Johnstown: St. Patrick’s Masonic Lodge


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St Patricks Lodge 2008-1I noticed that there was a report in the Leader Herald on the Johnstown Masons of St. Patrick’s lodge, so I thought this bit of history might be timely:

St. Patrick’s Lodge No. 8 (now called St. Patrick’s Lodge No. 4) in Johnstown, NY, founded by Sir William Johnson, is one of the oldest Masonic Lodges in the State of New York. Sir William Johnson was raised a Master Mason on April 10, 1766, in Union Lodge No. 1, located in Albany, New York, (now Mount Vernon Lodge No. 3).Augustine Prevost, a brother of the Union Lodge, wrote to Johnson a few weeks earlier, on March 23, 1766, informing him that Johnson’s friend and fellow Masonic brother Normand McLeod, had formally notified Union Lodge of Johnson’s desire to be a master of a lodge in Johnstown. Prevost noted in the letter:

“…his Worship’s answer… when he desires, he should think himself honored in waiting on him at Johnson Hall if agreeable to the Lodge which at that time was in due form and no objection was made and as there is a meeting Thursday the 27th thought myself obliged to acquaint you that the consent of the Lodge will be asked, but perhaps you would rather greet them at Schenectady which will be equally alike and beg an answer on the subject.” [1]

Sir William intended that St. Patrick’s Lodge – composed of learned men of ability and consequence – become an integral part of his new village of Johnstown. The men, who would be counted among its membership, were gentlemen of note – politically, militarily, and socially. These men had the unique means and connections to enact change and build lasting institutions and communities on the New York colonial frontier. Sir William’s founding of St. Patrick’s lodge contributed to the development of a “social neighborhood” that was destined to define the character of the expanding boundaries of the New York frontier for generations to come.[2]

On May 23, 1766, a Charter was issued to St. Patrick’s Lodge No. 8 (rechartered after the American Revolution as St. Patrick’s No. 4) to constitute a regular lodge to be held in Johnstown in the County of Albany, Province of New York, in America. St. Patrick’s Lodge held its first meeting at Johnson Hall on August 23, 1766, with Sir William as Charter Master, his nephew Guy Johnson as Senior Warden, Daniel Claus as Junior Warden and John Butler as Secretary.

In June, 1766, just prior to the first meeting, Johnson wrote to Robert Adems, Johnstown merchant – and lodge brother.  Johnson requested several items:  a copy of a “discourse” given by the Reverend Thomas Brown of Albany, a copy of “exhortations” read to the brothers before “we walked” [probably between the Union lodge and the church], and noted to Adems that he needed from “Secry. Benson a Copy of their By Laws &ca.” and “… –to remind William Gamble a copy of “the Certificate wh. He was so good to promise to write for me. & let it be on parchment…”  The documents requested from the Union Lodge would be used as templates for scribing similar documents for St. Patrick’s Lodge. All of the men noted in the correspondence for the documents were lodge brothers in the Union Lodge. William Benson was secretary of the Union Lodge of Albany. [3]

Part of Johnson’s plan for his “social neighborhood,” which included cementing the relationship between men of influence in the lodges between Johnstown and Albany, centered on the expansion of his new village of Johnstown and his successful efforts at declaring it the county seat. This plan figured in the newsy letters from the founding of St. Patrick’s Lodge in 1766 until the end of his life.  The first letter on the appearance of his new village was penned just months after the first meeting of St. Patrick’s Lodge at Johnson Hall. He wrote to a friend, Daniel Burton, that

I have a large Tract of Land…on wch I have already settled about 130 Families,… Since wch I made choice of a good Situation within a small Mile of my House on a Public Road Where last Year I began to Erect several good Houses to form a Town Chiefly for Tradesmen &ca, of which 10 are already finished &inhabited & it being in the Midst of my other Settlements will Encrease very fast. I have also built a Very neat Stone Church which from its Vicinity to the Greatest part of the settlement will

Serve the Town & Neighbourhood, and I only want a good Clergyman to render my plan compleat…[4]

Johnson summarized his accomplishments five years later to Lord Adam Gordon:

