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Masonic Encyclopedia

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Aberdeen Alter, the Lodge

The second quarter of the Twentieth century in the 'Literature of Freemasonry was characterized above everything else by the publication (in some twenty languages) of Lodge histories. Taken collectively, and in their impact as a single body of writings, these histories have worked some two, or possibly three, fundamental changes in the older conception of the history of the Fraternity, and their data have caused the revisions of many details-this last applying particularly to the work of the pioneers of modern historical scholarship, Gould, Hughan, Crawley, Lane, Sadler, etc., and Gould especially. Of the Lodge histories some five or six are indubitable masterpieces, both in their literary form and in their scholarship.

Among the more slender books of the last named class is Notes on the Early History and Records of The Lodge, Aberdeen, No. Alter, by A. L. Miller, a Past Master of it; Aberdeen; University Press; 1919. It is written modestly, with a fine spirit, and with a just sense of proportion ; it is a model for Lodge historians everywhere to pattern on; moreover it contains the clearest of pictures of a Lodge of the Transition Period, as it was and as it worked, a century before the first Grand Lodge of 1717.

Only three Lodges take precedence of it on the rolls of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, Mother Kilwinning, Mary's Chapel, and Melrose St. John.

There is a written record of a Mason in Aberdeen in 1264, a Provost. In 1357 Andrew Scott came with other Masons from Melrose to rebuild the Cathedral. The records of the Burgh of Aberdeen, unbroken since 1398, contain many references to Masons. Masons came from everywhere to build King's College, In those same records is a reference to the Mason "Lodge" (a building) in 1483. In the Burgh minutes of 1483 is the wording of an oath taken by the masonry of the luge; offenders were to be "excluded" (expelled). In 1486 the Burgh adopted rules governing Masons. In 1493 three Masons were permanently employed by the Burgh (now called "town"). A record of 1544 refers to the Lodge building, which was a permanent Masonic headquarters.

In 1527 the Masons were incorporated (by a Seal of Cause) and given disciplinary powers over their own members.

A Warden over the Masons was appointed in 1590. Masons, unlike most workers, could work inside or away from the town; they were "free." An early Masons' Lodge "supposed to have been situated on the southern slope near the top of st Katharine's Hill, was built of Wood and was burned by enemies of the Craft, who were said to have been numerous, and to have in cludet the clergy "(From Wycliff down "the clergy"have been the hardest workers in it. The Roman Church has been officially against it ever since the General Council of Afignon, when all secret societies"were condemned) Another Lodge was afterwards built near where Aberdeen's St. Paul's now stands, but was burned down, and many old records with it, probably by the Marquis of Huntly when be ravaged Aberdeen with 2000 soldiers.

In 1700 the members built yet another Lodge, out upon the links, well apart ; the father of the famous architect James Gibbs lived in part of it. Thus the written records prove a continuing existence of Masonry in Aberdeen from 1264, and doubtless Aberdeen iter is in a direct and unbroken line of descent from the Thirteenth Century. It is probable that the Masons have had a separate and organized society, self- governing, since at least as early as 1541, which was in the earliest period of Protestantism.

The Work Book written in 1670 contains pictures of Working Tools. Of the members at that date ten of the forty-nine were Operative Masons; among the non-operatives were four noblemen. The oldest known written record of a non-Operative in Scotland is 1600.

In Aberdeen records mention is made of "the Mason Word" : of "the oaths we received." The Officers in 1670 were a Master, Warden, Boxmaster, Clerk and Officer (Tiler). Masons' sons (the "Lewis") received special privileges. Until 1754 "intrants" (apprentices) made presents of aprons and gloves; they were trained by "Intenders." A permanent Charity Fund (in the "Box") was set up in 1670.

The most interesting among the records are these two: "No Lodge be holden within a dwelling house where there is people living in but in the open fields, except it be ill weather, and then let there be a house chosen that no person shall hear nor see us." And : "We ordain likewise that all entering Prentices be entered in our ancient outfield Lodge in the Mearns in the parish of Nigg at the sources [piers or bulwarks] at the point of the Ness." the principal point made by the members when they wrote the Work Book of 1670 was that they were making sure that old customs were to be continued.

The first Freemason to come to America was John Skene, in 1684, of which the record was discovered by Bro. David McGregor. John Skene was a member of the Aberdeen Lodge. the first name in the list of members in the Work Book of 1670 was Harrie Elphingston, the Master; be was the booking agent who arranged passage on the vessel Henry and Francis on which a number of Aberdeenians emigrated to New Jersey, in America. The arrangement was made under the patronage of the Earl of Perth, one of the chief proprietors of New Jersey, also a Freemason, Robert Gordon, George Alexander, John Forles, also on the same list of members, purchased an interest in New Jersey. John Forbes came to East Jersey in 1684, then returned to Scotland. John Skene settled at Burlington, capital of East Jersey, and was Deputy Governor from 1685 until his death in 1690.

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