Vermont Masonic History
"Ancient Craft Masonry in Vermont" by Brother Lee S. Tillotson
One of the most complete stories of Freemasonry here was written by a former Grand Master, Lee S. Tillotson, and published in 1920.
Well Known Vermont Masons
William H. Wills was Governor of Vermont from 1941 to 1945. He was a member of Mont Anthony Lodge No. 13, located in Bennington, Vermont.
Masonry, also known as Freemasonry, is the oldest and largest fraternity in the world. There is no other organization where a man can walk into a room full of strangers, anywhere on the face of the earth, and immediately be welcomed and honored as a friend and as a Brother. It has been estimated that over 100,000 books have been written about it and although we certainly can't replicate all of that knowledge here (though we wish we could!), our website has been designed to provide you with a wide variety of information. Obviously, we'll be telling you about Freemasonry in our own state of Vermont, but we'll also attempt to address the most common questions one might have about our organization.
Freemasonry has no regard for differences in a person's race, color, creed, or station in life. Its history and traditions date from antiquity. It has two purposes: first, to inspire its members to live by the tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth, and, second, to join its members in the endeavor to build a world where justice, equality, and compassion shine forth in the happiness of all humankind. While its moral philosophy is founded upon religious principles, it is not a religion nor a substitute for one. It does not solicit membership but welcomes men who have good morals and who profess a belief in a Supreme Being. Any man sincerely desirous of serving humanity only needs to ask a member in order to receive a petition for membership.
When a man asks to join a Masonic Lodge, he enters into an opportunity for personal development, character building, and the acquisition of leadership capacities. Through his Masonic journey and association with his brethren, a Mason learns the skill and finds the understanding with which he can enhance his community and strengthen his family.
Much of the structure of the Masonic Fraternity is modeled on the medieval guilds of stone masons who constructed the magnificent cathedrals in Europe during the middle ages. Similarly, a great deal of modern Freemasonry's moral symbolism draws from the art and science of these builders. Much like these master workmen labored to build an expression of a community's faith, so have Freemasons today labor within their communities to make them a finer place to live. While our earliest Masonic documents date from the close of the thirteenth century, present Masonic practice and structure emerged some three hundred years ago when lodges of masons began to accept men of prominence and learning who were not stone masons. In 1717, four lodges in England met and formed the first Grand Lodge with a Grand Master at its head. Freemasonry came to Vermont in 1791, and today, there are some 89 lodges in the Green Mountain State.
Since its beginnings in Vermont, Freemasons have been active in promoting education, supporting stronger communities, and practicing charity. This proud tradition continues through a wide range of community betterment programs, especially our Vermont C.A.R.E. program. Perhaps the civic service of Freemasonry to our communities is in no place more clearly evident than the laying of the cornerstones of public buildings. In this ceremony, Freemasonry reminds itself and all citizens of the moral convictions and dedication to others that are necessary to any well-ordered and compassionate society.
Want to know more about our organization? Browse our site, and then feel free to ask any questions you might have!
Historical Accounts of Vermont Grand Lodge Founding and Bicentennial
Rededication Ceremony at Lindholm's
The procession up Washington Street from the Temple to the Lindholm site was in itself an impressive "parade." The dedication of the commemorative plaque on the site of the original Grand Lodge (confluence of VT Routes 7 and 4) was witnessed by a large group of spectators. The Grand Master and his officers conducted the dedication ceremony with a brief but informative history of the establishment of the Grand Lodge by Brother James Douglas, our Grand Historian.
That History follows:
BICENTENNIAL DEDICATION: October 15, 1994
James H. Douglas, Grand Historian
(Former Governor, State of Vermont, 2003-2011)
In the 1780s and '90s, Vermont was Masonically unchartered territory, so our first five lodges received their charters from the Grand Lodges of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Canada. The proposal for a Grand Lodge of Vermont came in June 1774 from Dorchester Lodge in Vergennes, which proposed a meeting in Manchester in August. On August 6, five brothers from three lodges (Dorchester, North Star in Manchester, and Temple in Bennington) met and presented their credentials. The following day, they selected a committee to draft a constitution and agreed to invite the five lodges to send three brothers each to meet in Rutland in October to consider the draft constitution.
Fourteen brothers from five lodges (the original three-plus Vermont Lodge in Springfield and Union Lodge in Middlebury) met on Friday, October 10, on this site, then the home of Brother Nathaniel Gove, and the following day voted to proceed to organize a Grand Lodge. They worked throughout the weekend and adopted a constitution on the evening of October 13. The next day the delegates gathered to subscribe their names to the document, and the Grand Lodge of Vermont was officially born. Its first communication occurred precisely 200 years ago today, October 15, 1794, on this very spot.
