This article was contributed by the Dinwiddie
Civil War Cenennial Commission to acquaint friends and citizens of
the County with some of Dinwiddie's local history.
Through a recent conversation with Lennie W. Coleman, Chairman of
Dinwiddie County Board of Supervisors and representative of Darvills
District, mysterious Masonic emblems and dates were reported by him
as being on a rock located on part of his land holdings in his
District a few yards north of Road 638 and a few feet west of Road
702 on Beaver Pond Creek. The rock is a few yards below a dam that
evidently was once a very early mill since old mill stones are
nearby, probably owned later by the eccentric Dinwiddian of many
years ago, Col. Joseph W. Harper (1807-88). It was thought this pond
was the one in which Col. Harper threw the picture of his famed
uncle, General Winfield Scott, with whom he became disgusted because
Gen. Scott did not resign from the U. S. Army and cast his lot with
the Confederacy and his fellow Dinwiddians in 1861. However, the
place the picture was thrown is still controversial — in Harper's
well and possibly in the Nottoway River where there was a Harper's
Masonic Lodge Hall Dinwiddie County
Coleman now lives on the old S. W. Ferguson place
that adjoined the main estate of Col. Harper's in Dinwiddie County,
to the west. The pond existed as late as 1878 since it was shown on
a map of the County drawn by the late Thomas F. Rives, Surveyor of
Dinwiddie County, in that year. Beaver Pond Creek flows into
Nottoway River and the dam and mill were about one-half mile north
of the river. As the result of investigation of the inscriptions, it
was found there was an early Masonic Lodge chartered in 1788 in
Dinwiddie County many years before the present one located at the
Courthouse was founded in 1874.
Inscribed on the rock that was eroded to the degree that the writing
had to he carefully traced with chalk to show the designs and
figures for photographing, are two Masonic emblems cut in the stone
along with the date Nov. 17, 1734, plus etchings where the year 1761
was subtracted from 1784 showing the difference of 23 Evidently the
person was born it 1761 who did some of the cutting and he was
probably that age a the time. Also, on another corner of the rock
was inscribed the year 1815. The flat rock, what is left of it, has
a diameter of approximately six feet.
The Headquarters of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Virginia was
contacted to see if it held any records that might prove a lodge
being in the county in 1784. There was no record of 1784, but the
Dinwiddie Union Lodge was found. It had been chartered on a direct
appeal to the Grand Lodge that adopted the following resolution:
"ORDERED:, THAT A CHARTER DO ISSUE TO THE DINWIDDIE UNION LODGE
NO. 23 TO BEAR DATE THE 27TH DAY OF MAY LAST." (1788).
This Lodge, chartered 173 years ago, one among the earliest in
Virginia, listed Francis Muir as the first Master, and two other
officers, George Pegram and William Hardaway - all three being from
prominent early Dinwiddie County families. Where the Lodge met is
not known. One rumor is that it was in ther western part of the
county, hut from some prominent members found, it would seem that it
might have met elsewhere in the County — even in the Courthouse
area. The Virginia Grand Lodge records stated that "the Dinwiddie
Union Lodge No, 23 meets in Mason Hall, Dinwiddie County, Va."
Other facts were found in the State records that "it was reported as
being dormant in 1816, remaining in that status until dropped by the
Grand Lodge in 1835". The 1802-3 roll of the Lodge, 159 years ago,
was the only one located in Richmond and the following 35 members
and their positions are listed below:
George Pegram, Master; John Pegram, Deputy Master: Baker Pegram,
Past Master; Joseph Goodwyn, Senior Warden; Robert Pegram, Junior
Warden; Thomas Field, Secretary; Isham E. Dabney, Treasurer; John
Colem Steward; Peter M. Hardaway, Senior Deacon; and Henry Dance,
Junior Deacon, were its officers.
Under Fellowcrafts were listed: Samuel Broadnax, James Sturdivant,
William Mason. and Thomas Woodlief. Listed as Entered Apprentices
were: Francis Gregory, Nathaniel Harper, Robert R. Hunnicut, John B.
Cole. and Hartwell Hitchcock.