With respect to Objects of more domestic Concern, I can give a Very pleasing acct, your Lordship would I am confident be not a little Surprised were you now in these parts to See the Vast Improvements and Additional Settlements within [the Space of]Little more than four Years. — The little Town which I began to erect shortly after your Departure [begins] allready [to] make a tolerable appearance, and I [already] find it necessary to rebuild the Church On a much larger Plan to accomodate the increase…The road [there] to wch. 3 y”. ago was thro’ an entire Wilderness is now one Continued Chain of Settlements…and the returns are neither large nor Sudden, but they [are Certain &] must Gradually encrease, in which View they afford an Agreable Prospect for posterity and a pleasing Satisfaction at present,… — The progress of Industry (to which I flatter myself I have in some degree Contributed,) has Extended far beyond these Settlements, — Two New Churches are built at Conajoharee Two more at the German flatts, [and] some Settlements are began far beyond it and near to Fort Stanwix, and more are to be made the ensuing Spring, if not prevented by a War…[5]

 Fitting Out the Lodge – Utensils

St. Patrick’s Lodge enjoys a unique distinction among the older lodges on several counts: The current officers still wear the original jewels of 1766; the Lodge is in possession of it’s original Charter; and also is in possession of the complete set of minutes for every meeting held from its inception in 1766 at Johnson Hall to the present time at its current location.

Johnson’s preparations were underway, close on his being raised a mason, for the fitting out of the lodge. In the same month Johnson was raised as a Master Mason, Normand MacLeod noted his extreme pleasure and “quiet satisfaction” at being commissioned to serve Johnson in gathering the necessary utensils to outfit the first meetings of St. Patrick’s Lodge in Johnson Hall. The MacLeod letter is one of many which were damaged in a devastating 1911 Albany library fire. The contents of the burned letters previous to the fire had been calendared and some of those letters that survived but with damage have sections missing in the bodies of the letters. The MacLeod letter is one of those.

The first meetings of St. Patrick’s Lodge took place in one of the finest rooms in the house, the bedroom or chamber over the Blue Parlor.  MacLeod noted that he could quickly have some items ready for Johnson Hall:  “…Batons… two Boxes, one pritty large…and Utensils for the lodge…there also ought to be a very [    ]cting the Ballots when a Brother is accepted [     ] upon any Occasion.”

MacLeod brought some of the utensils with him to Johnson Hall. He implied that some could be easily made in Johnson’s area, but he had noted that some of the more ornate items, which would have been made of silver and other metals, required “chasing.” The items requiring chasing would be best made elsewhere, the area in the letter burned away which would have noted the location. Superb craftsmen in silver and other metals were working in both Albany and in New York City, the finest in New York City. [6]

The original jewels, dated with 1766 on each one and noted above as still in use in the current Lodge, bear no maker’s marks but historically were recorded as having been crafted by the noted 18th century New York City silversmith Myer Myers. One of the best sources is a calendared letter that no longer survives intact. The letter, dated one year after the inception of St. Patrick’s Lodge at Johnson Hall, also points to the often long spans of time between a request and a fulfillment and actual reception of a crafted object. John Wetherhead, Masonic brother and New York City purchasing agent to Sir William Johnson, noted on February 11, 1767, that he was sending “some jewels” and enclosing Myer Myers bill.[7]

Not included in the MacLeod letter but essential to the operation of the lodge would have been a “flooring or painted floor- cloth, an instrument used for depicting the “symbolism associated with the degree presented. Referring to these symbols, the Master delivered a catechism on the moral and philosophical meaning of the degree.” “The contents of early American lodge inventories reflect that rarely was more than one floor-cloth mentioned. More often” a single floor-cloth “was termed a “flooring compleat,” “indicating an all purpose design applicable for all three craft degrees.” [8]  This would have been one of the utensils MacLeod could easily have transported to Johnson Hall when he brought the items listed in the letter.

No image of the original floor-cloth exists. The floor-cloth displayed in the chamber where lodge meetings were originally held is based on a 1764 Irish floor-cloth.

Leather aprons, originally used by operative masons to clothe themselves for their physical work, were – in the early 18th century –  used by speculative masons to clothe themselves for temporal work.  By the last half of the 18th century highly decorative aprons, believed to be owned by Col. John Butler, were made of materials, such as cotton and silk, imported from the Far East or Europe, ornately printed or hand-painted with Masonic symbolism.

