"Chatham Soldiers, Chatham Masons"
First published in the Chatham County Historical Journal - 7/1996
Since it's foundation, the American South has been incorporated with groups of men forming fraternal orders. The most popular and enduring of these organizations are the Masons. The first lodge in North Carolina was created in early 1700's in Wilmington. 1 Later, the first lodge of Chatham county was organized in Pittsboro in 1788. 2 By 1861, Masons were spread across the Tarheel state and the entire South. These brothers in Masonic lodges would became brothers in arms by May of that year, fighting for their beliefs and rights during the War Between the States.
One mason who joined the Confederate cause was Richard Watts York. He was the principle of the Cedar Fork Academy in Orange County, which was located in the Nelson area now in southern Durham County. When the war broke out, York was commissioned as Captain of Company I, of the 6th North Carolina. 3 York lead Company I in service under Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. While in the Army of Northern Virginia, Maj. York organized the I.E. Avery Military Lodge No. 1 while camping in Petersburg, Virgina during the war. 4
After the war was over, these men returned home and formed a new lodge on December 5, 1867 in the community of Moringsville, in northeastern Chatham. 5 The lodge was to be named after fellow Mason and educator, Manuel Fetter, who was active in the Hillsboro Eagle Lodge from 1838 to 1868 and a professor at Chapel Hill. 6 Some soldiers of Company I who followed York on the battle field, went on to follow him in Masonic service. The charter named Richard W. York as the lodge Master. The first return for the lodge in 1868 showed that several ex "Cedar Fork Rifles" had come to lodge No. 275 with their old commander. S. Barbee was listed as Senior Warden, Mathew Barbee as Junior Warden, Charles E. Beavers as Junior Deacon and W.H. Weatherspoon as Tyler. 7 At least three of these soldiers had been with York since the very first formation of the company in 1861. 8 In years to come the lodge would grow, attracting more old comrades in arms: Rufus H. Barbee and R.D. Stone. The return of 1868 lists more of the old Co. I in the George Washington Lodge No. 174: D.F. Parrish, Harmon Sears, and J.F. Williams. The last return that is on file for the Manuel Fetter lodge is dated November, 14, 1874 with a total of 10 officers and 14 members.
On December 8, 1868, a lodge named for the former Captain of the "Rifles", The Richard Watt York Lodge No. 281, was chartered at Hanks Chapel in Chatham county. 9 The last report from this Lodge was in 1879. Eventually the Manuel Fetter Lodge had also disbanded by October of 1878 and was replaced by the nearby Mount Pisgah Lodge No. 368, later that same year. 10
Many of the Masons belonging to old Manuel Fetter lodge came out to sign petitions for the creation of the new lodge at Mt. Pisgah. Some of these men who were petitioning found themselves joined by familiar faces from their army days. Those who were from the ranks in Virginia who could be found signing the petition of were the old 1st Sgt. of Company I, C.L. Williams who was followed by John F. Williams, L.B. Yates, Harmon Sears, J.H. Williams, S.F. Barbee, C.E. Beaver, and D.F. Parrish. 11
The link between Masonic activity and the
Ku Klux Klan is surely present but hard evidence is hard to come by.
It is easy to draw lines between this secret organization meeting before
and during the war and continuing after the war functioning with a different
mission in mind. "Surprisingly the greatest amount of Ku Klux Klan activity
was not in the East where the Negroes were most numerous but in such
Piedmont counties as Caswell, Orange, Alamance and Chatham."
More research into court records will have to be done in order to find
Masons who found themselves caught in extra-legal Klan activity.
The South has always been steeped in Masonic tradition. This tradition was important for those Southern soldiers in the trenches of Petersburg as well as those coming home after the war. The lodge served as a place for men to meet and discuss what had happened to their homes in their absence, the events of the past four years and perhaps make in secret plans to rebuild what they saw as their shattered society. The Mt. Pisgah Lodge eventually faded away in 1901 and with it went most of the men who had fought under the colors of North Carolina and in the bonds Masonic brotherhood.
1. W.Hadley, D. Horton, N. Strowd. Chatham County: 1771-1971. Delmar Pub. Co., Charlotte. p.305.
2. Ibid. p.305
3. Jordan, Wheymouth T. North Carolina Troops. vol. 4. p.368
4. I.E. Avery Lodge No. 1 returns 1864. Grand Lodge of Virginia Archives. Richmond. Va. W.Hadley, D. Horton, N. Strowd. Chatham County:1771-1971. Delmar Pub. Co.,Charlotte. p.312.
5. W.Hadley, D. Horton, N. Strowd. Chatham County:1771-1971. Delmar Pub. Co., Charlotte. p.312.
6. Ibid. p. 213
7. Manuel Fetter Lodge No. 275 returns 1868. Grand Lodge of North Carolina archives. Raleigh, NC.
8. Jordan, Wheymouth T. North Carolina Troops. vol. 4.p.368-380.
9.W.Hadley, D. Horton, N. Strowd. Chatham County:1771-1971. Delmar Pub. Co., Charlotte.p.313.
10. Ibid.p. 312-313.
11. Mount Pisgah Lodge No. 368. returns, petition, and charter files.1876. Grand Lodge of North Carolina Archives. Raleigh.
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