August 5, 2013
Early History of the Grand Lodge of California
History of the Grand Lodge of California
Eugene Goldman, past Master (2)
You know, or should know, that Masonry in its modern Speculative form began with the organization of the first
Grand Lodge and of the Grand Lodge system in London, England, in 1717.
It is also important to be aware that the earliest known record of an American Lodge is dated at 1730, only thirteen years after the constituting of the Mother Grand Lodge. In parallel with the evolution of the USA, Masonry moved from East to West. From England to New England, across the fruited plains, majestic mountains and beautiful deserts, to the Golden Coast in the West pioneers, travelers and seekers of all description sojourned, and settled.
The history of the Grand Lodge of California is inseparable from the history of the State of California. Those same brave pioneers who came west in search of wealth, fame, and opportunity came to bring their beloved fraternity, and all that it entails, with them. In some cases, bringing Masonry to “The New Frontier” was their primary purpose.
Grand Masters of Eastern jurisdictions issued Charters to western-bound sojourners, giving them the right to work as Lodges in the Wild West, under the jurisdiction of the Eastern Grand Lodge.
Other Grand Masters issued Dispensations, giving groups of Masons who found themselves in this Masonic wilderness the right to meet and organize as Masonic Lodges.
In 1849, the Grand Master of Louisiana gave a grant, similar to a dispensation, to a group that eventually became The Pacific Lodge at Benicia, and later was chartered as Benicia Lodge #5. The Lodge building they built was the first in California, and is still standing. In it are the first jewels used by the Lodge, made of tin and cut from cans of food. In the Lodge room, on the altar, is another relic from 1850, their Holy Bible.
The Grand Lodge of Connecticut issued a Charter to Connecticut Lodge No. 76 on January 31st, 1849. When the Grand Lodge of California was formed in 1850, it became Tehama Lodge #3.
In 1849, gold was discovered near Sutter’s Mill. Word quickly moved eastward, and men accordingly began to move west. Such a long, difficult and dangerous journey is not to be undertaken lightly, or alone. Men seeking their fortunes knew that to go it alone was an invitation to disaster. Accordingly, they banded together into traveling parties, and sought ways to fulfill the need for fraternalism and mutual assistance. Some had long been Masons, others joined Masonic Lodges, and together, as Brethren, they made their way West.
It is unsurprising; therefore, that many prominent leaders in this new frontier were members of our fraternity. With the number of Masons, and the prominence the Craft played in their lives and the lives of others, the obvious action was to create a Grand Lodge of Masons in California.
As early as March of 1850, Masons in California attempted to form a Grand Lodge. That attempt failed, but the following month saw success. Invitations were issued to all the Masonic Lodges known to be in California, and all past Grand Officers of other jurisdictions known to be living here, to send delegates to a convention. At this convention, a new Grand Lodge was to be formed. On April 17th, 1850, in Sacramento three Chartered Lodges presented credentials, and three Lodges under dispensation sent delegates.
The year 1850 was a busy year for the Grand Master of Illinois. He issued dispensations for two Lodges in California. The first, Laveley Lodge in Marysville later became Marysville Lodge #9, and still later changed it’s name to Corinthian Lodge #9. The second Illinois Lodge in California, Pacific Lodge, near Oroville, held it’s meetings at a place called Long’s Bar. Formed in 1850, it faded from the scene, and it’s members were allowed to affiliate with California Lodges.
The day following the formation of the Grand Lodge of California, the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin issued a Charter to Lafayette Lodge # 29, in Nevada City. While technically a breach of courtesy for one Grand Lodge to issue a Charter to a Lodge in the area of another jurisdiction, this was done in all innocence. Communications and transportation were not then what they are today. In addition, they did not have the Internet to make things as speedy as we know them. In 1851, a fire destroyed the Charter, and the Lodge was immediately re Chartered as Nevada Lodge #13. It remains so known to this day.
The oldest recorded California Lodge is California Lodge # 1, which was chartered by the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia as California Lodge # 13.
The vault of Western Star Lodge #2, in Shasta City, California, contains many valuable relics, memorializing its move from Benton City, near Chico, in 1851. Others show the number 98, which was issued by the Grand Lodge of Missouri on May 10, 1848, when it was first Chartered.
The Grand Lodge of California, in April of 1850, thereby consisted of three Chartered Lodges. Total membership in those Lodges was 103. An inauspicious beginning, perhaps, but it led to fantastic growth.
