The Beginnings of the Scottish Rite

The origin of the term “Scottish Rite” in describing this branch of Masonry continues to be an unsolved mystery.  Various theories have been proposed, but final proof of one is as yet lacking.  Some have suggested that the word “Scottish” was used by some brethren in France to lend an air of authenticity to degrees having an ancient origin.  Others believe that the word was used to correctly describe the place where the degrees originated.

That Masonic lodges existed in Scotland before 1717 is well established.  The oldest lodge minute books are those of Scottish lodges; for example St. Mary’s Chapel Lodge in Edinburgh has continuous minutes since 1599.

The union of the Scottish and English thrones in 1603 and the influx of Scotsmen into England brought with it many Scottish customs, perhaps including the practice of Freemasonry.

The deposal of James II from the throne and his exile in 1688 led many Scotsmen to follow him to France where they championed his restoration, and, after his death, that of his son and finally his grandson to the throne.  Therefore, between 1689 and 1745 there may have been Freemasons among these “Jacobites,” as the adherents to the deposed house of Stuarts were known.  They may have played a part in the transplantation of Freemasonry into France and in the development of the higher degree systems there in the early 18th century, but again, this is a matter of historical speculation and not of historical proof.

Military lodges, that is, Masonic lodges set up in a military unit, usually a regiment, probably also played a role in the spread of Freemasonry throughout the world.  The earliest reference to a military lodge is in 1640 when Quartermaster General Robert Moray was made a Mason in the Scottish army at New Castle-on-Tyne in Northern England.

Certain it is that during the 18th century there developed in France and to some extent elsewhere on the continent (Scandinavia, Germany) a number of systems of multiple Masonic degrees (as many as 8000 degrees in France alone) in many of which the term “Scottish” occurs.  A few of these systems survived, including the Swedish Rite and the Rite of Perfection.  The latter is the chief antecedent of the Scottish Rite of today.

We do know that Freemasonry was taken from England to France and the first Masonic lodge “Loge L’Anglaise” constituted in Bordeaux on April 27, 1732, under the direction of Capt. Martin Kelly, an Irishman who became its first Master.

It is believed that, as a direct result of the Loge L’Anglaise, the first Ecossais or “Scottish” lodge made its appearance in Bordeaux between 1740 and 1744.  This lodge was called “Parfaite Harmonie” (Perfect Harmony) and became the Mother lodge of the Scottish Rite.

From existing records this lodge can truly claim to be the oldest Scottish Rite organization in the world.  It established lodges in Paris and Periguex, France, and later in Santo Domingo on the Island of Hispaniola, the earliest European settlement in the new world.

On August 27th 1761, a patent had been issued to Etienne (Stephen) Morin, who was about to sail for America, by the “Council of the Emperors of the East and West” located in Paris.  It authorized him to extend the Perfect and Sublime degrees and to form, establish and govern lodges in all parts of the world wherever the degrees were not established.

It is not known exactly when Stephen Morin arrived in Santo Domingo with his patent but it was sometime before October 26, 1764 for on this date he established a Lodge of Perfect Harmony there.  Later he went to Kingston, Jamaica, and there engaged in Masonic activities.

A most significant happening was Morin’s appointment of Henry Andrew Francken as Deputy Inspector General.  Although little is known about the life of Henry Francken, it is known that he played an important role in bringing the Rite of Perfection to the America colonies.  He went to New York in 1766, and there created Moses Michael Hayes a Deputy Inspector General.  He also issued a patent for a Lodge of Perfection at Albany and conferred the degrees on a number of Masons there. 

Francken returned to Jamaica in 1770.  After that the responsibility of spreading the Rite in the colonies rested largely upon the shoulders of Dr. Samuel Stringer and Moses Michael Hayes, the best known and most active among Francken’s Deputy Inspectors General.

The Rite of Perfection was built up in continental America first at Albany in 1767 and then successively as follows:  Philadelphia in 1781; Charleston in 1783; Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., in 1791; Baltimore in 1792.  Grand Councils of Princes of Jerusalem were established in Charleston in 1788, and a Sublime Grand Council of Princes of the Royal Secret was organized in the same city in 1797. 

By the end of the eighteenth century only the bodies in Charleston were active and it became apparent that difficulties existing in the Rite had to be dealt with.  Hence “On the 31st of May in 1801, the Supreme Council of the Thirty-Third Degree for the United States of America was opened … by Brothers John Mitchell and Frederick Dalcho, Sovereign Grand Inspectors General, and … the whole number of Grand Inspectors General was completely agreeable to the Grand Constitutions.”  So reads the “Circular of 1802,” by which the Supreme Council announced its advent to the Masonic Powers of the two hemispheres.  Upon this document rests all that we know from contemporary writings of the founding of the Supreme Council at Charleston, S. C.

This organization was formed by individuals who were associating themselves for the purpose of self government. They adopted their constitutions just as the constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England and all other Grand Masonic Bodies were adopted – and just as the Constitution of the United States of America was adopted.

The advent of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite as we know it today took place at Charleston in 1801.  The legal foundation for the Scottish Rite rests on three extant constitutions-those of 1761, 1762 and 1786 even though their origins have been subject to much controversy.

Where the authority came from and from whence came the eight degrees added to the original twenty-five are questions dealt with by the Scottish Rite historian, Ill. Samuel H. Baynard, Jr., 33°, as follows: “First, last and always we must keep in mind one basic fact: The Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite was not the offspring of any other organization of Masons.  It did have antecedents and predecessors but not ancestors among the bodies of Masonic connection.  At its organization it established its own system of degrees and adopted its own code of laws.

“Whether the Grand Constitutions were drafted and promulgated in 1786 or 1801, whether in Berlin, Paris, Stockholm, Jamaica or Charleston is totally immaterial.  Their validity rests solely upon the fact that John Mitchell and his associates adopted them May 31, 1801, as the fundamental law of the organization they were founding … and they have been adopted by each and every regular Supreme Council instituted since that date, and every individual member of the rite has bound himself to obey them.”

Concerning the degrees, Baynard comes to this conclusion:  “After a painstaking study of hundreds of rituals … we have reached the conclusion that our founders … at Charleston, S. C., in 1801, selected from among several well known Rites of Freemasonry the particular degrees they deemed best fitted to bring ‘Ordo ab Chao’ (Order out of Chaos).”

Next: The Origin of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction


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