History of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the State of Illinois
This page is under construction. The text is substantially copied from Everett R. Turnbull and Ray V. Denslow, eds.,
A History of Royal Arch Masonry, Vol. II, Illinois,
General Grand Chapter Royal Arch Masons: [city?]
(1956), at 820-833. Please email the Grand Webmaster with any additions and corrections.
Early Royal Arch Freemasons in Illinois:
The first known Royal Arch Freemason to set foot on what would become the soil of Illinois was Captain Meriwether Lewis, of the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition that explored the Northwest. His command wintered in 1803-1804 at the mouth of the Wood River (then known as the Dubois River. Lewis spent most of his time that winter in Saint Louis, but did visit the camp at times. His whole interest was in the success of the expedition, and his presence in Illinois had no Masonic significance.
On 6 April 1818, Edmund Roberts visited the former Western Star Lodge No. 107, at Kaskaskia [not to be confused with Western Star Lodge No. 240 of Springfield, which was established in 1857], and registered as a Mark Master. Roberts was a merchant in Sainte Geneviève, Louisiana Territory (now Missouri). He soon settled across the river, in the then-capital of Illinois, Kaskaskia, and was elected master of Western Star Lodge on 27 December 1819. In 1832, he moved to Springfield and, in 1841, signed the petition for the dispensation for Springfield Chapter No. 1, in which he was named King. It is not known when, or where, he received the Holy Royal Arch degree.
The first Royal Arch Freemason, of whom we have any record, was Henry Griswold, exalted in Jerusalem Chapter No. 2, Vergennes, Vermont, on 27 May 1820. He came to Illinois that year, and located on a farm near Whitehall. That he was well known to the fraternity as a companion of the Holy Royal Arch degree is evidenced by the following letter:
Henry Griswold, Esq., Green County, Ill.
Exeter, Ill., Jacksonville, 27th 1826, September.
Dear Sir: I wish to inform you there will be a meeting of the Companions of Royal Arch Masons at the town of Jacksonville on the first day of our circuit court, to be holden in Morgan County, at which time and place you are respectfully invited to attend.
The object of the meeting is to Petition the General Chapter to grant a dispensation for a Chapter to be opened at Jacksonville, choose officers, etc.
Mr. Henry Griswold. Phillip Aylesworth
P.S. I wish you to inform all others of this Degree in your county and request them to attend. We depend much upon your assistance and surely expect you.
Nothing further is known of this attempt to form a chapter. (Phillip Aylesworth was Worshipful Master of Illion Lodge No. 12 in
Vandalia Chapter No. 160:
The next attempt was in 1840 – only months after the State relocated the capital from Vandalia, where it had been for twenty years, to Springfield, where it remains. Records of the Grand Chapter of Pennsylvania disclose the following:
A petition was received and read, dated Vandalia, Illinois March 2, 1840, signed by M. N. McCurdy, R.A.M.; Alvan Washburn, R.A.C. No. 2, Cin.; M. Hodge, Russelville Chapter No. 8, Ky.; Asahel Lee, McLaughlin No. 37, N.Y.; H. C. Remann, No. 18, St. Louis; James Clarke, Stephen Abbot, and C. B. Blockberger, praying for a warrant for a Chapter to be held in the town of Vandalia, Illinois, to be named Vandalia Chapter, for Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master and Royal Arch, recommended by Missouri Chapter No. 1, 6th of March, 1840, held at St. Louis and the Grand Chapter having received satisfactory evidence that there is no Grand Chapter in the State of Illinois, on motion seconded, it was resolved that the prayer of the petitioners be granted and a warrant be issued accordingly, to be called Vandalia Chapter No. 160. Companion M. N. McCurdy was installed High Priest of the said Chapter.
The last of this record indicates that Companion McCurdy was present at this convocation when he was installed. Following the installation the record continues:
The M. Ex. High Priest then made the following appointments, viz. The blank lines which follow show that the names were not furnished.
C. B. Blockberger was exalted in Missouri Chapter No. 1 on 11 November 1839. At the time, he was master of Mount Moriah Lodge D.O., Hillsboro. There is no record of any convocations of Vandalia Chapter. As the state capital had been moved to Springfield, it is probable that some of the signers of the petition were were either employed by the state or otherwise professionally associated with state government as attorneys, lobbyists, merchants, contractors, surveyors, office seekers, and similar courtiers. As such, they were required to leave Vandalia. This may account for the failure of the chapter to meet. The only other reference to Vandalia Chapter is in the Pennsylvania record, 16 November 1840:
On motion of Comp. I. A. Phillips and seconded, it was resolved that the Grand Secretary inform Bro. R. W. Desilver that the Grand Chapter considered it inexpedient to refund the money paid for the charter of Vandalia Chapter No. 160.
