200 Years of Masonic Heritage

    PENTUCKET LODGE

    ANCIENT FREE AND ACCEPTED MASONS

    CHARTERED MARCH 9, 1807

    Lowell, Massachusetts

    By: R.W. H. Mark Leonard

     

    PREFACE  
    THE EARLY DAYS
    CONSECRATION OF PENTUCKET LODGE
    REVOLUTIONARY WAR
    EARLY MEMBERS
    LODGE BUSINESS
    CHARTER RESTORED
    NEW LEADERSHIP
    BENJAMIN BUTLER
    MOTHER LODGE OF LOWELL
    MASONRY IS PERSONAL
     




       



      
    PREFACE   

    On a hot July day in the summer of 2012, I received a call from the Master of Pentucket Lodge, Wor Jason Standley.  He and his Jr. Warden, Bro. Shawn Smith had been cleaning out an old closet storage area and found some Lodge memorabilia that they just didn’t recognize, so they asked me to swing by and tell them if anything was worth saving.  Being an amateur historian, and inveterate pack rat, everything is worth saving, so I decided to go by and see what I could salvage. Other than a few old photos, there wasn’t much there. So after I grumbled about a general lack of appreciation for historical documents, we identified a pile of junk that should have been thrown away years ago. It was just as I was getting ready to leave that Jason said, “If you want to see old documents, let’s go up to the fourth floor.”  Jay showed me a row of old rusty wall locker full of documents, one for each Lodge in the building. After moving aside someone’s chair restoration project so that we could open the door to the locker, I was in shock.
    There before me was virtually every written record of Pentucket Lodge, Secretary and Treasurer, from over 200 years of existence.


    I rummaged through to locate the earliest and there it was. An old leather bound record book full of hand written meeting records kept by the Secretary, beginning in 1822. I spent hours searching for the book from 1807 to 1821, but it turns out, there never was one. Those records are lost. I brought the three oldest books home with me, and thus began my first real research project with primary documents.

    I had graduated college as a History major, but never really did anything in the field. I was however, a voracious reader and loved to trace people and events through biography readings, not text books full of dates and places. I had already read a few books about the local area, and began to recognize several of the same names and places in the Pentucket records. A picture started emerging of real people and places that I knew. People who formed the community that I had grown up in, families that still live in Pawtucketville, and attend the same church that so many in these dusty old books had created; from the first Master in 1807 through to myself. Names and people that have found their way into historical texts of the Industrial Revolution in America, once met together, laughed together, and shared Masonic experiences together in Pentucket Lodge.

    The result is this short collection of historical profiles of our early lodge members. I’ve tried to place people into their environment, and make the family and fraternal connections that history books ignore. History doesn’t just happen, people make things happen. For over 200 years, Pentucket Lodge has been molding the lives of some of the most prominent people of the area. I’ve tried to capture some of them.

    Wor. Mark Leonard     January 2013

     

     

     

     

    THE EARLY DAYS                                                                                   

    We all know that Pentucket Lodge traces its founding back to 1807, but not many realize that Chelmsford and Billerica were already 150 years old by 1807, while Dracut had been established for over 100 years. Even earlier, the Rev John Elliot in 1652 received a charter for the village of Wamesit (which became part of Tewksbury) at the juncture of the Merrimack and Concord rivers for his “Praying Indians”.  The area around the Great Falls of the Merrimack was steeped in heritage, long before Pentucket Lodge.

     Passaconoway, the great Chief of the Pennacook nation established his lodge high on the hill overlooking the falls, where UMass Lowell North Campus now sits. The Great Falls were sacred fishing grounds for the entire Abenaki nation for generations. The Abenaki name for the falls was “PAWTUCKET”, while the lesser falls downstream where Haverhill is now   located were called “PENTUCKET”. Passaconoway’s son and successor, Wonalancit made his home with the Wamesit tribe at the juncture of the Concord and the Merrimack.  This was the area where the Rev John Elliot established his first mission to the “Praying Indians” in about 1650, which made him a legend in colonial New England. He was soon followed by settlers from the greater Boston area, eager for the opportunity to lay claim to virgin land almost free for the asking. All they needed to do was to settle in the area and establish a church.

     Chelmsford and Billerica received charters in 1653. Both villages were on the south side of the Merrimack, with Billerica lying east of the Concord and Chelmsford to the west. Everything north of the Merrimack was still Pennacook land, until Dracut received her charter in 1701. Early in 1659, the very first settlers of Dracut lived in Chelmsford, and travelled across the river in canoe daily to farm their land. The north side was not safe for Englishmen. It wasn’t until 1701 that the original families from Chelmsford, the Colburn and the Varnum clans, soon followed by the Richardsons, Hildreths and others were well enough established on the north side of the river to petition for their own charter, and became the town of Drawcutt.  Much of what we now know as Pelham NH was then a part of Dracut MA. The provincial boundary moved several times in that era, until about 1750 or so.

     The early families of Dracut began holding their own Sunday services at the homes of either the Coburns or Varnums. They were led by pastors of the Chelmsford congregation. This went on until approximately 1700, when the settlers formed their own “Pawtucket Congregation” and built a small meeting house, used for worship and as the first schoolhouse. Located near the north side of the ferry crossing, the building, known as the Colburn Mission, was on Varnum Avenue, near the corner of Lexington Avenue. The Varnum homestead was about a half mile east -  still there today, occupied by a Varnum - while the Colburn garrison house was a half mile west on what is known as Old Ferry Road, about where the Lowell Lodge of Elks hall is located today. 

     The river was still a major obstacle to development until 1795 with the creation of the first bridge across the Merrimack, located at the Falls, right where the current bridge stands today. The original proprietors of the toll bridge were Parker Varnum, Col James Varnum, and Col Louis Ansart, all of whom had served during the War. They further enhanced the value of their bridge by creating the Mammoth Road from the north end of the bridge to Concord NH; the first surveyed highway north of the river. By 1803, they had competition for commercial traffic from the new Middlesex Canal, which opened up water transport from the Merrimack, just west of the falls, to the Port of Boston. The stage was now set for commercial development that would become the Town of Lowell by 1826.

     Masonry had also been growing in the region during this time. First established under Henry Price by the Grand Lodge of England in 1733;  Dr. Joseph Warren had been proclaimed Provincial Grand Master by the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1769. The United Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had been formed in 1792 with John Cutler as the first Grand Master. He was followed by Paul Revere, who expanded the constituent lodges from 22 to about 60.  Masons from this area had to travel to Groton or Concord, to attend meetings, both of which were 15 miles away. That meant an overnight trip in those days. Consequently, in 1807, 15 local Masons petitioned Grand Lodge for a new Charter in Chelmsford. Seven were from Chelmsford, four from Dracut, and four from Tewksbury. Our Lodge folklore claims that the charter originally was requested to be named as PAWTUCKET Lodge, but came back as PENTUCKET. This is substantiated by Rev Wilkes Allen, one of the Charter members in his official Chelmsford Town history written in 1820.

     Who were these men and what were the early days like?  What about those who would follow and what influence did they have on Lowell’s development?  Pentucket Lodge has a rich heritage in Greater Lowell history, some of which can be discovered from old Lodge meeting records. Neighbors, family, Masonic brothers are who make up the membership of a Lodge, and the fabric of a community.  In the next few months, I hope to explore some of these personal connections and contributions from some of the famous and not so famous men who make up our PENTUCKET LODGE HERITAGE.

     

     

     

     

    CONSECRATION OF PENTUCKET  LODGE                                      

    The history of Pentucket Lodge is the story of her people.  Who among us can fail to acknowledge the influence of a cousin, a neighbor, a father or a brother as we carry out our fraternal, civic, or church obligations?  So it was in the early 1800’s society near the Pawtucket Falls. A conversation with the Town Clerk could shift to a decision by the church Deacon, be not to the liking of the Capt. of the local militia, and perhaps be arbitrated by the local Squire and civil magistrate; and all this became so confusing to the young farmer listening in, since for him, there was only one relationship in the conversation; each was his uncle. So it was with the founding fathers of Pentucket Lodge in March of 1807.

