Dedicated to the Memory of
WBro. David S. Keller, PM
Past Secretary of Statesville Lodge #27
Grand Historian of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina
Originally Chartered as Mount Moriah Lodge No. 27
It is late in the year 1794, probably at the time of the full moon, and the winter solstice is at hand. A small group of men have assembled to perform a ritual whose origin is already clouded by the passing of centuries. George Washington is president and a mere eighteen summers have passed since rebellious colonists declared their independence from the mother country. The arduous business of forging a nation lies ahead. The Louisiana Purchase; the explorations of Lewis and Clark; the vice and destruction of the Civil War; the settling of the West, and the incredible events of the twentieth century is history yet to be written. The place is a small Scotch-Irish farming settlement situated between the Yadkin and Catawba rivers, on the western frontier of North Carolina, some 300 miles west of the old colonial capitol at Edenton, the home of James Iredell. The occasion is a Masonic meeting held under a charter of dispensation, granted by the newly founded (1787) Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina, in anticipation of the charter meeting of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 27, to be held on January 25,1795.
Antiquity of the Lodge
To better appreciate the historical significance of the birth of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 27, and to verify its date of charter, we need to look back to England and to the early days of Freemasonry in this country. The Grand Lodge of England was founded in 1717 and the first Masonic lodges chartered in this country were subordinate lodges of that institution. Allen E. Roberts, author of Freemasonry in America, in his chapter on North Carolina writes, “In 1735 some Masons assembled at the Cape Fear settlement [now Wilmington! to form a lodge. This is believed to be the forerunner of the lodge which received a warrant from the…Grand Lodge of England in 1754 (No. 213) and which was later named St. John’s Lodge”. In 1771, the Duke of Beaufort appointed Colonel Joseph Montfort Provincial Grand Master of North America, but all the colonial lodges remained under the control of the Grand Lodge of England. In 1787, the Grand Lodge of North Carolina held its first stated communication, having at that time eight lodges under its jurisdiction. Existing lodges with numbers assigned by the Grand Lodge of England were re-designated with numbers assigned by the Grand Lodge of North Carolina, beginning with the number one. By the year 1799 the Masonic lodges in North Carolina had increased from the original eight to 31. The designation of Mount Moriah Lodge as number 27 is evidence it was chartered before 1799.
Further proof of the antiquity of Mount Moriah No. 27 is given in a letter addressed to Past Master S. W. Hoffman dated October 23, 1933, from the Right Worshipful, J. H. Anderson, Grand Secretary. It states: “Mount Moriah Lodge No. 27 was chartered January 25, 1795.” Anderson’s letter also states that he found the information in the Grand Lodge Library in Philadelphia which includes copies of old minutes dated “1797” and a list of the members for the year were enclosed with his letter. Anderson further states, “A return of the officers and minutes of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 27 along with a transcript of [their] proceedings was made by the delegates, but these have been misplaced among the archives of the Grand Lodge.” Although not extensive, the evidence appears convincing– the chartering of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 27 occurred January 25, 1795. Thus the date of this charter was just eight years after the founding of the Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina and sixty years after the first Masonic lodge was chartered at Cape Fear; just seventeen years (1788) after Brother Ben Franklin served as Master of the Lodge of Nine Sisters in Paris, and only sixteen months after Brother George Washington laid the cornerstone for the capital of our Great Republic.
Early Records of the Lodge
As with the many institutions whose history spans 200 years, the history of Statesville Lodge No. 27 is marked by period of incomplete or nonexistent records Information found in the archives of the lodge reveal that Mount Moriah Lodge No. 27 held regular communications from the date of its charter in 1795 until August 1798. A listing of the membership of the lodge for the 1798 was compiled by lodge secretary George W. Campbell and submitted to the Grand Lodge on August 28, 1798. A reference in the minutes of the lodge for the year 1811 reflects that the master, Milus Nesbit, appointed a committee “to examine the archives of this lodge and ascertain if any evidence can be found of payment having been made for the first charter.” The minutes of May 1811 state: “The committee appointed at the last meeting to search for evidence of the first charter of this lodge… have found what they deem is such evidence.” Unfortunately, the minutes neither elaborates on what evidence was found nor give a reason as to why the master requested the information.