The action of the Grand Chapter of Pennsylvania was unusual, because both petition for dispensation, and recommendation of Missouri Chapter No. 1, were addressed to the General Grand Chapter, as will be seen by the following extract from minutes of
Missouri Chapter No. 1:
A petition was presented, signed by several Companion R.A. Masons residing at Vandalia, and that neighborhood, State of Illinois, addressed to the General Grand Royal Arch Chapter praying for a charter to establish a Chapter at Vandalia, for the purpose of obtaining a recommendation from this chapter, whereupon the following resolutions were unanimously adopted:
“Resolved, that whereas application has been made by several well known Companions of the town of Vandalia for a recommendation from this chapter to the General Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the United States for a charter to establish a chapter in said town of Vandalia,
State of Illinois. Therefore be it resolved that we do cheerfully recommend our said Companions to be every way qualified to receive the same.
Jos. Foster, H.P.
Companion McCurdy was in Philadelphia and had the petition with him. Evidently, he had inquired how to get in touch with some General Grand Chapter officers and the Pennsylvania companion had offered immediate action. This chapter may have made some
preparations for meetings, as the records of Peoria Chapter No. 7 contain the following, under date of 17 January 1848:
Resolved, that Compo McNeill confer with the Companions of Vandalia Chapter in regard to purchasing their regalia.
Springfield Chapter No. 1:
The first chapter to maintain a continuous existence was Springfield Chapter No. 1. A petition was drafted on 31 May 1841, praying for a dispensation to organise a chapter of Royal Arch Freemasons in Springfield. The petition reads:
Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois.
May 31st, 1841.
To the General Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the United States.
The petition of the undersigned respectfully represents that there is no Chapter of Royal Arch Masons in the State of Illinois, that having been regularly exalted to the degree of Royal Arch Mason in various legally constituted Chapters we are desirous to institute a Chapter in the City of Springfield, Sangamon County, State of Illinois. We therefore respectfully pray you to grant us a warrant of Constitution empowering us to institute and open a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons and Lodge of Most Excellent, Past and Mark Master Masons in the above place.
The undersigned most cheerfully pledge themselves to conform in all respects to the constitution, rules and regulations of the General Grand Chapter.
We have chosen Companion M. Helm to be our first High Priest; Edmund Roberts to be our first King and Philo Beers to be our first Scribe.
(Signed) Meredith Helm; Maurice Doyle, Robert Campbell, Lemuel Higby,
Philo Beers, Edmd. Roberts, Joseph Frey, Oramel Clark, J. R. Braucher.
The recommendation of Missouri Chapter No. 1 reads:
St. Louis, Mo.,
12th June AD. 1841,
A.L. 5841. At
a regular meeting of Missouri Chapter No. One the 12th day of June AD. 1841, A.L. 5841, the following proceedings were had:
Comp. E. Klein presented the within petition and which being read and considered it was ordered by the Chapter that petitioners herein are well worthy of the privilege which they ask and that it is hereby recommended to the General Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the United States to grant the privilege of the within petition.
In testimony whereof I, R. B. Dallam, Secretary of Missouri Royal Arch Chapter No. One, Mo., have hereby set my hand and affixed the seal of said Chapter. Done at St. Louis, Mo., on this 12th day of June AD. 1841, A.L. 5841.
Teste: Richard B. Dallam, Secy.
While the petition was dated 12 June, the letter of transmission was not written until 6 July. The dispensation was granted by Joseph K. Stapleton, Deputy General Grand High Priest. It was written by hand on paper 13×16½ inches and sealed with his private seal, the letters “J.K.S.” impressed on red sealing wax.
The first convocation was held 13 August 1841. Six of the signers of the petition and three visitors constituted the attendance. Chapter was opened in due form, the visitors admitted to membership, and a committee appointed to draft by-laws. These by-laws were omitted “for want of room” from the returns to the General Grand Chapter, and no copy is in existence at this time. Seven petitions were received and all elected to receive the degrees. Immediate action was taken under a resolution reading:
Whereas it will be very inconvenient for the Chapter as at present situated to hold its meetings with regularity, on account of some of its members living in the country at a distance of twelve to fifteen miles from the city, and it is desirable that the regular meetings of the Chapter should be secure, and therefore independent of the country members, and Whereas, the above petitioners have been associated with us in a Masonic capacity in the Blue Lodge for years, and are well known to be men of unexceptional moral character and standing; therefore, Resolved, that the 2d section of the 9th Art. of the by-laws, which requires such petitions to lie over to the next regular meeting, be dispensed with in their cases, and the Chapter proceed this evening to ballot for them, and if elected, that they have the degrees of the Chapter conferred upon them forthwith.
The returns showed seventeen companions; the General Grand Secretary showed receipt for US$90.00 for dispensation, and US$12.00 for dues. Charter was granted 17 September 1841. All records of this chapter were burned in 1850, with one notable exception, Charles Fisher saved the petition for the degrees of United States Senator Stephen A. Douglas; this has been preserved and is a treasured possession of the chapter.
