History of Arkansas Freemasonry

History of Arkansas Freemasonry

The history of Freemasonry in Arkansas is closely linked to the history of Arkansas. Many of the founders of the state were the leaders and founders of Freemasonry, and the early impact of the fraternity was in education and government. The Grand Lodge established one of the state’s first institutions of higher education, St. Johns’ College, in 1859, and in 1853, it established the second public library in Arkansas; both institutions were in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Many of the state’s early governors, judges, representatives, and senators were members of the fraternity.

Freemasonry established itself in what would become Arkansas within nine months of Arkansas’s birth as a territory. On December 1, 1819, the Grand Lodge of Kentucky granted a charter to the Masons living in the new territorial capital, Arkansas Post (Arkansas County), to establish Arkansas Lodge UD (under dispensation), with Robert Johnson as the first master of the lodge.

Two of the most ardent early Masons were Robert Crittenden and Andrew Scott. President James Monroe had appointed them as territorial secretary and judge, respectively, in 1819. The two men established the government and laws of the new territory and established the first lodge. The first person made a Master Mason in Arkansas was Colonel James Scull, territorial treasurer, who received his degree on June 17, 1820. When the legislature moved the capital from Arkansas Post to Little Rock in 1821, Arkansas Lodge Number 59 ceased to be a lodge. Lodge 59 surrendered its charter in 1822, and organized Freemasonry in Arkansas was dormant for the next thirteen years.

As Arkansas moved toward statehood, Freemasonry had a rebirth. On November 5, 1835, the Grand Lodge of Tennessee instituted Washington Lodge Number 82 in Fayetteville (Washington County). Soon after statehood was granted, three more lodges were established: in 1837, the Grand Lodge of Louisiana instituted Western Star Number 43 in Little Rock and Morning Star Number 42 at Arkansas Post, and the Grand Lodge of Alabama established Mount Horeb in Washington (Hempstead County).

Since territorial days, many leaders of business, government, law, medicine, religion, and education have been Masons. Two—Albert Pike and Fay Hempstead—had a national impact on the fraternity. Pike was a newspaper publisher, lawyer, Confederate general, and justice in Arkansas, and he invigorated and led the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in the United States for thirty-two years. In every country where Freemasonry exists, Pike’s name is revered. Hempstead wrote Arkansas’s first school history and served as the grand secretary of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas from 1881 to 1933. In 1908, he became the third poet laureate of Freemasonry, following Robert Burns of Scotland and Robert Morris of Kentucky.

Modern Freemasonry

Arkansas Masonic membership in 2017 is 13,758 members in 225 lodges. The fraternity practices the tenets of friendship, morality, and brotherly love. The ruling body of Arkansas Masons is the Grand Lodge of Arkansas in the Albert Pike Masonic Memorial Temple in Little Rock.