An Account of the History of Texas and Freemasonry in Texas
Stephen F. Austin, a member of Louisiana Lodge No. 111 at Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, sought to establish Freemasonry in Texas. Freemasonry was well established among the educated classes of Mexican society. It had been introduced among the aristocracy loyal to the House of Bourbon, and the conservatives had total control over the Order. By 1827, Americans living in Mexico City had introduced the United States York Rite of Freemasonry as a liberal alternative to the established European-style Scottish Rite. On February 11, 1828, Austin called a meeting of Freemasons at San Felipe to elect officers and petition the Masonic Grand Lodge in Mexico City for a charter to form a lodge.
The first concerted effort to institute a Masonic lodge on Texas soil was begun by Stephen F. Austin, Ira Ingram, H. H. League, and four other Masons. On February 11, 1828, they prepared a petition addressed to the York Grand Lodge of Mexico, asking for a dispensation to form a lodge at San Felipe de Austin, to be known as the “Lodge of Union,” with the above named men as its principal officers. The York Masonic Lodge, however, was expelled from Mexico by a decree of the general government, and this first effort of Texas Masons was futile.
Austin was elected Worshipful Master of the new lodge. Although the petition reached Matamoros, and was to be forwarded to Mexico City, nothing more was heard of it. By 1828, the ruling faction in Mexico was afraid the liberal elements in Texas might try to gain their independence. Fully aware of the political philosophies of American Freemasons, the Mexican government outlawed Freemasonry on October 25, 1828. In 1829, the following year, Austin called another meeting of Masons who, in an attempt to alleviate the fears of the Mexican government, decided it was “impolitic and imprudent, at this time, to form Masonic lodges in Texas.”
Founding of Masonry in Texas & Holland Lodge
On March 1, 1835, five Master Masons met “in a little grove of peach or laurel” at the town of Brazoria, “near a place known as General John Austin’s,” and resolved to petition Grand Master John H. Holland of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana asking for a dispensation to form a lodge in Texas. Foremost among these five Masons was Anson Jones who would later serve as Grand Master, and as President of the Republic of Texas. A record of the meeting was written by Anson Jones as follows:
“The place of the meeting was back of the town of Brazoria, near the place known as General John Austin’s, in a little grove of wild peach or laurel, and which had been selected as a family burying-ground by that distinguished soldier and citizen. The spot was secluded and out of the way of ‘cowans and eavesdroppers’ and they felt they were alone. Here and under such circumstances, at 10 o’clock in the morning of a day in March, 1835, was held the first formal meeting in Texas as connected with the establishment and continuance of masonry in this county.”
Anson Jones, John Wharton, Asa Brigham, James Phelps, and Alexander Russell, wishing to formally meet as an organized masonic lodge, met under the Masonic Oak near the burial ground of General John Austin and petitioned the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for dispensation to organize a lodge in the Texas territory.
This live oak tree, though affected by the ravages of nature, is revered by Texas Masons for the part it played in Texas’ Masonic history.
Nine years after Stephen F. Austin was granted permission by the Mexican government to establish a colony in Texas, the rapid Americanization of the area and growing anti-Mexican sentiment for suppression of civil and religious liberties gave rise to the passage of a law on April 6, 1830, which forbade further immigration of Anglo-Americans into Texas.
The Texans began writhing under increased trade restrictions and close supervision of increased military garrisons. In March 1834, in an attempt to cool Texas tempers, the Coahuila Legislature passed an act which provided that no one was to be molested for expressing religious or political opinions if he kept the peace.
In the winter of 1834, Anson Jones, who was to become the first Grand Master of Texas Masonic lodges and later the third president of the Republic of Texas, met with four other Masons and took measures to establish a Lodge of their order in Texas.
The meeting was held under this live oak, back of the town of Brazoria, near the place known as General John Austin’s, which had been selected as a family burial ground.
A petition was in due time forwarded to the Grand Lodge of Louisiana and dispensation granted for the formation of a Grand Lodge in Texas.
