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EASTERN STAR, ORDER OF THE.
This is the very popular American Rite of Adoption to which Brother Rob Morris gave many years labor and dedicated numerous poems. There are five beautiful degrees to which Freemasons and their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters are eligible. The ceremonies are entirely different to the old Rites of Adoption practiced on the Continent of Europe (see also Adoptive Masonry and Androgynous Degrees).
Degrees for women, under the title of the Masonry of Adoption, were as long ago as 1765 in vogue on the continent of Europe. These were administered under the patronage of the ruling Masonic body and especially flourished in the palmy days of the Empire in France, the Empress Josephine being at the head of the Order and many women of the highest standing were active members.
The term Adoption, so it is said, was given to the organization because the Freemasons formally adopted the ladies to whom the mysteries of the several degrees were imparted. Albert Pike, who took great interest in this Masonry of Adoption and made a translation of the ritual into English with some elaboration dictated by his profound knowledge of symbolism and philosophy, points out the reason that in his judgment existed for the conferring of degrees upon the women of a Freemasons family. He says in the preface to his ritual of the Masonry of Adoption:
Our mothers. sisters, wives and daughters cannot. it is true, be admitted to share with us the grand mysteries of Freemasonry, but there is no reason why there should not be also a Masonry for them, which may not merely enable them to make themselves known to Masons, and so to obtain assistance and protection; but by means of which, acting in concert through the tie of association and mutual obligation, they may Co-operate in the great labors of Masonrv by assisting in and, in some respects, directing their charities, and toiling in the cause of human progress. The object of ' la Maçonnerie des Dames" is, therefore, very inadequately expressed, when it is said to be the improvement and purification of the sentiments.
The Order of the Eastern Star has become just such an organization, strong enough to take an active and powerful co-operative concern in the beneficent labors of Freemasons for the care of the indigent and the afflicted. While entirely different and distinct from the Masonry of Adoption, being indeed of American and not French development, all the expectations so ably expressed by Brother Pike have in no other fraternal association been so admirably fulfilled as in the Order of the Eastern Star.
Some mystery involves the origin of the Order. In this respect the Order of the Eastern Star is closely akin to the various branches of the Masonic brotherhood. To unravel the truth from the entanglement of myth is, with many of these knotty problems, a troublesome and perhaps a never wholly satisfactory task. Evidence having few and incomplete records, dependent rather upon memory than in documents of authority is the usual subject-matter of discussion when laboring at the historic past of human institutions.
First of all let us take the testimony of Brother Rob Morris, than whom no one person has, it is conceded, given more freely of his service in the early development of the Order. None ought to know of the Eastern Star's inception story more than he, the acknowledged pioneer propagandist during its tender infancy and struggling youth.
During the latter part of 1884 Brother Rob Morris gave an account of the origination of the Eastern Star, which is in part as follows:
In the winter of 1850 I was a resident of Jackson, Mississippi. For some time previous I had contemplated, as hinted above, the preparation of a Ritual of Adoptive Masonry, the Degrees then in vogue appearing to me poorly conceived, weakly wrought out, unimpressive and particularly defective in point of motive. I allude especially to those Degrees styled the Mason's Daughter, and the Heroines of Jericho. But I do expressly except from this criticism, the Good Samaritan, which in my judgment possesses dramatic elements and machinery equal to those that are in the Templar's Orders, the High Priesthood, the Cryptic Rite, and other organizations of Thomas Smith Webb. I have always recommended the Good Samaritan, and a thousand times conferred it in various parts of the world.
About the first of February, 1850, I was laid up for two weeks with a sharp attack of rheumatism, and it was this period which I gave to the work in hand. By the aid of my papers and the memory of Mrs. Morris, I recall even the trivial occurrences connected with the work, how I hesitated for a theme, how I dallied over a name, how I wrought face to face with the clock that I might keep my drama within due limits of time, etc.
The name was first settled upon
The Eastern Star.
Next the number of points, five, to correspond with the emblem on the Master's carpet. This is the pentagon, "The signet of King Solomon," and eminently proper to Adoptive Masonry. From the Holy Writings I culled four biographical sketches to correspond with my first four points, namely, Jephthah's Daughter (named Adah for want of a better) Ruth, Esther, and Martha. These were illustrations of four great congeries of womanly virtues, and their selection has proved highly popular. The fifth point introduced me to the early history of the Christian Church, where, amidst a noble army of martyrs, I found many whose lives and death overflowed the cup of martyrdom with a glory not surpassed by any of those named in Holy Writ. This gave me Electa, the "Elect Lady, " friend of St. John, the Christian woman whose venerable years were crowned with the utmost splendor of the crucifixion.
