The History of Masonry in Florida cannot be traced properly until the source from which it derived its authority has been firmly established.
In as much as Masonry in Florida and in the various States of the Union was established by authority from Masonry in the British Isles, a brief review of the early Masonic activities there should be reported. The historical records of Freemasonry in Florida were for many years hidden from the world, lying dormant in unmarked and forgotten files.
Historians made various attempts to report the early Masonic activities on this territory. Their efforts were in vain. In 1898, the first authoritative record of Masonry in Florida came to light. This record was a rare and very old copy of “Preston’s Illustration” which was presented to the Grand Lodge of Florida by Doctor F. F. Bond of Thorncliff, Brighouse, England. On the title page of the prized gift, the following words were inscribed: “The Gift of James Murray to St. Andrews Lodge No. 1, West Florida, June 27, 1776.” This was the first reliable information that a Masonic Lodge had existed in Florida at such an early date The charter of St. Andrews Lodge No. 1 of West Florida was issued on May 3, 1771 by the “Provincial Grand Lodge of the Southern District of North America.” The petitioners for this Lodge were members of Lodge No. 108 of their register of Scotland and were attached to the 31st Regiment of Foot of the British Army stationed at Pensacola.
Ten Master Masons applied for the charter and are listed as charter members. The charter was signed by James Grand, Provincial Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of the Southern District of North America, and other officials of the Provincial Grand Lodge.
In addition to the certified copy of the charter of St. Andrews Lodge, there were other documents and papers relating to early Masonry in Florida. There were records and minutes of St. Andrews Lodge which revealed the plight of this Lodge and its ties with its Provincial Grand Lodge.
These historical records were definite proof of the activities of the Masonic Fraternity in Florida and further revealed that its activity had emanated from the Grand Lodge of Scotland On March 15, 1768, a charter was issued by the Grand Lodge of Scotland to “Grant’s East Florida Lodge No. 143,” to be located in St. Augustine, in the Territory of Florida. This was the first Masonic Lodge to be established in what is now the State of Florida. On this same date the “Provincial Grand Lodge over Lodges in the Southern District of North America” was created and located at St. Augustine, in the Territory of Florida.
Honorable James Grant, Governor of the Territory of Florida, was named Provincial Grand Master. This Grand Body functioned until 1783 when it was suppressed by the Dominican Priesthood and the Spanish Government. All records of this Grand Lodge were destroyed or were carried away and are still missing.
The meager information that is available was found in the archives of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and the Grand Lodge of Scotland. The fate of the first Masonic Lodge, “Grant’s East Florida Lodge,” in the Territory of Florida, is not known, but it is assumed that it was suppressed at the same time as the Provincial Grand Lodge. The records founds in the archives of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania gave a clear picture of the operations and the fate of Florida’s second Masonic Lodge, St. Andrew’s Lodge of Pensacola. Pensacola and the Territory of West Florida were captured by the Spanish 14 in 1781.
The Masonic Fraternity again was suppressed by the Dominican Priesthood and the Spanish Government and the Masons were forced to flee. Even though the Masonic Brethren faced grave dangers, they did not leave until they had obtained the charter and records which included the minutes of every communication that had been held since the Lodge was chartered. A new charter from an active Grand Lodge was essential.
The Officers and members of St. Andrews Lodge No. 1 turned to the Grand Lodge of Philadelphia (Ancients), and on July 12, 1783, the Lodge was rechartered as Lodge No. 40 of Charles Town, South Carolina. There is no explanation as to why the original name was dropped, but apparently the decision was made by the Grand Lodge of Philadelphia.
Lodge No. 40 of Charles Town continued to work under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Philadelphia until 1787, when it surrendered its charter, and together with four other Lodges, formed the Grand Lodge of South Carolina. The subsisting Lodge assumed the name of “St. Andrews Lodge No. 10,” under the charter and jurisdiction of the new Grand Lodge of South Carolina. It continued to work until 1881 when its charter was surrendered and stricken from the rolls.
It is reported that on January 17, 1859, the Grand Lodge of England (Ancients) warranted a Lodge to the 14th Regiment of Foot. The number of this Lodge is reported to be 58b. This Lodge, located in St. Augustine, became dormant. On March 6, 1776, a renewal of the warrant was authorized and on March 20, 1776, it was renewed. Then, on January 3, 1778, the Grand Lodge of England (Ancients) granted a warrant to No. 204, St. Augustine in 15 East Florida. On January 17, 1780, this warrant was ordered returned to the Grand Secretary because the fee had not been recorded. The Grand Lodge of South Carolina (Ancients) issued warrant No. 30 to a Lodge at St. Augustine as well as a warrant to Lodge No. 56 located at Pensacola under the name of “Good Intention.” Both Lodges were short lived and their exact fate is not known, but it is known that the Spanish Government suppressed all Masonic activities throughout its domain. In 1806, St. Fernando Lodge in St. Augustine was chartered by the Grand Lodge of Georgia. This Lodge was subsequently suppressed by a mandate of the Spanish Government.