The Masonic Oak is located on the south side of Pleasant Street, in Brazoria, across from the main Masonic Oak Park & pavilion.
That charter, creating Holland Lodge No. 1, was issued and signed on 27 December 1835 by John Holland, Grand Master of Louisiana. It was given to a Mr. John M. Allen, originally of Louisiana Lodge No. 32 to carry to Texas. Allen had been recruiting volunteers for the Texas Army in New Orleans, and would not reach Texas until just before the Battle of San Jacinto on 21 April 1836.
Holland Lodge No. 36 of Louisiana was instituted and opened on the second floor of the old courthouse in Brazoria, Texas and when the lodge was set to labor, Jones was elected its first Master. Meetings continued here until March 1836, when Brazoria was abandoned due to General Urrea and his Mexican troops taking possession of the town of Brazoria. The mexican troops destroyed the records, regalia, and property of Holland Lodge, and appropriated it dispensation to work. The members of the Lodge were scattered by the havoc of war. James Fannin, who had become a member of this lodge, was among those who had been massacred at Goliad. Jones, Wharton, and Phelps joined the Texan troops on the Colorado River about the middle of March.
During this time, the official charter issued to Holland Lodge #36 was delivered to Texas and presented to Anson Jones just before the Battle of San Jacinto while the Texan troops were retreating before the forces of General Santa Anna.. The charter for Holland Lodge No. 36 arrived in April 1836, and Jones carried it in his saddlebags during the Battle of San Jacinto. This document arrived safely in Brazoria after the battle, but the brethren had dwindled in number post-revolution.
After the capture of Santa Anna, the dispensation was returned to Jones, and thereafter both the dispensation and charter were taken back to Brazoria. Because of the depleted membership of the Lodge, however, no effort was made to resume labor at Brazoria, and no further meetings were held until the lodge was reopened in the Senate Chambers of the Republic of Texas at Houston in October, 1837.
Two other subordinate lodges were established in Texas under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana Masons. They were Milam Lodge No. 40 at Nacogdoches and McFarland Lodge No. 41 at San Augustine. Hayden Edwards was the first master of Milam Lodge; William McFarland was the first master of McFarland Lodge. Each of these lodges was issued its charter on September 22, 1837.
Freemasons and the Texas Revolution
Texas was in the midst of war. The first shots of the Texas Revolution had been fired in October 1835 at Gonzales. Delegates had gathered at the small town of Washington on the Brazos and signed the Texas Declaration of Independence on 2 March 1836. The Mexican Army under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had crossed the Rio Grande and attacked and defeated the small garrison at the Alamo in San Antonio de Bexar. Among the nearly 200 defenders who died at the Alamo were Freemasons James Bonham, James Bowie, David Crockett, Almaron Dickenson, and William Barrett Travis.
There has existed for many years the story or myth that General Santa Anna, captured on 21 April 1836 after the defeat of the Mexican Army after the Battle of San Jacinto, was able to save himself from execution by giving secret “Masonic signs” when he was captured, and again when he was brought before General Sam Houston. Texas historian James D. Carter recorded in his book, Masonry in Texas, that “Texas Masons contemporary with [the Battle of] San Jacinto stated emphatically that Santa Anna ‘filled the air’ with Masonic signs after his capture and had given a Masonic grip to Houston.” C.R. Wharton, in his book, El Presidente, stated that “Santa Anna, fearing for his life, gave the Masonic distress signal to John A. Wharton.”
Santa Anna probably knew the appropriate grips and signs, since we was a member of the Scottish Rite in Mexico, which had become dominated by men devoted to Mexican government centralization. Within Mexico, opposition to the centralists found itself organized around Mexico’s York Rite establishment, although by 1833, both had mostly been displaced in popularity by a “Mexican National Rite”, although Santa Anna kept his Scottish Rite associates around him.