Click here to read a detailed history of Springfield Chapter No. 1 from its conception to the 1940s.
La Fayette Chapter No. 2:
The first chapter in Chicago was La Fayette No. 18, chartered 10 September 1844. A petition for dispensation was drawn up on the
“Festival of Saint John the Baptist, 1844” (24 June 1844). It was signed by eleven companions, and recommended by Milwaukee Chapter No. 1, 1 July 1844. The dispensation was dated 2 July 1844. The first convocation was held 30 July, at which time:
M.E. John Barney, of Ohio, administered the oath of office to W.F. Walker, E.H.P., and J. R. Case, King; S. H. Gilbert, Scribe, not being present was not sworn.
Ten meetings were held under the dispensation, six petitions received, and five candidates exalted. Fees were Mark Master, US$5.00; Past Master, US$2.00; Most Excellent Master, US$5.00; Holy Royal Arch Mason, US$10.00; Royal and Select Master combined, US$5.00. Dues were twenty-five cents, quarterly in advance; no companion could vote or hold office whose dues were not paid. Ministers of the gospel were admitted without fee. A demit could be obtained by giving one month’s notice, “provided, that two-thirds of the members concur in the motion for leave.” Another resolution was:
The election of Tyler, it was agreed, should be dispensed with for the present and the Treasurer be authorised to pay to the Lodge the required fees for initiation, passing and raising Mr. I.. P. Hatfield, that he might be admitted to the Chapter and fill this office.
The dispensation, by-laws, and a copy of the minutes are in the archives of General Grand Chapter.
Jacksonville Chapter No. 3:
A dispensation was granted to Jacksonville Chapter by Joseph K. Stapleton, Deputy General Grand High Priest, on 25 July 1845. The first officers were William B. Warren, High Priest; Phillip Coffman, King; John T. Jones, Scribe. The dispensation is in printed form and on the back is written:
N.B. Order of conferring degrees as established by the G.G. Chapter, Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master,
Holy Royal Arch Mason, Royal Master, Select Master. The last two ad libitum.
The first convocation was held 15 September 1845, with Nathaniel Coffman presiding. The dispensation was read; W. B. Warren took the chair and opened the chapter in due form. A constitution and by-laws were adopted. Three petitions for degrees were received; all were elected, and all received the degrees the same day. When the charter was issued, W. B. Warren was named as proxy for J. K. Stapleton to install officers and constitute the chapter.
Horeb Chapter No. 4:
Nothing is known about the organisation of this chapter previous to 1850, save for the record in the proceedings of General Grand Chapter:
On the 10th of March, 1846, I granted a dispensation to Nelson D. Morse, High Priest, Joel Lee, King, and Caleb Finch, Scribe, and a constitutional number associated with them to open a Chapter at Henderson, Illinois. Ezra Barnum, G.G. Scribe.
The charter was dated 17 September 1847. At the organisation of the grand chapter, Horeb Chapter was represented by S. G. Dean, who was appointed Grand Principal Sojourner. In 1851, Harmon G. Reynolds and J. F. Mason were representatives. Reynolds was elected Grand Secretary, a position he held seventeen years. For some years, this chapter was authorised to hold convocations at Henderson and Knoxville, alternately. In 1854, the chapter was moved to Knoxville, but continued to hold half of its meetings in
Henderson. In 1859, it removed back to Henderson and the meetings in Knoxville were discontinued. 7 January 1873, it was
transferred to the town of Rio.
Quincy Chapter No. 5:
Dispensation for this chapter was issued 1 April 1846, by Ezra Barnum, General Grand Scribe, to Abraham Jonas, High Priest; R. E. Smith, King; H. S. Cooley, Scribe, and John H. Holton, A. W. Harris, C. Northup, J. H. Ralston, C. Stienagel, and D. Hauser. The dispensation is on file in the office of the General Grand Secretary. The first convocation was held 25 April, at which time by-laws were adopted and eight petitions received.
The dispensation granted authority to confer the Cryptic degrees, but there is nothing in the records to show that these degrees were ever conferred. At that time, the degree of Past Master was under divided authority. The position of the chapter on that question was determined by resolution:
Resolved, That in the opinion of this Chapter, no business can be done in the several degrees connected with the Chapter except when the Royal Arch Chapter is open.
Further Resolved, That a Brother Past Master who has not received the degree of Mark Master shall not be allowed to sit in a Past Master’s Lodge held under authority of this Chapter.
John Barney was employed to lecture the chapter, and a committee was appointed to attend his lectures from day to day. The committee to investigate the qualifications of one petitioner was unable to agree, and, on motion, the committee were discharged and the petition was referred to a committee of the whole, the companions of the chapter being summoned to meet next Saturday evening for that purpose.
Stephen A. Douglas and A. S. Pettit were exalted on 3 September 1847. Every officer who missed a meeting was fined fifty cents, and each companion, not an officer, twenty-five cents. But that did not apply to companions living more than one mile from the city.
