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Early Masonic History of Dinwiddie County

 

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 Mill.

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 capacity.

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

 

2007 Nola Duffy or individual contributors. No portion of the data available here may be reproduced for further publication without express consent of the original contributor.  Last updated: 07/28/2007

 

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