The Underplay Committee

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson

You're lodge's most important committee you didn't even know you had, is the Underplay Committee. Maybe you've even been on this committee and didn't even realize it!

Let me paint a quick picture--a petition comes into your lodge, the Master assigns the Investigation Committee. Assuming everything else went the correct and prescribed way, e.g. the man came into the lodge, met the brothers several times, then petitioned with his fees, it's now time for the Investigation Committee to vet this potential man.

This committee is so very important. The committee is charged with investigating the character of a man to determine whether or not he will be a good fit for Freemasonry and his local lodge. Questions the committee will often ask as primers are; "Do you believe in a supreme power?" "Do you have any felonies?" "Does your significant other understand and are they okay with you joining?"

Of course these are good questions to get started, and this my Brothers, is when the Investigation Committee much like a caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly, does the opposite and devolves. Instead of rising to the occasion and asking the hard questions of a man to see if they meet the standards, we most often do something else.

We change into the Underplay Committee. The candidate will ask, "How much is this?" The committee chuckles and tells the prospective how cheap it is. When the prospective asks about the time commitment, the committee informs the man that he just has to get through the degrees and after that, it doesn't really matter how much he shows up. "It's okay, you don't *have* to be there." Challenging him to, "Put into it what he wants to get out of it." This puts the onus squarely on him.

We begin to throw everything of substance out the window, completely underplaying any responsibility or commitments we would ever hold to the perspective member.

While I was chatting the other night with a great friend and Brother,  RWB:. Hamann, we got on this topic. It dawned on me that this practice is really no different than getting an American Express card. Except that maybe, the Amex folks run a better check on you before you're allowed to get the card than we do when allowing you to join. Think about it. You apply. You pay a yearly fee, (The original fee based Amex is likely more expensive than your dues, by the way.), and you can use the card when you want to. It sits in your wallet, just like your dues card, only used when you feel like employing its aid.

Why are we underplaying the commitments of being a Mason? Are we so scared to lose someone that we alter what should be and has historically been, the foundation of this organization? Are we scared that a man has shown interest and that we've invested some significant time in meeting the prospective, that it would be wasted if he were to shy away now? What are we scared of?

We have nothing to lose from doing our jobs. What we have to gain from proper investigation and having standards, is EVERYTHING.


RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Waukegan Lodge No. 78 where he is a Past Master. He is also a Past District Deputy for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry and is also an avid home brewer. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.

Let Hiram Do It

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Bill Hosler

There is a poem entitled “Let George Do It” (I searched but could not find the name of the author). In the poem, everyone in the town pushes all their work and obligations onto poor “George”, instead of shouldering their own responsibilities. Soon George is running everything, while everyone else is having fun and society falls apart due to neglect.

I think something like this happens in every lodge. Everyone wants to be part of the fun. Dinners with white tablecloths and gourmet food served on fine china. Toasts to the health and longevity of the lodge, fun, and merriment for all. But when the lights go out, the crystal glasses are empty and the last bite of food has been consumed, no one wants to wash and dry the dishes. Let “Hiram” do it.

It’s fun to have a big degree night with Brethren from all over. The happy talk and handshakes make the evening a special evening everyone will remember for a long time. The next day who is there to empty the wastepaper baskets or sweep the lodge room floor. Let “Hiram” do it.

Everyone always assumes “Hiram” will be there to plan events, pay for materials needed and clean up afterward. “Hiram” is the one that is expected to get up early on a Saturday morning. To help clean and repair everyones Masonic Temple. To work at the pancake breakfast, which by the way,  the lodge voted to hold, so they won’t have to raise the yearly dues five dollars a year. But what if there isn’t a “Hiram” there to do all the nasty work you don’t want to do? Chances are it doesn’t get done, and our temples begin to disintegrate. Long-standing traditions tend to get abandoned. Sound familiar?

Not long ago the Grand Lodge of Illinois held a “Masonic Pride day”. Basically, The Grand lodge asked the Brethren of their jurisdiction to wear Masonic branded clothing on a certain Saturday while they were out enjoying their weekend. This was done to display pride and membership, and possibly create an interest in Freemasonry within the profane world.

I thought this was a great idea. If Illinois could do it why couldn’t Masons in other jurisdictions take part and don a Masonic T-shirt or ball cap on the same Saturday? So I posted their graphics and hashtag on my social media and on the Midnight Freemasons Instagram page.

The posts garnered a lot of interest and I saw Brethren from many jurisdictions posting photos of themselves in their Masonic clothing and using the hashtag. Maybe with promotion, in a few years, this can become an annual event.

Sadly, one thing troubled me in some ofthe comments on these posts. Although most of the replies to these posts were positive so many comments were along the lines of, “I wish our Grand Lodge would do this.” or "I wish someone around here would start something like this.”

I have been seeing comments like these on many posts being shared around the Masonic world. There are always people saying, “I wish someone would do this here” or “I wish our Grand lodge would do this.” My thought is, Why don’t you start it?

All good ideas must start somewhere, usually at the grass-roots level of membership. If it is successful, others take notice and may adopt the program themselves, and eventually they may become something that benefits everyone. What if everyone sat around the Lodge room and complained and ex[ected “Hiram” to start it? Eventually, something that could benefit everyone would fly away to that place in Heaven, that all good ideas are laid to rest.

Brethren, if we want to try new things (Or bring back old traditions which we have cast aside) we need to each be willing to take part, and use our strengths and God-given talents to at least try to make that event a success. If it works; Awesome! Carry on! If it fails, you go back to the drawing board and come up with another idea.

Brothers, you don’t need a large group to make a change, just several men who are willing to try.