Without complete records we are forced to speculate. Today there exists in the lodge a charter granted in 1802. It is the oldest document in the possession of the lodge. Nesbit’s inquiry may suggest the original charter of 1795 was accidentally misplaced or destroyed and the charter of 1802 was issued to replace it; or it could suggest the lodge entered a period of darkness and the original charter was surrendered to the Grand Lodge.
The first set of available minutes in the archives of the lodge begin December 27, 1806. The minutes of 1812 reveal the lodge held regular quarterly meetings; February, May, August, and November, and on Saints John Days in June and December. The master was A. Caldwell; E J. Osborne was Senior Warden (P.T.), and J. Guy, Junior Warden. According to the minutes, the lodge conducted routine business; one petition was read and balloted on and two brothers advance one degree. The lights went out in the temple during the year 1813.
After a period of approximately twelve years the minutes of the lodge resume. On February 22, 1825 the minutes state that dispensation from the Grand Lodge, “the lodge then being organized proceeded to business.” The lodge was still known as Mount Moriah but the numerical designation had changed from number 27 to number 82.
A letter dated October 19, 1933, from the Grand Secretary states: “Our records show that Mount Moriah Lodge No. 82 was granted a charter, December 6, 1825, and continued to hold the charter until 1845…In the proceedings of 1840 it shows the lodge as in arrears for six or eight years and then for various years up to 1845…but (it) does not appear in the list of 1846 or thereafter.”
Records show that on June 26, 1851 the Grand Lodge again granted dispensation to Mount Moriah No. 82 to “proceed to organize a lodge of Ancient York Rite Masons in Statesville, Iredell County.” A new charter was granted on December 6, 1851. The charter of dispensation is still maintained in the lodge archives. Mount Moriah Lodge No. 82 then held regular stated communications until 1875 when it too surrendered its charter.
In February 1883 the lodge was reorganized, this time changing both the name of the lodge and the numerical identifier. The lodge became known as Statesville Lodge No. 383 and existed until 1895 when another period of darkness was entered.
On January 13, 1897, Statesville Lodge No. 487 was granted a charter, and that charter has remained uninterrupted to this day. If true, then where is Statesville Lodge #487? Answer: In 1936 the lodge appealed to the Grand Lodge arguing it was “The lineal Masonic descendant of Mount Moriah Lodge #27, which according to records available was active in all Masonic work here at Statesville from 1795 to 1813” and “to preserve the historic heritage left us by our Masonic forefathers…and to honor their memory,” petitioned to have the numerical designation 27, the original number of the first Masonic lodge in Statesville reinstated. The Grand Lodge, then finding the argument persuasive, on April 21, 1936 granted the request and changed Statesville Lodge No. 487 to No. 27. A lot of information has been cited, but some important questions have been left unanswered, such as: Who was the original master of the lodge? Who where his officers? Where did the lodge hold meetings? These questions may remain unanswered because the minutes of the original lodge have been lost.
The First Master
Brother Secretary George Campbell’s letter to the Grand Lodge of August 1798 is the earliest known listing of the officers of the lodge still in existence. Although Secretary Campbell identified Col. Adlai Osborne as the Master in 1798, tradition has it that Colonel Osborne was in fact the original Master of Mount Moriah No. 27 when the lodge was chartered on January 25, 1795.
Adlai Osborne was the oldest son of six children born to Alexander and Agnes McWhorter Osborne. In 1750 Alexander moved his family from New Jersey to Rowan County. (This area would later become a section of Iredell Count).) Alexander purchased 1000 acres of land on Rock)’ River, in what is now the Mount Mourne community, where he built his home. Alexander called the home and land Belmount, (also known as Bellemounte) and it soon became a center of social and religious activities. Alexander was first a Captain and later a Colonel in the King’s Army and fought in the French and Indian War. He helped effect a treaty with the Catawba Indians and served as a Justice of the Court in Rowan County. Alexander and Agnes Osborne had six children, two of whom were Adlai and daughter Mary. Mary is of interest due to her marriage to John Nesbit, who was a member of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 27 and served as its secretary and treasurer. Mary and John’s grandson, Milus Nesbit, was also Master of Mount Moriah Lodge in 1811.
