The Beginings - 1774
Food For Thought - Masonic Article
An extract from the bookA History of the Mason Lodge at Fort William 1743 - 1943
by John A. Fraser
On the 24th of June 1743, nine Freemasons met somewhere in Fort William and decided to set up a Lodge on a sound footing. Their names and occupations were - John MacLachlan, Baylie of Maryburgh; William Cowan, Collector of Customs; David Brown, Brewer; Alexander Muir, Storekeeper; John Wiggton, Carpenter; George Douglas, Merchant; Thomas Friers, Carpenter; John Robb, Mason; and James Trotter, Carpenter. Freemasons had been active in the area prior to this date and this is borne out by the fact that the Lodge, then called Lodge Mariaburgh, was present, represented by proxies, at the inaugural meeting of the Grand Lodge of Scotland on the 30th of November 1736. Further evidence of this is found written in the Charter of Conﬁrmation, granted to the Lodge by Grand Lodge in 1743, which states that the Lodge had - “for several years bygone - been regularly formed and had entered members and kept regular records of their proceedings.” These old records have never come to light.
A list of rules and regulations were drawn up at this meeting (see appendix) and two weeks later, on the 5th of July, they met again along with more local Freemasons, and signed their assent to the Articules. They got down to business straight away, and on the 5th of September of that year the Minute reads - “The Master and wardens being mett and the Lodge opened in dew forme, there was then admitted Brother Robb Fellow Craft to the Dignity of Master Mason”. As two Parish Ministers, the Rev. John Stewart of Kilmonivaig, and the Rev. Thomas Montfood, of Kilmallie were also members, the Lodge decided that the Rev. Mr Stewart would take the Service of worship on St John’s. Day. (27th December). Divine Services have been held by the Lodge on St John’s Day from 1743 till now. Part of the Minute relating to the ﬁrst Divine Service reads -
“The Depute Master was pleased to ordain that all the Brn. shall assemble in this Room upon St John’s Day at 2 o’clock to do business and that every Brother shall have his proper clothing with White stockings, also their proper tools.”
The Minute for the Meeting itself also bears writing in full -
“St John’s Day 27th December 1743. The Lodge being mett in dew forme and opened by the Deputy Master there was then ordered to be read by the Secretary the Grand Lodge’s Charter constituting our said Lodge into a regular Lodge & approving of all of our former meetings and directing the said Charter to Brother Cowan, Senior Warden, who was then approved of by the whole Lodge to continue Master from this day untill next St John’s Day the 27th December 1744. At which time there was elected Bro. Muir Senior & Bro. Charters Junior Wardens for the said time and the Worshipfull Master was pleased to appoint Bro. Douglas to continue Secretary to the Lodge (and treasurer for the said time by the whole Brethren). The affairs of the Lodge being ended & business over the whole body walked in Procession from the Lodge to the Stand upon the Parade when the King and other Loyal Healths were drunk and the proper mason toasts. The procession was continued in good order from the Fort to the Church in Town when Bro. Stewart did the Brotherhood the honour of preaching a very learned sermon which being ended the Whole brethren proceeded in the former good order to the High Street of Maryburgh where they again drank the former Loyal toasts and from thence proceeded to Brother Charles Stewart’s house to Dinner where the Whole Body was Plentifully & Handsomely Entertained with a Dinner. The Dinner ended with a Ball and the whole Brethren parted in Good Harmony and Brotherly Love.”
It is worth noting that the Charter, which still hangs in the Lodge, was addressed to the Senior Warden and not the Master. I would not be surprised if this is unique in Scottish Freemasonry. The reason why this happened as it did is fascinating in itself. John MacLachlan, a Baylie of Maryburgh and Tacksman at Corunan, was elected the ﬁrst Right Worshipfull Master of the Lodge in 1743. I feel it quite possible that MacLachlan was the only ‘local’ man among the ﬁrst brethren who instigated the ‘new’ Lodge in 1743. It is highly likely that he was a Jacobite sympathiser as he was a hereditary Standard Bearer for Locheil and is mentioned in the ‘Lyon in Mourning’ as coming under suspicion of “comforting the Prince with Brandy and Oatmeal.” If this is true he certainly did not make a very good choice for Master of an organisation one of whose statutes requires members to be loyal to the monarch and government of the country in which they reside. Br. Maclachlan also found himself in hot water during 1743, being accused and found guilty by the Lodge of at least being present at a clandestine meeting of men purporting to be masonic. He was allowed to remain a member but never again held ofﬁce. Between 1743 and 1750 a number of ofﬁcers and men stationed inthe Fort joined the Lodge.
Among the Regiments with associations with the Lodge were - General Handysyde’s; The Hon. Thomas Murray’s; Brigadier Daniel Houghton’s; Lord John Murray’s; Colonel Huske’s; and Colonel Herbert’s. Many of these regiments were only here for a short time and the brethren who had joined at Fort William scattered all over the world.
The Lodge did not meet often during the period of the Jacobite Uprising. In fact, during 1746 the Lodge only met twice. The Minute for St John’s Day for 1746 is interesting historically as it must be one of the few pieces of writing in Scotland which has a good word to say for the Duke of Cumberland!
“Saturday the 27th December 1746 St John’s Day. The Lodge being mett by order of the Right Worshipfull Master Thomas Johnson, agreeable to our Constitution and in Virtue of our Charter with intent to renew our Anwall Election of Master Wardens etc; And seeing our Monthly meetings were Interupted by the late Most Wicked and Unnatural Rebelion Against our Most Gracious Sovereign King George which was happily extinguished by His Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland who gave the Pretender & his rebel Hordes a Total Rout at the Battle of Culloden last April”
It is more than likely that Brethren belonging to the Lodge fought on opposing sides during this unhappy period in Scottish history. Another part of the Minute for the same meeting states - “... many Brn. Are absent & some will be never again admitted”. We can only surmise that the reason for this was their disloyalty to the crown.
By 1749 the ﬁnances of the Lodge were improving and the brethren decided that they would lend out at interest, any Spare money they had, providing good security could be found by the borrower.
Unfortunately this did not always work out as intended and the Lodge had great difﬁculty sometimes in recovering their money. Also in this year it was decided to order a Mort Cloth from Edinburgh and hire it out to the Lodge’s advantage. A Mort Cloth was a pall covering the cofﬁn on its way to the grave and in the eighteenth century was so fashionable at funerals that people would go to great lengths to purchase the use of it.