     The official history says that fifteen Master Masons submitted a petition to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for the formation of a new Lodge located near the falls. The Charter was signed and returned by the MW Grand Master, Timothy Bigelow, one of four Grand Masters from St Paul’s Lodge in Groton. Bro Isaac Colburn of Dracut was appointed Master Pro-Tem until such time as the Lodge may be duly consecrated and officers properly installed. The Lodge operated under this dispensation until October of 1809; 2 years and 8 months.

     The fifteen charter members were from Dracut, Chelmsford, and Tewksbury. Dracut was everything north of the Merrimack, Tewksbury was the part of Lowell that is east of the Concord River (in 1800 the Memorial Auditorium and Saints Hospital would be in Tewksbury), and Chelmsford was all land west of the Concord and south of the Merrimack. The fifteen were : Moses Fletcher,  Jonathan Fletcher,  Benjamin Fiske, Wilkes Allen, Jonas Clark, Hezikiah Thorndike, Daniel Hayden from Chelmsford;  Isaac Colburn, Jonathan Hildreth, Thomas Benson, Dudley Spofford from Dracut;  Ebeneezer Flint, John Chapman, Jeremiah Chapman, Pearce Rea, from Tewksbury. Without a doubt, they were all family, friends, neighbors, and Masonic brothers, well known to each other, seeking something much more than a shorter journey.

     From March through Dec 1807, the Lodge met informally at a variety of member’s homes.  The first full meeting was recorded on December 10, 1807 in Whiting’s Hall. This “Public House” was owned by Erazmus Whiting and was located on the corner of Pawtucket and School Streets, at the base of the new bridge. The original structure is gone, replaced by the mansion of Frederick Ayer, which became the Franco American School, still standing.  In May of 1809, the Lodge moved across the street to the hall owned by Jonathan Fletcher, the Sr. Warden.

     It seems from Lodge records that Fletcher’s Hall, across School Street from Whiting’s Hall, was eventually purchased by Joel Spaulding, the grandfather of a soon to be Pentucket  member of the same name. This building was later purchased by the Molly Varnum Chapter of the DAR, converted to a museum, and is still open today. They remained at Fletcher’s Hall / Spaulding House until 1816, when they moved to the Simeon Spaulding House in Chelmsford center, still standing today, but known as the Fiske House.  It was at that time, a tavern and stage coach stop along the Boston Post Road.

     A meeting of Grand Lodge was convened at Whiting’s Hall on the afternoon of December 10, 1809. Timothy Whiting, son of the hall owner, and District Deputy Grand Master, had been appointed by MWGM Isaiah Thomas as the Acting Grand Master for the day. On his suite were two soon to be Past Masters of St Paul’s Lodge of Groton, Wor John Abbott and Wor Caleb Butler, both of whom would become MW Grand Master in the near future.  St Paul’s Lodge sent a large delegation as they viewed themselves to be the “Mother Lodge” for Pentucket.  Pentucket convened their Lodge in the Spaulding House across the street. The entire group met at the base of the bridge, and formed a procession behind Grand Lodge to Pawtucket Church, on the north side where the church now stands.  It was the custom to consecrate a new Lodge in a church, usually the home parish of the Master.  Isaac Colburn was a member, and his family were founders of the “West Parish Society” of Dracut, which became known as Pawtucket Congregational Church. Isaac Colburn and Jonathan Hildreth were direct descendants of the original families of Dracut. The Lodge was consecrated, and officers duly installed.  Pentucket was now officially entitled to do work and raise candidates. Isaac Colburn remained Master for five years.  The first two candidates were Artemas Holden and Dr. Israel Hildreth, soon to be joined by Jefferson Bancroft, Charles Blood, and Daniel Balch, all names that will be discussed later.

     With the recent completion of the PAWTUCKET bridge, the construction of fine homes and Public Houses along PAWTUCKET Street, the opening of the Middlesex Canal, with its connection to the Merrimack river just above PAWTUCKET Falls, and the growth of the area known as PAWTUCKET Village, it does seem plausible that Rev Wilkes Allen one of the original fifteen, is correct in his narrative history of early Chelmsford, when he states that PAWTUCKET Lodge requested a charter from Grand Lodge.

     Lodge records from the first two decades are sketchy at best, but there are church records and family genealogies to cross check. Sometimes the distinction between cousin or uncle, brother or nephew can get tangled. Village boundaries changed repeatedly, and were further confused with the introduction of Lowell, which was created completely by a purchased or eminent domain acquisition of Chelmsford, Wamesit, Tewksbury, Billerica, and Dracut. Through all this, the two church parishes of Chelmsford Center and Pawtucket Falls (known today as Pawtucketville) remain as constant providers of leaders and members for the early foundations of Pentucket. 

         

     

     

     

    REVOLUTIONARY WAR                                                                                                                                   

    Middlesex County in Massachusetts was a focal point of the Patriot cause in New England.  The Minute Man companies from Dracut and Chelmsford made it to Concord in time for the fight at North Bridge. The late arrivals harassed the British column on the march back to Boston. The Minute Man companies soon gave way to organized militia, and the Falls area sent two companies to Charlestown and Breeds Hill under Gen’l Artemis Ward. The Middlesex militia knew they were on Breed’s Hill, not Bunker Hill. Four of the fifteen charter members of Pentucket fought on Breeds Hill; at least five more had relatives who were there.  At one point in 1777, of the fifty soldiers in Capt. James Varnum’s Dracut Company, 13 were named Colburn, 12 Varnum, 3 Richardson and 3 Hildreth; 60% of the company was comprised from four families.

     The Chelmsford company led by Capt. John Ford had the expected Spaulding, Byam, Adams, Fletcher, and Parkers. Ford held one of the earliest commissions as an officer under the Committee of Public Safety, signed by the President, Gen’l Joseph Warren.  There were many interesting members in Ford’s Company. Edward Spaulding was the uncle of Joel Spaulding (meeting house of Pentucket) and he claimed to have fired the first shot on Breeds Hill that downed British Major Pitcairn. (Pitcairn had lead the British expedition to Concord on April 19th) Benjamin Fiske was the grandson of Rev John Fiske, first Pastor to the Chelmsford Congregation in 1655. Benjamin went on to later become a Col in the 7th Reg’t of Middlesex Militia and was present at Saratoga.  Benjamin Pierce was a private in Ford’s Company.  After Bunker Hill,  Pierce moved to New Hampshire where he became a Gen’l in the NH Militia, and was elected Gov. of NH. His son Franklin became President of the United States.

     The fife player in the company was a free black man from Dracut named Barzaillia Lew.  Lew’s father had been a fifer with the Chelmsford Company at the defeat of Montreal in the French and Indian war. Orphaned at a young age, Lew had been raised by the Blood family of Chelmsford (Middlesex Village).  He was very respected as a musician and was a parishioner of the Pawtucket Church, where he led the church music program for many years, until succeeded  by his daughter. In the late 1780’s, Lew purchased a farm on Varnum Avenue from Parker Varnum, at the corner of Totman Road, only a quarter mile from Abraham Colburn, father of Isaac our first WM. Young Isaac Colburn grew up literally next door to the Lew children. They attended the same church, and for more than 30 years, Colburn listened to the Lew family music during services.  Barzaillia’s son, Peter, became Grand Master of Prince Hall Masons from 1811 to 1816; the same time that Colburn was Master of Pentucket Lodge.  What did they talk about after Sunday services? Lew is buried in Clay Pit Cemetery, off Varnum Avenue, behind the Elks Hall on Old Ferry Road.

     Col Parker Varnum and his brother Joseph Varnum, together with Col Luis Ansart formed the Pawtucket Bridge Corporation. Ansart was a former French officer who became Washington’s Chief of Artillery. He married a sister of Parker Varnum and stayed on in Dracut after the war. They brought in Jefferson Bancroft and Artemis Holden as overseers and Isaac Colburn as a carpenter to work on the bridge. Erazmus Whiting, Jonathan Fletcher, and Joel Spaulding erected large halls or taverns on the southern approach.  Squire Jonathan Hildreth was representative to the Great and Gen’l Court of Massachusetts. He had the task of clearing any gov’t roadblocks to the bridge construction. All were parishoners of the Pawtucket Village church, and early members of Pentucket Lodge, except for the Varnums. The future was shifting from the farms to Middlesex Village, and the new Town of Lowell. The Middlesex Canal and the bridge changed everything, forever.

