Founding of the Florida Grand Lodge
But fortunately, in 1898, the first authoritative record of early Masonry in Florida came to light in the form of a rare and very old copy of “Preston’s Illustration.” It had been presented to the Grand Lodge of Florida by Dr. F.F. Bond of Thomcliff, Brighouse, England. On the title page of this prized gift, the following words were inscribed, “The gift of James Murray to Saint Andrews Lodge No. 1, West Florida on June 27, 1776.” This was the first reliable information that a Masonic Lodge had existed in Florida at such an early date. In 1898, Deputy Grand Master Silas B. Wright was assigned the duty to investigate further the possibility of any other existing records of early Florida Masonry. He discovered there were indeed further records being held by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, which proved the existence of Masonry in Florida during the early Priesthood and the Spanish Government. The local Masons were forced to flee for their lives. However, in spite of the great danger, the Brothers did not leave the area until they had rescued their Lodge Charter and all the records, which included Minutes of every meeting held since their Charter had been issued. They finally reached safety in Charleston, South Carolina, and reports were sent back to the Provincial Grand Lodge at Saint Augustine detailing their plight. In 1772, they were granted Dispensation to work in South Carolina while under the Charter from the Territory of Florida. But when the Provincial Grand Lodge was suppressed in 1783, Saint Andrews Lodge No. 1 was without authority to function. The Grand Lodge of Philadelphia came to their assistance and re-Chartered the Lodge, but the name was changed to Saint Andrew’s Lodge No. 40 continued to work until it surrendered its Charter in 1817 and, together with four other Lodges, formed the Grand Lodge of South Carolina. Lodge No. 40 then assumed the name of Saint Andrews Lodge No. 10 and continued to work until 1881, when its Charter was surrendered. It is interesting to note that Albert G Mackey, who is very prominent in the records of Freemasonry, was Initiated, Passed, and Raised in Saint Andrews Lodge No. 10 in 1841.
Saint Augustine seemed to be the hotbed of Masonry in the Territory, and the Grand Lodge of England issued a Warrant to Lodge No. 58, again to be located in that city, but unfortunately, in only a short while, it became a dormant Lodge. However, on March 20, 1776, the Warrant to Lodge No. 58 was renewed. On January 3, 1778, the Grand Lodge of England also granted a Warrant to Lodge No. 204 in Saint Augustine, but the Warrant was later ordered returned due to the necessary fees not being paid.
The Grand Lodge of South Carolina provided much assistance to the Masons of Florida and issued a Warrant to Lodge No. 30, again in Saint Augustine, and to Lodge No. 56 in Pensacola. Both Lodges were short-lived as the Spanish Government suppressed all Masonic activities throughout its domain. In 1806, St. Fernando Lodge was Chartered by the Grand Lodge of Georgia to meet in Saint Augustine, but as was the case so many times before, the Spanish Government suppressed the Lodge in 1811. In 1820, Floridian Virtues Lodge No. 28 was Chartered by the Grand Lodge of South Carolina, but like many of its predecessors, it could not survive the politics of the day. It was the dream of the Masons in Florida, however, to be part of a regular Lodge and operate under the authority of a recognized Grand Lodge. This dream was fulfilled, and Masonry came to Florida on a permanent basis on December 19, 1825, when the Grand Lodge of Alabama issued a Warrant to Jackson Lodge No. 23 to be located in Tallahassee in the Territory of Florida. A year later, the Grand Lodge of Georgia issued a warrant to Washington Lodge No. 1 to be located in Quincy. On December 8, 1829, they also issued a Warrant to Harmony Lodge No. 2 in Marianna.
At this time, the political pressures had diminished and these three Lodges, which were the only three surviving Lodges in the Territory, operated under their respective Grand Lodges until 1830. In July 1830, they came together at a called conference, and the Grand Lodge of the Territory of Florida was born. One of the first orders of business was to renumber these three (3) Lodges and identify them as Jackson Lodge No. 1, Washington Lodge No. 2, and Harmony Lodge No. 3. I am happy to say that all three (3) of these original Lodges are still in existence and active Florida Lodges today. The convention to form this new Grand Lodge was chaired by W :. John Pope Duval, who was the most senior Past Master present. He was later elected as our first Grand Master and served our Grand Lodge for two years, 1830 and 1831. But, during the early years, our Grand Lodge was a Gypsy-type Grand Lodge, inasmuch as it did not own any property and had no permanent home.