The Constitution outlined the structure of the Grand Lodge, provided for the election of officers, outlined the process of chartering new subordinate lodges, and authorized the adoption of bylaws to govern the proceedings of the Grand Lodge. One of the most fascinating provisions related to the time of holding sessions of the Grand Lodge: "A Grand Lodge shall be holden on the Friday next succeeding the second Thursday of October, annually, at such place as the Legislature shall convene."
For three decades after declaring our independence, the Vermont Assembly met in a different town every year, alternating between a location east of the Green Mountains and one to the west. The Vermont Legislature met in fourteen separate municipalities until Montpelier was chosen as the permanent capital, beginning in 1808. Elections were held in September, and the Assembly convened the following month (usually, the session lasted only a few weeks!). Since many of our early Masonic leaders were also prominent in the affairs of civil government, it made sense, in days when travel was slow, to combine their sojourns. The communications of the Grand Lodge didn't follow the precise schedule of the legislature during that period, but our early brethren moved the sessions back and forth across the Green Mountains in order to accommodate the growing number of lodges all around the state.
It made perfect sense, therefore, to meet here in Rutland in 1794 because the legislature was scheduled to convene here on October 9.
Nathaniel Gove, a Brother Mason who opened his home for nearly a week to those who organized our Grand Lodge, had, in the words of the clergyman who presided at his funeral, a "life….marked with a variety of events, virtues, and sufferings." He was born in Connecticut, as were many of Vermont's early settlers, and served as a first lieutenant in the Battle of Long Island in the American Revolution. He was captured there on August 27, 1776, and spent nearly two years on a prison ship. His confinement left him with impaired speech and crippled limbs. For the rest of his life, he walked with two canes and could move each foot only a few inches at a time.
Despite his afflictions, he moved to Vermont in 1781, first to Bennington and then to Rutland in 1784. The first home in which he and his family lived here still stands at 26 South Main Street. He operated several taverns in this area, one diagonally across from North Main Street and one adjacent to his home to the south of this spot. Rutland was an ideal location for the travel industry even then, as it was on the route between Boston and Montreal (a four-day journey) and on the road from Whitehall to Woodstock.
Two buildings south of here, beyond Brother Gove's tavern, was the county courthouse, built on his land and furnished rent-free with the stipulation that the entrance to the courthouse faces not to the street, but toward his tavern to the north, with a boardwalk between the two structures!
The Vermont Supreme Court held a session in his tavern in 1786. When the legislature met here in 1794 and 1796, he hosted the Governor and Council (a forerunner of the State Senate, which wouldn't be created for another 40 years). He collected a fee from the state for the use of his property, a demand he did not impose on the founders of the Grand Lodge.
When Nathaniel Gove died during the epidemic of 1813, the Brothers of Centre Lodge bore his remains from the church next door to the North Main Street cemetery, and there interred them. The Rutland Herald, which is celebrating its own bicentennial, reported in its edition of September 15, 1813, that Nathaniel Gove was "an aged and honorable member" of that Lodge and that at his funeral, "The concourse of the ancient fraternity…exhibited all the solemnity of deep distress and all the hope which dawns through the darkness of the tomb."
The convention which met here that week, culminating on this date in 1794 in the first communication of our Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, was a modest beginning, with only fourteen brothers in attendance, but one whose consequences would reverberate down through the years. We owe those early brothers an outstanding debt: through their courage and vision, we have gained the opportunity for Masonic knowledge, brotherhood, and service in the Green Mountain State. And we owe a lot to their host, Brother Nathaniel Gove. Though his body was broken, his spirit was strong as he played a vital role in the birth of the Grand Lodge of Vermont. As we commemorate the bicentennial of that historic event, let us demonstrate our gratitude to our early brothers for their leadership and always remain true to the ideal of our fraternity, which spans the centuries from their time to ours.
Two Forgotten Vermont Freemasons
By Warren A. Williams, P.M.
Why would a member of the Research Lodge review the history of two forgotten Vermont Masons, both of whom attained rank in Vermont politics? Why would one Freemason raised in a foreign jurisdiction write about two men who made their mark in the world from an inauspicious and quiet town in northern Vermont? Let me explain.
I found my connection to the individuals about whom this research was done--two men about whom I knew little but with whom I can now identify--very interesting. We three were born out of state, two of us sharing a birthplace. We three were members of the same Masonic fraternity and the very same lodge, Meridian Sun Lodge, formerly designated #17 and chartered in Greensboro, Vermont, now renumbered 20 in Craftsbury. Although nearly a century of time separates each of us from the other, there seems to be a reference or connection among us.
