A Short History of the Founding of Phoenix Lodge No. 8
During the colonial period of our nation, warrants and charters were issued by the several grand lodges of Europe and England to selected individuals in America for the purpose of operating as a Provincial Grand Lodge. Some colonial territories had as many as four of these grand lodges in operation. Historical references and documentation indicate that two of these Provincial Grand Lodges organized by England and Scotland were operating, independently, within the North Carolina territory.
As early as 1750 - and potentially as early as the 1730s - a number of English and Scottish regimental (military), "Provincial" lodges, and both regular lodges (those with a proper warrant, charter, or dispensation to operate) and irregular lodges (those without official authority to operate) had been organized in North Carolina by the Scots and Europeans who had settled in the colony.
There were a number of stories about one of the regular lodges established in the territory which was a Highland Scottish Regimental lodge established around 1736 in the colonial settlement of Cross Creek known as Union Lodge No. ___, although this may not have been the lodge's original name. As the Grand Lodge of Scotland had been organized in 1736, Union Lodge No. ___ would have been one of the earliest overseas lodges to have been granted a charter by this institution if this could have been proven; but any documentation to verify that fact has long since been lost or perhaps was never properly recorded.
Modern records of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina theorize that Union Lodge No. __ existed in the Cape-Fear region as early as 1760, operating under a
dispensation, warrant, or charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland. This is also part of Phoenix Lodge's traditions, although no evidence exists to support this theory.
At the time that Union Lodge No. ___ was in operation, it was necessary to obtain a registered charter from a European Grand Lodge or a Provincial Grand Lodge to form a lodge, although prior to 1717 it was sufficient in many countries for seven or more Masons to establish a Lodge. It is known that some of the Lodges established in the Colonies during the 1730s-1760s were formed by British military regiments. Several British military regiments contained one or more traveling Lodges, and it may have been the tradition of some of these Lodges to induct local Colonists.
It is possible that before a British military regiment moved to a new area, a local citizen would receive a sort of dispensation from the Master of the Regimental Lodge to
continue to meet and conduct work as a Lodge until such time as they could register with a Grand Lodge. Unfortunately, much of the documentation from these military Lodges was destroyed during the Revolutionary War or lost to time.
In 1771, the Grand Lodge of England issued a commission to Colonel Joseph Montfort of Halifax, North Carolina, naming him "Provincial Grand Master of and for America." Montfort established the first Grand Lodge of North Carolina, but this grand body soon dissolved.
In 1783, at the close of the Revolutionary War, the established regular lodges in North Carolina reorganized. Many of the lodge buildings and the records they contained had been destroyed during the war. Also during that year, the towns of Campbelltown and Cross Creek merged to become Fayetteville in honor of the Revolutionary War hero General Lafayette (he later visited Fayetteville and Phoenix Lodge in 1825 to express his appreciation of the gesture).
After the war, some measure of commonality of work was needed in the lodges, and interest in establishing a new Grand Lodge of North Carolina was renewed. Doing so would require that all provincial grand lodges be dissolved and the Ancient York lodges in North Carolina be identified and consolidated for recognition and visitation purposes until such a grand lodge could be established.
Upon suggestion from Colonel James Emmett, a Past Master of Union Lodge No. __, a letter was drafted in Fayetteville on January 1, 1787 from Union Lodge No. __ to the other Lodges existing in North Carolina to meet there on Saints John Day, June 24th, for the purpose of organizing a Grand Lodge of North Carolina; but, owing to the great distances to be traveled along with late mailing of the letters only four delegates arrived; which was hardly sufficient to conduct business.
The delegates from the town of New Bern were asked to draft a subsequent letter and the next meeting was held in December of that year in the town of Tarboro. The Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons of North Carolina was subsequently founded on December 9th, 1787. This date is still held as the date of origin for the modern Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina.
In 1788, Phoenix lodge participated in the Constitutional Convention in Hillsboro, North Carolina, to deliberate whether this state would accept, or reject, the new United States Constitution. At this meeting, the newly elected Grand Master of Ancient York Masons of North Carolina, Samuel Johnston, was elected as President of the upcoming Constitutional Conventions, the last of which was held in Fayetteville.
At the November, 1788 meeting of the newly-formed Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons of North Carolina held in Fayetteville, a number of distinguished visitors along with Union Lodge No. __ officers, John Winslow and James Porterfield (Phoenix Lodge's first Master), presented a petition to turn in the charter, warrant, or dispensation of Union Lodge No. ___ and accept a new dispensation under the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons of North Carolina.