     ISAAC COLBURN … First Master of Pentucket Lodge 1807

    Isaac Colburn was born in 1777 in Dracut, the son of Lt. Abraham Colburn and Mercy Richardson. The family made their home on Varnum Avenue, not far from the original Colburn garrison house on Old Ferry Road. Descended from the original settlers of Dracut, Colburn lived among dozens of Colburn and Varnum descendants in the West Village, the area of Lowell now known as Pawtucketville. As a youth, he was molded by Revolutionary War veterans, full of personal stories of their service with Washington’s Northern Army. By 1806, Isaac had been elected Captain of the Dracut Militia Company in the First Middlesex Regiment.  He had skill as a carpenter, which he developed further while working on the construction of the Pawtucket Bridge. One of the Proprietors of  the Corporation, Gen’l Varnum sent young Colburn to work for his old friend, Gen’l Henry Knox, who was building a large home in Thomaston ME.  Knox made Colburn his master carpenter as he worked throughout the summers of 1804-5-6. Gen’l Knox introduced Colburn to Masonry, and sponsored him into Thomaston Lodge, where he was raised in 1806. Colburn attended meetings at St Paul’s Lodge in Groton, where he came to know Timothy Bigelow, John Abbott, Caleb Butler, and Timothy Whiting.

     In 1809 Colburn was appointed Dpty. Sheriff for Dracut by Gen’l William Hildreth, Jonathan’s  uncle and High Sheriff of Middlesex County. He held that post until his death in 1821. Between 1807 and 1821, Colburn held various posts in Dracut, beginning with selectman, town moderator and even town treasurer.  Only 30 years old when he signed the Pentucket charter in 1807, Colburn was the first choice of Grand Master Bigelow to be Master of the new lodge. This was supported by the membership, who elected him five times to continue as Master. Isaac Colburn died at the relatively young age of 43, well on the path to a significant career, in town government, as well as Masonry.

     For 20 of the next 25 years, Pentucket would be led by men from the Pawtucket Village. Influence had shifted from the farms of Chelmsford to the commercial enterprises of the Falls and Middlesex Village. More changes were on the horizon that were linked to the river and canals rather than the land.

     

     

     

     

    EARLY MEMBERS                                                                                     

       Who were some of the early members of Pentucket?  The early history texts of the Lowell area make no mention of any Masonic connections, yet the names of our members and their immediate families comprise a list of many of the influential builders of the Town and City of Lowell.

     ARTEMIS HOLDEN was the first candidate raised in Pentucket Lodge in August 1808. Born in Townsend in 1776, Holden moved to Chelmsford in 1797, where he established himself as a cooper. His shop was on Pawtucket Street, not far from the Bridge. A member of Pawtucket Church, Holden became well established in his prosperous business, and was elected Pentucket’s second Master in 1812. In 1826 he was elected Treasurer of the Town of Lowell, and held that post until 1836, when the city charter took effect. 

     JONATHAN FLETCHER was a charter member and first Sr. Warden. He was born in Chelmsford in 1782, and spent his entire life in the family homestead on Willie Street, near where the old natural gas storage tanks once stood. Fletcher was a blacksmith, responsible for much of the iron work of the original Pawtucket Canal, and the Pawtucket Bridge. He was married to Mary Varnum, daughter of Prescott Varnum, the proprietor of the Bridge.  Fletcher also owned a Public House at the corner of School and Pawtucket streets.  Another member of Pawtucket Church. he was elected  Master of Pentucket  in 1814. 

     CHARLES BLOOD was born in the West Village section of Dracut, on Varnum Avenue, in 1790, near the Colburn Garrison House. As a young man, Blood worked on the building of the Middlesex Canal, becoming a lead worker of the granite locks construction segments.  He was soon hired by Bro Daniel Tuck, owner of the largest granite quarry (in recent times known as Fletcher’s Quarry) as general manager and business agent. He next became part owner and manager of the Chelmsford Glass Co, which was on Baldwin Street in Middlesex Village, along the Canal. He next opened the Stoney Brook saw mill in North Chelmsford, near the present mills on Princeton Street, along the brook. Finally, Blood built a tavern in the Vinal Square area, and became quite wealthy serving the needs of canal travelers until his death in 1864. A deacon of Pawtucket Church, he was elected Master of Pentucket in 1817, and was also a Charter member and founder of Mount Horeb R.A. Chapter, serving as Scribe for many years. Charles was the brother of Colburn Blood, who served for many years as Treasurer of Pentucket, until succeeded by his son, Colburn Jr. for many more.  

     JONAS CLARK was a Charter member. Born and raised in Chelmsford, Clark was a private at Bunker Hill, eventually rising to Captain of a Chelmsford militia company. After the War, Clark ran the ferry across the Merrimack at the end of Old Ferry Road, until the completion of the Bridge. After the ferry became obsolete, he joined with Wor Charles Blood in his Tavern business in Vinal Square, Chelmsford.

     Dr ISRAEL HILDRETH Jr was the nephew of Charter Member Jonathan Hildreth. Born in Dracut in 1791 near present day Hovey Square, Hildreth became a physician in 1815, and developed the largest practice in the area. Squire Hildreth, the High Sheriff of Middlesex County was another uncle. Dr. Hildreth became the chief of this highly respected and wealthy founding family of Dracut. He was at one time the Regimental Surgeon for Col Jefferson Bancroft and the 5th Middlesex Militia and father-in-law of Bro Benjamin Butler, famous Civil War Major General, Congressman, Governor of Massachusetts, and wealthy mill owner of Lowell and Lawrence. Dr. Hildreth was elected Master of Pentucket in 1819 and served until 1824 when he declined another election.  Hildreth was the leading family of the First Congregational Church of  Dracut, known as “ The Old Yellow Meeting House”, even though it was white, in Dracut Center.

     JESSE PHELPS was born in Lancaster in 1800, moving to Lowell in 1826 as first overseer of the Merrimack Mfg. Company. He was a member of the Town Selectmen, City Council, State Legislature and Deacon of St Ann’s Church in Lowell, where Theodore Edson was rector, and longtime Chaplain of Pentucket Lodge. Raised in Pentucket in 1826, he was first elected Master in 1827, and again in 1832 and 1845. His home, which was the residence of the Merrimack Mfg. Co Overseer, at the corner of Worthen and Merrimack streets, served as the meeting place for almost 6 years, until the surrender of the charter in 1834. His position as Overseer of the largest mill at the time made Phelps one of the most influential men in Lowell. Phelps was appointed as Master again in 1845 by Grand Lodge to receive the re-instituted charter of Pentucket, ending 11 years of darkness in Lowell Masonry.

     JEFFERSON BANCROFT was perhaps equal to Phelps in terms of influence during this period. Born in Warwick MA in 1803, Bancroft was orphaned at age 11 and became an apprentice at the Moses Leonard blacksmith shop in Warwick MA, until coming to Lowell in 1823 to work for the Proprietors of the Pawtucket Bridge (Varnum, Colburn, Hildreth). He worked his way through the mill management hierarchy, eventually becoming the Overseer of the Appleton Mills. Bancroft was married to the daughter of Dr. Amos Bradley, partner in medical practice with Dr. Israel Hildreth. He was active in the Pawtucket Church, and several classic societies in the town. He founded the Dracut Academy, a private school for the wealthy in 1836 in partnership with Dr. Hildreth, and in 1838 hired the young Benjamin F. Butler as headmaster. Fisher Ames Hildreth and his sister, Sarah, together with Bancroft’s son, Kirk, were students. In 1839 Bancroft appointed Butler a Lieutenant in the 5th Reg’t Massachusetts Militia, of which he was the Colonel Commanding. That position made Bancroft military commander of the northern half of Middlesex County. In 1831 he was made Sr. Deputy Sheriff of Middlesex County, a post which he held almost continuously until 1890. He was in charge of the jails in Cambridge and Lowell (Keith Academy bldg. on Thorndike Street).  From 1836 through his death in 1890, Bancroft was alternately elected to City Council, Alderman, State Legislature, even as Mayor of Lowell, almost never being out of office.