For the first forty (40) years, the early Grand Communications were held in Tallahassee, but in 1870, the Grand Lodge of Florida was officially transferred to the city of Jacksonville, where it remains today. During that span of time in Jacksonville, our Grand Lodge has owned and occupied three (3) different Grand Lodge Buildings. As the history of our Grand Lodge was recorded on the pages of time, we find the lives and actions of Florida Masons played a very important role, not only in the development of our Fraternity and our State but our nation as well. These were many men of destiny who would lead our new State and Country into an uncertain future, and some were the men who would lay down their lives to make the future happen. Many of our Past Grand Masters were high-ranking military officers and influential businessmen who held high political offices. Twenty-one (21) of our State Governors and four ( 4) of the Governors of the Territory of Florida were Masons, and four (4) of these distinguished Brothers also served as Grand Masters of this Grand Jurisdiction.
Several of our Past Grand Masters served under General Andrew Jackson. Some of them were close personal friends, while others served as members of his staff. In the 184 years as a Grand Lodge, we have been honored by the leadership of 142 different Grand Masters, and each has their own unique story to tell, many of which are unique. One such story involved our 4th Grand Master, Most Worshipful Jesse Coe, an ordained minister who served as Chaplain under General Andrew Jackson. He rose to the rank of Major and served in the army through the war of 1812. He served as our Grand Master for a total of ten (10) years but asked not to be reelected due to health concerns. After his death in 1860, M:. W :. Coe had five (5) different Particular Lodges named in his honor, but unfortunately, as the years passed, they have all gone defunct.
Our 8th Grand Master, M:. W :. John Bradford Taylor, being a military man in his early years, stood in defense of Fort McHenry during the twenty-four (24) hour bombardment, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner,” which would become our National Anthem. M:. W:. Thomas Henry, who was our 16th Grand Master, was the grandson of Patrick Henry, of Revolutionary fame. Our 30th Grand Master, M:. W:. Angus Paterson had a very interesting Masonic History, which began with his petition for membership being rejected twenty-two (22) times. But he was a very persistent man; each year, he would re-petition the Lodge, and soon after his 47th birthday, he was raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason in 1882. Evidently, he progressed rather well as he served as Senior Warden the first year he was Raised and Worshipful Master of his Lodge for the next five ( 5) years. He then served as our Grand Master nine (9) years later, in 1891 and again in 1892.
M:. W:. John Leroy Brandon, who was our 54th Grand Master, certainly had a unique situation during his term of office, as he served six (6) weeks of his term as an unaffiliated Mason. He had requested a Dimit from his home Lodge, which was granted, and it was six (6) weeks later when he finally affiliated with another.
Our Grand Lodge, in its wisdom, has also seen fit to elect posthumously to the office of Grand Master four (4) additional Brothers who were called to the Celestial Lodge above while progressing through the Grand Lodge Line.
The Grand Lodge of Florida had only existed for a little over five (5) years when it experienced its first Grand Lodge Trial. It seems as if the Worshipful Master of Hiram Lodge was challenged to a duel, evidently, by another Brother of the Lodge. The challenge was accepted, and the parties met at the appointed time and place, and the Worshipful Master, evidently being the better shot, engaged in the duel and killed the other Brother. Masonic Charges were filed on the Worshipful Master for unmasonic conduct. But, after considerable testimony at the trial, the Craft concluded that the Worshipful Master acted in self-defense and was honorably acquitted.
During the history of our great Grand Lodge, we have seen 546 different Particular Lodges Chartered, along with 14 Memorial Lodges and the Florida Lodge of Research. Although during our 184 years of existence, many of the Chartered Lodges have either merged with other Lodges or simply gone defunct. We still have 286 active Lodges in the State, with almost 45,000 Florida Masons serving mankind and our beloved Fraternity. We also estimate that there are approximately 225,000 sojourning Masons in the State of Florida representing almost every State in the United States and even some foreign countries. Many of these Brothers regularly attend our Lodges and enjoy our Fraternal Fellowship.
For the past few years, as with most Grand Jurisdictions, we have witnessed a decline of members on our rolls. But we look forward to a bright future and remain hopeful that an influx of new members will once again raise our membership rolls to heights known in the decades past. And although we may never increase to that number again, Masonry in Florida is alive and well and working under the concept that Basic Masonry is the key to our future.