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  • Texas | Columns | "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

    Freemasonry in the Republic

    by C. F. Eckhardt
    The first Masonic Lodge in Texas was formed in March of 1835, approximately a year before Texas declared independence from Mexico. Although there were Masons in Mexico—Santa Anna was a Mason—the Catholic Church frowned on Freemasonry. The Knights of Columbus was established to counter the appeal of Freemasonry for Catholic men.

    The first lodge was formed in secret. Five Master Masons—John H. Wharton, Asa Brigham, James A. E. Phelps, Alexander Russell, and Anson Jones, who would be the last President of the Republic—decided to form a lodge in Texas. In secret they began planning how to do it. They were shortly joined by a sixth Master Mason, John P. Caldwell. The first meeting was held in a secluded grove of trees on General John Austin’s place near Brazoria. A petition was drawn up and sent to New Orleans, requesting that the Grand Lodge of Louisiana charter Holland Lodge, named for the Grand Master of Louisiana’s Grand Lodge, J. H. Holland. By this time a seventh Master Mason, W. D. C. Hall, had joined the group. The officers were to be Anson Jones, Worshipful Master, Asa Brigham, Senior Warden, and J. P. Caldwell, Junior Warden. A dispensation to open the lodge, which was to be known as Holland Lodge No. 36 under the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, arrived. On December 27, 1835, the lodge was opened at Brazoria. Meetings were held on the second floor of the old courthouse there.

    At this point things were getting hot in the disputes with Mexico. The lodge met in Brazoria for the last time in February of 1836. The acting Senior Deacon for that meeting was James Fannin. A month later he would be murdered at Santa Anna’s orders.

    In March Brazoria was abandoned. All of the Masonic property, including the dispensation to open the lodge, was captured and apparently destroyed by Urrea’s army. Wharton, Phelps, and Jones joined Sam Houston’s army.

    In the meantime, the Grand Lodge of Louisiana issued the charter for Holland Lodge No. 36, which was delivered to Anson Jones by John A. Allen. It was handed over to Jones while the army was on the march, between Groce’s Store and San Jacinto. It was in his saddlebags when the Texas Army camped on Buffalo Bayou, and was still in his saddlebags on April 21. It may be the only Masonic Lodge charter in history to be carried into a battle before being presented to the members of the lodge.

    After San Jacinto so many members of Holland Lodge No. 36 had been killed in combat or scattered by the war that the lodge didn’t assemble again until October of 1837. By then two more lodges in Texas had been chartered by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana—Milam at Nacogdoches and McFarlane at San Augustine. Holland had moved from Brazoria to Houston.

    In the winter of 1837/’38, in Houston, delegates from the three lodges then existing in Texas met in Houston to form the Grand Lodge of the Lone Star Republic. Holland Lodge became Holland Lodge No. 1 of the Grand Lodge of Texas, having been the first lodge established in Texas. The first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Texas was none other than Anson Jones.

    If you get the idea Freemasonry was important in the Republic and later in the State of Texas, you are absolutely right. During the 19th and much of the first half of the 20th Century, it was virtually impossible to be elected to a statewide office in Texas without being a member of a Masonic Lodge. Whether or not Lorenzo de Zavala, the first Vice President of the Republic, was a Mason I don’t know, but it is not impossible that he was. There were many Catholic Masons, who simply said nothing to the priest about being a member of the order. Ben Milam, a Mason, converted to Catholicism in Kentucky before coming to Texas. As previously mentioned, Santa Anna himself was a Mason. Upon being brought before Sam Houston at San Jacinto, he recognized Houston as a fellow Mason and immediately gave the ‘brother in distress’ sign.

    © C. F. Eckhardt
    November 21, 2011 column
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