Whether or not this specifically saved his life is not clear. What is certain is that Santa Anna was worth more to Texas alive than dead. President Andrew Jackson, a member of the same Masonic lodge as Sam Houston, Cumberland Lodge No. 8 at Nashville, Tennessee, wrote to Houston and implored him to spare Santa Anna’s life, reminding Houston that “while he is in your power, the difficulties of your enemy, in raising another army, will be great…. Let not his blood be shed, unless imperious necessity demands it…. Both wisdom and humanity enjoin this course in relation to Santa Anna.”
Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas
At the formation of the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas in December 1837, Anson Jones was elected its first Grand Master of Texas. He also became the first Grand Master of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in Texas.
Since Asa Brigham had been influential in the founding of the Masonic Lodge in Brazoria, he served as a charter member of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas in Houston on December 20, 1837. He was appointed auditor of the Republic of Texas by David G. Burnet and named Texas’s first treasurer by President Sam Houston in December 1836. He was re-appointed as treasurer by Mirabeau B. Lamar in January 1839, but left the treasury in April the next year. He was charged with using state funds for private purposes during his time as treasurer but later cleared. He was re-appointed treasurer again in December 1841, and in 1842 became the fourth mayor of Austin.
In 1837, during Houston’s first term as President of the Republic of Texas, he joined the masonic Holland Lodge No. 36. It was founded in Brazoria and was relocated in 1837 to what is now Houston. On December 20, 1837, Houston presided over the convention of Freemasons that formed the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas, now the Grand Lodge of Texas.
The Masonic Convention of December 1837
By the end of 1837, three lodges had been chartered in Texas by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana: Holland Lodge No. 1 which had moved to the city of Houston, Milam Lodge No. 40 at Nacogdoches, and McFarland Lodge No. 41 at St. Augustine. On 20 December 1837, Sam Houston, President of the Republic of Texas, presided over a convention meeting in the city of Houston consisting of the representatives of these three lodges. The representatives were: From Holland Lodge: Sam Houston, Anson Jones, Jeff Wright, and Thomas G. Western; from Milam Lodge: Thomas J. Rusk, I. W. Burton, Charles S. Taylor, Adolphus Sterne, and K. H. Douglas; and from McFarland Lodge: G. H. Winchell was delegated to represent McFarland Lodge. The representatives there assembled resolved to form a “Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas,” and to that end they elected Anson Jones as the first Grand Master of Masons in Texas, After the Grand Lodge had been organized, its three subordinate lodges returned their respective charters to the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, and they were then designated by the Grand Lodge of Texas as Holland No. 1, Milam No. 2, and McFarland No. 3. Anson Jones was elected the first Grand Master, and George H. Winchell the first Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas. Upon motion duly made it was resolved that the first regular meeting should be held at the city of Houston on the third Monday in April, 1838. After approving a resolution that the first meeting of the Grand Lodge should be held “on the third Monday of April next,” the convention was then adjourned. It is clear from the minutes of this convention that, although a Grand Master was elected, he was not yet installed, and although a resolution to form a Grand Lodge was approved by the convention, it had not yet done so. The birthdate of the new Grand Lodge was still four months away.
The Grand Lodge of Texas is Born
As the delegates to the previous convention had agreed, they met again on the third Monday, the 16th of April 1838 in the city of Houston, although only three of the six elective grand officers were in attendance: the Grand Master-elect, the Senior Grand Warden-elect, and the Grand Treasurer-elect. Nevertheless, the minutes state that the “Grand Lodge was opened in ample form,” and, according to Texas historian James D. Carter, “the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was ended,” making 16 April 1838 the birthdate of the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas. The Lodge was called, off and on, at the direction of its presiding officer, on the dates of April 27, May 7, 8, 10, and 11 for the purpose of hearing reports of committees and the adoption of a constitution. On May 18 Grand Master Jones made this statement: “The Order already boasts of nearly two hundred Masons in full communication, which number is now rapidly increasing by the accession of new and worthy members.” At its next meeting, held in the city of Houston on November 12, 1838, the Grand Lodge instructed its Secretary to issue warrants of dispensation to four new subordinate lodges.
