The Historical Fredericksburg Lodge No.4
The Masonic Lodge at Fredericksburg is one of the most historic Lodges and one of the oldest in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Although its building has only been around since 1816, its members have existed as a standing organization officially since 1752 recorded.
A chain of Masonic ritual and knowledge that has been passed down through its members unsevered to this very day, from mentor to student; the same Masonic lessons that have transformed so many good men into men of historic greatness; men such as Washington, Franklin, Monroe, Churchill, Truman and so forth. Here are some historic facts about this Lodge.
During the Revolution, this Lodge provided George Washington, Hugh Mercer, George Weedon, William Woodford, Fielding Lewis, Thomas Posey, Gustavus Wallace, the Marquis de Lafayette and ninety-four other of its brethren to the cause of American liberty.
Fredericksburg Lodge is one of the two Lodges to be considered "Time Immemorial" or "a time before legal history, and beyond legal memory," prior to its Scottish Charter of 1758. (Mother Kilwinning Lodge in Scotland was the first and original Lodge.)
In the 1760's the Lodge at Fredericksburg granted charters to six other Lodges, as authorized by the Grand Lodge of Scotland.
This Lodge has established America's oldest Masonic Cemetery in 1784, and maintains it to this day (with the help of the adjacent James Monroe Museum).
The first recorded conferral of the Royal Arch Degree in the New World in 1753, which are the oldest extant records as well.
Entrusted to us are historical artifacts of great social and Masonic value such as the Holy Bible on which Brother George Washington took his Masonic Obligations, three hand-crafted Masonic "Warden's chairs" from Colonial America, a punch bowl used by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824 when he became an honorary member, and an original Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington (the same picture you see on the dollar bill). These are just to name a few of the "National Treasures" that we strive to preserve.
Fredericksburg was a logistics depot for the British Army and soldiers were quartered here, so it is believed that an Army Lodge met here starting in the 1730's under a mobile charter that is speculated to have been from the Grand Lodge of Ireland. With the growing disputes regarding territory within the rich Ohio River Valley between the French and English crowns, the British relocated their soldiers closer to the frontier in 1752, as a result of which the Brethren of Fredericksburg lost their means to meet and have fellowship.
On September 1, 1752 the Lodge at Fredericksburg became a "Time Immemorial" Lodge when the brethren chose to operate without a charter, and they justified it by means of their own will to function as just and legally constituted Freemasons originating from Lodges throughout Europe. Strangely enough, the name of the first Master of the Lodge is unknown, as his name seems to have been struck from the records of the meetings. It is believed that he was deemed a traitor during the War of American Revolution and his name was blotted out as a result.
The Scottish Charter of 1758
In the late 1750's, The Grand Lodge of England came out with an edict compelling Lodges throughout the colonies to seek a charter from recognized Grand Lodges or risk being labeled as "clandestine." Here in Fredericksburg, there was a flourishing Scottish community serving as home for many Scottish merchants. So when Worshipful Daniel Campbell, one of our founding officers, chose to visit family in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Lodge gave him 7 pounds on April 4, 1757 along with a petition requesting to be constituted under the Grand Lodge of Scotland. On July 21, 1758, the Grand Lodge of Scotland issued a formal Charter "The Lodge at Fredericksburgh," which is still in existence and in our possession to this day.
In 1757, the members relocated their meetings from the small tavern that eventually became Hugh Mercer's Apothecary Shop to the coffee house across the street belonging to Brother Charles Julian. While some of our brothers were still in harm's way at the frontier during the French and Indian War, many of our local brethren held civic offices and were using their offices during this time to suppress a local tyrant within government as well.
Let us look at the story of the "Two Merry Masons" by the names of Dr. John Sutherland and Robert Duncanson. These two good-natured Masonic brothers came to Fredericksburg in the 1740's and were self-sufficient, but held no responsibilities. Needless to say, they were constantly itching for good-natured excitement but found themselves often before the courts. But in 1757, as they were tolerated with much amusement by most of the justices of the court, they would gain the animosity of one Judge Benjamin Grymes.
Brother Sutherland especially enraged Judge Grymes, who issued a warrant for him "as a person of infamous character." The other justices defended Sutherland, but Grymes was a man of vicious disposition and a superiority complex and as such knew many who would undermine his actions and spur his overzealous rage. One such person was Brother Charles Dick who as Sheriff would ignore these warrants, as did the other justices, which enraged Justice Grymes, even more.
