Grand Lodge of Texas, Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons

Grand Lodge of the Month - April 2009

Grand Lodge of TexasEARLY TEXAS COLONIZATION. Spanish settlement of Texas began in the late 1600s and early 1700s with the establishment of missions in East Texas and San Antonio. These were followed in the mid-1700s with settlements at San Fernando de Be'xar (now San Antonio), Laredo on the Rio Grande, and Nacogdoches in east Texas. Still largely unpopulated, Texas was governed by the legislature at Saltillo, capital of the state of Coahuila, three hundred miles southwest of San Antonio.

In the winter of 1821-22, following Mexico's independence from Spain, Anglo-American colonists began arriving in Texas to settle in the new colony established by Stephen Fuller Austin. A Virginia native, educated in Connecticut and Kentucky, the elder son of Moses Austin came to Texas to fulfill his father's dream of colonizing Texas. The Austins had secured a concession from the government of Mexico that would grant "a league and a labor of land" (4,605 acres) for every one of three hundred families that Austin would bring to his new colony. Under this concession, the Mexican government had agreed to reward Austin, as empresario, with large tracts of land when the quota of three hundred families was fulfilled.

FREEMASONRY IN MEXICO. Masonic membership was often the one common denominator among the early settlers and adventurers who came to Texas and Mexico in the early 1800s. Men from different backgrounds often found a friendly welcome they could trust in the hearty grip of a brother Mason's handshake.

In 1822, while meeting with officials in Mexico City, Austin became friends with Lorenzo de Zavala and other prominent Freemasons in the government. Freemasonry had been established among the educated classes in Mexico during the late 1700s. Introduced among the aristocracy under Spanish Bourbon rule, control of the fraternity was vested in the conservative elements of Mexican society.

During the 1820s, Joel R. Poinsett, American Minister to Mexico, and Past Master of two South Carolina Masonic lodges, introduced American York Rite Freemasonry as a liberal alternative to the established, more conservative Escosses (Scottish Rite) branch of the fraternity. The Grand Lodge of New York granted charters to five lodges in Mexico City. These Yorkino lodges were formed by members of the liberal movement that favored the decentralization of government power. Lorenzo de Zavala, a leader in the Federalist Party, became the Charter Master of Logia Independencia No. 454, but his political enemies forced him to leave Mexico in 1830. During the next few years, he visited Europe and the United States where he met with President Andrew Jackson. In March 1836, Zavala signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and was elected vice-president of the provisional government of the new Republic of Texas.

Austin, a member of Louisiana Lodge No. 109 at Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, returned to his colony in Texas and called a meeting of Masons at San Felipe on February 11, 1828, for the purpose of electing officers and petitioning the newly formed York Grand Lodge of Mexico to grant them a charter to form a lodge at San Felipe. Present at that meeting were: Stephen F. Austin, who was elected Worshipful Master of the lodge; Ira Ingram, Senior Warden; Hosea H. League, Junior Warden; Thomas M. Duke, Secretary; Eli Mitchell, Joseph White and George B. Hall.

Although their petition reached Matamoros and was to be forwarded to Mexico City, nothing more was heard of it. By 1828 the ruling faction in Mexico was afraid that the liberal elements in Texas might try to gain their independence. Fully aware of the political philosophies of American Masons, the Mexican government outlawed Freemasonry on October 25, 1828. The following year, Austin called another meeting of Masons in his colony where it was decided that it was "impolitic and imprudent, at this time, to form Masonic lodges in Texas."

THE BEGINNINGS OF REVOLUTION. Following Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821, former royalists settled Emperor Augustin de Iturbide on the throne of Mexico. But he was soon overthrown and the federalist Constitution of 1824 was adopted. With representative government assured, and a Constitution adopted, more Anglo-American colonists were encouraged to embrace Mexican citizenship and settle in the growing colonies of Texas. During the next seven years, Austin and his business partner, Samuel May Williams, received additional concessions from the Mexican government to settle 1700 more families in Texas. Williams, a member of Independent Royal Arch Lodge No. 2 in New York City, later became the third Grand Master of Masons in Texas.

Mexican officials feared that the increasing numbers of American colonists would demand more rights and freedoms than the Mexican government was prepared to offer, and that would eventually lead to rebellion. As a result, in April 1830, the Mexican government banned further immigration into Texas, and tensions increased. In 1833, Stephen F. Austin travelled to Mexico City to petition the government to lift its ban on immigration and grant Texas separate statehood. But he was arrested and thrown into prison from January to December 1834, accused of inciting unrest among the Texan colonists.