WB Bill Hosler was made a Master Mason in 2002 in Three Rivers Lodge #733 in Indiana. He served as Worshipful Master in 2007 and became a member of the internet committee for Indiana's Grand Lodge. Bill is currently a member of Roff Lodge No. 169 in Roff Oklahoma and Lebanon Lodge No. 837 in Frisco,Texas. Bill is also a member of the Valley of Fort Wayne Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Indiana. A typical active Freemason, Bill also served as the High Priest of Fort Wayne's Chapter of the York Rite No. 19 and was commander of of the Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4 of the Knight Templar. During all this he also served as the webmaster and magazine editor for the Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne Indiana.

Benjamin B. French

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor, 
RWB Lloyd G. Lyon

Benjamin B. French

“Arguably no Mason has been associated with more public Masonic
functions over a longer period in the Capitol than Bro. French.”

The nineteenth century was the time of many prominent Masons, but Bro. Benjamin French was such an exceptional one that he requires special notice.

Benjamin B. French was born September 4, 1800 in Chester New Hampshire.  His father was a lawyer of high standing and for several years Attorney General of the State of New Hampshire.

In 1819 he went to Boston hoping to go to sea. Failing to obtain a berth on a ship, he enlisted as a soldier in the United States Army and was stationed at Fort Warren on Governor's Island in the harbor of Boston. He was appointed a Sergeant soon after enlisting and faithfully performed his duty for about four months when, at the request of his friends who provided a substitute, he left the army on September 12, 1819.

He then returned to his father's, he began the study of law, which he pursued with diligence for five years, that being the time fixed by the bar rules of New Hampshire. At the February 1825 term of the Court of Common Pleas for the County of Rockingham, held at Portsmouth, he was admitted an attorney at law.

He was thus a lawyer by profession and following his marriage in 1825 to Elizabeth Smith Richardson (1805-1861), daughter of Chief Justice of New Hampshire William Merchant Richardson and a cousin of Judge William A. Richardson, formerly Secretary of the Treasury, he became active in politics, serving as Assistant Clerk of the State Senate of New Hampshire (1828-1830).

Initiated in 1826 in New Hampshire and courageously serving Corinthian Lodge as Master in 1831, 1832, and 1833 during the Anti-Masonic period, he was also Grand Marshal of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire.
He was later elected to the New Hampshire State Legislature (1831-1833). While in the Legislature, he was the proprietor and editor of the New Hampshire Spectator.

French's chief contribution to an understanding of the 19th century is his eleven-volume journal of almost four thousand pages, which was begun in August of 1828 and was faithfully kept up until shortly before his death in the nation's capital in 1870. Roughly one third of the journal was published in one volume in 1989 under the title Witness to the Young Republic, A Yankee's Journal, 1828-1870, edited by Donald B. Cole and John J. McDonough.

He knew 12 presidents and their administrations intimately over 40+ years, from Bro. Andrew Jackson (1833) to Bro. Andrew Johnson (1867) and organized Lincoln’s inaugural and the Gettysburg memorial dedication (at which Lincoln have his famous address). His house was on the site of the present Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

After moving to Washington in 1846 he joined National Lodge No. 12, was elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Washington D.C. from 1847 to 1853, and in 1868 became Grand Master again after much persuasion. He was active in both the York and Scottish Rites.

After moving to Washington, on May 7, 1846, Brother French was affiliated with National Lodge No.12 of the District of Columbia and on November 3, 1846, he was elected Grand Master of the District of Columbia and served for seven consecutive years. While Grand Master, he laid the cornerstones of the east extension of the United States Capitol Building, the Smithsonian Institute (1847), and the Washington Monument (1848).

Companion French was exalted in Columbia Chapter No. 1 Royal Arch Masons on November 5, 1846, and later served as Excellent High Priest of that chapter.

He also served as the Most Excellent Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of the District of Columbia. Sir Knight French was knighted in DeWitt Clinton Encampment, Brooklyn, New York on April 5, 1847, and became Eminent Commander of Washington Commandery No. 1 (D.C.) on its revival in 1847, serving for eleven years.

In 1850, accompanied by President Zachary Taylor, he laid the cornerstone of the Washington Monument in Richmond, Virginia.

(George Washington’s
Masonic Apron)

Again as Grand Master, wearing the original apron used by Washington, French laid the cornerstone of the Capitol extension on July 4, 1851, following which a pilgrimage was made to Washington’s tomb with an address given by French.

In 1851 French had received the degrees of the Scottish Rite and on December 12, 1859, SGC Albert Pike conferred upon him the 33°.  He was the first Mason from the District of Columbia to be so honored.

 In 1853, French was named the Commissioner of Public Buildings under President Franklin Pierce. As the Commissioner of Public Buildings, French was responsible for the care of all federal buildings in Washington, D.C., including the United States Capitol. French would lose his job because of his anti-slavery views.

In his diary French describes an early encounter with Albert Pike on Wednesday, January 12, 1853: “passed the day at my office and the Capitol, and in the evening attended a meeting of the Encampment of Knights Templars, and conferred the orders on Albert Pike, Esq. of Arkansas. He is a scholar and a poet. Was an officer in the Mexican War and a man I am disposed to hold in high estimation.”

Then, on February 6, 1853: “Thursday evening, Washington Encampment met and we conferred the orders of Knighthood on General Sam Houston. We had a full encampment, and everything went off admirably.”

Brother French had the distinction of having a Lodge named in his honor while he was a sitting Grand Master.  Most Worshipful Brother French reluctantly signed the charter establishing his namesake lodge in late 1852.  Benjamin Brown French Lodge No. 15 held its first communication in 1853. The Lodge has met continuously since in the Georgetown section of the District of Columbia.

He chaired the Board of Alderman of the District, headed the Telegraph Company, and chaired the District Relief committee to support families of soldiers during the Civil War. 

He was elected Grand Master of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar, U.S.A. in 1859 and served until 1865. Brother French became a Scottish Rite Mason, and on September 15, 1859, he became the first 33rd Degree Mason from the District of Columbia. At the time of his death, he was Lieutenant Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, AASR (SJ).