     Bancroft was raised in Pentucket Lodge in 1826, elected Master in 1829, and served for over twelve years as Marshall. In 1852 he demitted from Pentucket and became a charter member and first Master of Ancient York Lodge of Lowell. Bancroft was Master of Ancient York at the same period that William North was Master of Pentucket. His son, Dr. Kirk Bancroft served as Gen’l Ben Butler’s staff Surgeon throughout the Civil War. Bancroft united the influence of family, church, military, city government, county law enforcement, and Masonic connections and became a power to be respected.

     

     

     

     

     LODGE BUSINESS                                                                                   

    What took place in Lodge 200 years ago? Would a member from 2015 recognize the proceedings of 1815? The answer is, “YES”. Without going into items that shouldn’t be discussed in this forum, it is interesting to take a look at some of the recorded minutes from our early days. 

     January 1825 The members voted to buy a “Records Book” for the recording of Secretary’s meeting minutes. Prior to this, we have no written meeting minutes that have survived just member’s records. All the following items come from these minutes of convened meetings, in a leather bound book kept by the Secretary.

     February 1825 The organization of the Lodge can be reasoned from these early meetings. The Pentucket meeting schedule was based on the lunar cycle. As a “Moon Lodge”, we met on the “Thursday preceding the full moon” of each month, which meant a different date each month. That was for the “OFFICIAL”, as “SPECIAL” communications were held whenever there was work to do. In many months, that meant every Thursday evening. It was very common for multiple degrees to be given at a single meeting, sometimes on the same candidates. Most often, an application was read, voted upon the subsequent month, and the candidate initiated and passed  on the same evening, but not raised until several months following. A third degree Mason still needed to be voted upon and accepted as a Member at a subsequent meeting, which wasn’t automatic. The costs of membership were not cheap, by 1820 income standards of about $10 per month. The fee for candidates was $29, payable in four increments; $15 at initiation, $5 at second degree, $5 at third degree, and $4 at acceptance for membership. Annual dues were $1.50, payable as “Quarterages” of 37.5 cents qtly. Visitors were charged 25 cents per visit to defray the costs of refreshments. Meetings were held in taverns, so refreshments were plentiful.  All payments were collected and recorded in open meeting with names being open Lodge record.  A member was automatically suspended upon failure to meet the fourth Quarterage payment when due.

     May 1825 Meetings were being held in Wood’s Hall, a tavern near the entrance to the Middlesex Canal, about where the present ball field at Middlesex and Baldwin Streets is located today. The membership voted a committee to “locate a more commodious location for Lodge meetings, this hall being too small for same”. They also voted to accept the invitation from Grand Lodge to attend the ceremonies for laying the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument. As such, Pentucket became part of the Honor Guard for the Marquis de LaFayette at the ceremony.

     August 1825 Voted to secure the hall of Balch & Colburn for the meeting place. This was a much larger and more substantial structure that was also a Tavern and Hotel. The largest Public House in Chelmsford, the hall was owned by Daniel Balch and Samuel Colburn. The building is still located on Pawtucket Street, at the end of Fletcher, overlooking the Falls. This was the end of the Middlesex Turnpike from Boston. A large granite structure, it later became the home of James Ayer, who afterwards founded an orphanage called the Ayer Home that was in operation through the 1970’s.

     September 1825 Attended the cornerstone ceremonies for First Congregational Church in Dunstable (Nashua, NH) at the request of Rising Sun Lodge.

     October 1825 At the Annual Meeting, Bro Samuel Colburn was elected Jr Warden, and Bro Daniel Balch elected as Sr. Deacon.

     November 1825 Granted release of jurisdiction to St Mathews Lodge of Andover for the change in location from North Parish Andover to the South Parish. The original charter release had been granted in 1822. Pentucket held total jurisdiction for membership over most of what is today Greater Lowell and Greater Lawrence.

     February 1826 Granted similar release of jurisdiction to DeWitt Clinton Lodge of Billerica for the formation of a new lodge.

     March 1826 Conducted cornerstone ceremonies for the First Baptist Society of Lowell, corner of Church & George streets, where it presently stands.  Prior to this meeting, the records state that the Lodge conducted meetings in Chelmsford.  Starting with the March meeting, the name of LOWELL is used for the first time. Several months later, the charter was changed to reflect this new town. Members also made an interesting vote regarding refreshments. Since its beginnings, the Lodge had recorded expenses for “New England rum, Holland gin, Lisbon wine & brandy”, etc., but on Mar 13th it was voted that “refreshments shall consist of bread, biscuits and cider only”. However, it should be remembered that meetings were still being held in the “largest and most accommodating Public House in the Town of Lowell”. We can only guess at what took place after the official closing of the Lodge.

     April 1826 Voted to allow Mt Horeb Royal Arch Chapter use of the Lodge furniture and one night monthly shared use of the hall at no cost.

     June 1826 Voted to receive the applications from Jefferson Bancroft and Rev Theodore Edson, two names that would become leaders of Lowell for the next 50 years. Edson as pastor of St Ann’s church, was immediately appointed Chaplain of Pentucket, which post he held for over 60 years. Bancroft would become WM of Pentucket, Middlesex County Sheriff, Col of the Militia, Mayor of Lowell, and a Charter Member and First Master of Ancient York Lodge.

     December 28, 1826  Although not a part of this discussion, Masonry across the nation, and especially in New England & New York was about to enter hard times. Anti-Masonic sentiment was growing, sometimes even leading to violence for members. Pentucket was not exempt from the turbulence. Grand Lodge required all members to take an oath of allegiance, and Pentucket administered this oath for the first time in December 1826, led by Jesse Phelps and Jefferson Bancroft. In the next several months, nearly 100 members would “take upon themselves the required test at the altar in due form as prescribed by Grand Lodge.” Although little is written about exactly what this entailed, it was most definitely a requirement for membership, taken very seriously at the time.

     February 1827 Voted to join with Mt Horeb R.A. Chapter in rental of a new hall at the corner of Merrimack and Worthen streets. This was upstairs above the home of Jesse Phelps, in a building owned by the Merrimack Mfg. Co. This ended the practice of holding meetings in Public Houses or Taverns. It was also voted to allow Council to use one night per month for meetings.

     May 1827 Conducted cornerstone ceremony for First Methodist Society church of Lowell.  Bro Colburn Blood Jr, Lodge Secretary, was Deacon and Elder of the Methodist church in Lowell, located on Hurd Street, known as St Paul’s Methodist Church, still standing today.

     September 1831 Virtually all candidates dried up, Special Communications were no longer held, only monthly, and sometimes even that was cancelled. One entry …”Not being Officers and Members sufficient, the Lodge was closed for 3 months.” The Lodge was held open primarily through the dedication of Phelps, Bancroft, Blood and Balch.

     March 20 1834 The lack of interest finally culminated in this entry … “Lodge opened … Lodge Closed.” This was in the term of Jesse Phelps as Master. Thus began 11 years of Masonic darkness in Lowell, as the charter of Pentucket Lodge was surrendered to Grand Lodge five days later.                                                                      

     The storm of Anti-Masonic sentiment prevailed in Lowell for 11 years. Although the Lodge was in darkness, the light had not been totally extinguished. The central core of members who had been the foundation of the Lodge in the past were still in Lowell, and ready to rekindle the Lights of Freemasonry. By the summer of 1845, the storm had passed.