From the names engraved on headstones in the Cemetery on Craftsbury Common to the name of our town itself, Samuel C. Crafts and Horace F. Graham can be identified. The town, chartered in 1781 under the name Minden, was renamed Craftsbury about ten years later to honor its founder, Ebenezer Crafts, Samuel's father. (More about Colonel Crafts later.) If one looks above the Worshipful Master of the Lodge in Craftsbury at the portrait of Samuel Crafts, his face will return an austere stare.
A landmark halfway between Craftsbury and Craftsbury Common is a large attractive hilltop home—the so-called "Governor Graham House." In our Lodge room over the Treasurer's station I occupy, one sees a large framed certificate of membership in the name of Horace F. Graham. This certificate attests to his having been raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason.
What of these men? For what were they remembered? What can we say about their fame and accomplishments? Let us "go to the record."
Samuel Chandler Crafts
Crafts was born in Woodstock, CT, on October 6, 1768, and died in 1853 at the age of eighty-five. Crafts graduated from Harvard College in 1790.
It seems that young Samuel followed and, in several instances, surpassed his famous father in his dedication to the people of his community, county, state, and, yes, nation.
In 1792, at the first town meeting in Craftsbury, held in his father's house, Crafts, at age twenty-four, was elected Town Clerk, a position he held for thirty-seven years. In 1829 he was elected Moderator of his town. In addition to these local positions of service, Samuel was elected Town Representative for five years; a Judge of court for several years, becoming Chief Judge; and a member of the State Council of Censors, a governmental body no longer in use. This Council consisted of twelve members and "shared executive power" with the Governor.
Samuel C. Crafts continued to advance in the political arena by first representing his town at constitutional conventions as its youngest member. He was Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1798 and 1799.
Crafts was elected Governor of Vermont for the term 1828-1831 and was eventually to serve for three terms. Following the Governorship, he was elected a Member of Congress and, in 1816-1824, was elected to a seat in the U.S. Senate. It has been said that he was a man whom the people delighted to honor.
While a member of the State Legislature, Crafts was elected chairman of a committee to decide the location for the State House. While in Congress, he also served on the Committee on Public Buildings during the rebuilding of the Capitol of the U.S.
As a young man, his politics were those of Thos. Jefferson who believed deeply in the innate intelligence of the common person. In later life, he was a follower of Henry Clay, "the compromiser."
From an address by the Honorable Aaron H. Grout on August 24, 1939, on the occasion of Craftsbury's sesquicentennial celebration, "one name stands out prominently in the early history of this town. Samuel Crafts, son of Col. Ebenezer, served his town, county, and state in about all the offices of public service. His record as a public servant was enviable from every angle, and his name and good works bring glamour, honor, and romance to the town's history, which recognized his ability and started him on his career."
Not all of his public positions were in politics. He assumed other leadership and service assignments for the betterment of the greater community. He was the first President of the Orleans County Historical Society, one of the charter members of Meridian Sun Lodge #17, and its first Worshipful Master. It appears that he was probably raised in Harmony Lodge #14 in Danville on or before 1797. There is no official record in Vermont, Massachusetts, or Connecticut of his having taken the degrees in those jurisdictions, although records of the 1798 Vermont Grand Lodge refer to him being in attendance as an officer from Harmony Lodge #14.
We all might take note of one aspect of his philosophy. "He was seldom heard in debate in either state or national halls, for he had little faith in the good of speech-making."
As the Anti-Masonic Party appeared in 1829, and we Masons know it resulted from the "Morgan Incident" in New York State, Crafts was running as the National Republican candidate and was recognized as a Freemason. He earned 14,325 votes to his competitor's 3,973. In 1830 when the Anti-Masonic party became stronger, the vote was 13,476 for Crafts, 10,923 for Palmer, an Anti-Mason. With the help of eight anti-masons, Crafts was finally elected after the election was thrown into the Legislature. His personal qualities apparently superseded his fraternal affiliation (or at least the latter wasn't held against him!).
In 1828, what may be called the germ idea of our present town system of schools, Crafts urged the process of highway tax that has since been adopted." In 1829, Crafts was "the first to treat the evils of intemperance and urged higher license fees and more stringent regulations of public houses 'to check' free indulgence in the use of spirituous liquors.
Samuel Chandler Crafts was truly a man of his time, an example to any generation of honesty, integrity, public consciousness, and a forthright individual whom young people could emulate in the present era, in which true heroes are hard to find.
