About Charity Lodge

Charlestown 20130908 00868We are going to travel briefly back in time, to 1865, in Hope Valley Rhode Island. At that time in late November, seven freemasons from the locality petitioned the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island to form a new lodge. Why did they do that?

Freemasonry began in Rhode Island in the 1740s with the Grand Lodge being constituted in 1793 and has seen two major periods of growth. The first period between 1793-1826 saw 19 lodges formed (1 closed 1848, 6 closed in the last decade,  12 remain active).

The anti-masonic period spanning 30 years or so from 1929 saw no new lodges although with the exception of Evening Star no lodges went dark at that time. History records that lodges continued to hold their meetings although no real work was done. By “work” we refer to the work of ritual – conferring degrees and growing the craft.

The period lasted until about 1847 but the craft found it difficult to regain momentum until the Centennial celebration of St John’s lodge 1P in 1857, which gave new confidence and stimulated interest to the extent that the second major period of growth in the State began at around this time. 

Between 1858 and 1878 20 lodges were formed (of which 10 remain. Atlantic closed in 1985 with the other 9 merging over the last 20 years).

Just to note: the next lodge to be formed was Overseas 40 in 1920, followed by 9 other  lodges the last of which was Al Hasa Lodge in 1966 (or, locally, Daylight lodge in 1965). Collegium Luminoscum was given its charter in 2015.

Both periods of growth in the State can be identified with major events in history of the country. The revolutionary war and the war of 1812 saw the birth of this nation, its continental expansion and its’ consolidation into a Republic. The civil war created schisms and exposed differences between States, governments and people but it also occurred at a major time of industrial growth especially here in Rhode Island.

RI was at the heart of the American Industrial Revolution and played a huge part in the civil war – a contribution out of all proportion to its size.  We furnished 25,236 fighting men to the Union armies, of which 1,685 died. We provided enormous quantities of materiel to the Union war effort – with some products ONLY being produced in Rhode Island. Across the state the diversity of industry was profound, with every town engaging in textiles – cotton, wool - and, to the north, heavy machinery. Overall, the value of the state’s cotton goods rose from $20 million in 1860 to $55 million in 1865; woolen goods from $4 million to $11 million.

Engines, boilers, shafting, gears, and heavy castings. produced hinges, nuts, bolts, screws, nails, agricultural tools, sewing machines, valves, winches, rivets, stoves, safes, files, cutlery, and springs. Precision gear-cutting machines, dividing machines, automatic screw machines, and gyroscopic tops. Sewing machines. Processes such as the development of a system of interchangeable parts on a large scale. 70,000 rifles, 10,400 cavalry sabers. 11-inch smoothbore Dahlgren guns and shells and 13-inch cannons. 100,000 carbines. Bayonets, horseshoes, military clothing, cavalry boots, military saddles.

The network of railroads provided communications between the northern New England states, Boston, New York and the south, and across the State itself.

Post-war immigration increased the population. From the 1860s to the 1880s, most of the immigrants were from England, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, and Quebec. Towards the end of the 19th century saw immigrants from South and Eastern Europe, and the Mediterranean.

In this context, Charity Lodge is no different from any other masonic lodge created at the time. The return of thousands of men from the war, the influx of immigrants to a new and thriving land, introduced the unknown into many communities.

The heart of Freemasonry teaches us that through defined and explainable lessons of morality and integrity, the qualities of a man may be affirmed  by masonic association, and that when a man is met as a Freemason such association transcends creed, race, religion.

So why was Charity Lodge formed.

  • Because of growth in the community.
  • Because of the need for people in communities to trust, work with, and agree with, those men around them; their neighbors, their fellow workers and professions.
  • And because of geography, and communications. From Hopkinton to Providence would have been a day-long journey. Hopkinton to Westerly and Franklin Lodge, or the nearest Lodges in CT, would have been many many hours away. Hope Valley had its own branch line from Wood River Junction and was, like Westerly, a “banking town”

So, like all Lodges established in this period of masonic and economic growth, Charity was formed in its community because that’s where men met, worked and lived.

It’s not a big story - it’s the story of freemasonry at the heart of the American community.

Early in November, 1865, seven Master Masons, members of different Lodges and all residing in the vicinity of Hope Valley, united in a petition to the Grand Master of Masons in Rhode Island, asking for a Dispensation to form a new Lodge, to be designated, "Charity Lodge, No. 23, Hope Valley." The request of the petitioners was granted, and the desired Dispensation issued by Most Wor. Bro. Thomas A. Doyle, Grand Master, who appointed Bro. John F. Jencks first Master of Charity Lodge. The Dispensation was dated November 27, 1865.

The first meeting of Charity Lodge, No. 23, U.D.,(Under Dispensation) was held December 28, 1865, in a room then occupied by Mechanics Lodge of Odd Fellows. At this meeting all the petitioners were present. The Lodge was opened in due form, and six applications for the degrees were received.

On Friday, November 9, 1866, the Grand Lodge was convened in Barber's Hall in Locustville, for the purpose of Constituting, Consecrating, and Dedicating Charity Lodge, No. 23, and installing the officers of said Lodge.

In the Fall of 1867, a larger hall was fitted up in John G. Arnold's new block expressly for the accommodations of Charity Lodge. This new and more commodious hall was formally dedicated by very interesting exercises held December 10, 1867. As on the former occasion when the Lodge was constituted, the exercises of dedication were public and were numerously attended. To illustrate the spirit that prevailed at that time in the community in regard to Freemasonry, it is worthy of mention that the ladies presented each officer with appropriate new regalia and also gave a set of alarms for the Lodge room. Besides these expressions of sympathy, they furnished refreshments and served the same at the banquet. The village church choir also rendered acceptable aid on the occasion of dedicating the new hall.

In 1985 Charity Lodge built a new lodge room in Kenyon, Charlestown, which is where we still meet today.

Charity Lodge has had no very eventful experiences but has gone forward in a steady and pleasant way, fulfilling the objects for which a Masonic organization is supposed to exist. It has cultivated peace and harmony among its members and sought to extend in every way possible the benign influences of Masonic principles and teachings. That it has exercised a useful ministry throughout the jurisdiction cannot be questioned by any who have watched its course with attention.


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