French had rejoiced in Abraham Lincoln's election in November 1860 and at the same time recoiled at the South's threat of secession. He had learned that his beloved wife Elizabeth had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had consented to a mastectomy (which was not successful). Elizabeth's death in May of 1861 was a profound loss for French. His family gathered round him to ease his grief.

Mary Ellen Brady (1831- 1905), a sister of his brother Edmund's wife, moved in to manage his household. With time, a romantic attachment developed between Mary Ellen who was thirty years younger than French, and within a year and a half they were wed on September 9, 1862.

French was the Chief Marshal of the March 1861 inaugural parade of Abraham Lincoln, who reappointed French Commissioner of Public Buildings in which he oversaw the completion of the new dome on the Capitol.

After his appointment, French wrote in his diary on September 8, 1861: "I was at the President's and saw Mrs. Lincoln and the President.  Mrs. L. expressed her satisfaction at my appointment, and I hope and trust she and I shall get along quietly. I certainly shall do all in my power to oblige her and make her comfortable. She is evidently a smart, intelligent woman and likes to have her own way pretty much. I was delighted with her independence and her lady-like reception of me. Afterward I saw the President, and he received me very cordially."

During his tenure, French also over saw the funeral arrangements for both Willie Lincoln (1850-1862) and President Lincoln (1809-1865). He would visit Lincoln on his deathbed at the time of his assassination.

French claimed to have prevented an earlier assault on Lincoln at the President's Inauguration on March 4. His journal relates the circumstances.

The Civil War naturally called a halt in the steady forward march of Templary. This was noticeable in only one Triennial Conclave, however, and that was the one which fell in 1862, in the time of the war. It had been previously decided to hold this Conclave in Memphis, Tennessee.

This was not feasible in September of 1862, and a special meeting, before the regular Conclave, changed the place of assembly of the Triennial Conclave for that year to New York City.   It was then twenty years since the last Conclave had been held in New York City.

The meeting was a small one. The best authorities state that only eight Grand Commanderies and subordinate Commanderies from two states and from the District of Columbia were present, and these were all northern. It is not clear that all the southern bodies had completely and finally seceded from the Grand Encampment as had their states from the United States government. Indeed, there is evidence that some friendly and fraternal relations were maintained.

This Conclave again took up the matter of Templar uniform, giving still further and more detailed regulations in the famous "Edict of 1862." In the matter of the ritual, it was decided to have a devotional service prepared for the opening of the next Conclave, the place and time for which were fixed at Columbus, Ohio, on September 5, 1865, and the week following.

 Even before the actual close of the war, the coming peace and harmony was indicated by the admission into the ranks of the constituent Grand Commanderies of two states, one of the south, Louisiana, on February 12, 1864, and one of the north, Iowa, on June 6, 1864. Subordinate Commanderies joined from three new states, Kansas, Minnesota, and Nebraska.

 There was in the entire 1865 Conclave no real note of war, and the Grand Master at the 1862 and 1865 Conclaves, "the War Grand Master," Benjamin Brown French, proved himself one of the most caring and peaceable of men. In having him at the helm throughout those troubled times, Masonic Templary was very fortunate. Calm, unruffled, broad-minded, and open eyed, he proved to be the right man to guide American Templary safely through the Civil War years.

 On March 4, 1867, Radical Republicans in Congress succeeded in abolishing the office of Commissioner as a way to punish French for his loyalty to Democratic President Andrew Johnson (who was also a Knight Templar). On March 14, 1867, French surrendered books, ledgers, and accounts to the Secretary of the Interior. On March 30, 1867, Congress placed the care of the United States Capitol and grounds under Edward Clark and the newly created office of the Architect of the Capitol.

Nearly twenty years later, in 1867, he accompanied President Andrew Johnson to Boston for a national meeting of the Masonic Knights Templar, of which French had also been Grand Master.

On April 15, 1868 he presided over the dedication of Washington’s first statue of Abraham Lincoln.  Brown’s nephew, Daniel Chester Brown, would sculpt the statue of Lincoln unveiled in 1922.

In 1870, he was made Lieutenant Grand Commander of the Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction.

 French spent his final years in a minor clerk position in the United States Treasury Department, and though he found the work humiliating, he held the post until forced by politics to resign two months before his death.

He died at home on August 12, 1870, from heart failure and lung congestion. French was placed in a coffin in the front parlor beneath his portrait and in front of two little lamps. His Masonic hat, badge, and sword were on the lid of the coffin, and the room was strewn with flowers.   His body was then taken to the Congressional Cemetery where he was laid to rest amid throngs of mourners and with the solemn funeral service of Freemasonry.

 The full account of Benjamin B. French's life is not defined by his government service alone. A sociable and open man, he was likewise occupied in numerous community and business activities, including serving as Treasurer of the United States Agricultural Society and as president of the Republican Association of the City of Washington, as well as Grand Master of the Knights Templar of the United States.

He invested smartly, and his business judgment provided him a better lifestyle than would otherwise have been possible on a government salary alone.  He was also interested in cultural and literary matters, constantly composing poetry, speaking at public occasions, and discussing current authors and their works in his correspondence.

His journal is filled with descriptions of parties and other social occasions, and it was not uncommon to find him at home playing euchre well into the night with a group of friends that included congressmen and other prominent public officials. Sadly, Benjamin Brown French would likely be little remembered today were it not for his journal and letters already mentioned.

The remaining unpublished material, comprising two-thirds of the journal, is housed in the Library of Congress which is now situated on the very site where French's mansion, built in 1842, was located. The unique aspect of French's journal is the keen insight provided into political life in Washington, D.C. The workings and the key players of every administration from that of John Quincy Adams to Ulysses S. Grant are faithfully recorded.