Brother Duncanson was not as fortunate as Sutherland and found himself removed from Judge Grymes' courtroom and thrown into prison until he could post bond for his good behavior. Despite this setback, Brother Duncanson made the most of his incarceration and turned it into a party. An enraged Grymes reported of the event to the Lord Governor witnessing that "with sundry other to carry table, chairs, and liquor into the gaol (jail), they there revel till late into the night."
There is no known record of a reprisal for the "Jail-fest", but Judge Grymes was eventually removed by the governor in order to "restore peace and harmony to that county" and replaced by Brother Fielding Lewis at the request of Charles Dick and the other justices.
With the end of the war, came the return of Brethren and the Lodge grew. As a result, a local track was established by the Masons for horse races, as was the newly established Market House, for which business transactions would be done during the day and a ballroom for dancing could be enjoyed during the night. This was a happy, golden period for Masonry; but was certainly the long calm before the storm.
Fredericksburg and the American Revolution
Possibly due to its Scottish influence, Fredericksburg was from the beginning overtly in support of American Independence. Many members of the Lodge were officers and veterans of the French and Indian War and most established their ties to Brother Washington during this period. So when George Washington became Commander-in-Chief of the American Forces, his Brethren came out in full force to support him. Fredericksburg Freemasonry provided seven Revolutionary War Generals and ninety-four Brethren who were listed as soldiers of the Virginia Continental Line as well as Militia volunteers; far more than any other lodge in America.
The war pulled a heavy toll upon the members, those few members that remained, kept the lodge running best they could. Brothers Fielding Lewis and Charles Dick were given the responsibility of running the local ammunition factory and these two good brothers drained both their own finances and health in ensuring that the Colonial Army was armed. Many members of Fredericksburg were part of the 3rd Virginia Regiment of the Continental Line, who were honored for their acts of valor in many of the most famous battles. This Regiment felt their first agony of loss when Brother and General Hugh Mercer was killed in melee at Princeton.
The 3rd Virginia Regiment was compelled to surrender in the Siege of Charleston against Cornwallis, after which General Horatio Gates, Commander of the Southern Army, fled back to Philadelphia, leaving the remnants of his army to fend for themselves. As a result, many Fredericksburg soldiers were captured and died as British prisoners, including Brother and General William Woodford. Brother Gustavus Wallace was freed from his prison cell because of failing health on his promise that he would no longer fight in the war. Those that were not captured were able to see the war out such as Colonel James Monroe and General George Weedon, who were both present at Yorktown.
The American Civil War
During the American Civil War, history tells us that when every known organization in America was fragmenting from one another to choose a side, Freemasonry was the only institution that held together in its unity. It is during this dark period that the Light of Masonry truly shined it brightest. Tales are told of Freemasons reaching out to each other regardless of uniform and of the many acts of humanity that remain on record. During this period of chaos and destruction, we are thankful for a good brother who recovered the archives and artifacts of the Lodge before they were destroyed during the occupation of Fredericksburg when many documents and valuables were laid waste.
Even during the Battle of Fredericksburg, we learn that our Northern Brethren entered into this Lodge through the rear livery and our Southern Brethren entered through the front door of that same building. It was here that they dropped off their weapons and equipment, hugged one another and attended Lodge together. After Lodge was over, these same Brethren would again hug one another, go downstairs, recover their weapons and equipment and exit, where again, they would commence killing one another. It is said that the wood floors of our original Lodge room upstairs still hold the bloodstains from the time it was used as a hospital by Union forces.
Fredericksburg of Today
It is now the 21st century and we have entered the Age of Communication. Grand Lodges throughout the world have seen the importance of the technologies before us and have embraced them. However, despite all the changes and innovations to both our fraternity and community, Freemasonry remains the same. This is because her universal tenets are timeless beyond fad and fashion and because men of good character will continue to seek out our West Gate to obtain the rights and benefits of being a Mason so long as our altars continue to display and hold sacred the three great lights of Masonry.
Here in Fredericksburg, our stewardship continues. The minutes of this Lodge have recorded many great Freemasons such as Washington, James Monroe, Lafayette, Hugh Mercer, William Woodford, George Weedon, Fielding Lewis and so many others. Despite the many honors attributed to this Lodge by these great men, the one lesson that we strive to impress upon our members is that we must never "Live on borrowed honor." That is, we should never live on the achievements of others, but instead we must find small ways to perpetuate that greatness by emulating the virtues and character of our beloved Brother George Washington to help ensure that this Lodge will continue to grow in honor and that its legacy does not solely remain in the past.