Mystery remains over Masonic Lodge's revoked charter

Vincent, Paul 11.15.2016.jpg

By Paul Vincent
Museum of the Albemarle

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Of the many lodges that have come and gone in the history of Freemasonry in North Carolina, one has proven to be a subject of mystery and intrigue since its ill-fated demise 190 years ago. Its narrative, recorded in the minutes of the Grand Lodge’s annual proceedings, raises numerous questions considering the lodge’s peculiar yet reckless conduct during its short-lived existence.

Chartered by the Grand Lodge on Dec.11, 1813, Camden Lodge No. 63 of Jonesborough was the first established Masonic Lodge in Camden County. However, apart from those records held by the state’s Grand Lodge, little is known about its day-to-day activities. The written accounts of the Grand Annual Communications between 1813 and 1827 are the best evidence yet that provides us an insight into Camden No. 63 and its Masonic workings.

Camden’s first years as a fledging lodge seemed innocent enough. They were properly represented at the annual communications in Raleigh, both in 1813 and 1814, having promptly submitted their dues payments and return figures. Each lodge’s returns were vital statistics, requested by the Grand Secretary, “contain[ing] brief…accounts of their monthly labors, elections of officers and lists of members.” However, Camden’s early relationship with the Grand Lodge was to be short-lived.

Very little, if any, communication transpired between the Grand Lodge and Camden No. 63 after 1814. Records show no official representation on behalf of the lodge at the annual proceedings and the surmounting debt from delinquent dues payments only fueled Camden’s financial woes. By 1818 the Jonesborough lodge was $40 in arrears, which equates to about $740 in 2017 dollars. Camden never paid off its debt, in part or in full, despite the Grand Lodge’s repeated attempts to revoke their charter.

Starting in 1821, the Grand Lodge made several attempts to ascertain the severity of the lodge’s depreciating situation, all of which were met with little to no success. In 1824, the Grand Lodge appointed a committee to investigate Camden and take possession of all the lodge’s property, delivering it to neighboring Eastern Lodge No. 89 in Elizabeth City. This action likely suggests that some of the Camden brethren, dissatisfied with the lodge’s deplorable state, broke away to join or even found Eastern No. 89 in Pasquotank.

On Dec. 6, 1827, the Grand Lodge finally resolved to have Camden Lodge No. 63 stricken from the list of subordinate lodges for non-payment of dues. Less than a week shy of their fourteenth anniversary, Camden No. 63 was over $100 in arrears. The lodge charter was arrested the following day. What troubles befell the Camden brethren to seem so negligent in their Masonic duties and conduct? Why did the Grand Lodge not act more decisively against Camden Lodge? Only further research might offer us answers to such questions regarding this Masonic mystery.

Paul Vincent is collections assistant at Museum of the Albemarle