They provide a wide window into the early years of the republic and more particularly on the Lincoln White House and are his legacy to the nation.


RWB Lloyd G. Lyon is Editor of the Missouri Lodge of Research Newsletter, published quarterly.  For the Grand Lodge of Missouri, he is serving as a Grand Chaplin 2017-18 and sits on several state committees.     He is a Past Master of Hale City Lodge No. 216 (MO) and currently the Secretary.  He is currently the District Deputy Grand Lecturer for the 14th District and has previously served as District Deputy Grand Master.  He belongs to the York Rite and in 2016 served as Excellent High Priest of Lexington (MO) Chapter No. 10, 2016 Eminent Commander of Demolay Commandery No. 3 and 2017 Illustrious Master of John F. Houston Council No. 42.  He also holds membership in Richmond Chapter No. 255 (WP) and Lexington Chapter No. 248 (AP) Order of the Eastern Star, Harry S. Truman York Rite College No. 167, Charlemayne Council No. 79 Knight Masons, Kilwinning Council No. 19 Allied Masonic Degrees, Missouri Priory No. 17 Knights of the York Court of Honour (KYCH), Mary Conclave No. 5 Red Cross of Constantine, Order of the Past Masters, Order of the High Priesthood, Order of the Silver Trowel, Missouri Association of Past Masters and Aleppo Grotto.  You can contact him at

It's Not Them, It's You: Building Masonic Infrastructure

by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason, 33°

I was asked recently what got me so interested in the topic of Masonic education. There were a few things, but I keep going back to the same experience. And believe it or not, it’s one of the few stories I don’t think I’ve told outside my local Lodge.

Shortly after I published my first book in 2007, I was invited by a Lodge to come and speak about it at their regularly stated meeting. I agreed. The meeting started at 7, and they dined at the Lodge at 6:30. The downside was that the Lodge was two hours away.

I had to leave work early to get there by 6:30 and I got turned around and wound up getting there a little later than I planned—about 6:45. But that wasn’t a problem, because there wasn’t anybody there yet. So I sat in the parking lot and waited, and about the time I was thinking I’d written down the wrong night, the first car pulled in at a little after 7.

Now when I was told the Lodge members dined at the Lodge at 6:30, what they meant, is that they all go individually to their favorite fast food restaurant, order food, and then eat it together at the Lodge. I hadn’t had anything to eat since about 11:30 that morning, but I sat there and watched them devour their cheeseburgers and tacos--the Master didn't think I'd have time to run and get something and eat it before they were done and opened the Lodge.

The Lodge opened about a half an hour late, and we got right into the meeting. They were having a good time, but I’d never been more bored. It was a ninety minute long gossip session. They talked about their inept local school board. They talked about the township not cleaning out the storm drains. They talked about the pastor’s wife’s sister’s son-in-law with the drinking problem. There was in that ninety-minute discussion one issue relating to Freemasonry and Lodge business that caught my attention—I’ll tell you about that in a minute.

At a little after nine o’clock, the Master glanced at his watch, and said, “oh, dear, we’ve run a bit late tonight. I’m afraid we won’t have time for Bro. Creason’s talk. Maybe he'll come back next month and give it to us.  Would you like to at least tell the Lodge where they can buy your book before we proceed to close.”

I didn’t say anything. I did as I was asked and told the members of that Lodge where they could buy my book. I didn’t mention I hadn’t eaten all day. I didn’t mention I’d left work early. I didn’t mention I’d spend two or three hours on my presentation. I didn’t mention I’d driven two hours. I didn’t even get mad when the Master asked if I’d be willing to donate a copy of my book to their library shelf. It’s probably still there. By the time I stopped and got something to eat on my way home, it was nearly midnight when I rolled in my driveway.  My drive home still holds a world record for the longest continuous bout of cursing in modern history. 

As I said, there was one short discussion during that meeting that caught my attention. They were talking about their two new Master Masons. These two and gone through the degrees together, and after they were raised a few months earlier they’d only attended one or two meetings, and nobody had seen them since.  They weren't even returning calls.

Now don't you find that odd?

That’s really when things clicked with me. That’s when I first became interested in “enhancing the member experience” and began writing about it, and began setting about actually doing it in my own Lodges—and we have a lot people in my area interested in this same topic now. And there’s a lot of really interesting work being done to this end.

The problem so many Lodges have, is they go about things completely backwards. You’ve got to start with building your infrastructure. If you want to build your Lodge, you have to really take a hard look at your Lodge. What do you want to accomplish? What are your goals as a Lodge? What would a new member enjoy about your Lodge? Why are perspective members interested in joining your Lodge? What do they hope to gain, and does that exist in your Lodge. If you want to build and grow your Lodge, you have to build it first. You have to be ready for those new members when they arrive. If you don’t fix what’s wrong with your Lodge first, those new members won’t still be there by the time you figure that out.

But I can tell you without hesitation that nobody joins this Fraternity to attend a monthly meeting. Nobody. They do join for reasons, and you have to figure out what those are, and find ways to fulfill those needs. Friendship. Fellowship. Community Service. Personal Growth. Knowledge. Skills. There are many reasons why men come to us, and as we’ve been learning in my part of the world, building this infrastructure not only helps retain new members, but it also engages our long-time members as well—I’ve seen many go from grumpy Past Masters to mentors, teachers, and trainers.  And some of our biggest critics in the beginning when we were trying to improve our Lodges--well, many of them are our biggest fans now.

We've spent a great deal of time finding ways to keep our business meetings short and on point.  We have education presentations every single meeting, and we start with those!  I make notes when I see members of my Lodge looking at their watches, or glancing at the clock to see what's going on in the Lodge that has them bored.  We have great discussions.  We have guests come and speak to our Lodge from outside groups.  We learn things about our community, and we learn things about each other.  And we invite other Lodges to join us--and very often they do!  And these experiments that started in our Lodge have spread, and other Lodges are doing some interesting things as well.  I hope to share a guest post at some point from a member of another Lodge near mine that tells the story of his Lodge's journey from ordinary to extraordinary.

