The Touro Synagogue located in Newport is the oldest synagogue on the American continent. In a historical pamphlet, recently put out by the Touro Synagogue Congregation, there is a note that is rather interesting: “The first documentary evidence of the presence of Jews in Newport dates from 1658. In that year the document reads: ‘Wee mett att ye House of Mordecai Campannall and after Synagog Wee gave Abm Moses the degrees of Maçonrie.’ This not only points to the early settlement of Jews in Rhode Island, but it is the basis for the theory — which has been questioned by some — that the craft of Masonry was first introduced into America through the early Jewish settlers in Rhode Island, who seemed to have worked the degrees after religious services which were held in private houses.”
Thomas Oxnard Provincial Grand Master of New England and Grand Master of Massachusetts granted the petition for the constitution of St. John’s Lodge of Newport, December 27, 1749, the first in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Brother Caleb Phillips was appointed first Master of the Lodge. According to tradition, the meetings were held during the early period of its history, in the “Council Chamber” of the “Old State House” (and now used as a Court House) which on this account hold special claim to the regard of the Fraternity in Rhode Island.
The institution of the Lodge in Newport very naturally created an ambition for one in Providence and this hope firmly and steadily grew to its fulfillment on February 17, 1757, when St. Johns Lodge of Providence was organized, the Charter for such organization bears the date of January 18, 1757 and was issued by Jeremy Gridley, the Provincial Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
The formation of the Lodge in Providence added enlivened strength to the feeble progress of the Newport body and the two mutually labored for the up-building of the Craft until 1765 when the Newport Lodge lost its Charter, which was not revived until 1790, while the Providence body became dormant from 1769 to 1778.
During the dormancy of these old Lodges, our Craftsmen were still active on a limited basis. Many interesting and exciting events occurred in which our patriotic Craftsmen engaged the British in their quest to become an independent nation.
Because of local conditions, the Providence Lodge was able to recover much more quickly than the one in Newport, but it is a matter of record that many members of the Craft in Newport joined King David’s Lodge, established June 7, 1780, by the Right Worshipful Moses M. Hays by authority which he obtained from the “Right Worshipful George Harrison, Esq., Provincial Grand Master of New York.” Ten years later the two Lodges, King David7rsquo;s and St. John’s № 1, was preserved and made applicable for the revived and united body. Thence followed the formation of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island.
With the end of the revolution came a revival of Freemasonry and by the urgency of the brethren in Providence, St. John’s, Newport was renewed by the election of the patriot Peleg Clarke as Worshipful Master on October 19, 1790.
The movement for a Grand Lodge now went on with vigor and an agreement as to the methods and measures were soon concluded by mutual cooperation.
The plan formulated by the Committees for the proposed organization received the formal approval of St John’s Lodge, Newport on March 14, 1791, and of St. Johns in Providence on April 6, 1791. By the plan thus adopted the first Grand Master was to be chosen from the Lodge at Newport, the Deputy Grand Master from the Lodge at Providence. The other officers were to be equally divided between the two districts. The first District consisted of the counties of Newport, Washington and Bristol, and the second of the counties of Providence and Kent. The two Lodges were to have the appointment of Grand Master alternately. The first officers were to continue in office until 1793. Under the terms of this agreement the Lodge at Newport elected Most Worshipful Christopher Champlin, Grand Master and the Lodge at Providence elected Right Worshipful Jabez Bowen, Deputy Grand Master.
On Monday the 27th of June 1791, “being the day affixed on for the celebration of the Feast of St. John the Baptist” a number of brethren representing the two Lodges met in the State House at Newport and proceeded to organize a Grand Lodge in accordance with the plan that had been approved.The Right Worshipful Moses Seixas presided and installed the officers who had previously been designated for the several stations. When the organization had been completed, the newly installed officers, with members of Grand Lodge and visiting brethren, marched in procession to Trinity Church, where a discourse having appropriateness to the occasion, was delivered by the Rector, Rev. William Smith, and a collection was taken which sum it was ordered “should be invested in wood and distributed to the poor of this town during the ensuing winter.” The brethren who formed the Grand Lodge of this State and those Masonically associated with them at that time, plainly signified their respect for religion and for the practical charity so much emphasized by the teaching of Freemasonry. Thus, in brief, we relate the story of the formation of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island. Two Lodges only united in the movement.
The formation of the Grand Lodge immediately stimulated enthusiasm in the Fraternity in Rhode Island and the closing years of the eighteenth century brought a large measure of prosperity and the Craft began to develop and thrive upon a firmer more substantial foundation.
A total of 49 Lodges have been chartered in the state since the founding of the Craft. Current membership is over four thousand brothers with a new resurgence in interest in the Craft. The last several years every lodge has raised multiple candidates some in excess of 20 each year. We are strong and again growing and invite you to visit our state.Grand Lodge of the State of Rhode Island