The Grand Lodge of Rhode Island
Large Impact On History
While the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island is a small Masonic Jurisdiction, we have a large and historic heritage with connections to our colonial Brethren. I am proud to detail the lives of three of The Ocean State’s most prominent men and Freemasons. One shares a particularly close tie with the York Rite in New York State. I hope you enjoy this reflection on Masonic history. And should your travels bring you to Rhode Island, know that you are warmly welcomed, my Brother!
Christopher Champlin was born in Charlestown, RI, on February 7, 1731. At an early age, he showed a great disposition to serve his country. He received the appointment of Major in the Rhode Island Regiment at a young age. He moved to Newport and became involved in mercantile life, confining his attention to the importation of dry goods. In time he invested in shipping which he prosecuted with marked success and became quite wealthy. He owned much property in Newport, many large stores and warehouses on the wharf which still bear his name. He served sixteen years as a member of the Rhode Island Legislature. He was also mainly responsible for establishing the Bank of Rhode Island and was elected as its first President.
Christopher Champlin was an able and zealous supporter of Freemasonry and for a number of years, especially active in promoting its interests. He united with other influential Brethren of Newport and Providence in the formation of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island and was elected Grand Master of the body, thus established in 1791. He rendered long and faithful service to the Craft.
Upon his death the family created the Champlin Foundations which are private foundations that make direct grants to tax-exempt organizations and are one of the oldest philanthropic organization groups in Rhode Island.
Nathanael was the son of Nathanael Greene, a Quaker farmer, and the great-great-grandson of John Greene and Samuel Gorton, both of whom were founding settlers of Warwick, Rhode Island. Nathanael was born on Forge Farm at Potowomut in the township of Warwick, Rhode lsland, on August 7, 1742. His mother, Mary Mott, was his father’s second wife. Though his father’s sect discouraged “literary accomplishments,” Greene educated himself, with a special study of mathematics and law. The Rev. Ezra Stiles, later president of Yale University, was a strong influence in the young Nathanael’s life.
In August 1774, Greene helped organize a local militia, which was chartered as the Kentish Guards that October. His participation in the group was challenged because he had a pronounced limp. At this time he began to acquire many expensive volumes on military tactics and began to teach himself the art of war. In December 1774, he was on a committee appointed by the assembly to revise the militia laws. His zeal in fighting the British and organizing the militia led to his expulsion from the pacifistic Quakers.
On May 8, 1775, he was promoted from private to Major General of the Rhode Island Army of Observation, formed in response to the siege of Boston. He was appointed a brigadier of the Continental Army by the Continental Congress on June 22, 1775. General Washington assigned Greene the command of the city of Boston after it was evacuated by the British in March 1776. Letters of October 1775 and January 1776 to Samuel Ward, then a delegate from Rhode Island to the Continental Congress, favored a declaration of independence.
On August 9, 1776, he was promoted to be one of the four new major generals and was put in command of the Continental Army troops on Long Island; he chose the place for fortifications, and supervised the construction of redoubts and entrenchments (the site of current-day Fort Green Park) east of Brooklyn Heights, NY. Severe illness prevented him from taking part in the Battle of Long Island. Greene was a Rhode Island Freemason and bore a Masonic jewel, the gift of his Masonic Brother the Marquis de Lafayette, on his person throughout the whole of the revolution.
Thomas Smith Webb
Thomas Smith Webb, the “Founding Father of the York or American Rite” as he is appropriately described by Herbert T. Leyland, his biographer, was born October 30, 1771, in Boston. He holds the rare distinction of being actively connected with the formation of two large national Masonic bodies a testimony to the respect in which he was held by his Masonic brethren.
His Masonic career was full, extensive, and varied. While he received his initial Masonic education in Rising Sun Lodge, Keene, N.H., at age 19, it was in Albany and Providence that most of his activities and contributions occurred.
In Albany, at age 26, he authored his Freemason’s Monitor or Illustrations of Masonry, a literary work that ultimately went to seven editions. It brought international fame to the author and became the standard of ritual exemplification for many jurisdictions. It was a compendium of many of the writings of William Preston of England, a man who devoted a lifetime of service to the Craft in the study and perfection of Masonic lectures.
Webb joined Union Lodge in Albany and became its Worshipful Master. He helped form Temple Royal Arch Chapter and became its High Priest. His reputation was well known when he moved to Providence in 1799, and he was soon taken into the life of the community.
Soon after his arrival in Providence, he accepted an invitation to join St. Johns Lodge No. 1 Providence and at once started a school of instruction. As a member of a Rhode Island lodge, he was eligible to attend Grand Lodge, and on his first visit, he was appointed a member of a committee to revise the Constitution. It is interesting to note that within the next two years two amendments to the Constitution were adopted which permitted the utilization of the services of Brother Webb. One amendment repealed a two-year limit on the term of the Grand Wardens which allowed Webb to serve for three years as Grand Senior Warden. The other made it possible to elect a Grand Master who was not a Past Master of a Lodge in Rhode Island. Thus it was in order to elect Webb as Grand Master in 1813 and 1814. A further election in 1815 he declined.
Webb also accepted an invitation to join Providence Royal Arch Chapter and was elected its High Priest two years later. He assisted in the formation of the Grand Chapter of Rhode Island and served as Grand High Priest from 1804-14. With others, he eventually organized the General Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the United States and was guiding the operation, as Deputy Grand High Priest, at his death. The General Grand Chapter is now the oldest national Masonic body in America.
His untiring Masonic zeal accomplished the formation on August 11, 1802, of St. John’s Encampment of Knights Templar, now St. John’s Commandery No. 1 of Providence, the ranking body of all Templar organizations in America.
He provided the ritual and ceremonial procedure of the Templar Orders and was elected its first Eminent Commander. He was elected annually until 1814 when he declined re-election. In 1805 with others, he organized the now Grand Commandery of Massachusetts and Rhode Island and presided therein until he retired in 1817. The achievement which has been declared the crowning glory of his Masonic career was the formation of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States which he accomplished in 1816 in New York City. Governor De Witt Clinton was elected Grand Master and Webb became Deputy Grand Master, a position he held at his death.