Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Freemasonry in Barbados before 1914: The Limits of Brotherhood

Academic journal article The Journal of Caribbean History

Freemasonry in Barbados before 1914: The Limits of Brotherhood

Article excerpt


Freemasonry is one of the oldest surviving legacies of European imperialism in the Caribbean. Academic research on the movement's history in this region has remained rare and the few published works tend to be commemorative, celebratory or simply antiquarian. Yet, the Craft1 was an important social organization in civil society, facilitating colonial sociability and stimulating intellectual thought on the social order. By the late eighteenth century conspiracy theories abounded in Europe concerning the "levelling" and revolutionary intent of fraternal "secret" orders such as Freemasonry.2 A number of the revolutionary founding fathers of the United States were noted Freemasons,3 and a lodge under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Jamaica supported the revolutionary struggles for independence in parts of Latin America.4

Freemasonry formally espoused an idealized brotherhood of man. Accounts of the origins of the Craft have attracted much debate and dispute, but its "operative" origins, with organic linkages to the medieval guilds of stonemasons, are emphasized in many Masonic accounts. Andrew Durr, for instance, contends that the origin of Freemasonry is part of the social history of friendly societies and benefit clubs of the English artisan class.5 Although employing Judaeo-Christian canons, history and symbolism, Freemasonry consciously sought to transcend narrow religious sectarianism and political partisanship. "Let a man's religion or mode of worship be what it may", states the Constitutions, "he is not excluded from the order, provided he believe [sic] in the glorious architect of heaven and earth, and practise the sacred duties of morality".6

Politics and religion were not to be discussed in Masonic lodges as these topics were deemed to be divisive. A candidate for Masonic initiation, as an Entered Apprentice, leaves his watch, ring, cufflinks and other valuables in the anteroom of the lodge and enters the lodge blindfolded as "a poor candidate in a state of darkness".7 Symbolically, this means that his class and rank in the outside world no longer matter.

Of course, these principles of egalitarianism and latitudinarianism were ideals that remained unrealized in both Europe and the colonies. However, Freemasonry did succeed in promoting a degree of tolerance and social inclusion. For example, Jews were accepted into Freemasonry from the eighteenth century, despite sociopolitical discrimination against them in Britain and her possessions.8 The membership of Freemasonry in eighteenth-century England also reflected a broad social spectrum ranging from the literati, royalty and landed aristocracy to Irish journeymen and the artisan class. In June 1717, the Grand Lodge of England was formed to provide institutional cohesion for English Masonic lodges. By the 1730s Freemasonry had spread to the English North American and West Indian colonies. In the British Caribbean, Masonic lodges were established in Antigua in 1738, St Christopher and Jamaica in 1739 and Barbados in 1740. The first Masonic lodge in Barbados was the St Michael's Lodge 186, founded under the auspices of the Premier ("Moderns") Grand Lodge of England on March 12, 1740 by Alexander Irvine (1694-1743).9 The Provincial Grand Lodge was established in the same year, and by 1791 six other lodges were operating under its jurisdiction.

In England a rival Grand Lodge referred to as the "Antients" was formed on July 17, 1751, ostensibly over the issue of ritual changes by the "Moderns". However, as Hamhill points out, many of the "Antients" were Irish journeymen, artisans, tradesmen and minor professionals and suffered social discrimination from the established Grand Lodge.10 The "Antients", too, established Masonic lodges in the region, warranted the Albion 263 (later 196) as its first Barbadian lodge in December 1790 and established three others by 1804. On December 27, 1813, formal reunification between the "Antients" and "Moderns" led to the founding of the United Grand Lodge of England, which became recognized as the sole authority over the lodges in England, Wales and overseas territories. …

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