Festivals and Feasting

Festivals and feasting, always an important element of lodge ceremony, provided an opportunity for social interaction, “cementing the bonds of brotherly love,” and displaying a presence and generosity within the community. Correspondence abounds confirming Union Lodge and St. Patrick’s Lodge celebrating the Feasts of Saints John, who “have been regarded as patrons of Masonry since the 16th century.” There were two notable celebrations, one on June 24 and the second on the day after St. Stephan’s Day, usually December 27. Feasting and visiting friends and neighbors were much in evidence in these celebrations, but religious and political conflict were often just as evident and possibly accentuated in the more public display of men of power and influence expressing ritual within community celebrations. John Wetherhead, in a lengthy discourse on political factions in Albany, cited problems in the usual jovial June celebration of St. John’s Day:

I arrived here St. John’s day, when there was a grand procession of the whole fraternity, and a very excellent sermon preached by Dr. Auchmuthy, at Trinity Church, on the occasion. At the same time a collection was made for the city, which I think

amounted to £200. Would you think it — but it is true — that the Presbyterians immediately labored to convert this charitable affair to the disadvantage of the church of England, and the part which they take in the election ensuing? Will Smith and W.

Livingston, got an old rascally sermon, called “Masonry the sure Guide to Hell,” reprinted and distributed it with great assiduity, . . . and there is, this day, an extraordinary lodge held on the occasion in order to consult means to resent the affront.[9]

Processing from the lodge meeting to the church was an important ritual element of the festivals. The December 28th minutes scribed in the original St. Patrick’s Lodge minute book note the lodge members “marched in procession to Saint Johns Church in the village of Johnstown, where Divine Service (& Sermon suitable to the occasion) was performed by the Rev.d Mr. Rosencrantz. From whence returned in like order, and held the Feast of St. John at the House of B.r Tice then Closed Lodge until the lst Thursday in February next.”  Those listed as absent [Daniel Campbell, John Butler, James Frey, George Croghan, Christopher Yates, and John Tarleton], present [Sir William Johnson, Guy Johnson, Daniel Claus, Robert Adems, Benjamin Roberts, Michael Byrne, John Constable, James Phyn, Alexander Ellice, Hendrick Frey] and visiting [Daniel Denniston, Moses Ibbit, Gilbert Tice, Augustine Provost, and Joseph Irwin] were a virtual “Who’s Who” of notable men in the political, social and economic arena between the New York frontier settlement of Johnstown and the Albany area.

Gilbert Tice operated a Johnstown tavern, which became the meeting place for the lodge beginning in 1768 and a venue for festival and meeting night drinking and feasting. Used in the rounds of toasting were “firing glasses,” a heavy bottomed, substantial conical glass that was struck on the table as a point of emphasis. Firing glasses were called “canons” and to drink “a charge” was to “fire a canon,’ the sound made by the heavy-bottomed glasses, as they were returned to the table was fancifully said to resemble the thunderous roar of ordnance.” Firing glasses were ordered by Johnson for Johnson Hall and may well have been among the 58 drinking glasses inventoried in the Blue Parlor just below the lodge room at Johnson Hall.

Lodge minutes from St. Patrick’s imply that the expenses for lodge refreshment at Tice’s Tavern had begun to mount above the lodge’s desire, or possible ability, to control. This led to an opinion proposed by the assemblage of names listed above with additions of Nicholas Herkimer, Edward Wall,  Peter TenBroeck, Normand MacLeod, and Samuel Sutton. Edward Wall was a schoolmaster in Johnstown, and Samuel Sutton crafted furniture for both Johnson Hall and St. John’s Church:

We the Subscribers a Committee appointed to Settle the Expences of St. Patricks Lodge No. 8 each Lodge Night are of Opinion as follows—

1. That the Expence of each Lodge Night shall not exceed Seven Shillings.

2. That there be a proper person appointed to order in what Liuor the Body wants, & he only to be applied to for the same.

3. That Brother Tice be ordered to keep a Regular Book for the use of the Lodge only & to bring in a regular bill as soon as called for.

4. That the bill is to be called at or before 11 o’clock every Lodge Night.

5. We are also of opinion that those Members who have pass’d and not attended the Lodge in a regular manner hitherto, are once more to have Notice & for the first offence afterward, are to be fined one Dollar, & then to be dealt with as the Body thinks proper. [10]

Sir William Johnson died on July 11, 1774. He had been addressing grievances brought to his attention by a large gathering of native Americans complaining about their treatment at Fort Pitt. Sir William collapsed from the effects of long illness and died that evening. On July 13, over 2000 people attended the funeral of Sir William Johnson, prominent among them his bretheren from both Union Lodge in Albany and St. Patrick’s Lodge in Johnstown. Other notable personages, including Governor William Franklin of New Jersey and, congregating from even greater distances, chiefs and warriors of the Six Nations. Johnson’s body was carried from Johnson Hall and laid to rest in the family vault under the altar of St. John’s Church in his village of Johnstown.