During Austin's imprisonment, President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna swept aside the Constitution of 1824, assumed supreme authority and began dismantling the federalist government. Austin was finally released from prison and was able to return to Texas by way of New Orleans in the summer of 1835. President Santa Anna sent his brother-in-law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos to begin reinforcing and establishing new garrisons in Texas. These actions only resulted in increased tensions among the colonists, and in September, Austin announced a general call to arms. The Texas revolution had begun.

It was during the growing political tensions of early 1835 that a permanent Masonic lodge was established in Texas. In March of that year, five Master Masons met in the town of Brazoria and petitioned Grand Master John H. Holland of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for a charter to form a lodge. The granite marker on the grounds of the old Masonic Oak at Brazoria gives the names of those five Masons: Anson Jones, John A. Wharton, Asa Brigham, Dr. James A. E. Phelps, Alex Russell and James P. Caldwell. They asked that their lodge be named "Holland Lodge" in honor of Louisiana's Grand Master.

GONZALES AND GOLIAD. By the fall of 1835, the winds of Texas's war of independence had begun to blow. Many Texas Masons found themselves in the foremost positions of authority, both military and political. The Mexican General Cos and his troops landed at Copano Bay about September 20, and began their 130-mile march to San Antonio, stopping to reinforce the garrisons at Refugio and the Presidio La Bahia at Goliad. Along the route, Cos dispatched troops to Gonzales to retrieve a cannon that was in the possession of the settlers there. On October 2, the Texans, flying a flag bearing an image of the cannon over the words "Come and Take It," stood their ground and refused to give up the cannon. During the ensuing skirmish, Eli Mitchell fired the Texans' first shot for independence. He and his commander, Colonel John H. Moore, members of Austin's "Old Three Hundred" colonists, were both Freemasons.

On October 5, General Cos and his troops departed Goliad and continued on to San Antonio. Four days later, the Mexican garrison at Goliad fell to a force of Texan volunteers. With the Mexican Army under General Cos now concentrated in San Antonio de Be'xar, the growing Texan army advanced on Be'xar and laid siege to the Mexican forces there.

SIEGE AT BEXAR. On December 5, after a month and a half long siege, three hundred Texans led by Benjamin Rush Milam assaulted the Mexican forces at Be'xar and, after four days of fighting, forced their surrender. Milam, a Kentucky native and veteran of the War of 1812, had come to Texas in 1818 and joined the Mexican war of independence from Spain. Betrayed and imprisoned in Mexico City, he had been released through the intervention of fellow Freemason, Joel R. Poinsett. By 1825, Milam had obtained an empresario grant in Texas. In 1835, after Santa Anna took control of the government, Milam joined the Texas volunteers, and helped capture the Presidio at Goliad before joining the siege at San Antonio. But during the final battle for San Antonio, Ben Milam was felled by an enemy bullet, becoming the first of a long line of immortal Texas heroes to give their lives for Texas independence. Colonel Edward Burleson recorded in his diary that Milam was buried with Masonic honors in the courtyard of the Veramendi Palace. He was a member of Hiram Lodge No. 4, Frankfort, Kentucky.

THE ALAMO. With General Cos and his force permitted to retire to the South, the Texan forces prepared for the advance of the main force of the Mexican Army under General Santa Anna. As the year 1836 dawned, Sam Houston found himself as the titular head of the volunteer Texan army. A lifelong friend of President Andrew Jackson, he had joined Jackson's Masonic lodge, Cumberland No. 8 at Nashville. By 1830 Houston had been elected to Congress and to the office of Governor of Tennessee. In 1832, Jackson sent Houston to Texas to deal with the Indians, but Houston soon took a leading role in the move for Texas independence. Houston sent the famous adventurer, James Bowie, back to San Antonio to determine if a garrison could fortify and defend the Mission San Antonio de Valero, the "Alamo." If it could not, Bowie had orders to destroy it and return with the men and artillery.

Jim Bowie, a member of L'Humble Chaumiere Lodge No. 19 at Opelousas, Louisiana, had settled in San Antonio in 1830, where he married the beautiful Ursula Veramendi, daughter of the vice-governor of Coahuila and Texas. But just as his future seemed brightest, his wife and two children died in the cholera epidemic of 1833. Three years later, after returning to San Antonio, he accepted the command of the volunteers at the Alamo. On February 2, 1836, he wrote: "We will rather die in these ditches than give them up...."