     

     

     

    PLANNING MEETINGS 

     On July 14, 1845, a group of 43 Masons met at the Merrimack Mfg. House of Jesse Phelps ( corner Merrimack & Worthen ) to discuss the retrieval of the original Pentucket Charter from Grand Lodge. Fifteen of the brethren present were past members of Pentucket Lodge; the others were men who had moved to the Lowell area during the intervening 11 years seeking their fortunes in the mills or other commerce in the City. Bro Daniel Balch was voted Chairman as the first order of business, with Bro Colburn Blood Jr selected as Secretary.  The next item was to appoint a committee of five, led by Jesse Phelps and Jefferson Bancroft to call on Grand Lodge to determine what needed to be done. The meeting adjourned to the following week. On the 22nd , they again met at the Merrimack Mfg. House to select an individual spokesperson to travel to Boston and deal directly with the Grand Secretary to resolve procedural questions. They first selected Daniel Balch, who declined. They then chose William North, who also declined . Finally, Colburn Blood accepted the charge and the group decided it was better to deal on a Secretary to Secretary level to start administrative proceedings in motion.

     The meeting of the Secretaries took place in Boston, and on the 29th the answer was returned. Grand Lodge would require that seven prior members of Pentucket formally petition Grand Lodge for the restoration of their Charter. If restored, the charter would belong to those seven only, who together would constitute the entire membership of Pentucket Lodge and be granted all rights and privileges of the former Lodge to constitute, organize and conduct business. The group agreed and nominated seven Pentucket members to be signators on the restored charter:  Jesse Phelps, Daniel Balch, Joshua Swan, Colburn Blood Jr, Ransome Reed, Jefferson Bancroft, and Joel Adams.

     The group again met at the Merrimack House and appointed a committee of  six to examine all proposed brethren beyond the initial seven for membership in the Lodge,  if and when the Charter were to be restored. They chose Daniel Balch, Jefferson Bancroft, William North, Colburn Blood, A.W. Fisher, and Prentice Cushing. Their task was to examine each man claiming to be a Mason for possible membership in the Lodge. The next several meetings were dedicated exclusively to this requirement for examination and vouchering of every applicant.

     

     

     

     

    CHARTER RESTORED

    At the quarterly meeting of Grand Lodge on September 10th  , 1845, it was voted to grant the request of the seven Pentucket Brethren and restore the original charter to them immediately, along with the records and archives which had been held for safekeeping in Boston. The group of seven met again on September 16th to formally receive the charter, and adopt the original set of Pentucket by-laws for their government. They met again on the 22nd to formally elect the seven as officers of Pentucket Lodge. Jesse Phelps was elected Master, since he had been the last presiding Master at the time of the charter surrender. Daniel Balch was elected Sr. Warden, and Joel Adams Jr. Warden. WM Phelps exemplified part of the First Degree lecture, after which they all adjourned downstairs to Wor. Phelps parlor for a celebration in honor of the restoration. Rev Bro Theodore Edson gave the dedication oratory. Pentucket Lodge was duly organized.

    REBUILDING THE LODGE   The primary order of business for the next several meetings was the rebuilding of the membership.  By September 28th, thirty-one additional men had been examined and voted by the initial seven to membership. They employed the traditional Masonic method of examination and/or vouchering of applicants to determine their status, so that by October 16th there were over 100 members ready to elect a more permanent slate of officers. Daniel Balch was elected WM, thereby allowing Jesse Phelps to finally lay down the Master’s gavel for the last time and enjoy the Past Master status he had justly earned. The Lodge had also outgrown the capacity of  Phelps’ home as a meeting place, and selected Wentworth’s  Hall at the corner of Merrimack and Shattuck Streets ( still standing ), entering into a pact with Mt Horeb R.A. Chapter to share expenses.

     A whole new era of growth and Masonic expansion was now beginning in Lowell, with a new set of Masonic leadership. Pentucket was back on a schedule of weekly meetings to meet the demands of new applicants, and affiliations. Lowell had grown from a small town of about 1500 in 1826 to the second largest city in New England by 1856, with over 70,000 inhabitants. Masonry had grown from a single rural   Lodge of about 50 members, to a strong community of four  Blue Lodges,  one R.A. Chapter, and a K. T. Commandery, with total combined membership of over 1500.  In effect, there were now more Masons in Lowell than the entire population had been only 50 years prior, and that after weathering the Anti-Masonic storm that eliminated many lodges in other locations. The nation had yet to go through the internal struggle of the Civil War, and the mill city of Lowell had not yet resolved the competing friction of the anti-slavery movement, with the need for cheap cotton in the mills. The leaders of Pentucket were prominent on both sides of the struggle.

     It may be difficult to envision today, but by the late 1860’s, the City of Lowell had grown to be the second largest city north of New York, second only to Boston in population, but almost an equal in terms of influence and power. Boston held the power created by old money and families, but Lowell held the keys to influence their future prosperity. To be a leader in Lowell at that time was to be nationally recognized. The mill owners mostly lived in Boston, but the mill management walked the streets of Lowell. The position of OVERSEER was today’s equivalent of  Senior VP, but with influence extending far outside the walls of the factory.  Pentucket Lodge was home to many of the overseers of Lowell’s textile mills. They would mold the future of Masonry in Lowell and much of the Commonwealth.

     

     

     

     

    NEW LEADERSHIP                                                                                 

    Much of the following information was taken from a detailed centenary Edition History of Pentucket Lodge, edited by Wor Benjamin W. Clemens (1904-06). Wor Clemens did a noteworthy effort of researching the Masonic background of every Past Master, but there is more to our Lodge heritage. Brethren beyond the Past Masters have risen to prominence in Local, State, and National government. It is a monumental task beyond the abilities of this writer to consolidate them all, but I have attempted to combine local town histories, together with Masonic texts, and found many common names that paint an interesting picture of the prominence and influence of Masonry, Pentucket Lodge in particular, during the first Hundred Years of our Brotherhood in Lowell. These following are only a few that I could easily identify.

     Daniel Balch was the third leading name in our Charter restoration group. I’ve already discussed Jesse Phelps and Jefferson Bancroft, but Balch is on the same level. Born in 1797 in Bradford, MA, Balch was raised in Montgomery Lodge, Medway, and first came to Dracut in 1823. He and Samuel Colburn were owners of the large granite hotel and Public House on Pawtucket Street (Ayer Home). He was admitted a member to Pentucket in 1825, also joining Grecian Lodge in Methuen in 1829. Balch was the second Overseer of Merrimack Mfg. Company, with Jesse Phelps. It appears that he was a special sort of Overseer for the owners of Merrimack Mfg., in that he was sent to Methuen, Lawrence, Lewiston, and Portland as new ventures were being established. He returned to Lowell in 1841 and was a driving force behind the restoration of Masonry in Lowell, becoming Master of Pentucket in 1845-46. He was the leader apparent of Lowell Masonry, when in 1847, he was sent to Manchester NH and built up the world famous Amoskeag Mills, becoming Senior Overseer of the entire mill operation.

     Balch was a Charter Member of Mt Horeb R.A.Chapter in Lowell, first High Priest in 1826, and again in 1846. He was a founder of Mt Horeb R.A. Chapter in Manchester in 1847, serving as their first High Priest in 1847-48, becoming High Priest of the Grand Chapter of NH in 1851-52. Balch had also become a member of LaFayette Lodge in Manchester, serving as WM in 1847. Daniel Balch was elected MW Grand Master of NH in 1853. He spent the next twenty years as a leader of New Hampshire Masonry, paying many Fraternal Visits back to Lowell. He was a contemporary and personal friend of William North and William Sewell Gardner, and in NH, he was their Masonic senior.

     William North was perhaps the “Eighth Man” on the Charter Restoration Committee of Seven. Born in Weathersfield CT in 1794, North came to Lowell in 1834 as Overseer of all dyeing operations for the Middlesex Mfg. Company, a position he held until his death in 1872, at which, his son Frederick replaced him. He also served repeatedly on the Lowell City Council, School Committee, and State Legislature. He was a Vice President and Director of the Lowell Institution for Savings, and a founder of St Paul’s Methodist Church along with Colburn Blood. North’s Masonic history is extensively profiled on the web site of the Lodge bearing his name, so I will do a shortened version. Raised in Seneca Lodge of Torrington CT, North was elected a member of Pentucket at the Charter Restoration in 1845, and served as WM from 1849 – 56. He was selected as DDGM for 1857-59, re-elected WM in 1860, and resigned upon his election as Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. North’s term as WM of Pentucket coincides with the terms of Jefferson Bancroft, Joel Spaulding, and William Sewell Gardner in Ancient York, and Daniel Balch in New Hampshire Grand Lodge.

