Colonial Degree in the East
EDENTON -- The port of Edenton was one of the early bastions of Freemasonry in North Carolina. Unanimity 7 has held chartered meetings since 1775. They still meet on the shore of that port town.
At last year's Annual Communication, members of Lodge 7 first heard about the 21st District Colonial Degree Team. Talk started immediately about getting the team to visit one of the state's colonial centers.
Before long, imaginations soared. How about holding it at the courthouse? How about breaking out the replica Washington chair?
In 1771, the Grand Lodge of England named North Carolina patriot Joseph Montfort "provincial grand master of and for America." Between then and his death in the spring of 1776, Montfort chartered fewer than ten lodge. One of them was Unanimity Lodge in Edenton.
They held their first meeting November 8, 1775 at Kings Arms Tavern also known as Horniblow's. They met there for three years before moving to the Chowan Courthouse. They met in the courthouse until the early 1950s.
The night they held their first meeting in the courthouse, ship's captain George Russell gave them a master's chair said to have been entrusted to him by a Virginia lodge for safekeeping during the Revolution. For the next 200 years, Unanimity Lodge used what came to be known as the Washington Chair. It was, in fact, the only signed piece of furniture by Williamsburg's famed cabinet maker Benjamin Bucktrout. In 1983, Colonial Williamsburg offered the lodge more than $200,000 for the chair. They also gave them an exact copy of the original. The copy has remained in a plexiglass display just outside the entrance to the lodge room ever since.
This was the history charging through these Tidewater Masons as they contemplated modern possibilities. Authorities at Historic Edenton State Historic Site which maintains the Chowan County Courthouse were cooperative in letting the Masons celebrate a temporary return to their old home. Unanimity's Masons opened the plexiglass case at the top of their stairs to let the light of the historic master's chair again shine on the second floor of the courthhouse.
Saturday morning, April 14 was the big day. Nearly all the 80 seats available for the gathering were filled. They were in the assembly room above the court room. The pine-paneled room, 35X45 feet, was one of the largest of its sort in the colonies. In its 200 years, it has hosted dances, socials, church events, and a multitude of other functions. The original lodge room was lost in a 1990s renovation which added restrooms, an elevator, and stairway. The assembly room overlooks the old town commons with its view of the Albemarle Sound and monument to Joseph Hewes, Declaration of Independence signer and Mason. Walls of the room are decorated with paintings of Hewes, Queen Anne, and the Duke of Albemarle. The degree started promptly at 10:00 a.m.
The officers (with archaic and modern terms) for the degree were: enthroned on the seat of Solomon, King of Israel (master), Robert Street; attender of the Craft whilst at labor (senior warden), Johnny McDiarmid; attender of the Craft whilst at refreshment (junior warden), Tommy Green; keeper of the lodge funds (treasurer), Wes McIntyre; recorder of the lodge activities whilst in session (secretary), Frank Wanko; conductor of the candidate (senior deacon), Larry Golay; preparer of the candidate (junior deacon), Steve McIver; preparers of the feast (stewards), Wally Adcock and Bill Brown; keeper of the holy writings (chaplain), Eugene Myrick; guardian of the portal (tyler), Roy Timbs; presenter of the lambskin, Tommy Green; presenter of the tools of the Entered Apprentice, Steve McIver; Entered Apprentice Lecture rendered by Wes McIntyre and Frank Wanko; and Entered Apprentice charge and seeker of the answers of the initial questions Bill Brown.
Unanimity 7's John Barnes Dunn was initiated. There were three initiates from Perquimans 106, Daren Ray Arnold, James Dennis Robertson, and Kevin Robert Chase.
It was a bright, sunny, perfect spring day. The Colonial costumes were bright in the large-windowed lodge room. The blossoming trees popped fresh green and the unclouded sky lit unfettered blue outside the uncovered windows. So many of our degrees today are held in florescent lit, windowless rooms, it's hard to describe how it felt to have so much fresh, natural light for Masonic ritual.
It was also refreshing to see our first degree the focus of a special event. Perhaps too often, we reserve special occasions for raisings. Our initiation degree is as impressive as the third and marks the first impression our candidates get of the lodge workings.
It was the first work the 21st District's team has performed outside their district. It was also the oldest lodge in which they had performed. The antiquity of the language of our ritual was comfortable in the historic setting and with the attire of the degree team. All eight lodges of the First District were on hand to see the celebration. There visitors from other parts of North Carolina as well as Virginia and New York.
Soon after charging and congratulating the new Entered Apprentices, the Masons retired to Unanimity's dining hall for barbecue lunch.
The last degree Unanimity Lodge performed in the old courthouse is thought to have been in 1953. That was about the time they were building their new lodge just down the street. Perquimans Lodge, on the other hand, still meets on the second floor of the courthouse in neighboring Perquimans County's Hertford.
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