Bowie's Texan volunteers were soon joined on February 3 by Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis and thirty men under his command. Travis, a member of Alabama Lodge No. 3, had come to Texas and settled at Anahuac. In June 1835, he had raised a company of volunteers, captured the garrison at Anahuac, and was soon given the rank of lieutenant colonel of cavalry. He and Bowie shared command of the Alamo until February 24 when Bowie fell ill with pneumonia. On that day, Travis penned his famous letter "To the People of Texas and all Americans in the World." He wrote: "I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country - Victory or Death." It remains as the most heroic document in American history.

The Alamo defenders were joined on February 8 by Colonel David Crockett and his twelve "Tennessee boys." Crockett wanted no part in the command of the Alamo. He stated that he was happy to serve as a "high private." He had left Tennessee after being defeated for reelection to Congress in the election of 1835. He left his Tennessee constituents with the retort, "You all can go to hell. I'm goin' to Texas!" His Masonic apron, made for him by Mrs. A.C. Massey of Washington, D.C., during his tenure in Congress, he entrusted to the Sheriff of Weakley County, Tennessee, before his departure for Texas.

Travis sent dispatches requesting reinforcements, while Houston sent orders to Travis demanding that he abandon the Alamo. Travis defiantly refused to retreat and the Alamo defenders waited for the arrival of the Mexican Army. The main force of the Mexican Army under General Santa Anna, approximately 4,000 in number, arrived and laid siege to the mission fortress on February 23. The siege would last for twelve days. In the early morning hours of March 6, the Mexican forces stormed the walls of the Alamo and the entire garrison was lost. Among the 189 Texan defenders who died that day only a handful can be reliably identified as Freemasons. In addition to Travis, Bowie, and Crockett, two others, James Butler Bonham and Almaron Dickinson are known to have been members of the fraternity.

MASSACRE AT GOLIAD. On March 11, having learned of the fall of the Alamo, and knowing that the right wing of the Mexican Army under General Jose' de Urrea was moving toward Goliad, General Sam Houston sent word to James Walker Fannin, Jr., commander of the Texan garrison at Goliad, ordering him to abandon the Presidio there and retreat to the east, assist the evacuation of nearby settlements and join the main Texan army as soon as possible.

James Fannin, a Georgia native, had been admitted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, but returned to Georgia during his third year. He brought his family to Texas and settled at Velasco in 1834, and participated in the battles at Gonzales and Mission Concepcion. A member of the newly formed Holland Lodge at Brazoria, he had served as Deacon during its last meeting before the arrival of the Mexican Army.

Soon after leaving Goliad, Fannin's force found themselves surrounded by General Urrea's forces on open prairie. On March 20, General Urrea accepted Fannin's surrender, giving him his personal assurance that his men, numbering approximately 400, would be treated as prisoners of war according to the rules of civilized nations, and they would soon be paroled and returned to the United States. Fannin's force, outnumbered and pinned down on open ground, had little choice but to accept these reasonable terms. So the Texans, after surrendering their arms, were marched back to Goliad and imprisoned at the Presidio under the command of Colonel Jose' Nicolas de la Portilla.

When General Santa Anna heard of their surrender, he sent back an order, which would seal his reputation in history. He ordered Portilla to carry out the immediate execution of the Texan prisoners. On Palm Sunday, March 27, the Texan prisoners were marched out along the roads and executed by firing squads. Approximately 342 were executed, 28 escaped, and 20 were selected and spared to work as physicians, orderlies, interpreters and mechanics.

WASHINGTON-ON-THE-BRAZOS. During the final days of the siege at the Alamo, fifty-nine elected delegates gathered at Washington, a town on the Brazos River, 150 miles east of San Antonio. Between March 1 and March 17, they wrote, adopted and signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, organized the ad interim government and elected Sam Houston commander-in-chief of the Texas Army.

The convention also elected David G. Burnet as president of the provisional government. Burnet had gained revolutionary experience thirty years before when, as the first American volunteer to join Venezuela's fight for separation from Spain, he was the commander of the boat that fired the first shot for South American independence. In 1826, he traveled to Saltillo, Mexico, entered into a partnership with Lorenzo de Zavala, and secured an empresario grant in east Texas. He was a member of Holland Lodge.

Among the fifty-nine signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, dated March 2, Masonic historians are able to identify twenty-two Freemasons. Masonic membership records from the early 1800s are often incomplete and sometimes lost or destroyed by fire. As a result, the Masonic membership of some early Texans cannot be verified and they are left uncounted. With the Mexican Army sweeping eastward, the delegates to the convention at Washington abandoned the little town in the early morning hours of March 17 and fled to either join their families or Houston's Army of Texas.