It may be of some historical interest to note that three and one-half weeks after the first annual communication, on 11 May 1838, the Grand Lodge met again and installed the Grand Master and his officers. As a result, this latter date, 11 May 1838, is the birthdate of the Grand Lodge given in Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia.
Thereafter, during the remaining life of the Republic of Texas, the Grand Lodge met in its annual communications on the dates, at the places, and with its Grand Masters presiding, as follows: On December 5, 1839, at the city of Austin with Branch T. Archer presiding; on November 22, 1840, at the city of Austin with Samuel M. Williams presiding; on November 8, 1841, at the city of Austin with Anthony Butler presiding; on the second Monday in January, 1843, at the town of Washington with J. A. Greer presiding; on the second Monday in January, 1844, at the town of Washington with James Webb presiding; and on January 14, 1845, at the town of Washington with N. H. Darnell presiding. By the end of 1845 there were twenty-four subordinate lodges in Texas which had been chartered by the Grand Lodge of the Republic.
It appears, as James Carter wrote, “that historians and political theorists have overlooked a major influence in American history,” and perhaps a greater influence in Texas history. Freemasonry, because of its active role in communities and its progressive philosophy, is one of the most powerful forces that contributed to the shaping of the Republic and State of Texas.
Masons in the Government of the Republic
While there is no standard yardstick by which to measure the degree of influence which the Masons, individually and collectively, exerted upon the early life of Texas, it is interesting to note the large number of that fraternity who held high positions of leadership in the establishment and operation of the government under the Republic.
The Journal of the Proceedings of the Convention which met in the town of Washington on March 1, 1836, for the purpose of establishing a new government, discloses the personnel of the various committees of the convention. Of the five delegates who were appointed on the committee to draft rules for the order and government of the convention, four were Masons. 1 The report of this important committee was unanimously adopted by the convention. Of the fifty-nine delegates who signed the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on March 2, 1836, twenty are known to have been Masons. 2 Of the twenty-one members of the committee appointed to draft a proposed constitution for the Republic, seven were Masons.
Masonic leaders held important positions in the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the government throughout the life of the Republic. All five vice-presidents of the Republic who presided over the deliberations of the Senate were Masons. Of the nine speakers of the House of Representatives, seven were Masons. In addition to these eleven presiding officers, fifty-three other members of the Congress of the Republic are known to have been Masons.
The Constitution of the Republic provided that the judicial powers of the government should be vested in the Supreme Court and such inferior courts as the Congress might from time to time ordain and establish. It also provided that the Republic should be divided into convenient judicial districts, not less than three nor more than eight in number, and that the judges of the several judicial districts, together with the Chief Justice of the Republic, should constitute the members of the Supreme Court. The first Congress enacted a law dividing the Republic into four judicial districts, but the number was increased from time to time until eight districts had been created. During the life of the Republic an aggregate of fourteen judges wrote opinions for the Supreme Court; of this number eight were Masons: Chief Justice Thomas J. Rusk and Judges R. E. B. Baylor, John M. Hansford, Patrick C. Jack, John T. Mills, William B. Ochiltree, Richard A. Scurry, and A. B. Shelby.
In the executive branch of the government, each of the four presidents of the Republic was a Mason. Serving with David G. Burnet as provisional president of the ad interim government were the following Masons: Lorenzo de Zavala, vice-president; James Collinsworth, secretary of state; Thomas J. Rusk and M. B. Lamar, secretaries of war; and Warren Hall, adjutant general.
In the cabinet with President Sam Houston, during his first administration, were the following Masons: Mirabeau B. Lamar, vice-president; Stephen F. Austin, secretary of state; Thomas J. Rusk, secretary of war; James Pinkney Henderson, attorney-general; and Robert Barr, postmaster general.
In President Mirabeau B. Lamar’s cabinet were the following Masons: David G. Burnet, vice-president; Abner S. Lipscomb, secretary of state; Branch T. Archer, secretary of war; James Webb, attorney general; Robert Barr, postmaster general; and Thomas William Ward, commissioner of the general land office.
