himself with further details of Governor Tinker’s somewhat stormy career as Governor from 1742 to 1758 and which of course will be found in any Bahamian history book – the best account I have found is in Michael Craton’s well-known History of the Bahamas, Chapter XIII ‘Tinker and Thomas Shirley 1738-1767’ pages 136 to 148.

Some months prior to his death in 1758 Governor Tinker wrote what turned out to be his epitaph and which I feel might well have been differently written if in fact he really did have Lodges to govern in the Bahamas; he wrote of “having to sacrifice so many years of my life upon a barren rock, in the Atlantic, struggling under many and great difficulties, in very bad company…the sphere I act in is so narrow, the events so few and insignificant in this place, that they are seldom worth recounting….at present the spirit of privateering has taken possession of these people & extinguished every other industrious or commercial application in times of war” (Craton at page 143). It is therefore up to this District to try to force the good Brother in the Grand Lodge Above to eat these words.

Incidentally, it is interesting to note that the brethren in that part of our District which comprises the Turks and Caicos Islands are fully entitled to participate in the 2002 celebrations because of Brother Tinker’s appointment in 1752 as Provincial Grand Master of the Bahamas and ‘adjacent islands’; to those unfamiliar with the history of the Bahamas I should perhaps mention that the Turks and Caicos Islands were politically connected with the Bahamas in 1752 and only ceased to be so connected in 1848 when they came under the jurisdiction of the Governor of Jamaica but remained masonically part of the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Bahamas (which became the District Grand Lodge of the Bahamas in 1866) until 1869 when, as noted in W Bro Sutton’s pamphlet, they were removed from the District at their own request due to the inconvenience of ‘the want of proper communication between Turks Islands and Nassau”. Happily that want of proper communication has now been restored with the comparatively recent consecration of this District of the Bahamas and Turks.

I now turn to R W Bro Sutton’s references on pages 6 and 10 of his pamphlet to Lodge 242, Nassau.

On page 6 he cites Robert Gould’s history of Freemasonry (1882) as authority for the issue by the Atholl Grand Lodge of England in 1785 of a warrant for Bahamas Lodge No 228 which died out before the Union and that a second warrant was issued in 1787 for Lodge 242 in Nassau which died out before 1832.

Before dealing with Bro Sutton’s subsequent reference to Lodge 242 it is opportune to point out that the Atholl Freemasons were more generally known as the Antient Freemasons – their Grand Lodge was founded in 1751 – in 1813 the ‘Antients’ joined with the ‘Moderns’ to form the United Grand Lodge of England.

Bro Sutton’s pamphlet on pages 6 and 7 mentions the founding of various Scottish Lodges including Union Lodge, Nassau No.298 and page 10 goes on to relate the laying of the foundation stone of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on 16th August 1810, and that there was a procession of the Master, Wardens and Brethren of Lodges 242 and 298 to the site of the intended structure and that there, representing the Provincial Grand Master, Lewis Kerr Esq laid the stone.

Bro Sutton then states that the Provincial Grand Master was Joseph Hunter, of whom he can find nothing on the records “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” – so we have the striking inconsistency of Lodge 242 described on page 6 as having been warranted by the Atholl Grand Lodge of England and on page 10 as a Scottish Lodge on which it is difficult to obtain information.

Once again by various strokes of luck, which I shall now relate, interesting information about Lodge 242 has come into my possession.

In 1972 Mr William T McWeeney had a column entitled ‘Bahamian Historical Legacies’ published in the Nassau Guardian and containing the results of his researches into early copies of the Bahamian Gazette which was first printed in 1784 and other historical documents – in the 6th December 1972 issue of the Nassau Guardian his column included the following extract from the Bahamas Gazette:- “From Friday December 24 to Tuesday, December 28 1790.

NASSAU, DECEMBER 28 1790

Yesterday being the Feast of St John the Evangelist, the Members of Military Lodge 192 on the Registry of Ireland, and of Lodge 242 on the Registry of England, walked in procession, in the forenoon, to Christ Church, where a sermon suitable to the occasion, was delivered by the Rev Brother Richards. Divine Service ended, the Brethren returned in procession to the Lodge room, where they dined and spent the afternoon and evening with that decent festivity and social mirth which characterize all the regular meetings of the Ancient Craft.”

Nineteen years after that report I was to learn through the assistance of William McWeeney’s son, the Hon. Senator Sean McWeeney, the present Attorney General of the Bahamas, where the Lodge room of Lodge 242 was and what happened to it.

