Freemasons can be referred to as traveling men, and when we travel the common direction we travel as we all know is east. This time I decided rather than travel to the east as I have done on many occasions to speak, lecture, or in my studies to figuratively travel to the east, I received a kind invitation from a Brother to travel north. So, I and two other Brethren from my Masonic district decided to travel north to Youngstown, New York on May 31st to attend a rather unique and exciting event. I must say it was well worth the trip for multiple reasons such as meeting and making new friends, seeing a very historic location, witnessing a third degree in a different jurisdiction and most importantly forging new relationships with Brethren we may in any other circumstance than Masonry may have never met. It was a truly wonderful day!
Youngstown, New York is the home of the very historic Old Fort Niagara which sits at the mouth of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario and is the oldest operating Fort in North America with an active U.S. Coast Guard Station literally right outside the wall of the historic part of the fort. Today the historic part of the fort which is a registered National Historic Landmark and is a privately owned not for profit organization is open year round with the exception of a few national holidays. For more information on touring the Fort please see www.oldfortniagara.org.
The event I had the pleasure of attending was for a picnic followed by five Fellowcraft Masons being raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason in colonial dress by all in attendance inside the main building on the third floor of Old Fort Niagara. These five lucky Fellowcrafts were from the Lodges of Niagara Orleans District of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York Free and Accepted Masons. As most of us have already experienced and will never forget our own third degree nights, these five lucky Brethren will most assuredly never forget theirs either. With around ninety Brethren in attendance, including several Grand Lodge Officers we sat down to witness what was for me a very interesting and unforgettable evening. This was the first time for me to witness a third degree in a jurisdiction other than my own, let alone to see it done in colonial dress which added very much to the so it was especially interesting, however if you are reading this in hopes of learning the differences between my jurisdiction and New York’s as far as the third degree is concerned you are going to be let down because like any good Mason I will not go into details. I will say this much, the difference in cast size as well as the added drama the New York third degrees contain for me was rather incredible, what a beautiful ceremony it was. Even though I have participated in many Master Mason degrees in my own respective jurisdiction, it was quite a welcome learning experience watching another jurisdiction put them on.
So, what the heck does all this have to do with Old Fort Niagara? Previous to this experience the only Masonic connection to the Fort I had ever heard of was during the Morgan Affair, and out of respect for the Grand Lodge of New York as I was enlightened by a Brother whom was a great deal of help in my writing this article, it is forbidden for any New York Mason to discuss the Morgan affair and for the record no New York Mason has to me, so that is as far as I will go on that topic. If you are interested in learning about the Morgan Affair and don’t know much about it feel free to scroll through my blog at www.drivenbylight.net where I have written about that particular incident, you can also see my source list for the post and take it from there on your own. Now, on to answer the first question at the top of this paragraph, what do the Masonic Third degrees being put on at the fort have to do with the fort and what is the Masonic significance of this? Coincidentally the Old Fort Niagara has a lot of Masonic history tied to it over its three hundred plus year history and what I have found with the great help of Brother is only a scratch on the surface as much of the Masonic history pertaining to the Fort itself is locked away from the general public, mainly because most of it is original documents that have a great deal of age and need to be handled carefully. One day in the near future I hope to make the trip up there again to have a look at some of these and perhaps write another article or more on this somewhat forgotten history for not only my own personal education but for others as well. The following is just a start to the ties that Old Fort Niagara had to the Craft of Freemasonry and I am deeply indebted to Brother Jason Buckley, the Interpretive Programs Manager at Old Fort Niagara, another Brother that I had the pleasure to meet and befriend, without his assistance I would not have had access to the following information.
British Military Lodges on the Niagara Frontier
The 5th Regiment, Northumberland Fusiliers Lodge. Very little is known about this lodge, except that they did have a Masonic Lodge when stationed at Fort Niagara. In 1784, this lodge’s charter was transferred to the 48th Regiment.
