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Freemasons


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Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons, a society of men concerned with moral and spiritual values, is the world’s oldest and largest non-religious, non-political, fraternal organization. It is thought to have grown out of the craft guilds of the Middle Ages and was brought to North America during the time of English settlement.

Each state’s Freemason community is governed by a Grand Lodge, with individual Masonic lodges located throughout the state. A Masonic Lodge is governed by a member elected each year to the title of Worshipful (an Old English word meaning respected) Master and a slate of other officers – senior and junior warden, tiler, secretary, treasurer, etc. Lodges generally hold stated meetings monthly or semi-monthly for the conduct of business. Members are taught Masonic principles (moral lessons and self-knowledge) by a series of rituals — a progression of allegorical “degrees” which are learned by heart and performed within the Lodge. These rituals follow ancient forms, and use stonemasons’ customs and tools as allegorical guides. The first-degree candidate is known as an entered apprentice; the second degree is referred to as the fellow craft degree and the third is called the master mason’s degree. An individual becomes a Mason upon completion of the 3rd Degree. Special communications are held as needed to initiate and advance new members or to commemorate significant events, such as the yearly election and installation of officers.

By 1860 the area of what is now West Virginia had a total of 30 lodges chartered by and making returns to the Grand Lodge of Virginia. The Civil War threw these lodges into a state of confusion, especially after Virginia passed an Ordinance of Secession on April 17, 1861. West Virginia became a new state on June 20, 1863. Six months later, Fairmont Lodge #9 issued a call for other lodges to meet at Grafton on December 28th, to consider the needs of the fraternity. Several more meetings followed and culminated with a meeting in Fairmont on April 12, 1865 attended by the following lodges: Wellsburg #108, Ohio Lodge #101, Cameron Lodge #180, Fairmont Lodge #9, Wheeling Lodge #128, Marshall Union Lodge #37, Morgantown Lodge #93 and Fetterman Lodge #170. The West Virginia Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons was formed at this meeting, and its first communication was held shortly thereafter on May 10, 1865 in Wheeling. Grand Lodge officers installed at this first meeting were M. W. William J. Bates, Grand Master; R.W. Thomas S. Logan, Grand Secretary, and a full contingent of other Grand Lodge Officers.

An agreement was reached with the Grand Lodge of Virginia to the effect that Virginia would charter no new lodges, and would retain jurisdiction over certain lodges formerly chartered, but would encourage those lodges to affiliate with the Grand Lodge of West Virginia in time. This was gradually accomplished; the last lodge to switch was Monroe Lodge #12 of Virginia, which became Monroe Lodge #77 of West Virginia in 1878.

Today there are 130 Masonic lodges scattered throughout the state with approximately 16,000 members. Many West Virginians of note have belonged to the Masonic fraternity including Governors Hulett Smith, William Erskine Stevenson (who also served as the 5th Grand Master in 1876), Cecil Underwood, and Okey Patteson; and former Commissioner of Agriculture Gus Douglass, along with many others.

Written by Robert Beanblossom