The Grand Lodge of Indiana F&AM officially entered its third century of Masonic labors on January 13, 2018, and the bicentennial celebrations will continue throughout the whole year.
Two hundred years ago on a cold, wintery Monday, Freemasons representing nine widely scattered and isolated Masonic lodges from across the young state assembled at the bustling town of Madison, Indiana on the banks of the Ohio River. There that week, legendarily in a second floor room of what we know today as Schofield House, they exchanged their original Ohio and Kentucky charters for new ones, and officially organized and constituted the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Indiana.
To the English mind in the mid-18th century, the word “Indiana” was touched with romance and the echoes of a faraway Utopia. Like India, it was a fanciful product of bungled Latin for the farthermost eastern shore of the Orient that might be reached by sailing far enough west.
Ongoing clashes with the combined Indian tribes assembled by Tecumseh, along with renewed war with the English combined to make the Indiana Territory a dangerous region to settle until the end of the War of 1812 in January of 1815. By the summer of 1816, the lands along the Wabash River and many miles to its east had been surveyed and officially put up for sale from a land agent in Vincennes, while a second agent was established at the Falls of the Ohio. The result was a flood of new pioneers and families into the Indiana Territory. It was estimated that 42,000 people came to Indiana just in 1816 alone, and population rose enough between 1814-1816 to enable the Indiana Territory to officially become its own state on December 11, 1816.
In more than a few early towns and settlements at the time, the formal or informal establishment of a Masonic lodge often predated the organization of a local church. Settlers were usually self-educated, and a Bible was their most commonly available reading material. Without a nearby church, these isolated people received their religious and moral training, understanding, and reinforcement almost entirely from interpreting the family Bible on their own, discussing its various passages among their own family members or with the rare neighbor. Yet, any church coming into the area frequently brought with it disagreements over denominational differences from back East, or from Europe.
A Masonic lodge forming was a uniquely civilizing force on the edges of the frontier, unlike any other. If a settler was recognized as a man of honor and trust and was made a Freemason, men of all social and economic classes, all political persuasions, and all religious denominations surrounded him, without descending into arguments. The lodge taught the basic tools of organizing and administering a democratic body, and preparing its members for civic responsibility, whether they knew it or not. Masons learned tolerance, benevolence, charity, prudence, reverence, justice, public speaking, cooperation, and more. Masonic ritual was also frequently the first encounter many men had with concepts of the liberal arts and sciences. Despite the altruistic, nonsectarian philosophy of lodge meetings, Masonic degrees were nonetheless centered around Old Testament themes—albeit filtered through its Enlightenment-era lens. Early frontier Masons could be forgiven for coming to regard their lodge meetings almost as a combination village meeting, finishing school, and a non-denominational religious service all its own. Further, a traveling Mason passing through a region far from his own home could find welcoming brethren who would extend the hand of friendship in a growing number of settlements and villages, even on the frontier.
And so, Masons from the nine lodges already at work in the new State of Indiana assembled in a makeshift “Freemasons’ Hall” in the upstairs meeting room of an inn at Madison that Monday, January 12, 1818. There were fourteen official representatives in all, eventually with thirteen visitors. A large number of these men had been instrumental in administering the Territorial government, as well as the new state government once Indiana was granted statehood by Congress. Many of them truly were the most important and influential men in their communities, even at this early stage of Masonic history. They had come through the wilderness, on horseback or by river, from as far as Vincennes, 150 miles away, and Brookville, 96 miles. By evening candle-lighting, they formally agreed to “proceed immediately to organize a Grand Lodge for the State of Indiana.”
The meeting continued for four days, and Alexander A. Meek of Madison presided over the organization of the new grand lodge. On Tuesday January 13th, they elected officers with Alexander Buckner, of Charlestown elected as the first Grand Master. Then they came forward and gave up their existing charters originally issued by the grand lodges of Kentucky and Ohio, and requesting new ones under the new authority. They also formally adopted Thomas Smith Webb’s 1797 Illustrations of Masonry as their official ritualistic work. The next day, the attorneys in the group drafted their constitution and by-laws, and Buckner ordered the preparation of their new charters. In the early evening, the brethren assembled and processed down the muddy streets of Madison, clad in their Masonic aprons, and gathered in divine worship at the nearby log-built Methodist church to ask the blessings of the Great Architect of the Universe on the work of their hands.
On January 15th, the new Grand Lodge of Indiana, Free and Accepted Masons officially issued a formal announcement to the other existing grand lodges in America requesting recognition, and began life with five chartered lodges: Vincennes Lodge No.1; Madison’s Union Lodge No. 2; Charlestown’s Blazing Star Lodge No. 3; Lawrenceburg Lodge No. 4; and Corydon’s Pisgah Lodge No. 5.
To the surprise of the assembled brethren, a sixth lodge already at work in Indiana did not give up its original heritage that week. Melchizidek Lodge’s large, colorful, and bombastic representative, Colonel Marston G. Clark of Salem, held out for reasons known only to himself, refusing just yet to officially turn in his lodge’s existing Kentucky charter in exchange for a new Indiana one. That lodge would close, and it would be 1822 before Salem Lodge No. 21 would be chartered to replace it.
Three new additional lodges were granted Indiana dispensations at that January meeting: Rising Sun Lodge, Vevay’s Switzerland Lodge, and Brookville’s Harmony Lodge.
The Grand Lodge of Kentucky was the first jurisdiction to extend formal, written, fraternal recognition of Indiana that September, declaring us to be “a new constellation in the firmament of Masonry.”
Indiana began life with 176 known Freemasons associated with the lodges scattered across the new state. The Grand Lodge recorded 37 ‘additions’ by the end of its first year of labors, for a total of 214 members in its nine lodges. It was an auspicious beginning for what would eventually become the fifth largest grand lodge in the United States.