Again, in 1820, the Grand Lodge of South Carolina granted a charter to Floridian Virtue Lodge No. 28, but it could not survive the political and religious hostilities of that day. During 1824, the Grand Lodge of South Carolina granted another charter to Esperanza Lodge at St. Augustine. The failure of this Lodge was attributed to the fact that practically all of its members moved to Havana, Cuba. There are reports of additional Lodges in Florida, but no records from these Lodges have been found. Freemasonry entered Florida as a permanent institution when, on December 19, 1825, the Grand Lodge of Alabama issued a warrant to Jackson Lodge No. 23,to be located in Tallahassee, in the Territory of Florida.
A warrant was issued on December 2, 1826, to Washington Lodge No. 1 by the Grand Lodge of Georgia. This Lodge was to be located in Quincy, in the Territory of Florida. On December 8, 1829, the Grand Lodge of Georgia warranted Harmony Lodge No. 2. This Lodge was to be located in Marianna, in the Territory of Florida. The three Lodges worked under their respective Grand Lodges until 1830.
At the regular meeting of May, 1830, Jackson Lodge No. 23 of Tallahassee adopted a Resolution inviting Washington Lodge No. 1 and Harmony Lodge No. 2 to join together in the organization of a Grand Lodge for the Territory of Florida. The two Lodges accepted the invitation and in due time named their delegates. On Monday, July 5, 1830, the delegates from the three Lodges met in the Masonic Temple of Jackson Lodge No. 23, Tallahassee, to decide the proper course to be taken. It was the consensus of the group to organize a Grand Lodge for the Territory of Florida. The meeting was then organized into a permanent Convention.
Brother John P. Duval was elected President and Brother Thomas Monroe was elected Secretary. The first order of business following the organization was the adoption of a Resolution stating the right and the purpose of the body to organize a Grand Lodge for the Territory of Florida.
The next order of business was the appointment of a Constitution and ByLaws Committee. The Convention elected Grand Lodge Officers, and the first Grand Master was M . W . John P. Duval. The Officers, both elective and appointive were duly installed. The Convention, having fulfilled its mission, was adjourned. The Grand Lodge for the Territory of Florida was then opened in Ample Form.
The rules and By Laws of the Grand Lodge of Alabama were adopted so far as they were applicable to the proceedings of this Grand Lodge; however, a Committee was appointed to make a study and prepare suitable rules and a code of By Laws for the new Grand Body.
Warrants for the three subordinate Lodges were approved and on July 10, 1830, were issued to Jackson Lodge No. 1, Washington Lodge No. 2 and Harmony Lodge No. 3. The new warrants were exchanged for the old charters. The Grand Secretary returned the three old documents to the appropriate Grand Lodges, and with these documents went a request for fraternal recognition and the exchange of fraternal correspondence.
In these early years of Freemasonry in Florida, it was determined that no Lodge in Florida shall be named after any living man, and no Lodge in Florida shall bear the number “8.” Orion Lodge No. 8 was chartered by the Grand Lodge of Florida at Pleasant Grove, Georgia, near the Florida Line, in 1839. Two years later, without consent of either Grand Body, the Lodge moved to Decatur, now Bainbridge, Georgia. When this fact came to the attention of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, much indignation was expressed and a Resolution was adopted officially declaring Orion Lodge to be a Lodge of Clandestine Masons.
Explanations followed and the matter was adjusted in a fraternal spirit of amity and good will. Florida released claim on Orion Lodge and Georgia received it in full fellowship, and to cement the bond of good will and good fellowship, Florida resolved that no other Florida Lodge should bear the number “8,” and as a further gesture of good will, elected the Masters and Wardens of Orion Lodge No. 8 honorary members of the Grand Lodge of Florida in perpetuity. In the same spirit, Georgia resolved that Orion Lodge should continue to work under the charter granted by the Grand Lodge of Florida, endorsed by the Grand Lodge of Georgia.
And so we see the anomaly of a Lodge of Masons working in another Grand Jurisdiction under and by virtue of authority granted by the Grand Lodge of Florida more than 145 years ago.