Serving with President Anson Jones, the first Masonic Grand Master and the last President of the Republic, as members of his cabinet, were the following Masons: Kenneth L. Anderson, vice-president; Ebenezer Allen, secretary of state; William Gordon Cooke, secretary of war; William Beck Ochiltree, secretary of the treasury; and Ebenezer Allen, attorney general.
On July 4, 1845, a convention of duly elected delegates met in the city of Austin for the purpose of drafting an ordinance accepting the terms of annexation offered to the Republic of Texas by the United States and for the further purpose of drafting a constitution for the state of Texas. Of the sixty-one delegates to this convention, thirty six are known to have been Masons.
With such influential Masons holding prominent positions of trust and leadership in the organization and conduct of the government, it was inevitable that the principles of free masonry should become deeply rooted in the Texas constitutions of 1836 and 1845, and in the general and special laws as enacted, interpreted, and enforced thereunder.
Masonic Growth and Influence Generally
From 1846 to 1861 the number of subordinate lodges chartered by the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas increased from 24 to 269; by the year 1880 the number had increased to 515 lodges. This rapid growth is perhaps unequaled in all the annals of Texas Masonic history.
In a recent article on “Masonic Lodges As Time-Indicators Of A Town’s Prosperity,” appearing in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Dr. S. W. Geiser refers to this phenomenal growth and says:
Masons of every settlement with a promise of increase in prosperity and population applied for charters. With the passing of time many of these towns diminished in importance and prosperity, and with this regression the Masonic lodges one by one demised. In such later declining towns, the period of prosperity generally fell between the dates of chartering and demise of the Masonic lodges, which thus can be used as “time-indicators” of the town’s prosperity.
Although no one can definitely measure with any degree of accuracy the influence which the Masons exerted upon the social, moral, and spiritual life of the people in the early days of Texas, it is certain that such influence was for the good. Not only did the fraternity provide a desirable and needed medium of social intercourse and a high standard of ethics and charity for its own members, but an inspection of the minutes of almost any Masonic lodge of that era will disclose the close relationship which existed between it and the Protestant church or churches of the local community. And so, it may truly be said that Free Masonry was in a real sense an inseparable link in the chain of circumstances tending to coordinate the activities of the state, the church, and the school in laying the sure foundations upon which our social order has been thus far built.
The Early Days of Public Education in Texas
Popular education has always been an object of vital concern to the people of Texas. It was a matter which attracted the particular attention of the Masons in the early days and was a field in which they made a most remarkable contribution to the public welfare of this commonwealth.
One of the grievances against the Mexican government, as listed in the Texas Declaration of Independence, was the failure of the government to establish any system of education. The Texas Constitution of 1836 provided: “It shall be the duty of Congress, as soon as circumstances will permit, to provide by law a general system of education.” Although Jones, Wharton, and other Masonic leaders urged repeatedly upon the Congress its constitutional duty to make some provision for a system of education, the financial circumstances of the Republic were not such, in the opinion of Congress, as to permit the provision to be made.
In the Constitutional Convention of 1845, the president of the convention was authorized to appoint a committee on education, consisting of seven members. Of the seven members appointed on this committee, four were Masons. Among other recommendations made to the convention by this committee as to what the constitution should provide, was the following:
The Legislature shall, as early as practicable, establish free public schools throughout the State, and shall furnish means for their support by taxation on property, and from and after the year eighteen hundred and fifty, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to set apart one-tenth of the annual revenue of the State, as a perpetual fund, the interest of which, at six per cent per annum, shall be apportioned to the support of free public schools; and no law shall ever be made, directing said fund to any other use.
When the foregoing report of the committee on education came on for consideration in the convention, an amendment was offered from the floor to strike out the word “shall” in the first line and insert in its place the word “may,” thus changing the mandatory provision of the proposal to a mere grant of permission. The amendment was rejected by a vote of thirty-seven to eleven. Of the thirty-seven delegates voting against the proposed amendment, twenty-three were Masons, and of the eleven delegates who voted for the amendment only two were Masons. When the recommendation of the committee came up later in the proceedings for further consideration, it was changed and modified, however, to some extent before being incorporated in the constitution as finally drafted. But the mandatory provision directing the Legislature to set aside one-tenth of the annual revenues of the state for the support of free public schools was retained.