     Rev Theodore Edson came to Lowell in 1825 and was raised in Pentucket Lodge in 1826. Edson was brought to town by Kirk Boot as the first pastor of St Anne’s Episcopal Church on Merrimack Street, the home church of the mill management.  Rev Edson was immediately appointed Chaplain of Pentucket Lodge, which post he held off and on for the next 60 years, together with Rev Brother Smith Baker of First Cong’l Church. Edson was the leading religious leader of his day in New England, and is firmly embedded into the history of Lowell. Likewise, he was considered as the “Chaplain of all Masons” in the city, serving with Pentucket, Ancient York, and Kilwinning Lodges.

     Militia Leaders  The militia tradition has always been strong in New England, nowhere any more so than Middlesex County. The First Middlesex Regiment was at Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill, and Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga NY. Four charter members of Pentucket were there, but most of our early membership starts with the next generation. Isaac Colburn and Zacheus Fletcher were Captains as the First Reg’t became the Fifth. Fletcher and Israel Hildreth were LtCols. Bancroft and Benjamin Butler were Colonel Commanders of the 5th . Re-designated as the 6th Reg’t in 1860, at least 30 members of Pentucket were called up with the Sixth Massachusetts by President Lincoln in April of 1861. Butler became highest ranking, reaching Lt Gen’l by the end of the Civil War.

     Governmental Leaders The roster of names of Town Selectmen, Aldermen, and City Councilors is just too long to list here, as are State Legislators and Judges. Israel Hildreth Sr.  and Jefferson Bancroft held the position of High Sheriff, Middlesex County, the highest law enforcement position of the day. Eight of our Brothers were elected Mayor of the City of Lowell; Elisha Huntington, Jefferson Bancroft, Ambrose Lawrence, Stephen Mansur, Jonathan Folsom, Edward Sherman, Charles Stott, and John Richardson. One served as Governor of the Commonwealth, Benjamin Butler, with Butler also having been elected as a US Representative and US Senator. Pentucket had no shortage of leadership to share with the City of Lowell.

       

     

     

     

    BENJAMIN BUTLER                                                                               

     No discussion of the Civil War era in Massachusetts would be complete without reference to Pentucket’s most famous member and his role in that struggle. Benjamin Franklin Butler was born in Deerfield, NH in 1818 but spent his early years in Nottingham (Hudson) NH.  Ben was the younger of two sons born to Cpt. Jonathan Butler, the Commander of a troop of Dragoons under Gen’l Andrew Jackson at the 1814 Battle of New Orleans. The father died in 1825, and the widow Butler moved to Lowell in 1828 with her two sons, Andrew and Benjamin, where she ran a boarding house. Ben graduated in the very first class at Lowell High School in 1834, and then graduated Colby College in Maine, class of 1838. He returned to Lowell, and was admitted to the Bar in 1840, where he learned very quickly that there was big money to be made as an attorney for the up and coming mill owners and merchants of Lowell.

     From the beginning, Butler displayed the driving ambition and complex nature of his personality. While becoming very wealthy working for the owners, he spent many hours of pro-bono work organizing and improving the lot of the Mill Girls and immigrant laborers. He earned the anger of his employers by leading the effort to restrict mill labor to a 10 hr. work day, yet he continued in the owner’s employ, eventually becoming so wealthy that he bought into ownership, and became one of the larger mill owners in Lowell and Lawrence. Butler started his political career as a Democrat in the State Legislature. He attended the 1856 Democratic national convention and led the nomination efforts for Jefferson Davis and James Buchannon. By 1865 he had become recognized as one of the most Radical of Republicans, gaining election to the House as a Republican. In 1867, he led the impeachment trial against Pres. Andrew Johnson, claiming the President was not a strict enough Republican. Yet by 1882, having lost at two attempts as a Republican, Butler was elected Gov. of Massachusetts as a Democrat. Butler’s driving ambition and his ability to capture the moment for his own progression was most evident in his military career.

     Almost immediately upon returning home after college, Butler recognized that to get ahead in Lowell, a young lawyer needed to have either wealth as a mill owner, or status as an upper class family. His only hope was to ride the military background of his father, brief as that had been. Butler managed an appointment as Third Lt in the Lowell Light Infantry from Zacheus Fletcher, father of one of Ben’s students at Dracut Academy where he was teaching in 1839. This was the beginning of the entwinement of the two greatest fraternities that influenced Butler’s personal connections for the rest of his life: Masonry and Military.  Benjamin Butler was Raised in Pentucket Lodge in Sep 1846. Although there is no record of his ever having served as an officer in the Lodge, Butler seems to have been well acquainted with several leading members of the Craft.

     Zacheus Fletcher, Butler’s first commanding officer in the Lowell Light Infantry, was PM of Pentucket Lodge (1824-25). Fletcher became Lt.Col. of the 5th Reg’t under Col Jefferson Bancroft, PM of Pentucket(1829-31). The Regimental Surgeon was Dr. Israel Hildreth, PM of Pentucket (1819-24), Butler’s father-in-law. This was the famous 5th Reg’t of Massachusetts, the direct descendant of the old 1st Middlesex Reg’t of Bunker Hill fame, and THE premier military unit in the state. For the next 20 years, Butler would work his way through commands until he eventually became Regimental Commander of the 5th, which was then re-organized as the 6th Mass Volunteers in 1860. Butler would always surround himself with Masons as he progressed militarily. Although difficult to cross reference, I have so far found upwards of two dozen Lowell Masons in the 6th Massachusetts by the time of Civil War activation. It was comprised of 4 Companies from Lowell, 2 from Lawrence, 1 from Dracut, and 3 from Chelmsford, Acton, Groton and surrounding towns: 10 in all.

     At the April 1861 call from Pres. Lincoln, Butler was a BrigGen’l., 1st Mass Brigade Commander (3rd..4th..6th..8th..Reg’ts). The 6th (Lowell Light Infantry) was the first Regiment to be activated and the first to sustain casualties. On the way to Washington, while marching through Baltimore, the first two soldiers from Butler’s 6th MVM (the Lowell Company) were killed by rioters. These were the first Union casualties of the Civil War. The Ladd and Whitney monument in front of Lowell city hall, which was consecrated by Pentucket Lodge in 1869, is dedicated to their memory. The 6th was shortly joined by her sister Regiments, along with two New York units. Butler set up his headquarters in the Naval Academy grounds at Annapolis and secured all of Maryland and Washington DC for the Union. Pres. Lincoln promoted him to be the first Major Gen’l of Volunteers, and eventually he became senior ranking as Commander of the Army of the James. In 1861, Butler declared all escaped slaves who made it into his territory as “Contraband of War”, and as such were now declared free and not to be returned to their owners. This early Butler version of an Emancipation Proclamation came a full year before President Lincoln made his proclamation.

     Butler is most famously known in the South as “The Beast of New Orleans”.  After leading the capture of the city, he was named military governor, where he set out many harsh regulations to control the civilian population. He was and still is much vilified in New Orleans. It is rumored that many items of fine art and silver trinkets “liberated” from the citizens of New Orleans may now be adorning the parlor shelves of New England gentry. However, an equal rumor was that Butler personally confiscated all pilfered items of Masonic value (jewels, working tools, Bibles, etc.) from his troops and returned them to local Lodge officers whenever possible. It is documented that he had a Confederate civilian executed for desecrating a US flag, then later paid the man’s widow a lifetime pension from his personal funds.