The colors, the emblems, the floral wreaths, the esotery proper to these five heroines, were easy of invention. They seemed to fall readymade into my hands. The only piece of mechanism difficult to fit into the construction was the cabalistic motto, but this occurred to me in ample time for use.
The compositions of the lectures was but a recreation. Familiar from childhood as I had been with the Holy Scriptures, I scarcely needed to look up my proof texts, so tamely did they come to my call. A number of odes were also composed at that time, but the greater part of the threescore odes and poems of the Eastern Star that I have written were the work of subsequent years. The first Ode of the series of 1850 was one commencing "Light from the East, 'tis gilded with hope."
The theory of the whole subject is succinctly stated in my Rosary of take Esstern Star, published in 1865: To take from the ancient writings five prominent female characters, illustrating as many Masonic virtues, and to adopt them into the fold of Masonry. The selections were:
Being at that time, and until a very recent period, an active traveler, visiting all countries where lodges exist —a nervous, wiry, elastic man, unwearying in work caring little for refreshments or sleep, I spread abroad the knowledge of the Eastern Star wherever I went. Equally in border communities, where ladies came in homespun, as in cities, where ladies came in satins, the new Degree was received with ardor, and eulogized in strongest terms, so that every induction led to the call for more. Ladies and gentlemen are yet living who met that immense assemblage at Newark, New Jersey, in 1853 and the still greater one in Spring Street Hall, New York City, a little earlier, where I stood up for two hours or three, before a breathless and gratified audience, and brought to bear all that I could draw from the Holy Scriptures the Talmud, and the writings of Josephus, concerning the five "Heroines of the Eastern Star."
Not that my work met no opposition. Quite the reverse. It was not long until editors, report writers, newspaper critics and my own private correspondents began to see the evil of it. The cry of "Innovation" went up to heaven. Ridicule lent its aid to a grand assault upon my poor little figment. Ingenious changes vere rung upon the idea of "petticoat Masonry." More than one writer in Masonic journals (men of an evil class we had them: men who knew the secrets, but have never applied the principles of Masonry), more than one such expressed in language indecent and shocking, his opposition to the Eastern Star and to me. Letters were written me, some signed, some anonymous, warning me that I was periling my own Masonic connections in the advocacy of this scheme. In New York City the opponents of the Eastern Star even started a rival project to break it down. They employed a literary person, a poet of eminence, a gentleman of social merit, to prepare rituals under an ingenious form, and much time and money were spent in the effort to popularize it but it survived only a short year and is already forgotten. But the Eastern Star glittered steadily in the aseendant. In 1855 I arranged the system of Constellations of the Eastern Star, of w hich the Mosaic BooSc was the index, and established more than one hundred of these bodies. Looking over that book, one of the most original and brilliant works to which I ever put my hand, I have wondered that the system did not succeed. It must be because the times were not ripe for it. The opposition to " Ladies' Masonry " was too bitter. The advocates of the plan were not sufficiently influential. At any rate it fell through. Four years later I prepared an easier plan, styled Families of the Eastern Star, intended, in its simplicity and the readiness by which it could be worked, to avoid the complexity of the "Constellations." This ran well enough until the war broke out, when all Masonic systems fell together with a crash.
This ended my work in systematizing the Eastern Star, and I should nearer have done more with it, save confer it in an informal manner as at first, but for Brother Robert Macoy of New York, who in 1868, when I had publicly announced my intentions of confining my labors during the remainder of my life to Holy Land investigations, proposed the plan of Eastern Star Chapters now in vogue. He had my full consent and endorsement, and thus became the instigator of a third and more successful System The history of this organization, which is now disseminated in more than four hundred chapters, extending to thirty-three States and Territories, I need not detail. The annual proceedings of Grand Chapters the indefatigable labors of the Rev. Willis D. Engle Grand Secretary of the General Grand Chapter, the liberal manner in which the Masonic journals have opened their columns to the proceeding of the Adoptive Order, the annual festivals, the sociables, concerts, picnics, etc., which keep the name of the Society before the public, make a history of their own better than I can write.