  Sir William Johnson’s will provided directions for inviting “that ye sachems of both Mohawk villages [Canajoharie and Fort Hunter] be invited to my funeral…I leave to the direction of my executors to get such of my friends and acquaintances for bearers as they shall judge most proper…”

  Also provision was made for selected St. Patrick’s Lodge brothersJohn Butler, Jelles Fonda, John Dease, James Stevenson, Henry Frey and Joseph Chew Esq’ – be and act as Guardians or Trustees of my before mentioned Eight Children by Mary Brant my present Housekeeper in full confidence that (from the close connection of the former, and the long un[in]terrupted friendship subsisting between me & the latter,) they would strictly and as Brothers inviolably observe and Execute this my last charge to them. The Strong dependence on, & expectation of which unburthens my mind, allays my cares, & makes a change the less alarming. And this I would willingly in some measure (altho trifling) Testify my regard & friendship for the above mentioned Gentlemen.

All the men listed as guardians were members of St. Patrick’s Masonic Lodge at Johnstown, except Dr. Samuel Stringer and James Stevenson of the Albany Lodge.[11]

One of the most touching tributes to the greatness of Sir William Johnson’s accomplishment was written by a mourner in the July procession to St. John’s Church:

I left the Hall last evening,” wrote Peter Van Schaack to his brother Henry, a few days after the Baronet’s decease, “where everything wears the face of sorrow for the irreparable loss of that great and good man, Sir William Johnson,-a loss at once to the public, and a numerous train of the indigent and unfortunate, who derived support from his unequalled benevolence and generosity. My jaunt up to Johnstown has given me an opportunity of seeing so many instances of his goodness; the settlement there compared with what it was a few years ago, so abundantly shows his greatness of mind, and the extensiveness of his views, where a little world has, as it were, been formed by his hand, that I own I consider him as THE GREATEST CHARACTER OF THE AGE.” [capital letters in the original document] [12]

Conclusion:

St. Patrick’s Lodge endured, despite war-time disturbance and the political division of the brothers. Except for a period of time during the Revolutionary War – May 5, 1774 to February 2, 1786-  the Lodge has met continuously. There was a lull in its activities during the anti-Masonic period when, for several years, the Lodge met but once a year to elect officers, and no new candidates were initiated from 1831 to 1843.

In an extraordinary effort to preserve the utensils and documents of the original lodge,  Sir John Johnson, in his flight to Canada, took with him the Lodge’s Charter, minute book and jewels.  Eventually all were returned to St. Patrick’s Lodge. As a result, St. Patrick’s Lodge No. 4 is one of very few colonial Lodges known to possess it’s original Charter, Minute Book,  and jewels, which are used to this day by the current lodge officers.


[1] State University of New York, Sir William Johnson Papers. Letter from Augustine Prevost to Sir William Johnson, Albany, March 23, 1766. Vol. V, 95.

[2] John Guzzardo, Sir William Johnson’s Official Family: Patron and Clients in a Anglo=American Empire, 1742-1777, quoted from the “Minutes of St. Patrick’s Lodge, St. Patrick’s Archives, Johnstown, New York. Syracuse University Press, dissertation, 1975, 234.

[3] Johnson Papers, Letter to Robert Adams from Sir William Johnson, Johnson Hall, June 26, 1766. Vol. XII, 114.

[4]Ibid, Letter from Sir William Johnson to Daniel Burton, Johnson Hall, November 8, 1766. Vol. V, 413.

[5] Ibid., Letter from Sir William Johnson to Lord Adam Gordon, Johnson Hall, February 18, 1771. Vol. XII, 893-894.

[6] Ibid., Letter from Normand MacLeod to Sir William Johnson, New York, April 14, 1766, damaged by fire. Vol. V, 166.

[7] Ibid., Letter from John Wetherhead to Sir William Johnson, destroyed by fire, February 11, 1767. Vol. V, 490.

[8] Floor-cloth design by historian and artist, Jennifer Frantz, Americana Floorcloths, Perrysburg, Ohio.

[9] Johnson Papers, Letter from John Wetherhead to Sir William Johnson, New York, January 9, 1769. Vol. VI, 576.

[10] Minute Book, St. Patrick’s Lodge #4, F&AM, St. Patrick’s Archives. Monday, December 28, 1767; August 4, 1769; March 7, 1771.

[11] Ibid. Will of Sir William Johnson,  January 27, 1774. Vol. XII, 1074-75.

[12] Quoted by William L. Stone in The Life and Times of Sir William Johnson, Bart, (Albany: J. Munsell, 78 State Street, 1865), Vol. II, Chapter XX.

Photo courtesy Fulton-Montgomery Masonic District.

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