If your Lodge is having problems with attracting new members or retaining your old members, it's most likely not them.  The best place to start looking is at what you're doing in your Lodge. 


Todd E. Creason, 33° is an award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series.  He is the author of the the From Labor To Refreshment blog.  He is a Past Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL) where he currently serves as Secretary.  He is a a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees.  He is a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research (FMLR).  He is a charter member of the a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and currently serves as Excellent High Priest of that Chapter.  He serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois A.F.&A.M. as the Eastern Area Education Officer.  You can contact him at:

Joseph Brandt

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

Joseph Brant was a Native American war chief of the Tribe of Mohawk who sided with the British during the American Revolutionary War. Born in 1742, while his parents were on a hunting trip, he was born on the banks of the Ohio River. He was named Thayendanega, which means “he places two bets”. While a young man, he became of favorite Sir William Johnson, who was the British superintendent of the northern Indians of America. Sir William Johnson was also a Freemason and a former Provincial Grand Master of the New York Colony. After his wife died in 1759, he married his former mistress, Molly who was Joseph Brant’s sister.

Brant was selected to attend Moors Charity School for Indians which was located in Lebanon, Connecticut. (As an aside, this school would later become Dartmouth College). He learned to speak English and studied Western history and literature. He left school to serve under Sir William during French and Indian war from 1755-1759. After this, he assisted Sir William with running the Indian Department, administered by the British out of Quebec. He also acted as an interpreter for an Anglican Missionary, and helped translate a prayer book and the Gospel of Mark into the Mohawk language. He married in 1768 to Christine, a daughter of an Oneida chief. He then settled with his wife on a farm near Canajoharie.

He continued his translations of Anglican and Biblical text into Mohawk. His wife passed away in 1771, leaving him with a son and a daughter. In 1773, he married his late wife’s sister, Susannah. She passed away a few months later. Both of his wives died due to Tuberculosis. In 1774, Sir William died. He was succeeded by his son, Sir John Johnson, and his son in law, Col. Guy Johnson. Both John and Guy were Freemasons. In August 1775, the confederacy of Six Nations staged a council fire near Albany, after the news of Bunker Hill. After much debate, the decision was made that the war between the British and American Colonists was their own affair, and that the Six Nations should stay out of it. However Brant and the Johnsons were able to influence four tribes to the British Side, namely the Mohawks, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. The other two tribes, the Oneidas and Tuscaroras, sided with the Americans.

In 1776, Brant became the principal war chief of the confederacy of Six Nations. He also received a Captain’s commission into the British Army in charge of the Native troops who were loyal to the Crown. Upon receiving his commission, he made his first trip to England. He was made a Freemason "and admitted to the Third Degree" at London, England, on April 26, 1776. This was in a Lodge of the Moderns, the Falcon, in Princess Street, Leicester Fields. He had the distinction of having his Masonic apron given to him from the hand of King George III.

Brant returned from England and saw action in the Battle of Long Island in August 1776. He then snuck back to his homeland. Upon returning to his tribe, he attempted to stir up support for the British cause in the villages in his region. He is linked to participating in several battles in the war, The siege of Ft. Stanwix; Oriskany; the Wyoming Valley of the Upper Susquehanna; Mohawk Valley and German Flats; Cherry Valley; Minesink-Port Jervis; Chemung River-Elmira area; Johnstown; Fort Plain; Fort Clyde; Fort Plank; Mohawk Valley and the Western Frontier, all of which occurred during the six year period from 1775-1781.

However, the incident that Brant is Masonically famous for occurred following the surrender of American Forces at the Battle of the Cedars on the St. Lawrence River in 1776. Colonel John McKinstry, who lived near Hudson, New York, at the time was a captain of a company in the unfortunate invasion of Canada, by American troops in 1776. At the battle of the Cedars, forty miles above Montreal, in May of that year, in a severe engagement, Captain McKinstry was wounded and taken prisoner by the Native forces. They intended to torture him and/or burn him alive, and had made preparations to do so by tying Captain McKinstry to a tree. McKinstry knew Brant to be a Freemason. He gave the Grand Hailing sign of distress to Brant. Upon seeing this, Brant, with other British officers (one can also assume they were Freemasons), bought an ox which they presented to the Native forces in place of Captain McKinstry. There was then a feast. McKinstry was then given to some English Freemasons, who returned him to the American lines.

After the war, Brant was a warm and devoted friend of McKinstry, making an annual visit at his house near Hudson. Brant strongly urged McKinstry to move and settle near him in Canada, offering to give him five hundred or one thousand acres of land from the grant made to him by the British Government after the close of the war. Brant also would attend the meetings of the Masonic Lodge in Hudson with McKinstry. Brant became affiliated with Lodge No.11 at the Mohawk village at Grand River, of which he was the first Master. He later affiliated with Barton Lodge No. 10 at Hamilton, Ontario. The town of Brantford, Ontario, is named in his honor. Brant died on November 24, 1807, at the age of nearly sixty-five years at his home on Grand River, Ontario. In 1850, the Freemasons restored his tomb, and placed and inscription on it. 


WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. You can reach him by email at

Freemasonry and the Chinese Bamboo Tree

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bill Hosler, PM

Not long ago I saw a video of a motivational talk given by a man named Les Brown. In this talk, Mr. Brown began to explain how a person’s life and their success is like growing a Chinese bamboo tree.

The Chinese bamboo tree isn’t easy to grow. In order for the tree to grow, the ground in which the seed is planted must be watered and fertilized every day without fail for five years, but thetree doesn’t sprout until the fifth year. After that five years, the grower’s patience and hard work are rewarded when the tree grows over ninety feet tall in that fifth year.