In September of 1850, the Republic of California became a State in the United States of America. Five Months earlier, the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of California was formed. Jonathan D. Stevenson of San Francisco became the first Grand Master. On April 19th, 1850, assisted by a full corps of officers, he opened the first session of the Grand Lodge of California in ample form.
Berryman Jennings Lodge was the forth Lodge Chartered in under the Grand Lodge of California. Sometimes known as Berryman Lodge, sometimes as Jennings Lodge, it was named for a distinguished Mason who eventually became the first Grand Master of Oregon. The Lodge was originally Chartered by the GL of Louisiana and transferred it’s Charter to California.
During the Cholera epidemic that swept the State, they went broke providing assistance to the infirmed.
Another dispensation issued by the Grand Master of Louisiana formed Davy Crockett Lodge #7. Ruben Clark was Master in 1851, and served the State of California as Architect and Builder of the State Capitol building in Sacramento. 1852 saw the name changed to San Francisco Lodge #7, as the Lodge moved from the jurisdiction of Louisiana to the Grand Lodge of California.
Mining has been, from the beginning, a major industry in California. Wherever a successful mine can be found, a town to support that mine will be nearby. Fascinating names were established for these towns and no less fascinating names for the Lodges Chartered therein. A few examples include: Rough and Ready at a camp by the same name in Nevada County; Indian Diggings Lodge in El Dorado County; Saint Mark ‘s Lodge at Fiddletown; Oro Fino, at a town by that name in Siskiyou County; Violet Lodge at Spanish Flat; Rising Sun Lodge at Brandy City; Mount Carmel Lodge at Red Dog, Nevada County. These and more, added color to the local landscape, and made Masonry a part of the community.
In addition to Lodges Chartered by other jurisdictions, there were eleven dispensations issued by Grand Masters from Eastern jurisdictions. A few eventually became Chartered Lodges. Others thrived for a time and then faded away. The rest just never manifested at all. In most cases, a dispensation would be issued for a Traveling Lodge, to a group of Masons headed west. These early California Masons would hold meetings when and where they could, and some held together long enough to take hold in a California community.
The Grand Master of Indiana issued a dispensation to form Sierra Nevada Lodge, in Grass Valley, in 1848. The Lodge eventually failed, and its members later formed Madison Lodge, which was chartered under the Grand Lodge of California.
Grants and dispensations were also authorized and issued by Grand Masters of New Jersey, Virginia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Florida. None of these lasted very long, most never advanced beyond the Traveling Lodge stage.
From 103 members in three Chartered Lodges, the Grand Lodge of California grew. By November of 1850, Jennings Lodge No. 4 of Sacramento; Benicia Lodge No. 5; Sutter Lodge No. 6 of Sacramento; Davy Crockett No. 7 of San Francisco; Tuolumne Lodge No. 8 of Sonora; Marysville Lodge No. 9; San Jose Lodge No. 10; and Willamette Lodge No. 11 of Portland, Oregon, were chartered. The Grand Lodge of California had grown to 304 Masons; nearly tripling it’s size in members and quadrupling in Lodges in seven Months.
Human organizations tend to grow, change and shrink. By 1860, two Lodges had moved to the jurisdiction of Oregon, thirteen had surrendered their Charters; two had lost them for cause. Grand Lodge now consisted of 128 Lodges and 5055 members.
With a stabilizing population, the establishment of more cities, towns and communities, and the settlement of this wild new frontier winding down, more growth, changes and evolution inevitably follow.
Brother John Whicher, former Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of California tells an interesting story of a characteristic mining camp in the early days of California.
“Of the numerous mining camps of early days, ” says Brother Whicher, “one only need be noted. The largest mining camp in California was Columbia, in Tuolumne County, known as the ‘Gem of the Southern Mines’.
Many of these Lodges no longer exist. Towns, particularly mining towns, were successful only as long as the mines they supported produced a profit.