The chapter was constituted 27 December 1847 by Levi Lusk, as proxy for the Deputy General Grand High Priest. There are five entries in the minutes showing how sacred was the obligation of a Mark Master:
August 27, 1852: Compo. J. H. Ralston of California stated that he now held and desired to deposit with this Chapter, a Mark pledge to him for the loan of sixty dollars about five years since by Compo. Benj. V. Teel, residing when last heard from between San Antonio and Austin, Texas. The Mark was received with an understanding that such measures would be taken as might seem advisable to the premises.
September 24, 1853: On motion, it was ordered that the Secretary be required to furnish for the Delegation to the Grand Chapter a certified Copy of Record in relation to the Mark deposited by Companion James H. Ralston.
October 29, 1853: On motion, the Secretary was directed to correspond with the Secretary of the Grand Chapter of Texas on the subject of the Mark deposited by Compo Ralston, so soon as he should learn the address of the Grand Secretary.
October 28, 1854: The High Priest reported that he had received a communication from the High Priest of St. Andrews Chapter No. 27, Texas, in relation to the Mark of Compo B. V. Teel, which was deposited with this Chapter by Compo J. H. Ralston, and that he had forwarded said Mark to the High Priest of St. Andrews Chapter.
December 27, 1856: Companion Blakesley informed the Chapter that he had received from Companion Neill, of Texas, sixty dollars, amount due Compo James H. Ralston from Compo Benjamin V. Teel, whose Mark Companion Ralston had deposited with this Chapter, donating the amount US$60 to this Chapter provided the Chapter succeeded in collecting the same, which result has been accomplished.
Shawneetown Chapter No. 6:
The early history of Freemasonry, particularly Capitular Freemasonry, in Shawneetown is the record of a fight against almost insuperable odds in a frontier country by a small band of devoted Freemasons. Warren Lodge No. 14 was located at Shawneetown, and Equality Lodge No. 2 at Equality, thirteen miles distant. Warren Lodge had thirteen companions, and Equality Lodge had twenty-five, in 1846; there were ten unaffiliated Freemasons
The first reference to Shawneetown Chapter is in the records of what was then Louisville Chapter No. 5 (n/k/a King Solomon Chapter No. 5) of Kentucky. The minutes of 30 March 1846, read:
Sundry well known Companions of Shawneetown, Illinois, having petitioned the General Grand Chapter of the United States, to grant them a dispensation for a Chapter at the above place, asked a recommendation from this Chapter, which, on motion, was granted.
The minutes were signed by William F. Colston, High Priest, and C. F. Willis, Secretary. The dispensation was issued by Joseph K. Stapleton, Deputy General Grand High Priest, on 3 June 1846, to nine companions – six in Shawneetown and three in Equality. Alexander W. Pool, of Equality, was appointed High Priest; Brazwn Parris, King; Robert H. Marron, Scribe. At the time, Companion Pool was master of Equality Lodge. The dispensation is in the archives of General Grand Chapter, the charter and complete minute book are in custody of the Grand Secretary of Illinois.
The first convocation of the chapter was held 22 June, with Alexander Pool presiding. This is the only meeting he ever attended, and his name disappears from the record book after that date. The record of the first three years is well written and complete.
Twenty-five meetings were held under the dispensation from 22 June 1846, to 10 July 1847. Charter was granted to Shawneetown Chapter No. 6 on 15 September 1847, but not received until 11 October. It is written on parchment, and signed by Joseph K. Stapleton, Deputy General Grand High Priest; Willis Stewart, General Grand King; Ezra Barnum, General Grand Scribe; and Charles Gilman, General Grand Secretary. There is a line for the signature of the General Grand High Priest, but it is blank.
The chapter was constituted 19 May 1848, by Guerdn Gates, High Priest of Louisville Chapter No. 5 of Kentucky, acting as proxy for Willis Stewart, General Grand King. On 1 June 1848, Brother Winston, Master-Elect of Caseyville Lodge, Kentucky, received the degree of Past Master, and, on 30 June, the same courtesy was extended to William Sliddall, Master-Elect of Equality Lodge No. 2. From the reception of the charter until the transfer of membership to the Grand Chapter of Illinois, 14 October 1850, forty-seven
convocations were held, but from that date until the arrest of the charter in 1867, only seven convocations were held.
Egyptian Chapter UD:
On 26 May 1858, a petition to form Egyptian Chapter, at Jonesboro was recommended.
After the chapter became a constituent of the Grand Chapter, activity almost ceased. Only three petitions were received, but no degrees conferred. The Grand Secretary notified the chapter on 26 May 1868 that it was delinquent seven years dues, and unless payment was made, the name would be erased. From the time of the first meeting, the records show the chapter was adjourned until the next convocation, when the chapter was called from refreshment to labour. This was invariably the case. In one instance, the time between adjournment and reconvening from refreshment to labour was three years. There are four dates where the records show one candidate exalted without the use of any substitutes. When we remember the isolated position of this chapter, and the small number of Freemasons in its vicinity, we cheerfully cast the mantle of forgiveness over their derelictions.