Brown explains in the video how many people will allow the tree to die because they get discouraged doing all that work, spending all the time fertilizing the soil and watering the seed without seeing any progress from all their labors. After all that time, they have spent so much doing the necessary work in order for the tree to sprout without seeing any progress. They begin to lose faith in the process or their own abilities, or even worse, they begin to listen to naysayers and the tree dies when they give up the hard work needed to make the tree come alive.

In today’s Microwave society where we want to start out at the top of the heap and success is assured, many of us will become frustrated when the goal we want to reach or the objective we have in mind doesn’t happen right away or fails to fall into place on the first attempt. Many times we get frustrated or dejected and we begin to listen to that little voice in the back of our head, or worse yet,  those who don’t want you to succeed because of their own agendas and prejudices. We give up and move on and the Chinese bamboo tree seed we planted will wither and die because we quit watering and fertilizing the ground in which it was planted.

Brethren, in my opinion, Masonic renewal is much like that Chinese bamboo tree. In the decade and a half since I was raised to the sublime degree, I've began to get interested in the Masonic renewal movement. I have worked with many dedicated Masons who put their lives and treasure into the Craft with the hope of making Freemasonry grow strong again, and to help it take it’s legitimate place in society. But I also watch them grow weary in their labors and slowly give in to the naysayers who place obstructions in their path. They either don’t see the progress being made or the tree of their labors isn’t sprouting quickly enough, or even worse, their skin gets too thin when dealing with those who wish the Fraternity to stay as it has for the last half-century. Sadly they just throw their hands up in the air and leave our speculative quarries and give up on Masonry.

It’s really sad for so many reasons. First of all, in just a few years I have been a Mason there has been tremendous progress, such as the mutual recognition of Prince Hall Grand Lodges (including in many formerly Confederate states), many jurisdictions have begun allowing business meetings on the first degree, more Masonic education is being introduced into lodge settings. In just the last decade and a half, our progress has been beyond what any of us thought could happen, just a decade ago.

Every year the Masonic renewal movement continues to make progress, it may not be as fast as many of us wish it would happen, but progress is being made nonetheless. But if we want it to continue to progress we need to continue to work the soil in which we planted that seed so many years ago.

Brethren, the Craft needs you. Each one of you to continue to advance and work toward making Freemasonry strong again. For each Mason who leaves our Fraternity is one less man to work in his local lodge, mentor younger Brethren and vote in Grand lodge communications. Like it says in the York Rite’s Virtual Past Master’s degree: “From a grip to a span; from a span to a grip; a two-fold cord is strong, but a three-fold cord is not easily broken.” We are all stronger as a group than we are as individuals.

Each one of us has our own strengths and talents given to us by our Creator, whether you are a writer orator, ritualist, builder, cook…each one of us has a place in this Masonic renaissance. No matter who you are, we need you. Each of you is important and hard to replace.

Brothers if you know a man who is thinking about leaving the Fraternity, try to convince them to stay and continue their labors. Explain to them how they make a difference to you, the lodge and to the Craft as a whole. If they have already left, try to convince them to come back and rejoin us in our efforts.

If we want this fraternity to grow strong again we need each of you, your efforts and support.


WB Bill Hosler was made a Master Mason in 2002 in Three Rivers Lodge #733 in Indiana. He served as Worshipful Master in 2007 and became a member of the internet committee for Indiana's Grand Lodge. Bill is currently a member of Roff Lodge No. 169 in Roff Oklahoma and Lebanon Lodge No. 837 in Frisco,Texas. Bill is also a member of the Valley of Fort Wayne Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Indiana. A typical active Freemason, Bill also served as the High Priest of Fort Wayne's Chapter of the York Rite No. 19 and was commander of of the Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4 of the Knight Templar. During all this he also served as the webmaster and magazine editor for the Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne Indiana.

September 11th - Revisit

*Editors Note* A day after, keeping with our typical schedule of release days, I chose to run RWB Michael H. Shirley's piece which he wrote for us originally back on September 11th of 2015. I think it's a beautiful piece and I hope you enjoy reading it. ~R.H. Johnson

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB Michael H. Shirley

“[T]o love is better than to hate, and Forgiveness is wiser than Revenge or Punishment.” –Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, 859.

Like everyone else I know, I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the World Trade Center attack. I was teaching an early class that morning, and was in mid lecture when the planes hit. When class ended, I started to walk down the hall and was waylaid by students who wanted to know if I’d heard. In bits and pieces, we found out that it was a deliberate act, then that one tower had fallen, and then another. Then came the news that the Pentagon had been hit. I was standing there, trying to comprehend it all, when one of my students said, “Dr. Shirley, what does it mean?” “It means we’re at war,” I said, with no real thought beyond that simple statement. As more information came out over the next several days, it became clear that things had changed beyond recovery. I did what so many others did: stayed glued to the television, tried to buy an American flag from stores that couldn’t keep them in stock, thought about what I could do to serve my country. But I kept coming back to the realization that these terrorists had killed innocents, including children, because they believed their cause was more important than people made in the image of God. And I had a choice: to hate them or not. 

I wasn’t a Mason then; I didn’t petition my Lodge until 2006. But my time in Masonry has taught me that hate is never the answer to any question worth asking. If I am committed to Masonry, love has to be my only response to everything, both large and small, because if I hate, I become what I hate. I have to see the fundamental humanity, the image of God, in everyone I encounter. Otherwise, I’m not practicing Masonry to the best of my ability.

My sister, an Episcopal priest and Air Force Chaplain, has said that she has to recognize that everyone is equally deserving of God’s love, which is to say, not at all, so acting high and mighty has no place in the world. My mother says regularly that the hardest word to accept in the Lord’s Prayer is “Our.” We all want to be special, but we can only do that if we reject what makes us human. We all need to meet on the level and acknowledge one another as fully human, undeserving of the gifts we’ve received, and just love one another.