This arose because of Senator Mcweeney’s desire to publish the fruits of his researches into the life of Stephen Dillet, the first black man to sit in the House of Assembly in 1833 and a prominent Freemason. Senator McWeeney could not find a photograph of Stephen Dillet and he was most grateful to receive from me (with W Bro Gerry Leonard’s assistance) a copy of Stephen Dillet’s photograph which hangs amongst the photographs (popularly known to us as “the Rogues’ Gallery”) of all the Past masters in the present Temple in Bay Street, Nassau, of Royal Victoria Lodge No. 443 from its founding in 1837 to the present time. In exchange for this Senator McWeeney sent me various photostatic extracts from the Royal Gazette which throw a great deal of light on Lodge 242. Brother Stephen Dillet and Lewis Kerr, the Brother mentioned in Sutton’s pamphlet as heading the procession in 1810 in connection with the St Andrew’s Church foundation stone.

I shall first deal with the further light thrown (as we will see in more ways than one) on Lodge 242.

An extract from the Bahamas Gazette contains the following three items:-

  1. A proclamation dated 20th January 1825 signed by C R Nesbitt, Deputy Secretary, on behalf of the Governor referring to ‘the House, heretofore used as a Masonic Lodge in Bay Street….in the Island of New Providence” – which was “on the night of Wednesday, the 19th of January…burnt to the ground, and it is suspected that the said House was wilfully and maliciously set on fire” – the proclamation goes on to offer a reward of two hundred pounds for information leading to the conviction of the offender or offenders
  2. A report dated 22nd January 1825 as follows:- “We are requested to correct a mistake in our last number relative to the fire at the Masons’ Lodge. The charter, records, seals, jewels, etc of the Royal Arch Chapter, and Knights’ Templars’ encampment were fortunately not in the building at the time. The furniture only of the Chapter perished. To which may be added the archives etc…of the late Lodge No. 242 which on the dissolution of that Lodge had been deposited with those of the Union Lodge No. 298 and shared their fate” and
  3. A notice dated 22nd January 1825 by Stephen Dillet as follows:- “Whereas certain base and infamous insinuations and aspersions have been circulated against the subscriber tending to assert that he had caused a late fire to be effected…..in the Eastern District of this Island” – the Notice goes on to offer a reward of one hundred pounds “for information and evidence as will enable him to ground a legal prosecution against any person or persons who can be proved to have been the Author, or Authors, of so atrocious a calumny”. So here we have Brother Dillet vigorously denying shedding light on Lodge No. 242!

The remainder of Brother Dillet’s Masonic history can be summarized as

  • In May 1842 (5 years after the foundation of Royal Victoria Lodge in 1837) he served on a committee reporting on “Variances between the bye-laws of the lodge and the Constitution of the Grand Lodge (see Thompson’s History);
    In May 1844 Brother Dillet and Bros James Jarret and Gilbert C Smith were appointed Trustees of ‘a building fund for the purchase or erection of a suitable Hall for the Union and Royal Victoria Lodges” (Thompson’s History Chapter XVI)
  • In 1847 Bro Dillet was installed as Master in Royal Victoria and in 1850, 1851, his son T W H Dillet served as Master of the Lodge – however in the ‘Rogues Gallery’ there is no photograph for the year 1847 and two photographs of two men one obviously older than the other, one dated 1850 and the other 1851 but both named T W H Dillet – this is clearly a mistake with which I will deal later more fully
  • On 8th March 1848 W Bro Stephen Dillet introduced a resolution about dues (Thompson, Chapter IV)
    By 1857 Stephen Dillet was the Deputy Provincial Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Bahamas (which had been constituted in 1843 with Hon George G Anderson as Provincial Grand Master – Thompson Chapter XVIII) and
  • (the final Masonic reference I can find to Stephen Dillet) In 1862 the Nassau Advertiser printed a lecture on Freemasonry given on 1st February 1857 at Union Lodge (whose number had by now changed from 298 to 231) by James H Minns, PM, PGJW of the Grand lodge of Scotland, the lecture having been dedicated to “Brother Stephen Dillet, Esq, Deputy Provincial Grand Master, Bahamas, under Registry of England, I token of the highest respect for his Masonic knowledge as well as the personal regard entertained towards him by the compiler”.

W Bro Thompson’s History of Royal Victoria on its last page states that the minutes of the Provincial Grand Lodge are faithfully recorded from its inception up to 30th December 1859, that the next item is dated August 1863 and that no other records have been found. He then poses the question “When did the Provincial Lodge cease to function?” and proceeds to answer it by saying that “perhaps it became unnecessary after Forth Lodge at Grand Turks Island was allowed to report directly to Grand Lodge in 1870 (vide Sutton above), and Royal Victoria was the only Lodge in the Colony under the Grand Lodge of England”. This statement, however, is inaccurate because the Historical Supplement at Grand Lodge at page 48 , after listing Hon. Sir George Anderson’s appointment as Provincial Grand Master in 1843 goes on to list Stephen Dillet’s son T.W.H. Dillet as having been appointed on 27th June, 1864 and as having resigned in 1875 (and if Sir Lionel Brett is correct, having become renamed from ‘Provincial’ Grand Master to ‘District’ Grand Master in 1866). T.W.H. Dillet’s listing is followed by the appointment of Hon. H.J. Webb on 3rd June, 1875 and who is listed as having died in 1934 – I note he was Past Master of Royal Victoria in 1858.