Gold was discovered, and within one month the stampede from nearby camps resulted in a population of 6000 miners. Every week brought more treasure-hunters, and flush times counted 30,000 men madly digging in the hills thereabouts, 15,000 being in the city limits. By 1865, Columbia was dead. It contained forty saloons, a long street devoted to fandangos and hurdy-gurdies, four theaters, one Chinese theater with a stock company of forty native actors, three jewelry stores, a bull ring, 143 faro banks with a combined capital of $2,000,000, four hotels, two military companies, two hose companies, three express offices, four banks, four newspapers, two churches, a Sunday school, a division of the Sons of Temperance, and Columbia Lodge No. 28, of Masons. The principal bank was that of D. O. Mills, the steps leading to the building being of white Columbia marble, and the counters of mahogany. It contained huge gold scales with a capacity of $40,000 in dust and nuggets. The camp produced within a radius of three miles and shipped $125,000,000 in gold. The Masonic Lodge was a power in the work of maintaining order and decent government, but after the gold-fever and the mines had subsided, the membership fell to a low ebb, and in 1891 the old Lodge, established July, 1852, consolidated with Tuolumne Lodge No. 8, at the historic town of Sonora, where it still carries on. There are innumerable ghost cities on the Mother Lode, but Columbia was the gem of them all.”
During the formation of the Grand Lodge of California, several other Grand Lodges made significant contributions to our success. In 1989, we reciprocated. Out of our midst, a new Grand Lodge was formed – in America’s 50th state.
In a landmark decision at our Annual Communications in 1995, we recognized The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of California and Hawaii, Inc.
Grand Lodge is composed of Lodges
Lodges are composed of members
One EXTREMELY interesting Mason from California history:
Emperor Norton the First
•Highlights from the Emperor’s reign …
•1819 Born in London, England on February 14 to John and Sarah Norton
•1849 Arrived in San Francisco from South Africa with US $40,000
•1854 Lost the considerable fortune he had built up in real-estate speculation by trying to corner the rice market in San Francisco
•1859 September 17 – Issued the first of his now famous proclamations by proclaiming himself the Emperor of the United States
At the pre-emptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last nine years and ten months past of San Fransisco, California, declare and proclaim myself the Emperor of These United States. – September 17, 1859
Commanding that the Golden Gate bridge be built
“Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abdominal word ‘Frisco,’ which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor.” Penalty for noncompliance was $25.
Newspapers of the day printed his proclamations (and even made some up which were not from Norton!)
•Many of the “decrees” attributed to Norton I were fakes written in jest by newspaper editors at the time for amusement, or for political purposes.
•In order to pay his bills he issued paper notes, mostly in 50 cent denominations but some $5 and $10 notes exist. Today they are worth far more than the face value (if they can be found).
•He also lived off the kindness of his subjects, going withersoever he wished, holding court wherever his Imperial Highness happened to be.
•In someone’s back house
•Above a store
•In a Masonic Lodge building
In 1869 he abolished both the Democratic and Republican parties, - ”Being desirous of allaying the dissension’s of party strife now existing within our realm, I do hereby dissolve and abolish the Democratic and Republican parties, and also do hereby degree the disfranchisement and imprisonment, for not more than ten, nor less than five years, to all persons leading to any violation of this our imperial decree.” –San Francisco Herald, August 4, 1869
Another time he called upon the other leaders of the world to join him in forming a League of Nations where disputes between nations could be resolved peacefully.
Died January 8, on California St. On January 10, 1880
He was buried in the Masonic Cemetery. •The funeral cortege was two miles long – •Between 10,000 and 30,000 people were reported to have attended.
1934 Grave moved to Colma Cemetery.
During his daily patrol of the streets of San Francisco Norton made certain that all sidewalks were unobstructed. He reviewed the police to see that they were on duty. He checked on the progress of needed street repairs, inspected buildings under construction, and in general saw to it that all office city’s ordinances were enforced.
“During one of the typical anti-Chinese demonstrations so common at the time, the emperor gave the local populace a lesson in the practical application of civics – and prayer. Sensing the dangerously heated tone of one particular meeting, Norton is reported to have stood up before the group, bowed his head and begun reciting the Lord’s Prayer. within a few minutes the agitators retreated in shame without putting any of their threats into cruel action.”
2000 Annual Communication
•45 % of Lodges are South of Tehachapi
•29 Lodges in SanDiego countv
During our 150 year tenure as a Sovereign Grand Lodge, 845 Charters have been issued in California Masonry.
457 of them are no more. Some have moved to other jurisdictions, nearly 300 Lodges have become extinct and some have consolidated.
Freemasonry in the Grand Lodge of California, notwithstanding, has still survived. At the 2000 Annual Communications, there were 90,914 Masons in 388 Constituent Lodges, which can be found in every city and in or near most of the smaller towns in the state. The age of the average California Mason in 2000 was 80 years.
Eugene Goldman, past Master (2)