The King’s (8th) Regiment, The King’s Own Lodge
This was the first British Military lodge established by the Grand Lodge of England (modern), on February 15th, 1755, as lodge No. 255. It later became No. 195 in late 1755; No. 156 in 1770; No.124 in 1780; No. 124 in 1781and finally No. 112 in 1792. When this convened at Fort Niagara, it was the military lodge to meet in the province of Ontario (later Niagara County of New York State). There is documentation of it meeting at Fort Niagara in the years 1773-75, 1778 and 1782-85. It was the first military lodge to join the Provisional Lodge of Quebec in 1770. An interesting side note, Joseph Brant the great Native American leader and orator was known to attend this lodge when he was at Fort Niagara on several occasions.
The 10th Regiment, Lincolnshire Lodge
The 10th Regiment had two military lodges; No. 299 by the Grand Lodge of Ireland warrant, August 3 1758, and No. 378 by the Grand Lodge of Ireland Warrant, November 5, 1761. Records indicate that several members of No. 299 transferred to No 378. By 1765, Lodge No. 378 listed 27 members on its register. The 10th regiment was stationed at Fort Niagara for the 6 years preceding 1774. They were slated to return to England but were instead sent to Boston. They stayed in North America until late 1778. In the meantime they served in several battles during the American Revolution. Including 1775 Lexington, Concord, Boston, Bunker Hill: 1776 Halifax, Staten Island, Long Island, New York, White Plains, Forts Washington and Lee, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Brandywine, Germantown, and White Marsh; 1778, New York.
The 6oth Regiment, Royal American’s Lodge
We know that the 60th Regiment received its charter in 1764 and was the first military lodge to meet in Detroit. We also know that may of its members were stationed at Fort Niagara, we do not however have any record of this lodge meeting at Fort Niagara, it is likely that they attended as visiting brethren while at Fort Niagara.
This was just a bit of the Masonic connection to Fort Niagara, imagine being raised to Master Mason in such an important and historical place. I truly hope that the fortunate five Brethren raised on this occasion will come to learn and appreciate the significance of not only the history they participated in that day but also come to appreciate Masonic history as a whole. If we cannot learn and adapt from our history we are doing a great disservice to our fraternity. This was only the second year in a row that the Brethren of Niagara Orleans district have put on this event, plans for next year are already in place to hold the same type event at the end of May 2015 and I for one am definitely going to make the trip again. It was well worth it to not only see an important part of our countries military history but Masonic history as well.
As for military history the fort has undergone multiple transformations during its three hundred plus year history throughout many battles and wars while literally hundreds of other military forts across the continent outlived their usefulness. Over the long history of the fort is was occupied by three differing countries. France beginning in sixteen seventy eight used the fort as they were the most prominent in the area and by accident they controlled this area which was quite important because of the waterways it was connected to which was all of the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence River all the way to the Atlantic ocean. To the French their main opposition came from the most politically powerful group of Native Americans, the Iroquois. The main building that the above mentioned degrees took place in was called the “House of Peace” and completed in seventeen twenty seven and also referred to as the “French House”. The fort was also controlled by Great Britain and now the United States. To say this fort has seen a few battles is an understatement of the largest variety, it has seen and been in use during every battle in the northeast part of our country, two of the most well-known being the war of eighteen twelve as well as the civil war. The fact that this incredible place is for one still standing but in such great shape speaks volumes of its caretakers over its long storied history and we are lucky to still have the ability to visit this national treasure. I highly recommend to any Masonic history buff or anyone interested in learning more about the history of our country to make this a stop and spend a day at this highly enlightening place. If you are a Freemason keep an eye out for the 2015 activities planned by the Brothers of Niagara Orleans district.
I would personally like to thank Brothers Jason Buckley, RWPDDGM Bill Green and Kevin Jester for not only the invitation to witness this incredible event but for also aiding me with bits of information to make this article possible. Brethren working together for a common goal is a beautiful thing and I am proud they decided to assist me as well as proud to not only call them Brothers but friends as well.