So now I pray that I will be enabled to act as if all people are my Brothers and Sisters. For the simple truth is, they are. I don’t have to like them, and if they mean harm to others, I certainly have to stop them, but I can’t hate them without losing the best part of myself. Love, I would argue, is the answer to every question, both in Masonry and in the profane world. Every day, I am presented with the choice of whether to act with love or not. Every day, I can choose to hate, to be indifferent, or to love. I don’t always choose well, but I find that if I pay attention to Masonry’s teachings, I make the right choice more often than not. 

Fourteen years ago I chose, briefly, to hate. It was nearly impossible not to do so. But hate kills the hater, and I could not continue. Since 2006 I have cast my lot with Freemasonry, and have been grateful for its work in my life every day since. Lord knows, I don’t always choose well, but I’ve found that if I remember that Love drives away darkness, I don’t make that darkness my home. I’ve found that I prefer a well-lit room. And so I pray for light for everyone, especially for those who have shut it out of their lives and have chosen to live in darkness. I pray—today of all days—to let the Light of Love illumine our world.


Masonic Artifacts Can Tell A Story - Revisit

by Midnight Freemasons contributor
Gregory J. Knott

One of the things I enjoy most is walking through antique stores looking for Masonic artifacts.  On a recent trip through Decatur, Illinois, we stopped at a very nice shop and I set upon my hunt.  They had a few items, but none of them really caught my interest until I ran across a small framed case with 3 medals in it.  Upon closer review I knew that these were Knight Templar Medals.

SK Orlando Powers
The three medals were from Beaumanoir Commandery No. 9, which was and still is at home in Decatur, Illinois.  The medal on the left is the Order of the Temple member medal, the middle is a Past Eminent Commander’s jewel and the one of the right is a drill attendance medal with a number 32 on the bar in the middle.

As I was checking out, I asked the clerk if she knew of any history of these medals.  I was in luck because she did!   It turns out they belonged to Orlando Powers, who was an early prominent settler of Decatur.  He was born in 1812 and came to Decatur in 1849 and died in July 1902.
Powers Opera House
Bro. Powers built a tremendous Opera House in 1889 at Decatur where many of the most prominent settlers of the day performed.  It burned to the ground in 1895 and was later rebuilt, but burned again in 1914.  His son built a hotel on the same site that is still run as a residential hotel today.

But it is the Powers Mansion that seems to be his real legacy today.  According to a couple of websites that I visited, the mansion seems to be haunted.  Perhaps the ghost of Orlando Powers is still looking over his house.

I couldn’t find a Masonic record for Bro. Powers.  I can only assume he belonged to a local lodge and perhaps other York Rite bodies.   

But it was purchasing these medals and learning about a man who died over 110 years ago and seeing his impact upon the Prairie of Illinois that gave me the greatest pleasure.

The Powers Mansion--haunted some say . . .

 WB Gregory J. Knott is a founding member and Senior Contributor of the Midnight Freemasons. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star and is the Charter Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign-Urbana. He is also a member of ANSAR Shrine (IL) and the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. Greg serves on the Board of Directors of The Masonic Society and is a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society and The Philathes Society. Greg is very involved in Boy Scouts—an Eagle Scout himself, he is a member of the National Association of Masonic Scouters. You can contact him at

The Truth About Esoteric Masonry and Traditional Observance

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson

Traveling around to different lodges in the summer of 2018 has been amazing. I’ve presented at lodges all around the country, on a multitude of topics which are obviously things I am passionate about. American history, old ritual practices and even how to effectively market our lodges. But one topic comes up time and time again. Esoterica.

Whether it’s referred to as “Esoteric”, “Esoterica”, “Esoterism”, or maybe you go with Albert Pike and spell it with a “K”--“Esoterika”, the subject matter is hotly debated. Before we dive into this, lets just define the concept quickly. Esoteric literally means, “intended for or only understood by a few.”

Freemasonry is an Esoteric society by definition. If not, than the general public would have the ability to gain our insights and teachings, apply them and go off on their merry way. There are of course Masons who hold that the historical is truly the only part of Masonry worth studying, citing our history and where we came from as the focal points. Others will speak to the application of Masonic values as they relate to the here and now as the place we should set our sites. And still others, although more rare, will talk about the esoteric. Each category births a variety of mixtures. Chuck Dunning, author of “Contemplative Masonry”, recently wrote a nice article on the types of “Esoteric Masons” that exist. It’s definitely worth a read. Check it out HERE. The fact remains that Freemasonry has a set of concepts which it delivers through our plays on morality. On the surface, they convey some stark realities and hopeful futures, but the sub-context, the marrow if you will, can be said to go much deeper.

Yes, sometimes a sign is just a sign, but this in majority is contested by many of Masonry’s most famous authors and scholars. Masonry has this unique ability to attract those interested in various pursuits which we tend to accumulate under our umbrella. Charity, fellowship and yes, philosophy. Masonry makes good men better, or at least this is the aim. Many arguments regarding this statement have been written. A complete list would take up many pages. It will be suffice to say, that Masonry makes good men better through education. That education in the philosophical is what leads a good man to become those other qualities we value, like being charitable.

The Craft today is seen by its own members as a service society, a charity and a place where men learn together. When we ask how they learn, the responses articulate that by working together or through lodge projects, by speaking, by delivering lectures, and even learning discipline through ritual and floor work, will make a good man better. But when we take a step back, these qualities are really nothing we can’t learn anywhere else. Boy Scouts, Toastmasters, Lions, Elk, Moose, Rotary, the military. The list goes on.

When I initially penned one of my first presentations called Esoterics 101, it was designed specifically for a lodge whose members had no clue about what the word [Esoteric] was or what it meant. It’s still hard for me to believe that we have members who are daft to the concept, members who don’t understand the spiritual underpinnings of what we do in ritual.