The leaders of Union Lodge No. __ also presented a request by the Brethren to expunge the name Union Lodge and replace it with Phoenix Lodge, which is the name our lodge now bears. The membership of Union Lodge No. __ at this time totaled about 60 members, and an overwhelming majority had voted to request these changes. The Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons of North Carolina granted the change on 17 November 1788. Thus, the date that Phoenix Lodge was formally established was 17 November 1788.
From 1788 to 1793 Phoenix Lodge operated under dispensation (UD) from the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons of North Carolina. During this period, many lodges were still working under various Provincial, Military, and Colonial dispensations, warrants, and charters, and these lodges slowly aggregated under the Grand Lodge of North Carolina or went dormant.
On 25 June 1791, the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons of North Carolina renumbered all Lodges under its jurisdiction and ordered that new charters be issued. Phoenix Lodge received its first charter from that grand body in 1793. Phoenix Lodge was granted a new charter in 1796 from the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina, likely because the Grand Lodge dropped the "Ancient York Masons" and became "Free and Accepted Masons".
Later, in 1799, Phoenix Lodge applied to the newly organized North Carolina General Assembly for a formal charter to act as a corporation in the town of Fayetteville. Phoenix Lodge received a new charter from the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina in 1801, which is our current, valid, and official charter.
In the beginning, the brethren of Phoenix Lodge of Ancient York Masons held their meetings at the home of Colonel Lee DeKeyser, who lived between the old State House (now the site of the Market House) and Old Street. Afterwards, when his home was destroyed by fire a new location for the lodge was needed; and a Masonic temple dedicated to the Most High was erected on Green Street. Blue Lodge meetings, and later, York Rite meetings were held in this building.
In 1793, the lot upon which our present lodge building is located was deeded in perpetual trust by local realtor James Hogg, a zealous and worthy Mason. The cornerstone for the original Phoenix Lodge building was laid on Saints John Day, June 25, 1793 in a lavish ceremony on Mason Street near the corner of Moore's Lane (now Arch Street) on the spot known as Saint John's Square.
When Fayetteville celebrated George Washington's birthday in 1797, the local citizens ended their parade with a celebration in the main dining area of Phoenix Lodge. Over the years, the grand building had served as the town's theater, a school, and a temporary home to a Church and residents who had lost their homes during the great Fayetteville fire of 1831.
Later, during the period of anti-Masonic persecution in the 1830's and 1840's lodge membership declined dramatically. The lodge building fell into such disrepair it was reluctantly torn down and rebuilt in 1858. The mid-portion of the present Phoenix Lodge building is the rebuilt structure that incorporated much of the timbers and bricks from the 1793 building. The outer-wings of the building were added in 1949. The city and citizens of Fayetteville have long played a proud and active part in the history of our nation, North Carolina, and North Carolina masonry.
It was here that the early General Assembly met with a good deal of members of Phoenix Lodge doing their duty as state representatives. It was here that the Grand Lodge of North Carolina granted a charter to form the Grand Lodge of Tennessee; which at the time was considered a territory of the state. It was one of the earliest records in the United States in which a grand lodge of one state received its charter from the grand lodge of another state (South Carolina granted Louisiana its charter).
Four past masters of Phoenix Lodge went on to become grand masters: John Alexander Cameron, John Louis Taylor, Robert Strange, and John Huske Anderson. Past Grand Master Anderson and Past Grand Master Charles B. Newcomb later went to Scotland in an attempt to find written documentation regarding Union Lodge No. ___. For some time it was thought that Union Lodge No. ___ took its name from a "Lodge Union" chartered in Holland in 1764 by the Grand Lodge of Scotland. This had been a regimental lodge in the "Scots Brigade" of the "States Union", as Holland was then known, under the command of General Marjioribanks. Unfortunately, the trip produced nothing that could corroborate that theory or document any connection between Union Lodge No. ___ and the Grand Lodge of Scotland. It is now known that the "Scots Brigade" never served in the colony of North Carolina.
Documents from the state, the Grand Lodge of North Carolina and communications from other lodges of that period of North Carolina's history prove that Union Lodge No. __ did exist in the mid-to-latter part of the 18th century. Also on record is that these brethren who later founded Phoenix Lodge went on to contribute to the long and rich history of Fayetteville, the State of North Carolina, and our great Nation.
When President George Washington passed through North Carolina on his way to South Carolina and back, his escort was Congressman William Barry Grove, a member of Phoenix Lodge. William R. King, a member of Phoenix Lodge, was the longest serving senator in history and elected as Vice President to Franklin Pierce in 1853; but died in 1854 before being able to serve his term.
To paraphrase an eloquent ritual, "The lapse of time, the ruthless hand of ignorance, and the devastations of war, have laid waste and destroyed many valuable monuments of antiquity, on which the utmost exertions of human genius have been employed… [Phoenix Lodge and] Freemasonry, notwithstanding, has still survived."