VICTORY AT SAN JACINTO. During the final weeks of March and into April, General Sam Houston led the Texas Army in a classic withdrawal movement, forcing the Mexicans to abandon their supply lines behind rising rivers. On the afternoon of April 21, just as General Santa Anna felt he had the Texans trapped at a place called "San Jacinto," Houston's forces attacked. With battle cries of "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" the Texas Army, in a matter of eighteen minutes, defeated a force nearly twice its size. Santa Anna escaped the battlefield and was captured some time later dressed in the uniform of a private. But as he was brought back into the Texan camp his own men identified him with cries of "El Presidente!" Rumors persist that Santa Anna's Masonic membership forced Houston to grant Santa Anna special amnesty. However, these rumors are groundless for three reasons. First, Santa Anna, by his slaughter of unarmed military prisoners had placed himself beyond the protection of any Masonic obligation. Second, Houston was bound by accepted convention to treat him as a prisoner of war. And, third, Santa Anna was more valuable alive than dead. Following his surrender, it was desirable that Santa Anna sign treaties with the Texas government agreeing to the independence of Texas, the cessation of hostilities, exchange of prisoners, and the boundary between Texas and Mexico.

GRAND LODGE OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS. By the end of 1837, three lodges had been chartered in Texas. Holland Lodge No. 36 at Houston, Milam Lodge No. 40 at Nacogdoches, and McFarland Lodge No. 41 at San Augustine, all held charters from the Grand Lodge of Louisiana. On December 20 that year, Sam Houston, president of the new Republic of Texas, presided over a convention of representatives of these three lodges in the senate chamber of the new capitol building in Houston. The members of that convention resolved to form a "Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas" and elected Anson Jones to become the first Grand Master of Masons in Texas.

In accordance with those actions, the representatives of those three lodges met again in the spring of 1838 and, on May 11, Sam Houston, president of the convention, installed the new Grand Master and his Grand Lodge officers. On that date the new Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas was born. It remains today as the oldest corporate body in Texas.

During the almost eight years that the new Grand Lodge labored under the Independent Republic of Texas, 26 lodges were organized. They are:

Holland No. 1Houston, ch. 1836
Milam No. 2 Nacogdoches, ch. 1836
McFarland No. 3 *San Augustine, ch. 1836 - dem. 1845
Temple No. 4 * Houston, ch. 1838 - dem. 1841
St. John's No. 5 * Brazoria, ch. 1838 - dem. 1845
Harmony No. 6 Galveston, ch. 1840
Matagorda No. 7 * Matagorda, ch. 1838 - dem. 1864
Phoenix No. 8 * Washington, ch. 1838 - dem. 1842
DeKalb No. 9 * DeKalb, ch. 1848 - dem. 1844
Perfect Union No. 10 ** San Antonio
Milam No. 11 * Independence, ch. 1840 - dem. 1904
Austin No. 12 Austin, ch. 1839
Constantine No. 13Bonham, ch. 1840
Trinity No. 14 5 **Santa Fe, NM
Friendship No. 16 Clarksville , ch. 1841
Orphan's Friend No. 17 Anderson, ch. 1842>
Washington No. 18 * Washington, ch. 1844 - dem. 1887
Forrest No. 19 Huntsville, ch. 1844
Graham No. 20 Brenham, ch. 1845
Trinity No. 21Crockett, ch. 1845
Marshall No. 22 Marshall, ch. 1845
Clinton No. 23Henderson, ch. 1845
Red Land No. 24 *** San Augustine, ch. 1845
Montgomery No. 25 Montgomery, ch. 1846
Olive Branch No. 26 * Cincinnati, ch. 1846 - dem. 1885
Paris No. 27Paris ... ch. 1845
Frontier No. 28 *Corpus Christi, ch. 1845 - dem. 1847

* - Demised. | ** - Dispensation issued, but not chartered. | *** - Now operating as "Redland No. 3"

MASONS IN THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS. Six years after he was installed Grand Master Anson Jones was elected president of the Republic of Texas and, as "the Architect of Annexation," he presided over the annexation ceremonies in 1846, where he declared, "The Republic of Texas is no more." Texas became the thirty-fifth state, and Jones retired to his plantation at Washington-on-the-Brazos where he compiled his memoirs. By 1846, Masons had served in nearly every major governmental post in the Republic. All the presidents and vice-presidents of the Republic of Texas were Masons. Freemasonry was without doubt the single most important institution in early Texas. The first public building erected in a new community was often the familiar two-story Masonic lodge. The first floor ordinarily served as the local school classroom and town meeting hall, while the lodge room occupied the second floor.

Today, 170 years after its formation, there are almost 100,000 members in 877 lodges in the Grand Lodge of Texas, placing it among the largest grand lodges in the world.

©2009, Pierre G. Normand, Jr.

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