In another statement under date of 1884, Brother Morris further informs us:
Some writers have fallen into the error of placing the introduction of the Eastern Star as far back as 1775, and this they gather from my work, Lights and Shadows of freemasonry published in 1852. What I intended to say in that book was that the French officers introduced Adoptive Masonry into the Colonies in 177S, but nothing like the degree called the Eastern Star, which is strictly my own origination.
The statements of Brother Morris are deserving of the utmost consideration and affectionate confidence. His devotion to Masonic service was long and honorable, freely acknowledged by his Brethren with promotions to places of the highest prominence within their gift. We can thus approach his assertions confident of their accuracy so far as the intent of Brother Morris is concerned. Candor, nevertheless, compels the conclusion that our excellent Brother did not in his various and valuable contributions to the history of the Eastern Star, and the related Bodies, always clearly define his positions, and the studious reader is therefore somewhat in doubt whether on all occasions the meaning is unmistakable. For example, the foregoing references are in themselves very clear that Brother Morris was the originator of the Eastern Star. It is substantially shown in detail how the several items of consequence were actually put into practice by him.
Let us now briefly mention what may be set forth on the other side. The Mosaic Book, by Brother Rob Morris, and published in 1857, says in Chapter II, Section 2:
In selecting some Androgynous Degree, extensively known, ancient in date, and ample in scope, for the basis of this Rite, the choice falls without controversy upon the " Eastern Star.- For this is a degree familiar to thousands of the most enlightened York Masons and their female relations—established in this country at least before 1778—and one which popularly bears the palm in point of doctrine and elegance over all others. Its scope, by the addition of a ceremonial and a few links in the chain of recognition, was broad enough to constitute a graceful and consistent system, worthy, it is believed, of the best intellect of either sex.
Brother Willis D. Engle, the first R. W. Grand Secretary of the General Grand Chapter of the Order, says (on page 12 of his History) that:
The fect is that Brother Morris received the Eastern Star degree at the hands of Giles M. Hillyer, of Vicksburg, Mississippi, about 1849.
Puzzling as is this mixture of statements, there is the one possible explanation that in speaking of the Order, Brother Morris had two quite different things in mind and that he may have inadvertently caused some to understand him to be speaking of the one when he referred to the other, or to both, as the case might be. We know that he had received Adoptive Degrees and we are well aware that he had prepared more than one arrangement of Eastern Star Degrees or of allied ceremonies. What more likely that in speaking of the one his thoughts should dwell upon the other; the one, Adoptive Freemasonry, being as we might say the subject in general; the other, the Eastern Star, being the particular topic. He could very properly think of the Degree as an old idea, the Freemasonry of Adoption, and he could also consider it as being of novelty in the form of the Eastern Star; in the one case thinking of it as given him, and b the second instance thinking of it as it left his hands. In any event, the well-known sincerity and high repute of Brother Morris absolve him from any stigma of wilful misrepresentation. Certainly it is due his memory that the various conflicting assertions be given a sympathetic study and as friendly and harmonious a construction as is made at all possible by their terms.
Another curious angle of the situation develops in The Thesauros (a Greek word meaning a place where knowledge is stored) of the Ancient and Honorable Order of the Eastern Star as collected and arranged by the committee, and adopted by the Supreme Council in convocation, assembled May, I793. A copy of this eighteen-page pamphlet is in possession of Brother Alonzo J. Burton, Past Grand Lecturer, New York. This book of monitorial instruction has been reprinted and does afford a most interesting claim for the existence of an Eastern Star organization as early as the eighteenth century.
A Supreme Constellation was organized by Brother Rob Morris in 1855 with the following principal officers: Most Enlightened Grand Luminary, Rob Morris; Right Enlightened Deputy Grand Luminary and Grand Lecturer, Joel M. Spiller, Delphi, Indiana; Very Enlightened Grand Treasurer, Jonathan R. Neill, New York, and Very Enlightened Grand Secretary, John W. Leonard, New York. Deputies were appointed for several States and by the end of 1855 seventy-five charters for subordinate Constellations had been granted. These Constellations were made up of five or more persons of each sex, with a limit of no more than twenty-five of the one sex, and several Constellations might be associated with a single lodge.