Furthermore, W Bro Thompson’s speculation on the last page of his history that the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Bahamas may have ceased to exist in 1870 is negatived by his detailed description in Chapter XI of his history on pages 58 to 64 inclusive of the laying of the corner-stone of the present Masonic Temple in Bay Street on July 17, 1882, in which the address of “the Hon J.H. Webb, District Grand Master for the Bahamas under the English Constitution” is related verbatim at length.

The Masonic saga of Stephen Dillet, however, is not quite yet complete because in addition to his son T.W.H. Dillet he had an illegitimate son, Captain Stephen Albert Dillet and considerable confusion arose in 1972 when Sir Etienne Dupuch, the Editor of the Nassau Tribune, wrote an editorial on July 1st 1972, featuring Captain Dillet and publishing a picture of him as Retired 2nd Officer, Imperial Lighthouse service. The editorial incorrectly states that Captain Dillet had a school named after him (a reference to the Stephen Dillet school in Wulff Road, which was not founded by Capt. Dillet but by his father). The editorial also mentions that the first Dillet came to Nassau from Haiti and that he was the son of Etienne Dillet, a French Army Officer, by a native woman, and that his name was Stephen, the English equivalent of Etienne – that during the revolution in Haiti in 1802, the child Stephen was put aboard a vessel along with his mother which headed for Cuba, was captured by a British privateer and brought to Nassau. The editorial incorrectly speculates that this Stephen Dillet was Captain Dillet’s uncle or cousin and mentions that having been indentured to a sailor, this Stephen Dillet was elected to the House of Assembly for the City District which he served for 30 years and that he became a Vestryman of Christ Church Cathedral, Postmaster of The Bahamas, a Trustee of the Public Bank, and Deputy Adjutant General of the Military and, as such, a member of the Governor’s staff.

If Sir Etienne had carefully read A.T. Bethel’s ‘The Early Settlers of The Bahamas”, he might have observed in the Third Edition at page 135 that this same first Stephen Dillet was a slave-owner who, on being paid Ł180 by his slave William Bain, freed him from bondage on 2nd May 1826.

The editorial then mentions the possibility of confusion about the two Stephens having received a phone call from Howard McKinney whom most of us will fondly remember as a prominent member of Royal Victoria Lodge who had a distinguished public career as Comptroller of Customs.

Apparently W Bro McKinney, according to the editorial, had been asked for a picture of Stephen Dillet by a teacher of the Stephen Dillet School and that he had given her a negative of Stephen Dillet from the photographs of the Past Masters of Royal Victoria which he realized, after she had left, was the wrong picture – Bro McKinney wanted Sir Etienne to tell her to come back for the right picture but she never did because Sir Etienne did not see her thereafter. I shall therefore indulge in the liberty of speculating that this may explain the confusion in the Rogues’ Gallery I have adverted to above resulting in no purported picture for Stephen Dillet in 1847 and two different purported pictures for T.W.H. Dillet for 1850 and 1851 of which that of the older man must surely be that of Stephen and not his legitimate son. The editorial finally concedes Captain Dillet was not a Mason and that he strongly resented Masonry because “during this century, coloured men have not been accepted in this Order” – Sir Etienne Dupuch unwittingly distorts the truth by this statement – the facts are that racial tension around the turn of the last century resulted in the coloured Brethren of Royal Victoria effectively excluding white candidates which led to their ouster in a coup d’etat, the result of which was the reverse of no coloured candidates being admitted to Royal Victoria until our late R W Bro Sid Larkin together with a number of other British and Bahamian Brethren of the Lodge successfully campaigned to have this unmasonic situation reversed a number of years ago.
I can now leave Stephen Dillet and his sons to what I hope will be the tender mercies of Senator McWeeney’s forthcoming book or published article.

