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“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”— Franklin D. Roosevelt, American President and Freemason
The following is a fine article by Worshipful Brother Shawn Carrick which illustrates the importance of careful research in determining the truth and the value of documenting the past.
When was the Cornerstone at Fort Snelling Actually Laid?
By Brother Shawn R. Carrick
Master, Red Wing Lodge #8
Member, Education Committee of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota
As Masons, we are constantly seeking further light in Masonry. On my quest for further light in Masonry I became a part of the Education Committee of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota submitting some of the Monday Morning Masonic questions to Brother Adam for consideration for publication. One of my questions that I poised was
“Where is the oldest Masonic cornerstone located in what is now Minnesota and when was it laid? “
The cornerstone in question is located at Historic Fort Snelling on the Commanders house. It was not until I started to research who had placed this cornerstone that I discovered that the inscriptions contained on the cornerstone may cause many historians to scratch their heads. My research began with an educational trip to the Fort where I was given a short tour starting at the building that contained what is believed to be a piece of the original cornerstone and provided me with a copy of a newspaper article. The article was from October 9th, 1862, page 1, col. 6, of the Saint Paul Pioneer which stated:
“A relic – In tearing down a portion of the stone building at Fort Snelling, the workmen found a cornerstone, which bore the following inscription: ‘The quarters of the Commanding officer of Fort Snelling, Wisconsin, laid May, A.D. 1822 – A.L. 5822 – by Wm. Goddard, Master Builder. James Delany, stone in cutter.’ Below was a square and compass, with the letter G.”
This article was written only 40 years after the cornerstone is said to have been laid, and if the article is factually correct about what was on the cornerstone at the time the article was printed, then we must question the information inscribed on the cornerstone we now see today. The cornerstone of the actual fort is documented to have been laid on September 10, 1820 and the barracks being documented to have been completed in November of 18221. This would support the information contained in the Masonic cornerstone for the commanding officers quarters.
What I find of interest is that the Masonic cornerstone is engraved indicating that is was laid in “The quarters of the Commanding officer of Fort Snelling, Wisconsin, laid May, A.D. 1822”. The date in 1822 and the location of Wisconsin are not entirely consistent with other historical information regarding the development of Territories and States.
The expansion of the United States westerly resulted in many areas changing the title of the geographic areas as different territories and ultimately new States were formed. “When first erected in 1819 the fort [Fort Snelling] was in the Territory of Missouri (1812–1821). Then followed a number of years in which it was in unorganized territory (1821–1834). The Territory of Michigan (1834–1836), the Territory of Wisconsin (1836–1838), and the Territory of Iowa (1838–1846) successively had jurisdiction over it; while in 1849 it fell within the newly-organized Territory of Minnesota.”7 With Wisconsin being listed on the cornerstone a more in depth look at the territory and State boundaries is necessary.
The Wisconsin Territory was formed due to its separation from the Michigan Territory in 1836 as Michigan was moving to statehood. Wisconsin was brought into the union when it received statehood on May 29, 1848.2 The western boundary of Wisconsin was set between the years of 1846 and 1848 when Stephen Douglas, who was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Territories, blocked an attempt to set the Mississippi River as the border for Wisconsin.3 After 1848, with the continued growth westward and additional states being formed from their territories, the Fort was geographical located in the Iowa Territory until the Minnesota Territory was formed on March 1849 and subsequently was granted statehood on May 11, 1858.3 4 7
These territorial and statehood dates would tend to indicate that the newspaper article and the inscription on the cornerstone do not contain correct, historically accurate information. For the cornerstone to have been laid in May 1822, the fort would have to have been in the Missouri Territory. The Wisconsin Territory having been formed on April 20, 1836 by an act of Congress5 and Wisconsin being granted statehood in 1848 would lead a researcher to ponder that the inscription of “Fort Snelling, Wisconsin” may be incorrect. This also leads to the question, what part of the cornerstone is “factually” correct? Was the cornerstone laid in 1822 or was it laid at a later date when the Fort was considered part of the Wisconsin Territory or the State of Wisconsin?
In a further attempt to provide the basis for a date of the cornerstone being laid, I attempted to locate the two men listed on the cornerstone, Wm (William) Goddard and James Delany and their possible Masonic affiliation.
Their Masonic membership could not be confirmed by Grand Lodges that were in existence during the time they were stationed at Fort Snelling, but this does not preclude the possibility that these men may have belonged to a military Masonic lodge.
Military Lodges were also referred to as Traveling Lodges as these lodges were normally formed with the regimental commander being issued a charter and the furniture of the lodge which would travel with that specific regiment from location to location. Membership in a Military lodge was normally limited to Military personnel of a specific rank within the regiment, and during construction of the fort, the 5th infantry regiment was stationed there. Because the records of these Lodges were carried by the members, the written record of its Masonic history is almost non-existent.6
When contact with the different Grand Lodges of that era was made, it was uncovered that there have been a number of Military lodges throughout the different jurisdictions but their individual records have been lost to the ages and with it the documentation regarding new and affiliate members and any information that may have been documented in the lodge minutes regarding the laying of cornerstone, funerals or other activities.
The issue of records being lost was one concern of the numerous Grand Lodges for Military lodges but another concern arose from several Grand Lodges. “Several Grand Lodges issued no dispensations, feeling either that the military Lodges were making Masons who could not have gained admission back home, or that such Lodges were an infringement on the Grand Lodge where the troops were stationed.”8
Because of the lack of information in our early Masonic history, and more specifically the history from military traveling Masonic lodges, I can only say that there is geographical inconsistencies with the information contained on the current cornerstone, and if the inscription of Wisconsin is to be accepted as fully credible, I would suggest that the replacement cornerstone was laid sometime between the years 1836 and 1848. Further I believe it was laid to honor the Masons, who were both operative and proven Speculative Masons, at the fort who completed the work when the Commandant’s house was built in 1822 by Masons who living in the area. It is highly likely that my belief may not be completely as the exploration of the new frontier and the Traveling Masonic Lodges have had almost all the records lost to the ages.
My advice that I offer the members of our Fraternity is that we must make an effort to document our past not only to have for remembrance, but so that we have knowledge about our fraternities beginning, which has left many wondering where we came from and what challenges those Brothers who came before us experienced.
1 Minnesota Historical society website “events.mnhs.org/media/Kits/Sites/hfs/Timeline.htm”
2 Wisconsin Historical Society website “www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp-014/?action=more_essay”
3 Minnesota territorial pioneers website “www.mnterritorialpioneers.org/info/hist/territory.htm”
4 Wikipedia website “en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History of Minnesota Territory”
5 Wisconsin Statutes 1922, Volume II, p2701
6 THE MILITARY AND FREEMASONRY, by James M. Pollard, published in the VIRGINIA MASONIC HERALD, April 1989.
7 OLD FORT SNELLING 1819-1858, by Marcus L. Hansen, published at Iowa City Iowa in 1918 by the State Historical Society of Iowa.
8 THE MILITARY AND FREEMASONRY By James M. Pollard, JW, Cherrydale Lodge No. 42, published in the VIRGINIA MASONIC HERALD, April 1989
Words to Live By: “What is a diary as a rule? A document useful to the person who keeps it. Dull to the contemporary who reads it and invaluable to the student, centuries afterwards, who treasures it.”–Sir Walter Scott
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Harold E “Phil” Phillips, Jr, PM
Aurora 43, Newburg, WV