Rooted in science and born out of the stone mason's guild in the 1600s, the first Grand Lodge of Freemasonry was chartered in London in 1717. During the eighteenth century, the organization became saturated by men of science and freedom of thought. Men such as Benjamin Franklin, who were bound by reason rather than faith, were the same men who supported the American Revolution and whose worldwide diplomatic connections helped finance their freedom.
The first Masonic lodges in the territory then known as the Upper Louisiana, began with arrival of the French. These men had come down from Canada where they established a chain of military forts along rivers and lake between the two regions. Among these frontier posts were the settlements of Ste. Genevieve and St. Louis, the latter having been established by Pierre Laclède in 1764.
The merchants of these two early settlements procured their goods from Philadelphia (where several of the men were Masons), and as time passed, the number of Masons in the territory grew large enough that they desired a lodge of their own. A Warrant of Constitution was drawn up and granted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania where it was held in Ste. Genevieve, then Territory of Louisiana, as Lodge No. 109. Among the petitioners, but not a member of this lodge, was Thomas F. Riddick who was originally a member of Solomon Lodge No. 30 in Suffolk, Virginia. He had removed to the Missouri Territory in about 1804, and had been appointed by Frederick Bates as assessor for levies in the St. Louis district and by William Clark as justice of the peace.
The Louisiana Lodge No. 109 became the first Missouri lodge and had as its first Master, Otho Shrader, and Dr. Aaron Eliot and Joseph Hertich, its Wardens. During the War of 1812, General H. Dodge presided over this Lodge, but owing much to the war and unsettled conditions in the territory, membership declined and the Lodge became defunct sometime around 1816-1817.
On September 15, 1808, a Charter was then granted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania to open St. Louis Lodge No. 111. This application was signed by Meriwether Lewis who had been recommended in 1796 for membership in Albermarle County, Virginia lodge and had become the first master. The signatures following Lewis included those of Thomas F. Riddick, Rufus Easton, and Otho Shrader. The war years, however, had also disrupted the lodge's ability to function and by the spring of 1815 this lodge had also become defunct.
Though no documentation has thus been found to record Joshua Pilcher's earlier Masonic activity prior to his membership in Cumberland Lodge No. 8, records show he had petitioned and received the Past Master's degree which qualified him to join the Grand Lodge of the State of Tennessee. In October of 1814 he left Nashville where he had been a merchant-craftsman, and headed to St. Louis where he became partners with his cousin* Thomas F. Riddick.
On October 3, 1815, a dispensation was issued directing Joshua Pilchr, Thomas Brady, and Joshua Novellto organize a lodge in Missouri and was signed by Robert Searcy, Grand Master, and Wilkins Tannehill, Grand Secretary. Thus, the Missouri Lodge No. 12 (later renamed Missouri Lodge No. 1) was chartered in St. Louis and Joshua was named its charter master.
These were the beginnings of the first Masonic Lodges in Missouri. Riddick and Pilcher were but two of the many influential men belonging to the Masonic Lodge in St. Louis. The Masons tolerance of various faiths and their desire to liberate people from fear, hatred, poverty and tyranny undoubtedly changed the course of America. They have among their members many American presidents and a long list of men who influenced and shaped what would become the city of St. Louis.
The subject of Freemasonry and the men of St. Louis has required many months of tedious research, and will eventually be made available on my website, "Early St. Louis." I am currently researching the individual men from several sources and will include brief biographical sketches of each along with their Masonic history on my website. If you have an ancestor, or know of one who was a Freemason in St. Louis, please email me.
*Thomas F. Riddick is noted in various sources as a cousin and/or relative of Joshua; however their exact family relation is not known.
- 10,000 Famous Freemasons Vol. 1-4, by William R. Denslow, 1957.
- A Memorial Volume: Being selections in Poetry and Prose by Alonzo William Slayback, J.H. Chambers & Co., 1883, p.209
- A History of Missouri from the Earliest Explorations ... Vol. 3, by Louis Houck, R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 1908, p.82
- An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences by Albert Gallatin Mackey, William James Hughan, The Masonic History Company, 1913, p.158.
- History of Missouri Lodge No. I by James B. Steiner
- John Pankey of Manakin Town, Virginia and his Descendants, Vol. 1 by George Edward Pankey, 1969, p.118
- Joshua Pilcher, Fur Trader and Indian Agent by John E. Sunder, University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.
- Proceedings of the State Bar Association of Wisconsin, Vol. 1, State Bar Association of Wisconsin, 1905, p.105
- St. Louis: The Fourth City, 1764-1911, Vol. II by Walter Barlow Stevens, 1911, p.592-596.
- Territorial Masonry: The Story of Freemasonry and the Louisiana Purchase by Ray V. Denslow, Kessinger Publishing, 1995,p.29, 261-262, 264
- The History of Freemasonry in Tennessee 1789-1943: its founders, its pioneer lodges and chapters by Charles A. Snodgrass, Ambrose Printing Company, 1944.
- The History of Freemasony: its legends and traditions ... Vol. 6, by Albert G. Mackey, William R. Singleton, William J. Hughan, Masonic History Co., 1906, p. 1453.
- The Life and Papers of Frederick Bates, Missouri Historical Society, 1926.
- Virginia and Virginians: Eminent Virginians, History of Virginia from settlement of Jamestown to close of the Civil War, Vol. 1 by Robert Alonzo Brock, H.H. Hardesty, 1888, p.87
- World's Masonic Register by Leon Hyneman, J.P. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, 1860, p.241-245