Peoria Chapter No. 7:
All records of this chapter from its organisation to the present time are in perfect condition. A petition was filed with General Grand Chapter and the report of the committee on dispensations and new chapters reads:
Your committee would further report, that they have had under consideration a petition in the usual form, duly ecommended, for a Chapter to be located at Peoria, Illinois, and would recommend that the prayer of the petitioners be granted.
This is the only Illinois chapter that did not work under a dispensation. Charter was issued to Samuel H. Davis, High Priest; Peter Sweat, King; William Hall, Scribe; Augustus O. Garrett, John Slye, Eldrick Smith, John S. Dixson, Nathaniel Chapin, Jonathan Reed, John McDougal, John Comstock, and Alexander Rodgers, on 17 September 1847. The first meeting was 4 January 1848, at
which time Levi Lusk was invited to install the officers, and Z. P. Cabiness, of Springfield, was invited to visit for the purpose of instruction.
January 7, By-Laws adopted and Article IV, Section 2, reads: The Rules of Order at all meetings shall be those of the Senate of the United States where the same do not conflict with these by-laws, with the constitutions, or with Masonic Tradition.
Levi Lusk installed the officers on 28 January 1845. The first three candidates were exalted on 12 February; one candidate was William C. Hobbs, who was elected Grand Master of Masons the following year. Peter Sweat, High Priest, was appointed to represent the chapter at the organisation of the Grand Chapter, 9 April 1850, at Springfield.
For some reason, not now apparent, the chapter failed to hold a meeting for several months in 1850. J. W. S. Mitchell, Past Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of Missouri was a visitor on 16 September 1850 and assisted in conferring degrees. His visit put new life in the chapter and, from that date, it has steadily gained in power and influence, becoming the second largest chapter in the state.
During the years 1848, 1849, and 1850, the General Grand Chapter issued dispensations to other Illinois chapters as follows:
• Howard Chapter, 28 July 848;
• Stapleton Chapter, Rushville, 28 June 1849;
• Barrett Chapter, Rock Island, 1 August 1849; and
• Reynolds Chapter, Cambridge, 2 March 1850.
Attempts to Organise A Grand Chapter:
During the session of Grand Lodge at Alton, over 2-5 October 1848, an attempt was made to organize a grand chapter. Only three chapters took part in this meeting: Jacksonville Chapter No. 3, Horeb Chapter No. 4, Howard Chapter No. 8. Other chapters made such a vigorous protest that the matter was abandoned; however, there was a sentiment for such an organisation. On 24 April 1847, Quincy Chapter No. 5 appointed a committee to correspond with other chapters upon the subject of organizing a grand chapter. The High Priest of Quincy Chapter No. 5 was instructed on 25 August 1849 to use his influence at the next Grand Lodge session to accomplish this object.
The 1848 organisation was premature, as all chapters had not been notified, but W. B. Warren, who was elected Grand High Priest at that time, was not discouraged and took steps to call another meeting. He sent a letter to every chapter; one of them has been preserved and reads:
Secretary of the Royal Arch Chapter, Shawneetown, Illinois. Jacksonville, Mch. 22.
Companions: I have received authority from Willis Stewart, General Grand King of the General Grand Chapter of the United States, for Springfield No. 1, Jacksonville No. 3, Horeb No. 4, Quincy No. 5, and any and all other Royal Arch Chapters in the State of Illinois to form a State Grand Chapter and you are hereby notified to attend a meeting to be holden in Springfield the nineth day of April next for the purpose of organizing the same.
Yours fraternally, W. B. Warren.
Soon after the 1849 session of the Grand Lodge, the office of the Grand Secretary was burned, and all records of that meeting destroyed. To remedy the loss, the Grand Master called a special communication of Grand Lodge at Springfield, 10 April 1850. It was during that session that fifteen delegates from all of the chapters, except Shawneetown, met and organised the Grand Chapter. A resolution was adopted permitting Shawneetown Chapter No. 6 “to come in on an equal footing with other Chapters.”
Springfield Chapter No. 1: Mason Brayman, High Priest; John Uhler, King; Thos. H. Campbell, Scribe
La Fayette Chapter No. 2: J. V. Z. Blaney, High Priest and proxy for King and Scribe
Jacksonville Chapter No. 3: W. S. Hurst, High Priest; W. B. Warren, proxy for King; E. R. Roe, proxy for Scribe; N. English, P. Coffman, J. J. Russell
Horeb Chapter No. 4: S. G. Dean, proxy for Scribe
Quincy Chapter No. 5: John H. Holton, High Priest; Lewis Watson, proxy for King; George Wyle, proxy for Scribe
Peoria Chapter No. 7: Peter Sweat, High Priest, and proxy for King and Scribe.