Adlai Osborne, born 1744, grew up at Belmont. Adlai was educated and prepared for college at nearby Crawford Academy. He then attended Princeton in New Jersey, and graduated in 1768 at the age of 24. Returning to North Carolina, Adlai became the Clerk of Court of Rowan County, a position he held until 1809. As Clerk of Court, Adlai signed the Rowan Resolve, a predecessor of the Declaration of Independence. He was an active soldier in the Revolutionary Army and rose to the rank of Colonel. On November 21, 1798, Adlai and his brother-in-law, John Nesbit, were members of the convention that met in Fayetteville and ratified the United States Constitution for North Carolina. Later, Adlai served as one of the original trustees of the University of North Carolina. In 1791 when President George Washington visited Salisbury, Adlai and his wife Margaret Lloyd attended the ball held in Brother Washington’s honor, where it is recorded Margaret danced the minuet with the President. Adlai and Margaret had 11 children. Mary Lloyd, their first child, born 1774, married Abner Sharpe, who was treasurer for Mount Moriah Lodge No. 27 in 1798 and also Clerk of Court for Iredell County’. A sister, Rebecca, married Nathaniel Ewing. As a result of this union, Adlai Ewing Stevenson was born. Adlai Ewing Stevenson was Vice President under President Grover Cleveland, 1893-1897.
The Charter of 1802
Not much is known of the history of the Charter of 1802. It is the oldest document belonging to the lodge still in the archives, but that was not always the case, as the following newspaper article will reveal. However, in contradiction to the article the available evidence indicates the Charter of 1802 was the second charter issued the lodge, not the original Charter of 1795. The charter probably left the control of the lodge sometime after 1813 and was not returned until discovered in Chattanooga, TN in 1914. The following is a transcript of an article that appeared in the Statesville Sentinel newspaper, November 20, 1914.
Original Charter of Mount Moriah Lodge
An old parchment presented to Masonic lodge last Tuesday by Dr. Laugenour
Where has it been for more that a century? At the meeting of the Masonic lodge last Tuesday evening, Dr. P.P. Laugenour presented to the lodge the original charter of Mi. Moriah Lodge No. 27, which was organized and existed in Statesville considerably more that a hundred years ago. It is printed and written on parchment and dated January 1, 1802. Though yellow and somewhat dim by age, it is plain enough to be easily read. It is signed by William Polk, Grand Master; John Lewis Taylor, Deputy Grand Master; M. Stokes Senior Grand Warden; J. Winslow, Jr. Grand Warden; Robert Williams, Secretary, constituting the said lodge and appointing David Caldwell, Master; William Young, Senior Warden and Andrew Caldwell, Junior Warden.
The old parchment was found by Frank S. Garden, a Chattanooga attorney, among a lot of his old books and papers. He had no idea how or when it came into his possession. Garden had an office in the same building with Capt. H. A. Chambers, whom he knew to be a Mason and Iredell native. Capt. Chambers recognizing the historical significance, arranged for contact with Dr. Laugenour to return the document.
Mount Moriah No. 690 Formed
The fall of 1950 found Statesville Lodge No. 27 burgeoning with members. In an effort to afford greater opportunity for Masonic work, an additional lodge was forged and operated under charter of dispensation until May 18, 1951, when the Grand Lodge, under the leadership of the Grand Master Herbert M. Foy (whose son, Herbert Miles Foy, Jr., was initiated, passed and raised in Statesville Lodge No. 27, in 1938) granted a charter to Mount Moriah Lodge No. 690. Since that time Statesville No. 27 and Mount Moriah No. 690 have held concurrent jurisdiction.
Therefore, it too is a direct and proud descendant of the Masonic forefathers who founded Mount Moriah Lodge No. 27 in Statesville.