Horace French Graham
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 7, 1862, Horace French Graham died at his home on Graham Hill, Craftsbury, on November 23, 1941. He was 79 years old.
Graham was educated at Craftsbury Academy. After completing his undergraduate degree (cum laude) at Columbia College in 1898, he continued his education through the study of Law. He opened a law office in Craftsbury after being admitted to the Vermont Bar.
Like Crafts many decades before him, Graham served as Moderator of the Town, serving from 1902-1932. Graham also presided over the Orleans Historical Society.
Horace F. Graham represented Craftsbury in the Vermont Legislature in 1892, 1900, and again in 1924. He was elected States Attorney for Orleans County in 1898 and again in 1900. Graham served as a Presidential Elector in 1900. He assisted in the revision of the Vermont Statutes published in 1933 as the Public Laws of the State.
Elected the Auditor of Accounts of the State of Vermont in 1902-1916, Graham was also a member of the State Educational Commission in 1913. From the position of Auditor, Graham was elected Governor of Vermont in 1917.
Graham was "considered a good Governor," but it was discovered that in his last year as Auditor, a large sum of money had disappeared. In 1918 he was charged with embezzlement, convicted, and sentenced to a lengthy prison term. However, when he paid back the missing amount out of his own pocket, he received a full pardon. Graham always maintained his innocence in this matter but asserted that, since the loss happened "on his watch," he was responsible for seeing that it was replaced. It is important to note his honorable attitude toward this smear on his term of office. Never did he express animosity toward his accusers.
In a historical address made at Craftsbury Common in remembrance of the One-Hundredth anniversary of the Town of Craftsbury, on July 4, 1889, Horace F. Graham was the featured speaker. He had this to say about his Masonic Lodge, Meridian Sun #20: "…It was fifth in the state, first in the county to receive its charter. From it have sprung most of the Lodges in this section of the country."
Graham continued," during the dark days of Masonry fifty years ago, William Hidden (another charter member) was accustomed to walking to Burlington to attend the meetings of the Grand Lodge, and thus he preserved its charter. Before the division of the Lodge at Greensboro, it enjoyed a membership of 150, but the founding of this and other Lodges, and the misfortunes of the last ten years, have reduced it somewhat."
Here we have two men from different times in history. What motivated them to act for the public good and remain so willing to serve others? Some might say that they had excellent family examples to emulate. Education, examples of strong character, a personal code of conduct, and the zeal to do for others seem to be significant factors.
Gov. Crafts' father, Ebenezer Crafts, was the organizer of the town and served as its first Moderator. Prior to that, we find Col. Crafts opening an eighteen-mile road from Cabot and clearing land for his homestead. Col. Crafts graduated from Yale College. At the commencement of the Revolutionary War, he organized a Company and joined the army at Cambridge, Mass. He was also one of his town's charter members of the Masonic Lodge. He was a man of great energy and firmness of character.
Gov. Graham also had family ties which provided leadership examples. His mother certainly strongly influenced his development, as was his ancestor, Judge Alvah R. French (1798-1876), a leading citizen of Craftsbury. In his honor, that family name was given to Horace French Graham.
Both individuals benefited from their excellent backgrounds in education, having attended leading "Ivy League" educational institutions. Lives devoted to the public surely didn't affect their longevity--being octogenarian and septuagenarian, respectively.
Finally, we can only guess at the influence provided by our Masonic fraternity. Samuel Crafts lived through and was directly affected by the Morgan Incident. This resulted in the organization of the Anti-Masonic political party, which was stronger in Vermont than in any other state in the union. The fact that Horace Graham returned the missing funds positively reflects these righteous and moral lessons. This was an action borne out of their knowledge of Masonic rituals. We can surmise that adopting strong Masonic tenets and principles and observing ancient landmarks of the Craft did influence these men's characters.
Biographical Governors of the U.S., Vol. III, pps. 75,167,170
Child, Hamilton, County Gazetteer, Directory, Lamoille and Orleans Counties, 1883-84.
Hemingway, Abby Maria, Vermont Historical Gazetteer, Vol. III.
Historical Celebrations, Craftsbury, Vermont, 1889-1941, Cowler Pub. 1942.
Jeffrey, William H. Vermont-It's Government.
Metraux. Daniel A., Craftsbury, A Brief Social History.
Records of the Vermont Grand Lodge of Freemasons.
Tillotson, Lee S., Ancient Craft Masonry in Vermont, 1920.
Note: Anyone interested in further in-depth information can reference the Crafts collection at Bailey-Howe Library at the University of Vermont.