Grand officers elected were:
Grand High Priest: William B. Warren, Jacksonville
Deputy Grand High Priest: John. H. Holton, Quincy
Grand King: J. V. Z. Blamey, Chicago
Grand Scribe: Peter Sweat, Peoria
Grand Secretary: Mason Brayman, Springfield
Grand Treasurer: Thos. H. Campbell, Springfield
Grand Marshal: W. S. Hurst, Jacksonville
The officers were installed by Z. P. Cabiness, Past High Priest of Springfield Chapter No. 1. The Grand High Priest was authorised to draw upon the chapters for funds to pay his expenses to General Grand Chapter, which met in Boston, 10 September 1850. However, he was not present, but was represented by N. Coffin, as his proxy. J. V. Z. Blaney, Grand King, was present at that Triennial. The by-laws of the Grand Chapter of Ohio were adopted, with changes in a few sections.
At the Grand Convocation in Alton, 14 October 1850, the Grand High Priest reported issuing a dispensation for Meredosia Chapter No. 11, at Meredosia, and the Deputy Grand High Priest reported a dispensation for Union Chapter, at Griggsville; this chapter was later moved to Pittsfield. The charter of Shawneetown Chapter No. 6 was surrendered in 1867. The early chapters had a different plan for meetings than today. For example, the by-laws of Union Chapter No. 10 provided for meetings “on Friday evenings before the full moon in February, May, August and November.”
In 1853, the High Priest of La Fayette Chapter No. 2 refused to admit a visitor from Pennsylvania because “the work of Pennsylvania was essentially different from the work of the General Grand Chapter, and for other reasons.” This caused much unfavourable comment by reviewers of other jurisdictions. In 1857, it was voted that Royal Arch Freemasons hailing from Pennsylvania be admitted as visitors upon such terms as others hailing from any sister jurisdiction. The trouble had been caused by a misunderstanding. The committee on correspondence determined that, had a copy of the Pennsylvania law had been in their possession, the trouble would not have happened.
In 1853, the
Illinois State Legislature enacted “An Act to incorporate the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the State of Illinois, and the subordinate Chapters under its jurisdiction.”
At that time, it was a long and hard journey from towns in southern Illinois to towns in which chapters were located. As an accommodation to the masters of Jonesboro and Kaskaskia Lodges, permission was given to permit Saint Louis Chapter No. 8 to confer degrees upon Illinois candidates. As the state became more thickly settled, the chapter membership increased accordingly. In 1850, there were 327 companions; by 1860, the number had increased to 1,629; the outbreak of the Civil War handicapped chapters, many companions leaving for the Army and Navy. In 1862, eight grand officers were absent from the annual convocation, and it was necessary to withhold all of the per diem and half the mileage, and, in addition, to borrow US$500.00 to pay running expenses. With the close of the War, renewed activity permeated the chapters. In 1864-1868, inclusive, fifty-two new
chapters were chartered, and the membership increased to 8,299 in 1870. From this time on, there was a steady increase in membership, which lasted until 1910, and then it increased by leaps and bounds until 1927, when there were 91,573 companions; that was the peak; then came a rapid decline. The largest gain was in 1921, with 10,983; the largest loss was in 1934, with 8,162. In the sixteen years thereafter, there was a loss of 60,173. The total number of charters granted was 289. Twenty-six chapters were consolidated; forty-nine charters arrested; four chapters changed names. In 1951 there were 210 chapters on the register.
Travelling Military Chapters:
On 1 July 1863, a dispensation was issued to Asboth Military Chapter UD, named for Brigadier General Alexander Asboth (nèe
Asbóth Sándor [Sándor is the Hungarian counterpart of Alexander, and Hungarian surnames traditionally preceded forenames]). It was officered by civilians attached to the military work at Columbus, Kentucky, where it met from 6 July 1863 until 20 January
1864, when it was removed to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and it met there from 28 January to 24 February 1864, going defunct as of 25 February.
The Grand High Priest, Hiram W. Hubbard, a renowned ritualist who served as High Priest of no less than four chapters, went with the chapter to Vicksburg, where he observed upon arrival:
We found the Masonic Temple under control of the Military Authorities. The Lodge room was occupied by three Military Lodges, the Chapter room by the Military Commission, who cheerfully gave way. We found several Royal Arch Masons there from Illinois, and a number of the former officers and members of Vicksburg Chapter No. 3, who rendered every assistance in their power by furnishing robes, jewels and fixtures, and aiding in the work.
When Asboth Military Chapter left Columbus, a few of the companions remained there. A dispensation was issued in January 1864 for Hurlbut Military Chapter UD, named for Major General Stephen Augustus Hurlbut (1815-1882), commander of the Army of the Gulf during the Civil War, earlier a lawyer in Belvidere and elected member of the Illinois House of Representatives. Historical accounts by authors seem to reference original reports filed with the Grand Secretary which have not yet been located. These accounts concur with those in the ledger, that this chapter held only six convocations and conferred degrees upon four candidates, none being exalted in the Holy Royal Arch.