I am frequently contacted by younger members, usually those who have been Master Masons for a year or less and who’ve been elected or appointed to be a Lodge Education Officer. They’re very interested in the esoteric side of Masonry and want me to come out to present the Esoterics 101 keynote. The reason? So that the other members of their lodge will understand the concept or that my presentation will validate the new members interests on the topic.

At these presentations, typically what I see are members who’ve been in the lodge for years and who feel like all this education is just a fad for the new kids, there are exceptions of course. I’ll present and get no questions except for the few who wanted to have me out. Some even retire for coffee midway through the presentation. It doesn’t hurt my feelings, but I’ll tell you what it does do. It makes the guys who organized the education night feel like no one cares, like their fulfillment doesn't matter. Education is the reason Masonry exists. Full stop.

Reality check: Come down from the clouds, put the Eliphas Levi and Manly P. Hall books back on the shelf for just a moment and admit it, that there is no esoteric side to Masonry.

Masonry is completely esoteric, all sides. It was designed to be esoteric at its inception thanks to those renaissance and enlightenment thinkers. The vision unfortunately, was not protected and it did not last. It is no longer the reality.

If our forefathers from the renaissance, and later the enlightenment era hadn’t injected the money, power and influence into the guild system, we’d have no Freemasonry today. Not like it’s practiced anyway. You’d have a union. That’s it.

The more we critically analyze the state of the Craft today, the more we truly see it for what it is. We’ve made a significant departure from the secondary intent which begat the current organization. The lion’s share of lodges promise something that we don’t ever fully deliver. We gather, we take an oath, we eat together, we agree to take care of our widows and orphans. In this, we are by definition, more Traditional Observant of original Masonry than any lodge that bares the moniker today.

To be truly observant, to look, to practice and abide by standards of Traditional Masonry, would require us to practice as they did in antiquity. --as in the guild system. Traditional is defined as, “long established”. That original system is in fact much more long established than anything we propose to be in todays standards. And when we look at how we operate right now, it’s a modern equivalent.

In truth, the TO, or Traditional Observant Lodges that speckle the landscape of Masonry are affinity lodges. These are lodges that practice the idealized version of Masonry many are or were looking for. Lodges that ask it’s members to have standards of practice, dress, mandatory attendance, higher dues in order to be solvent in today’s economy and above all, provide a meaningful Masonic experience. For by in large part, these are lodges that have been designed to be fulfilling for a specific kind of member, many of whom are what we would label esoteric.

Again, looking at Masonry today and from afar, we see a single color. A swatch of beige. It’s a social organization with charities and fellowship, unified by a belief (in most cases) in deity and who’ve all experienced (for all intents and purposes) the same thing. In practice, the overwhelming majority of lodges operate without true education--without esoteric understanding. When we read articles that state, as I have above, that Masonry is esoteric, we might do some real thinking. Looking at the landscape of Masonry today, we reflect on the reality of the situation and that I would consider a hard-to-swallow fact. Saying that Masonry is esoteric is false quip, because it doesn’t reflect reality.

As it exists Masonry is not Esoteric. It is a wonderful club which brings together members who, because of common interests, sometimes form additional groups or even lodges which focus on a topic of interest. Thus we have appendant bodies or Craft affinity lodges: Traditional Observant, Past Master, Military, pick a flavor.

The varied styles of Masonry which exist are actually a danger to it’s very survival. Not only does it prove to make the Masonic fraternity bland, it puts the Craft in a rather precarious place, one of comfort, safety and complacency. I once wrote about the old greasy spoon restaurants that we tend to find in our towns. Places that have everything on the menu, but nothing great. It’s the place you go when you’re looking for something good, cheap and to be honest, what you’d expect--a safety blanket of sorts. No surprises. No variety. No growth.

What Masonry needs is the challenge, to get rid of the old axiom, “Masonry is many things to many people”. Masonry is one thing, it is education. We need to embrace this at all costs. By picking one thing to focus on, our skill in it becomes greater and by proxy, so does the caliber of it’s men.

Many of us are in the quarries today, building, cutting measuring--trying to make the craft better, to raise it to the lofty heights we were told it sat. Is it so bad that we want it to be what we expected it to be? To be a place where there is equal emphasis on the education, fellowship and charity? The sad truth is of course, that while we all work for the change, we likely won’t see the true impact of what we’ve done. Our children’s children might, but we won’t.

One of my best friends and Brothers, is a luthier. That’s a violin maker, restorer, repairman. He makes wonderful pieces of art, pieces that sing like nothing you could imagine. I asked him once, “What you do is so amazing. It takes both skill, craftsmanship and yet, is somehow still artistic. How do you get on top and be the best? How do you become the luthier that people talk about?”
Spencer, took a breath and said, “Well, that’s the thing. You don’t. Every piece I work on has a mark. Long after I’m dead, maybe people will see my works and rave about them the way people rave about the 300 year old violins today. I can only leave a mark in the industry. Small influences. People might not know or care about the work today, but in 100 years or more, they’ll know my name.”

And so it will be for us, brothers. As we work in the Craft today, we make the small marks. Every time we make something a little more meaningful. Everytime we operate within our rules but add value to some part of the degree experience, we raise the bar. Everytime we set a standard, we raise the expectation. Everytime we do something that’s impressive in the presence of a new Entered Apprentice, it will impress upon them that what they just witnessed is the standard. The above and beyond efforts of today become the standards of tomorrow. Just think about the Masonry in 200 years. If we decide to go in a singular direction, we’ll make that difference. If the status quo is maintained, you’ll find yourself on a horse galloping down the beach, and George, you might not like what you find.


RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Waukegan Lodge No. 78 where he is a Past Master. He is also a Past District Deputy for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry and is also an avid home brewer. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.