Historical Accounts of Vermont Grand Lodge
Founding and Bicentennial -- October 1994
Rededication Ceremony at Lindholm's
The procession up Washington Street from the Temple to the Lindholm site was in itself an impressive "parade." The dedication of the commemorative plaque on the site of the original Grand Lodge (confluence of VT Routes 7 and 4) was witnessed by a large group of spectators. The dedication ceremony was conducted by the Grand Master and his officers with a brief but informative history of the establishing of the Grand Lodge by Brother James Douglas, our Grand Historian.
That History follows:
BICENTENNIAL DEDICATION: October 15, 1994
James H. Douglas, Grand Historian
(Presently Governor, State of Vermont-2003)
In the 1780's and 90's Vermont was Masonically unchartered territory, so our
first five lodges received their charters from the Grand Lodges of Massachusetts,
Connecticut, and Canada. The proposal for a Grand Lodge of Vermont came in June
1774 from Dorchester Lodge in Vergennes, which proposed a meeting in Manchester
in August. On August 6, five brothers from three lodges (Dorchester, North Star
in Manchester, and Temple in Bennington) met and presented their credentials.
On the following day they selected a committee to draft a constitution and agreed
to invite the five lodges to send three brothers each to meet in Rutland in October
to consider the draft constitution.
Fourteen brothers from five lodges (the original three-plus Vermont Lodge in Springfield and Union Lodge in Middlebury) met on Friday, October 10, on this site, then the home of Brother Nathaniel Gove, and the following day voted to proceed to organize a Grand Lodge. They worked throughout the weekend and adopted a constitution on the evening of October 13. The next day the delegates gathered to subscribe their names to the document and the Grand Lodge of Vermont was officially born. Its first communication took place precisely 200 years ago today, October 15, 1794, on this very spot.
The Constitution outlined the structure of the Grand Lodge, provided for the election of officers, outlined the process of chartering new subordinate lodges, and authorized the adoption of bylaws to govern the proceedings of the Grand Lodge. One of the most fascinating provisions related to the time of holding sessions of the Grand Lodge: "A Grand Lodge shall be holden on the Friday next succeeding the second Thursday of October, annually, at such place as the Legislature shall convene."
For three decades after declaring our independence, the Vermont Assembly met in a different town every year, alternating between a location east of the Green Mountains and one to the west. The Vermont Legislature met in fourteen separate municipalities until Montpelier was chosen as the permanent capital, beginning in 1808. Elections were held in September and the Assembly convened the following month (usually the session lasted only a few weeks!). Since many of our early Masonic leaders were also prominent in the affairs of civil government, it made sense, in days when travel was slow, to combine their sojourns. The communications of the Grand Lodge didn't follow the precise schedule of the legislature during that period, but our early brethren moved the sessions back and forth across the Green Mountains in order to accommodate the growing number of lodges all around the state.
It made perfect sense, therefore, to meet here in Rutland in 1794, because the legislature was scheduled to convene here on October 9.
Nathaniel Gove, the Brother Mason who opened his home for nearly a week to those who organized our Grand Lodge, had, in the words of the clergyman who presided at his funeral, a "life .marked with a variety of events, virtues and sufferings." He was born in Connecticut, as were many of Vermont's early settlers, and served as a first lieutenant in the Battle of Long Island in the American Revolution. He was captured there on August 27, 1776 and spent nearly two years on a prison ship. His confinement left him with impaired speech and crippled limbs. For the rest of his life, he walked with two canes and could move each foot only a few inches at a time.
Despite his afflictions, he moved to Vermont in 1781, first to Bennington and then to Rutland in 1784. The first home in which he and his family lived here still stands, at 26 south Main Street. He operated several taverns in this area, one diagonally across from North Main Street and one adjacent to his home to the south of this spot. Rutland was an ideal location for the travel industry even then, as it was on the route between Boston and Montreal (a four-day journey) and on the road from Whitehall to Woodstock.
Two building south of here, beyond Brother Gove's tavern, was the county courthouse, built on his land and furnished rent-free with the stipulation that the entrance to the courthouse face not to the street, but toward his tavern to the north, with a boardwalk between the two structures!
The Vermont Supreme Court held a session in his tavern in 1786. When the legislature met here in 1794 and 1796, he hosted the Governor and Council (a forerunner of the State Senate, which wouldn't be created for another 40 years). He collected a fee from the state for the use of his property, a demand he did not impose on the founders of the Grand Lodge.
When Nathaniel Gove died during the epidemic of 1813, the Brothers of Centre Lodge bore his remains from the church next door to the North Main Street cemetery and there interred them. The Rutland Herald, which is celebrating its own bicentennial, reported in its edition of September 15, 1813 that Nathaniel Gove was "an aged and honorable member" of that Lodge and that at his funeral, "The concourse of the ancient fraternity exhibited all the solemnity of deep distress, and all the hope which dawns through the darkness of the tomb."
The convention which met here that week, culminating on this date in 1794 in the first communication of our Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, was a modest beginning, with only fourteen brothers in attendance, but one whose consequences would reverberate down through the years. We owe those early brothers a great debt: through their courage and vision we have gained the opportunity for Masonic knowledge, brotherhood and service in the Green Mountain State. And we owe a lot to their host, Brother Nathaniel Gove. Though his body was broken, his spirit was strong as he played so vital a role in the birth of the Grand Lodge of Vermont. As we commemorate the bicentennial of that historic event, let us demonstrate our gratitude to our early brothers for their leadership and remain always true to the ideal of our fraternity, which span the centuries from their time to ours.