Asboth Chapter’s register was discovered in the Grand Secretary’s archives in 2013. Click here to view it.
Weighing 1.219 kilograms (2 pounds, 11 ounces), the 25.4 cm × 38.1 cm (10″ × 15″) volume is 2.5 cm (1″) thick, bound in brown cowhide leather with decorative patches, saddle-stitched, with marbled endpapers. On the front cover is a large paper label which reads, “Asboth Military Chapter, Dispensation Surrendered”, perhaps affixed by then-Grand Secretary, Harman G. Reynolds. Among the one hundred pages are detailed accounts, all neatly penned and most likely in quill ink, of business conducted and degrees conferred at meetings held in 1863 and 1864. If original, it would have been impossible for the ledger to have been used simultaneously by Asboth in Vicksburg, 589 kilometres (366 miles) south along the Mississippi River from Hurlbut in Columbus, during overlapping periods. Thus, the records of Hurlbut’s meetings were appended to Asboth’s entries at some point from another set.
Education and Charity:
The question of education of children of Freemasons was given serious attention in the early years. Several attempts were made to
establish schools, but lack of funds prevented, and when the Illinois State Legislature provided public schools, the question was closed.
The Grand Chapter has always been interested in Masonic charities. In 1854, with only US$500.00 in the treasury, US$100.00 was contributed to the widow of “a Worthy Past Grand Master.” For several years, the sum of US$50.00 was set aside for the education of two orphan children of a deceased companion.
In 1889, the first large contribution was made to the Illinois Masonic Orphans’ Home (now known as the Illinois Masonic Children’s Home).
When the growing demand for hospital care of brethren at the Old Folks Home (later known as the Illinois Masonic Home and, ultimately Mason Point) at Sullivan became pressing, the Grand Chapter appropriated US$50,000.00 in 1913 to the Grand Lodge, without any reservations, to build the Royal Arch Memorial Hospital. By 1924, more room was needed, and Grand Chapter contributed US$50,000.00 for an addition to the hospital. Large contributions were made at different times for the support of the hospital and for improvements throughout its existence. The Royal Arch Memorial Hospital was the official philanthropic concern of the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the State of Illinois, until 2006 when the hospital was converted to a Medicare facility by
the Grand Lodge of Illinois, in preparation for divesting itself of Mason Point. The hospital was a fifty-bed (all private rooms) facility, providing intermediate level nursing care.
In Chicago, the Illinois Masonic Hospital (now Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Centre), as well, benefited from Royal Arch charity, receiving US$4,000.00 for a radiography (x-ray) machine, in addition to other help.
Since the Grand Lodge’s conversion of the Royal Arch Memorial Hospital to a Medicare facility in 2006, the charity of the Grand Chapter has been selected annually by the Most Excellent Grand High Priest. This was formalised on 1 August 2008 with the establishment of the Royal Arch Masons Charitable Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) corporation into which tax-deductable contributions are accepted, and from which donations are disbursed to the annual-chosen charity. For the 2008-09 capitular year, then-incoming MEGHP Richard E. Yena, a career special education school teacher and administrator, selected autism treatment and research to be the beneficiary of our institutional benevolence. His successor, Joseph H. Santisteban, reaffirmed our commitment to autism research and treatment for 2009-10. Chicago is fortunate to be in the forefront of both, and two facilities are receiving our financial support: Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Centre’s programme for children with autism
and Easter Seals’ Therapeutic School and Centre for Autism Research.
The adoption of a uniform ritual had a long and difficult road to travel. The first high priests used that which they had learned in other states. The first ritualistic instruction was in 1851, when Companion Blamey exemplified the four degrees “to the great satisfaction and instruction” of the companions.
In 1867, a committee was appointed to prepare an official ritual. Their report was made in 1868, when a ritual was presented, which the committee proclaimed “would stand the test now and for all time.” That ritual did last until 1899, when “for the sake of uniformity,” the new ritual of the General Grand Chapter was adopted. It was unpopular, nobody learned it, and another ritual was ordered written in 1901.
This was modified with a few minor changes in 1914 and became known as the so-called “Blackhawk ritual” because of its intentionally misleading title as a narrative of the Blackhawk War of 1832. In addition to to the typical Masonic encryption of certain words by removing their vowels and some consonants, the degrees were encoded as terms regarding North American Indians. The Blackhawk ritual was supplanted with a somewhat shortened ritual in 1972. The Blackhawk ritual, though used by few
chapters, continues to be authorised and encouraged. The Principal Sojourner’s monologue in the Blackhawk version of the Holy Royal Arch degree is the longest piece of ritual in the Illinois Masonic canon.
The 1972 ritual is taught by a board of grand examiners, consisting of five qualified experts. They hold five schools of instruction each year, supplemented by the regional capitular standard clubs.