     Again, Butler was surrounded by those he trusted: his Masonic brothers. Hiram Hall (Pentucket PM 1860) had been a clerk in Butler’s Lowell law office before the war, and was his personal secretary throughout the war. Wesley Batchelder (Pentucket PM 1879) was Hall’s young assistant. James Trueworthy (Pentucket PM 1858) was a 1stSgt in the 6th Reg’t, and an aid to Butler. Col Andrew Jackson Butler (brother) and Col Fisher Ames Hildreth (brother-in-law) were personal assistants and Deputy Governors of New Orleans. Together, Pentucket Lodge made up the true ruling cabinet of New Orleans.

     Personal and family connections were also interwoven with Masonry and Military connections. Butler married Sarah Hildreth, the leading stage actress of her day, who was the daughter of Dr. Israel Hildreth (PM). Col Jefferson Bancroft (PM), Mayor of Lowell, and Middlesex Cty. Sherriff,  was Butler’s legal mentor. His best friend was Fisher Ames Hildreth, Sarah’s brother, and namesake of Fisher Ames, the leader of a very wealthy New England merchant family. The owners of Ames Shovel Mfg. Co became millionaires as a result of the California Gold Rush in 1849, selling tools not mining.

     Butler’s daughter Blanche married a young Union Gen’l., Adelbert Ames.  Ames had been the Col of the 20th Maine who trained Joshua Chamberlain of Gettysburg fame. Cpt. Adelbert Ames earned the Medal of Honor at Antietam, and eventually rose to MG, 5th Corps Commander in the Army of the Potomac by war’s end. Ames later became a Lt Gen’l and commander of all US Volunteer Troops during the Spanish War of 1898. This marriage joined Butler’s family to the wealthy mill owners that he had always served. Succeeding generations became very wealthy even by today’s standards. Ames Tool Co, Ames Woolen Mfg., Wamesit Power Corporation, J.P. Stevens Co. US Bunting Co, US Cartridge Co, NABISCO, are just the more well known of the Butler/Ames holdings.  Butler, Ames, Hildreth, and Isaac Colburn (1st WM of Pentucket) are all buried in the Hildreth Cemetery in Lowell, almost within sight of each other.

     

          

     

     

     

     MOTHER LODGE OF LOWELL                                                                          

     Some of the following was taken from the Centenary Edition History of Pentucket Lodge, edited by Wor Benjamin W. Clemens (1904-06).

    Prior to 1820, Pentucket Lodge held total jurisdiction for membership over most of what is today Greater Lowell and Greater Lawrence. In 1822, release of jurisdiction was granted to St Mathews Lodge of Andover for the formation of a new lodge. In 1826 similar release of jurisdiction was given to DeWitt Clinton Lodge of Billerica for the formation of a new lodge in that town. It doesn’t appear from our lodge records that Pentucket was directly involved in these new lodges, beyond warm and friendly visitations and social interactions. From our founding in 1807 through the charter restoration in 1847, Pentucket had been the only Masonic Lodge in Lowell. By 1852, that was about to change. In a very real sense, Pentucket may be called the “Mother Lodge“ of each of the other four lodges in Lowell, since it is from Pentucket that a large portion of founding members for the others may be found.

     ANCIENT YORK In June of 1852, a group of Masons from Pentucket petitioned Grand Lodge for a charter. Dispensation was granted, and a Charter was issued on June 9th, 1853. The lodge was called ANCIENT YORK in recognition of the old English traditions of Masonry. Of the twenty-one charter members, twenty were from Pentucket. Wor Jefferson Bancroft (Pentucket PM 1829-31) was the first Master of Ancient York, followed by Samuel Hutchinson and Joel Spaulding, also Brothers from Pentucket. The two lodges shared warm fraternal relations, used the same furniture and meeting hall, enjoyed joint social gatherings, and even shared information regarding candidate investigation results. Secretary’s meeting minutes disclose a common practice of conducting business of Pentucket Lodge in the presence of visitors from Ancient York, contrary to the established tradition of a “Members Only” policy for business transactions. This was a display of the trust between the two sister lodges. Official functions were always attended by both bodies, regardless of which had been the initiator. Masonry in Lowell had entered a period of expansion and growth unlike anything seen previously, or since that time.

     LOWELL MASONIC ASSOCIATION Since first meeting in the hall on Pawtucket Street owned by Daniel Balch in 1825, Pentucket and Mt Horeb R.A. Chapter had shared in the expenses of maintaining meeting space. By 1853, with the addition of Ancient York Lodge, it was decided to formalize the arrangement. The three groups adopted a compact that agreed to share equally in all decisions, expenses, and ownership of all furnishings related to the meeting hall for their shared use. Each group elected three Trustees to represent them at Association meetings, and formalize any business dealings necessary for the support of the Lodges. As may be expected, the original leadership of the Association was comprised of Jesse Phelps, William North, and William Sewell Gardner. Although some of the specifics have evolved, the compact of the Lowell Masonic Association remains essentially unchanged today, with the addition of new bodies, as Masonry grew in the city.

     KILWINNING LODGE By 1866 the need for another lodge had become apparent. A dispensation was granted in April of 1866, and a Charter granted in March of 1867 to the petitioners authorizing them to form a new lodge under the name of KILWINNING, in recognition of the ancient Scottish traditions of Masonry. Twelve of the thirty one charter members were Pentucket brethren, with five others from Ancient York having been originally raised in Pentucket. The first Master was MW William Sewell Gardner (A/Y PM 1855-56) with the next three being from Pentucket. The Rev Bro Theodore Edson also was a charter member and served as Chaplain. Another charter member from Ancient York was Bro Thomas Talbot, who would later be elected Gov. of Massachusetts, and became the namesake of the Lodge in Billerica.

     WILLIAM NORTH LODGE  Just two weeks after the granting of the Ancient York charter, yet another petition was received on March 26, 1867 for a new lodge in Lowell. On March 11, 1868 a charter was granted to thirty eight petitioners, twenty eight from Pentucket, to form a new lodge called WILLIAM NORTH, in honor of the esteemed Past Master from Pentucket who had presided for seven of its most prosperous years. It should be noted that his son, Frederick North was presiding Master of Pentucket from 1865-67. The first Master was Hiram N. Hall (Pentucket PM 1860-62) , who had been on Gen’l Butler’s personal staff throughout the Civil War. Four out of the first five Masters of William North Lodge had been raised in Pentucket.

     WILLIAM SEWELL GARDNER LODGE The four lodges in Lowell continued to grow and prosper for the next sixty years, but by 1928 the combined membership had grown to almost 2800 Masons, and it was time for yet another lodge to be formed. The man most influential in the creation of the new lodge was Bro Lucius Derby, a longtime member and Secretary of Pentucket. Bro Derby called a meeting of 52 men whom he knew to be interested in being charter members, and submitted a petition to Grand Lodge, which granted a charter in February 1928. Wor Garfield Davis (Pentucket PM 1920-22) was the first Master of William Sewell Gardner Lodge, followed by Bro Derby as the second WM. The Lodge prospered for nearly 80 years until April of 2007. On April 13th 2007, William Sewell Gardner and Kilwinning lodges merged to form a new lodge, bearing the combined name, and continuing the lineage of both lodges.

     The high point of Masonry in Lowell had been reached by approximately 1930. The combined membership of the Blue Lodges was close to 3000. The new Masonic apartments on Dutton Street housed three York Rite bodies, three Scottish Rite, five Blue Lodges, an Eastern Star Chapter, a Rainbow Chapter, and a DeMolay Chapter. The City of Lowell had grown from the first carding mill on Hale’s Brook to a thriving “Mile of Mills” along the Merrimack, among the leading producer of textiles in America. From a population of about 1500 at the time of the Town Charter in 1826, to nearly 120,000 people by 1926. The Twenties were indeed “Roaring”, but as with the rest of America, the Depression of the Thirties could not be held off. 