I now conclude this paper by returning to William T McWeeney’s reference to the Irish Military Lodge No. 192 whose members walked in procession with the members of Lodge No.242 on 27th December 1790. The Regiment to which Lodge No. 192 was attached was the 47th Foot, originally raised by Colonel John Mardaunt in 1741 – A Colonel Lascelles succeeded to the command in 1743 and it was always known as ‘Lascelle Regiment’ until official numerical titles were given to Regiments of the line in 1751 – its warrant No.192 was issued by the Grand Lodge of Ireland in March 1749 and cancelled on 4th July 1823 by which time the Regiment was known as “1st Battalion, the Loyal Regiment (N. Lancs)” (see Lodge CC Transactions 1949-1957 ‘Some notes on Irish Military Warrants by V W Bro R.E. Parkinson page 114 at page 132 – and see also Transactions for 1921 pages 28 to 55 inclusive containing various papers comprising a most comprehensive Masonic and Military history of this Regiment including a full account of General Wolfe’s victory at Quebec in September 1759 and in which the 47th Foot was in the centre of the order of battle (pages 40 to 48)’).

Reference is made (on Page 31) to Robertson’s History of Freemasonry in Canada that soon after Wolfe’s victory in September 1759, “the 47th Regiment played an important part in establishing the Masonic Order in Quebec – in the winter of 1759 the Masters and Wardens of the Military Lodges at Quebec met and elected Bro. Lieut. Guinet of Lodge No. 192, Irish Register, in the 47th Regiment as Provincial Grand Master of Quebec” – and on pages 31 and 32 it is stated that in December 1761 Bro Milbourne West of Lodge No. 192, Irish Register, in the 47th Regiment was elected and held office until 24th June 1763, when Brother Turner, Lieutenant of the 47th Regiment, and of the same Lodge held the position for one year.

The full military history of the Lodge at this period is recounted by a Major John Goddard at pages 39 to 55 and he states (at page 52) that the Regiment finally left Quebec in 1763 when it returned to Europe, landing in Cork, Ireland in December of that year – the Regiment remained in Ireland until 1773 when it was sent back to America and took part in the battle of Bunker’s Hill in June 1775 and the siege of Boston – after the evacuation of Boston it went to Halifax in 1776 and was sent again to Canada where it formed part of the force which accompanied General Burgoyne which commenced at Montreal and ended in the capitulation of Saratoga in October 1777 – the skeleton of the Regiment returned to England in 1781 and was sent to Lancashire to recruit, whence it derived its original County title of The Lancashire Regiment (pages 53 and 54) . Major Goddard’s account then goes on to state (at page 54) that “In 1790 the 47th went to the American station once more and in 1806 was sent to the Cape, whence it was diverted to take part in the Montevideo expedition of that year”. Thanks to William T McWeeney’s column in the Nassau Guardian we know the Regiment and its Lodge was in Nassau in 1790 and I hope I will be forgiven if I have dwelt at some length on the Military and Masonic history of the remarkable Regiment which played so large a part in some of the most important periods of Canadian and American history and I am proud to publicise its links with Nassau – it only remains for me to add that Sir Guy Carleton, after whom Lodge No. 9134 in this District is named, was Honorary Colonel of the 47th in 1773 (see p 47 of Reynold’s biography of Carleton). Sir Guy Carleton merits a separate Masonic paper, which I am presently compiling.

In conclusion I am happy to have had this opportunity of shattering a few myths in our scanty Masonic history – in this I have been inspired by the very apt saying in 1 Esdras 4:41 – “Great is Truth and mighty above all things”.
Since I delivered the above paper to the Bahamas Installed Masters’ Lodge in Freeport in November 1991, Senator McWeeney has furnished me with a number of the Bahamas Gazette in which I have found the announcement of the arrival of the 47th Foot in the Endymion from Ireland via Halifax on July 2nd 1790, followed by an announcement dated December 14th 17901 of the arrival of Colonel Irving in the Brig New Grove from Cork with a party of recruits for the Regiment.

From 1792 to 1799 the Bahamas Gazette contains constant references to the Regiment. Marriages, and deaths of its officers and men and their wives, including the drowning of three men in a boating accident in February 1792, its participation in celebration of the King’s birthday, etc….

In the issue of 12th March 1799 there is a Notice cautioning the Master of vessels carrying off deserters which is signed by Lieutenant Colonel J Irving as Commandant of the Regiment.

The final reference I have found to the Regiment is dated April 2nd 1799 announcing the sailing for Charleston in the Brig Nancy McAllister of Captain Stokes.

The compiler of the paper printed in the Transaction of Lodge CC has made no reference to the whereabouts of the Regiment between 1790 and 1799 which, it is now clear, was in Nassau.

Incidentally there are constant references in the December issues of the Gazette from 1785 onwards of the celebration of St John’s Day by the Brethren of Lodge 242 and/or Union Lodge and including a Ball and Supper held by the Society of Freemasons in Smith’s Tavern, Nassau, on 24th January 1786 to celebrate “the Birthday of Frederick, King of Prussia…distinguished Patron of the Ancient Craft”.

–Ralph D Seligman,
Nassau, Bahamas March 1992

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