Illinois and the General Grand Chapter:
The General Grand Chapter met in Chicago in 1856. In 1860, it was voted to instruct delegates to General Grand Chapter to “vote for the dissolution of the same,” but the delegates ignored their instructions, and Illinois remained a member until 1980. Illinois has had four elective general grand officers:
Ira A. W. Buck was Deputy General Grand High Priest in 1865; Joseph E. Dyas was General Grand High Priest, 1906-1909;
Charles C. Davis was General Grand High Priest, 1927-1930; Edward E. Core was elected chairman of the trustees of the permanent fund in 1946, and again in 1949, later serving as General Grand Treasurer.
From 1916-1946, Harry W. Harvey was custodian of the ritual; he was made emeritus in 1946. Everett R. Turnbull was appointed chairman of the foreign relations committee in 1924, retaining that position until he resigned, in 1942, to accept an appointment on the history committee. Richard C. Davenport served as a member of the Board of Publication of the Royal Arch Mason magazine; Fred I. Mills of the committee on general purposes; Walter W. Taylor a member of the committee on Royal Arch advancement.
In 1981, the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the State of Illinois withdrew from the General Grand Chapter in response to organisational politics individual egos, and personal loyalties gone awry. Periodic movements to rejoin continually failed to generate sufficient traction to overcome the entrenched interest in the status quo. A motion was put forth to re-join the General Grand Chapter at the 1 August 2008 Grand Conclave, and was tabled for one year. The assembled brethren voted in favor of re-joining on 31 August 2009. Most Excellent General Grand High Priest Emory “Smokey” Ferguson was present at the 2009 Grand Convocation, and was invited to the East by Most Excellent Grand High Priest Richard E. Yena; whereupon, MEGGHP Ferguson happily took the opportunity to welcome the Grand Chapter of Illinois back into the General Grand Chapter family.
The Cryptic Degrees:
The first six chapters had authority to confer the Cryptic degrees, but, in 1851, all chapters were ordered not to confer these degrees.
The Grand Chapter was given control of those degrees by the Grand Council of Cryptic Masons of the State of Illinois in 1877. This condition lasted until 1882, when the Grand Council resumed control, and all chapters were ordered to discontinue conferring the
Cryptic degrees, effective 1 January 1883.
Order of High Priesthood:
The first meeting of the Order of High Priesthood was held in 1851, and meetings have been held every year since. There were six present at the first convention; one, Levi Lusk, received the degree in Kentucky in 1828. There is no record of where and when the others were anointed. A constitution was adopted in 1855, and the official name selected is “The Grand Council of High Priests of the State of Illinois.” Various contributions for charitable purposes have been made during the years.
Grand Chapter Facts:
The Grand Chapter participated at the funeral of President Abraham Lincoln, the cornerstone laying of the Stephen A. Douglas monument and tomb, cornerstone laying of the Illinois State House, and on several other occasions. The largest occasion was at the dedication of the former Royal Arch Memorial Hospital, in 1915; another was the dedication of the wading pool at the Illinois Masonic Orphans’ Home (now known as the Illinois Masonic Children’s Home, in 1924. This pool was the contribution of the chapters in Cook County.
The Grand Chapter’s 50th anniversary was celebrated in 1900. A dinner was served, a history written, and a medal struck. The 75th anniversary was a night meeting, with a programme consisting of addresses, music, and a history, prepared and issued soon after the close of the anniversary convocation. The centennial was celebrated by entertainment furnished by Medinah Shriners, a dinner, and the issuance of an official history.
The committee on correspondence presented its first report in 1851. Until 1877, the Grand Secretary was ex-officio the committee. From that date, it has been a separate appointment.
In its first one hundred years, the grand chapter had eight grand secretaries. The first two served one year each, then Harmon G. Reynolds was elected in 1852, and served eighteen years. He was followed by James H. Miles, nine years; G. W. Barnard, thirty years; George W. Warvelle, ten years; James E. Jeffers, eighteen years; Edward E. Core, ____ years; _____________; Edward E. Derry, MEPGHP, _______ years; and Richard E. Yena, MEPGHP, current.
There have been ______ Grand Treasurers: William McMurtry, eight years; Harrison Dills, twelve years; Wiley M. Egan, twenty-two years; George W. Curtis, twenty-two years; Stuart E. Pierson, _____ years; ____________; John B. “Jack” Hall, MEPGHP, ______ years; and Bruce W. Rhinehart, MEPGHP, current.
A parade of fine companions have filled the office of Grand High Priest, most serving one year each, except Nelson D. Elwood, who served three years. However, one served only a six-month term.
The first meeting was in Springfield, in April 1850; other meetings in Springfield were 1857-1869 inclusive, except 1866; Alton,
October 1850; Jacksonville, 1851-1856; Chicago, 1866, 1870-1950; _________________.
All companions showing continuous membership for fifty years are exempt from dues.
State-wide concurrent jurisdiction was adopted in 1946.