     

                   

     

     

     

    MASONRY IS PERSONAL                                                                         

    When Pentucket received her charter in 1807, all of Maine was still within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There was no town called Lowell, and there were no mills along the Merrimack. The Middlesex Canal had recently opened, and some engineer in New York named Vanderbilt was experimenting with steam powered ships and carriages that ran on iron rails. Thomas Jefferson was president, the first to be inaugurated in the new city of Washington, DC.  President Jefferson was negotiating the price for the Louisiana Territory from Emperor Napoleon of France. He was the young lawyer from Virginia who wrote the Declaration of Independence, with guidance from Wor. Bro. Benj. Franklin, and captured the flamboyant signature of Wor. Bro. John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, thereby establishing July 4th 1776 as the birth date of our nation. That was only 30 years earlier than the birth date of our Lodge.

     In April of 1775, Bro. Paul Revere earned his place in history by carrying the alarm from Boston to Concord, that the British regulars were on the way; but he had already earned his place in Masonry. He was Sr. Deacon for MW Joseph Warren. Was Revere merely doing the duties of his office by carrying messages as directed by the Master to the Sr. Warden, John Hancock?  In May 1775, MW Warren was offered the command of the New England militia collecting together around Charlestown, in recognition of his position as Grand Master of the Provincial Masonic Lodge.  Warren declined the honor, since he was a doctor and not a soldier, and then died two weeks later in the trenches of Bunker Hill (Breeds Hill) with his fellow colonial Masons, attending to their wounds. The Joseph Warren medal is now the highest honor a Mason can be given for service to his Lodge and community. Four charter signers of Pentucket were there.

     By July 1775, Bro. George Washington arrived in Cambridge to take command.  He was recognized as a soldier, a proven battle commander, and respected Mason of Virginia, who would be acceptable to the rag tag army of New England patriots; but only after he received the recommendations of Bros. Franklin, Hancock, and others known to Massachusetts Masons. The rest, as they say, is History. But, to our Pentucket charter members in 1807, it wasn’t History. It was their personal memories.

     Only 12 years had gone by since MW Revere laid the cornerstone of the present day Massachusetts Statehouse, as the 2nd Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge Of Massachusetts. This was done at the request of old Sam Adams, the original firebrand leader of the Sons of Liberty, now the Governor of Massachusetts. (No, I don’t think he ran a brewery back then.)  The ceremony was a direct duplicate of that which Bro Washington had used two years earlier to lay down the cornerstone of the Nation’s Capital building, which was still under construction.  The inclusion of Masonic lodges made a civic event a significant ceremony back then. It was just a meeting without the Masons. Today, we find it difficult to relate to the civic importance of our early Brothers. What they thought, felt and did was important in their communities, and to a great extent reflected the teachings of the Craft. They didn’t leave behind all that they professed as they closed the doors of a lodge room.  The community was their lodge;  they represented the teachings of our order, and they were expected to walk and act as such.

     The charter members of Pentucket Lodge didn’t see these men as historical figures from a text book. They were brother Masons. Some had been at Concord, fought at Bunker Hill, suffered through the winter in Valley Forge together, witnessed the inauguration of their leading Brother as first President of the United States, sat in Lodge with the leading men of their day, and now wanted a Lodge of their own in the Town of Chelmsford, near the falls of the Merrimack. Bro. Isaac Colburn was the first Master of Pentucket. Several prominent local families were represented….. Fletcher, Blood, Hildreth, Spaulding and others.  This was personal, they were friends, family, neighbors who enjoyed each other’s company, and wanted to initiate others into their fraternity.  History would make them “Founding Fathers”, Masonry made them Brothers.

     I don’t want to be a “Founding Father”; not yet!  But I realize, I have been involved in the Masonic fraternity in Lowell for 50 years. That’s a quarter of the 200 year history of Pentucket.  The connection started as a young man in DeMolay in 1962. Why have I and a group of Brothers stayed around so long when countless others have fallen by the wayside? Why do we still recognize each other, share joys and sorrows, excitement and pain?  We have remained Brothers for many of the same reasons as the men of 1807.  For us, Masonry is personal. It is more than the words in the cipher books, more than the floor work of the degree teams, more than the ceremonials of the Grand Lodge visitors, certainly more than the countless meetings and hours of administrative tedium that it takes to keep a Lodge running.  Masonry is personal. These men are friends, family, neighbors, and enjoy each other’s company. Masonry had made them Brothers.

     One of the men from the church where I grew up; the same Pawtucket Church of Colburn, Varnum, Hildreth, Phelps, Bancroft, and Lew first introduced me to DeMolay. I didn’t know anything about the organization. My father wasn’t a Mason; but Walter Bujnowski took care of those details.  I had known his family all my life. His oldest daughter was my youth group leader, the youngest was the kid we tried to lose, and there were several in between. In DeMolay, I met new people, found out that a Masonic Temple was not a synagogue, discovered that a Rainbow Girl didn’t carry a flag or twirl a baton.  I learned other teachings too, but didn’t realize it. The names and faces of fifty years ago are still alive, and real in my mind. Couples met, families were formed, and there are grandchildren now in the same Preceptor chairs that we once filled, with the same names that once sat there 50 years ago. We have been in each other’s wedding party, attended children’s and grandchildren’s baptisms and weddings. I couldn’t even count the number of birthdays, anniversaries, holiday celebrations, and lately, too many memorial services. Some have gone on, but not in my mind.

     It was a natural thing to continue into Masonic Lodges together. There were five lodges in Lowell, but most of us went to Pentucket.  Was Pentucket the biggest, the oldest, the most active, display the best ritual, best financial stability, most dedicated service???  All those things are supposed to matter, but the reason was more basic.  Our DeMolay Chapter Dad Advisor,  Bro. Frank Holland Gentle Jr, was a member of Pentucket;  he was loved and respected more than we even realized ourselves, so whatever he had chosen, was what the rest of us would choose.  Masonry was personal. These men were my friends, family, neighbors, and we enjoyed each other’s company. DeMolay had made us Brothers, Pentucket would make us Masons.

     When I was taken by the hand to be raised in Pentucket Lodge, it was with a strong grip from Wor Walter Bujnowski, the same man who led me to DeMolay earlier. His son in law was Sr. Steward. The room was full of familiar faces, even my uncle and father by now had joined. There were three of us in that class who had traveled through DeMolay together. We had been in each other’s wedding party, and we had each married our favorite Rainbow Girl. There were others from the Chapter already inside waiting for us.  I helped raise many of their sons over the years….. even a few grandsons, including Walter’s grandson and great-grandson.  Some of them have also gone on.

     A lot has transpired since that night. I really don’t know how it happened, but lately, whenever our Master forms a reception committee… “Chaired by the senior Past Master present,” it turns out to be me!!!!! The DeMolay boy who was Best Man in my wedding, has gone on, his sister married the DeMolay brother for whom I was Best Man. The kid who conducted me through DeMolay degrees is now Godfather to my older son; Walter’s son in law is Godfather to my younger son. His wife presented me with Walter’s Past Master’s jewel when I became eligible. How many of us get to wear the jewel of the same past Master who raised them? Five of Walter’s Great-grandchildren were visiting at my home last week; the oldest was recently made a Mason in Pentucket.  Frank Gentle, the Dad Advisor is gone. He never had children of his own, but brought four nephews into Pentucket, two are Past Masters.  One of them is now the DeMolay Dad Advisor himself, and has become what his uncle once was.  It goes on and on. For all of us, Masonry is personal.

     We certainly have no claim or ambitions of exclusivity.  New faces, new ideas, new experiences have been the lifeblood of our Lodge. We couldn’t be who we claimed to be, if we weren’t open to new Brothers. I believe that what I found can be passed along, can be shared with like thinking men. My efforts to do this have been expressed by my commitment to the local Blue Lodge. I find myself drawn to the basics of the initiation process. The local Lodge is where it all begins, where the foundations are built, where our lessons are first explained. In my case, indeed for many others, this was where the door to a long and rewarding experience was first opened. Sure, there is ritual to be learned, words to be memorized, floor work to be practiced, which all contributes to a meaningful experience for candidates, but there needs to be something more. Every candidate receives those things, but they don’t all last as members.  What is it that turns a candidate into a lifelong Brother?  Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love need to be more than the tenets of our Fraternity. In order to last, Masonry needs to be personal.