The Grand Chapter of Maryland marks 1797 as its year of the constitution, but historical records show that the Royal Arch degree was conferred in the state as early as 1787.
Unfortunately, records of the Grand Chapter prior to 1804 are virtually non-existent, with the exception of the few documents which have been discovered.
Concerning the Grand Chapter of Maryland
*(The first part of this article is wholly copied from “A History of Royal Arch Masonry” issued under authority of the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, reprint of 1993, Everett R. Turnbull & Ray V. Denslow).
In 1797, the Grand Master of Masons in Maryland was David Kerr. There is in existence a dispensation which shows that in the same year he was also grand high priest of the “Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons for the State of Maryland”.
The Grand Chapter, claimed to have been organized in 1796 in Pennsylvania, was an appendage to the Grand Lodge of that state and did not become independent until the year 1824.
There are no records of the proceedings of this grand chapter which was in existence in 1797. It soon became dormant. in 1807, ten years later, it was revived. The evidence for that statement is to be found in a resolution presented in Concordia Chapter “at the city of Baltimore this 24th day of October, A.D. 1806. The resolution reads in part:
Whereas, a Grand R.A. Chapter for the purpose of regulating our internal economy…appears to be highly important to the interests of our Order; and
Whereas, this measure has not only been recommended but adopted by our sister Chapters in several states of the Union; and
Whereas, the Grand Chapter to which we were tributary has, for a considerable time, been dormant,
Therefore, Resolved that this Chapter use their endeavors to form a Grand Chapter of the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia; and
Resolved, that for the purpose aforesaid an appropriate letter be addressed to the several chapters…; and
Resolved that the foregoing proceedings be printed and transmitted with the subjoined circular letter to the several Chapters in the District of Columbia and State of Maryland.
The “subjoined circular” signed by Philip Eckel, high priest (of Concordia Chapter) contained the following:
Our chapters are held under the sanction of lodges that have no knowledge of our mysteries and that possess no power to correct any irregularity or abuse with which a Chapter or individual members may be charged unless to withdraw the assumed authority to work as R.A. Masons. An existence so precarious, control over our rights and privileges so unauthorized, threatens our system with innovation, if not immediate destruction.
With these sentiments we take the liberty of addressing our sister Chapters; and should the plan of a convention for the purpose of forming a grand chapter meet with their approbation (as we trust it will) we request their concurrence in the laudable object before us.
The proposal met with a favorable response from 6 chapters—-Washington Chapter, Concordia Chapter, and St. John’s Chapter of Baltimore; Federal Chapter and Washington Naval Chapter of Washington; and Potomac Chapter of Georgetown. The convention of representatives met in Washington on January 21, 1807. It was—-
Resolved, unanimously, that this Convention, agreeably to the power and authority in them vested, do organize a Grand Royal Arch Chapter for the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia.
END OF BOOK COPY
Officers were elected, and the Grand Chapter began its deliberations. The Constitution called for meetings to alternate between Baltimore and Washington. There were slight changes made to the original Constitution in 1814.
In September 1816, representatives attended the General Grand Chapter session in New York City, and in November of that year reported favorably on union with the General Grand Chapter. Six years later, in 1822, several Washington Chapters requested a formation of a separate grand chapter for the District of Columbia. Companion DeWitt Clinton, General Grand High Priest, granted a dispensation for the formation of a new grand chapter. In 1824, the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons for the District of Columbia came into existence.
There were some disputes from some chapters surrounding D.C. as to which Grand Chapter they should belong. Finally, in September 1826, the Grand Chapter of Maryland relinquished control except for Potomac Chapter.
There is more, concerning the effects of the Anti-Masonic movement on D.C., but that’s another story.
Bruce G. Colburn, REGK