Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Les Frères Unis (the United Brothers' Lodge): The French Touch in Trinidad

Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Les Frères Unis (the United Brothers' Lodge): The French Touch in Trinidad

Article excerpt

Introduction

Although masons' companies and guilds, and a few Scottish lodges, had existed in the previous century, modern freemasonry really dates back to the foundation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 by four London lodges. When the Grand Lodge of Scotland was founded in 1736, about a hundred lodges attended the ceremony, which seems to point to some Masonic activity in Scotland before the official creation. Historians argue about the continuity between "operative" lodges, that is to say, lodges composed of professional masons only (associations very close to masons' companies and guilds), and "speculative lodges" which welcomed men of all trades and different religious persuasions. Masonic institutions at the beginning of the eighteenth century differed from the Old Charges which regulated companies of masons, and also from the "operative" lodges of the previous centuries which enjoined total allegiance to the government and religion of the country in which the masons resided. Anderson's Constitutions, written in 1723 at the request of the Grand Lodge of England, paved the way for tolerance and mutual understanding, values that were offshoots of the British Enlightenment, in the wake of the writings of John Locke and Isaac Newton:

... 'tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves; that is to be good men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the centre of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance.1

The first lodges appeared in France in the 1730s, probably funded by English and Scottish Jacobites, and in the British colonies in North America about 1733. A significant landmark was the first American edition oí Anderson's Constitutions by Benjamin Franklin, a famous publisher and an icon of American freemasonry. Freemasonry developed steadily in England and Scotland throughout the eighteenth century and accompanied colonial expansion.2 The first lodges appeared in the Caribbean in the third and fourth decades of the eighteenth century in Martinique in 1738 with La Parfaite Union, in Jamaica in 1739 with the Lodge of Kingston No. 182, and in Barbados in 1740 with St Michael's Lodge No. 186, to name but a few.3

The Period 1788 to 1848

Why did freemasonry appear so late in Trinidad? Lionel Seemungal, who devoted a lot of attention to the beginning of masonry in the island, has discarded the religious factor, the weight of Catholicism, and quite rightly prefers a social explanation.4 The inhabitants of Trinidad, who were very few at the time, had little interest in freemasonry, mainly because they were too poor to consider joining lodges. The history of Les Frères Unis (the United Brothers) will be at the core of the present study, as the lodge remained the only one on the island for a very long time, in spite of a few marginal attempts at establishing others; a few other famous masons who had relations with Trinidad from the beginning of British colonization to slave emancipation will also be given some attention. The political and linguistic factors will also be taken into account.

A brief survey of the history of Trinidad is necessary in order to understand the development of early freemasonry there. Trinidad in the early nineteenth century was a paradox, probably a unique phenomenon: it was a French-speaking British colony with Spanish laws and institutions. General Ralph Abercrombie took control of the island in 1797, after an easy naval victory over the Spanish governor, Don José Maria Chacon. Indeed, few Spaniards lived on the island, which was mostly populated by the French at that time. The reason for this was simple enough: the Spaniards, in search of bullion, had been disappointed to find nothing but a tar lake, swamps and a modest tropical forest, and preferred to set sail for more profitable destinations such as Venezuela. …

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