Other members were: John Crawford, Burwell Carter, William Scott,
Nathaniel Dabney, William Hardaway, Benjamin Andrews, B. Harwell,
Herbert Gregory, Nathaniel Mason, Francis Woodlief, Mer. S. Gilliam,
Edward Pegram, Mr. John H. Harwell, Daniel C. Butts, Giles Crook,
and Henry Dance. Many prominent early Dinwiddie families were
represented in the above membership.
Before the Grand Lodge was contacted, some thought the present
active Lodge No. 136 at Dinwiddie Courthouse was an offshoot from
the Darvills Lodge since Henry Cousins was from that area who was a
Mason and moved to the Courthouse after or before, his election as
Sheriff of the County in the '60s and who was the first Master of
the present Dinwiddie Lodge. However, upon further information in
the Grand Lodge of Virginia and from Dinwiddie Lodge No. 136
records, other interesting facts were established. Records showed
that Henry Cousins was once a member of Petersburg Lodge No. 15 and
also affiliated with Blandford Lodge No. 3 in 1873 and withdrew
officially from this Lodge in 1875. There seems to have been no
connection between Lodges 23 and 136.
The Present Dinwiddie Lodge No. 136, located at the Courthouse, was
chartered on Dec. 16, 1874 with Henry Cousins as its first
Worshipful Master; John Y. Harris, Senior Warden and Dr. E. C.
Powell, Junior Warden — these being the only names on the charter
issued 87 years ago. Harris was afterwards Judge in the County and
held many County offices; and Dr. Powell, of McKenney, was once
Superintendent of Dinwiddie County Schools. The dues was 25 cents
monthly and the following eleven members were listed in December
1874 as paying members: Henry Cousins, B. F. Chappell, Col. W. M.
Feild, John Y. Harris, W. I. King, H. L. Moore, Dr. E. C. Powell, R.
H. Perkins, John C. Spain. Dr. W. F. Thompson, and Dr. Knox
Thompson. All, or most of these, had served the Confederacy in some
Evidently this early group built the present Lodge building before
it received title to the land upon which it now stands. The
following interesting information was found in the records of the
Dinwiddie County Clerk's Office recently where a deed dated October
4, 1880 stated that one fourth acre of land was given to the
Dinwiddie Lodge north of the old Boydton Plank Road for the purpose
of erecting thereon a hall. This was a gift from John Y. Harris and
his wife, Ella V. Roney Harris. The Harris offer had been accepted
in the Lodge meeting held on March 2, 1880, about seven months
before the deed was written. The deed stated the land was given by
Harris to the Lodge because of "interest felt by John Y. Harris in
said Lodge and for $1 in cash."
The provisions of the deed stated that the Lodge was permitted two
years in which to build, or finish, the building and permission was
granted the Lodge to borrow $300 thereon and during the two years to
complete the effort. It was further stipulated that if the above had
not been done within two years, or if ever the present site was not
used as a Masonic meeting site, the property would revert to the
Harris heirs. The deed was made to the Lodge with R. T. J. Spain,
Master; H. S. Moore, Senior Warden: and Thomas F. Rives, Junior
Warden. A. M. Orgain was listed in the deed as Secretary.
In the horse and buggy days, the Lodge hall was quite a social
center for many years after its erection. Many are the stories still
known by descendants of Dinwiddians of that era about the many
dances, balls, banquets, tournament crownings, and entertainments
enjoyed within its walls. The Courthouse people of the village
enjoyed life and gaiety for which they became noted in the rest of
the County and also in Petersburg.
The present Dinwiddie Masonic Lodge No. 136 has not forgotten its
benefactor and active early participant, John Y. Harris. His
portrait hangs on the walls of the Lodge today. The Masonic emblem
on the outside of the Lodge was impressively done by a very skilled
local woodworker of his day, the late Richard R. Crittenden.
In spite of the information since found, the engravings on the rock
along Beaver Pond Creek still remain enigmas. Who cut them? Why?
Maybe the Masonic emblems were cut after 1784 like 1815 was?
Probably the cuttings were done by the miller while awaiting
customers, Or by patrons of the mill who whiled away their time
while their grain was being ground? Too, maybe the mill was a
meeting center for local gossip by the men at the community who
indulged their artistic ability like people of today by their
cuttings on desks and trees?
Source: The Progress-Index, Sunday, July
30, 1961 Petersburg, Virginia