Educational Program of the Grand Lodge of Texas
In its tenth annual communication held at Houston in January, 1847, the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas adopted a resolution providing “that a Standing Committee of five be appointed, to be styled the Committee on Education.” It was also resolved “that ten percent of all revenues accruing to this Grand Lodge be appropriated to purposes of education; and the same shall not be drawn from the Treasury for any other purpose.”
At its eleventh annual communication held at Austin in January, 1848, the Grand Lodge authorized its Grand Master to appoint a Superintendent of Education, who should have the custody and management of the Masonic Education Fund, have general supervision of all the educational interests of the Order, and who should recommend, for the consideration of the Grand Lodge, such measures for the promotion of education as he might deem advisable. E. W. Taylor was appointed the first Masonic Superintendent of Education in Texas.
Prior to 1848, however, various subordinate lodges had already begun the establishment of schools in Texas. Perhaps the first Masonic School in Texas was that fostered by Orphans Friend Lodge No. 17 at Fanthrop in Grimes County; it was established in the fall of 1842 and later became known as the Masonic Collegiate Institute. After the Grand Lodge had established its education fund, it made loans to Marshall Lodge No. 22, Palestine Lodge No. 31, Lockhart Lodge No. 59, Guadalupe Lodge No. 108, and others, for the purpose of assisting each in its respective educational endeavors. In its annual communication in 1853 the Grand Lodge advised and requested all subordinate lodges within its jurisdiction to exert themselves in the establishment of schools, pledging to reimburse any local lodge for expenditures thus made.
Masonic Schools in Texas
In the period from 1850 to 1873, the Legislature of Texas granted charters to seventeen institutions of learning which were organized under Masonic auspices. 11 Among the most noted and prosperous of these institutions were the Masonic Female Institute at Marshall, the Milam Masonic Female Institute at Bowie, Linden Male and Female Academy, New Danville Masonic Female Academy, Upshur Masonic College, and Rusk Masonic Institute. In addition to these seventeen chartered institutions of learning the Masons of Texas established more than one hundred other schools which were not chartered. All of these schools, with few exceptions, were open alike to the children of Masons and non-Masons on equal terms. Although a tuition fee was charged in most instances, these meagre fees were supplemented by generous contributions and abundant revenues derived from the subordinate and Grand Lodge. Moreover, after the state instituted its system of public education in the late fifties, the local Masonic lodge was the silent promoter and partner in many instances where the local school was in the charge of an independent board of trustees elected by the people.
Dr. Frederick Eby makes the following significant statement:
The services of the Masonic lodges in conducting schools and furnishing buildings were possibly greater than those of any single religious denomination. As the state developed its system of schools, Masonic interest gradually declined until it limited its activities to the education of the orphans of its former members. Their services must be regarded as one of the most important transitional steps toward free public education. A certain parallelism can be noted between the educational program of the Grand Lodge and the later organization of public education in the state.
It was not until the year 1854 that the legislature of Texas began its educational program by the passage of an act to establish a system of common schools in this state. By the terms of this act it was provided in substance that each school established thereunder should be subject to the management of a local board of trustees to be elected by the people and that the state treasurer should be ex-officio superintendent of the common schools of the state. From this beginning the system of public education was gradually developed by the joint efforts of the state and its various political subdivisions until finally the activities of the Masons in this laudable undertaking became absorbed by and merged into the larger enterprise of all the people acting in their governmental capacity. But the singular contribution which the Masons made to the cause of public education must stand forever in the annals of history as a permanent memorial to their usefulness and beneficence for the common good of all in the early days of Texas.
For more information on Freemasonry in Texas, you can review a list of Famous Texas Freemasons.