There subsequently arose a second governing Body of which James B. Taylor of New York became Grand Secretary. This organization was known as the Supreme Council of the Ancient Rite of Adoptive Masonry for North America. How much of a real existence was lived by this body is now difficult of determination because of the secrecy with which its operations were conducted. Early in the seventies it expired after a discouraging struggle for life.
Brother Morris was not a partner in the above enterprise and had in 186O begun the organizing of Families of the Eastern Star. To use his own expression, "The two systems of Constellations and Families are identical in spirit, the latter having taken the place of the former." A further statement by Brother Morris was to the effect that the ladies who were introduced to the advantages of Adoptive Freemasonry under the former system retained their privileges under the latter. During the next eight years more than a hundred Families were organized. Brother Robert Macoy of New York had in 1866 prepared a manual of the Eastern Star. In this work he mentions himself as National Grand Secretary. He also maintained the semblance of a Supreme Grand Chapter of the Adoptive Rite. Brother Morris decided in 1868 to devote his life to Masonic exploration in Palestine. His Eastern Star powers were transferred to Brother Macoy, as has been claimed. The latter in later years described himself as Supreme Grand Patron. Still another attempt at the formal organization of a governing Body occurred in 1873 at New York, when the following provisional officers of a Supreme Grand Council of the World, Adoptive Rite, were selected: Supreme Grand Patron, Robert Macoy, of New York; Supreme Grand Matron, Frances E. Johnson, of New York; Associate Supreme Grand Patron, Andres Cassard, of New York; Deputy Supreme Grand Patron, John L. Power, of Mississippi; Deputy Supreme Grand Matron, Laura L. Burton, of Mississippi; Supreme Treasurer, W. A. Prall, of Mix sari;
Supreme Recorder, Rob Morris, of Kentucky; Supreme Inspector, P. M. Savery, of Mississippi. But nothing further came of this organization except that when later on measures were taken to make a really effective controlling Body, the old organization had claimants in the field urging its prior rights, though to all intents and purposes its never more than feeble breath of life had then utterly failed.
The various Bodies of the Order under this fugitive guidance became ill-assorted of method. Laws were curiously conflicting. A constitution governing a State Grand Chapter had in one section the requirement that "Every member present must vote" on petitions; which another section of the same constitution forbade Master Freemasons "when admitted to membership" from balloting for candidates or on membership. There was equal or even greater inconsistency between the laws of one State and another. Serious defects had been discovered in the ritual. Some resentment had been aroused over the methods employed in the propaganda of the Order. The time was ripe for a radical change.
Rev. Willis D. Engle, in 1874, publicly proposed a Supreme Grand Chapter of Representatives from the several Grand Chapters and "a revision and general boiling down and finishing up of the ritual which is now defective both in style and language." Not content with saying this was a proper thing to do, Brother Engle vigorously started to work to bring about the conditions he believed to be most desirable. Delegates from the Grand Chapters of California, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and New Jersey, met in Indianapolis, November 15-16, 1876, on the invitation of the Grand Chapter of Indiana. Grand Patron James S. Nutt, of Indiana, welcomed the visitors and opened the meeting. Brother John M. Mayhew, of New Jersey, was elected President, and Brother John R Parson, of Missouri, Secretary. A Constitution was adopted, a committee appointed on revision of the ritual, and a General Grand Chapter duly organized.
The second session of the General Grand Chapter was held in Chicago, May 8-10, 1878, and the name of the organization became officially The General Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star. The Most Worthy Grand Patron was then the executive head, though in later years this was decided to be the proper province of the Most Worthy Grand Matron.
The Grand Chapters with their dates of organization are as follows:
A Concordat or treaty agreement adopted by the General Chapter on September 20, 1904, and by a convention of Scottish Chapters of the Eastern Star held at Glasgow on August 20, 1904, was to the following effect:
"The Grand Chapter of Scotland shall have supreme and exclusive jurisdiction over Great Britain, Ireland, and the whole British dominions (excepting only those upon the Continent of America), and that a Supreme or General Grand Chapter of the British Empire shall be formed as soon as Chapters are instituted therein and it seems expedient to do so."
According to the terms of this agreement the territory in the East Indies wherein Chapters were already instituted, as at Benares and Calcutta, was ceded to the Grand Chapter of Scotland, which retains control. The other Chapters not so released are still under the jurisdiction of the General Grand Chapter.
The first eighteen Most Worthy Grand Matrons of the General Grand Chapter of the Eastern Star have been the following:
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Last modified: March 22, 2014