Robert Morris (1818-1888)
Poet Laureate of Masonry

Dr. Rob Morris was born Robert Williams Peckham on August 31, 1818 near Boston, Massachusetts. When his father died in 1825 he was placed in a foster home and took the name of one of his foster parents, John Morris. His childhood and young manhood were spent in New York where he received many educational advantages including a splendid college training which qualified him as a successful lawyer, lecturer, educator and instructor in Masonry. He devoted many years in research and creative writing.

Dr. Morris became a Master Mason in Oxford, Mississippi, March 5, 1846. At this time he was President of Mt. Sylvan Academy. He soon became interested in an idea that the female relatives of Master Masons should share, in a measure, the benefits from knowledge of this great fraternal Order. Embued with this desire, his fertile mind set forth to evolve an Order which would benefit both men and women.

While President of Mt. Sylvan Academy, he met and later married Miss Charlotte Mendenhall. Several children were born of this union. Mrs. Morris was an inspiration to Dr. Morris and a real helpmate for nearly fifty years. They both worked on the idea of the Order and invited brother Masons and their wives to discuss the plans with Dr. Morris demonstrating to them the theories he had formulated. This may be rightfully termed the origin of the Order of the Eastern Star, although it was many years before it was recognized or its principles felt by those who were fortunate enough to come within its scope.

During the years he taught as principal in "The Little Red Brick School Building" in Richland, Mississippi, 1849 - 1850, he worked with zeal writing a Ritual of the Order of the Eastern Star. In 1850 he systematized the Degrees with the idea of giving them form, he decided on the degrees, contemplated the themes, incorporated from the pages of antiquity the heroines and names upon which the beautiful work is built, established the signs and passes, colors and emblems of the Order and promulgated the fundamental principles which have remained unchanged through the years.

The first Ritual was compiled and published under the title of "The Rosary of the Eastern Star."

In 1855 he organized a Supreme Constellation with himself as the Most Enlightened Grand Luminary, with headquarters in New York City. Charters were issued in all parts of the United States.

In 1860 the Constellation form of organization was discontinued and charters were issued for the organization of Families. In 1868 the Constellation and Families became lost except for their historical value.

In 1866 Dr. Morris became associated with Mr. Robert Macoy of New York City. Upon Mr. Morris' departure for the Holy Land he transferred to Robert Macoy all the authority he had assumed and exercised in planning the Order of the Eastern Star. Under Mr. Macoy's guiding hand the Supreme Grand Chapter was organized. This was a self-constituted body. Deputies were appointed in all parts of the United States, the Territories and in Mexico.

In 1867 and 1868 Mr. Macoy compiled and published a Ritual, using Dr. Morris' Rosary as a guide. This was the beginning of the organization of Chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star in the States as well as internationally. He immediately attempted to make the work more systematic and succeeded in adapting it to organized Chapters in such a way as to assure their success.

Dr. Morris traveled extensively in foreign countries. He spent nearly a year in the Holy Land. He organized the first Masonic Lodge in Jerusalem, Royal Solomon Number One, and became its first Worshipful Master.

He was an author of great ability and wrote numerous and valuable works on Masonry and its kindred subjects. The most popular were, "The Lights and Shadows of Masonry" and "Free Masonry in the Holy Land." He contributed to columns in almost every Masonic publication.

He was also a poet of unusual attainment, having written over four hundred poems. His best known poem is "The Level and the Square." Many of these poems were devoted to the Order of the Eastern Star and are still used by Chapters.

Aside from his work in Masonry and Eastern Star, he wrote many religious songs which are used by Churches and Sunday Schools. While seated on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Palestine, he wrote the beautiful song "0, Galilee."

In 1858-1859 Dr. Morris served as Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Kentucky. In 1860 he drafted the Constitution of the Grand Lodge. Having passed through the chairs in the Blue Lodge, Royal Arch Chapter, Council, Commandery, Consistory and Grand Lodge, and having spent most of the strength, thought and wisdom of his early manhood in a close study of the Rituals, codes, principles and tenets of Masonry, he was conceded to be one of the most versatile and learned Masons of his day.

In 1880 the General Grand Chapter conferred on Dr. Morris the title of "Master Builder of the Order of the Eastern Star" and August 31st, the birthday of this illustrious man, was set apart as the Festal Day of the Order, to be observed by having special programs on that day. He also had the Degrees of Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Laws conferred upon him later in life.

The crowning event in the career of this remarkable man occurred in 1884 when over 500,000 Master Masons throughout the world expressed their desire that he be crowned with the laurel wreath, symbolizing Poet Laureate of Masonry. One hundred years had elapsed since the first Poet Laureate, Robert Burns, had received this honor. Dr. Morris was the first poet thought capable of filling this place after Robert Burns. In the presence of more than seven hundred dignitaries this honor was conferred for the second time in the history of the craft.

The first Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star was organized in Michigan in 1867. Three years later Grand Chapters were organized in Mississippi, New Jersey and New York. Before the close of 1876, Grand Chapters were organized in California, Vermont, Indiana, Connecticut, Nebraska, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Massachusetts.

Meanwhile the publication of different Rituals and revised editions thereof brought confusion and diversity in the work where there should have been uniformity. It therefore became necessary that this be corrected with all Grand Chapters united under one body and using the same Ritual; thus the General Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star was organized in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 16, 1876. Committees were appointed to compile and edit a Ritual of the Order of the Eastern Star. The one now in use has been evolved from the Ritual edited by the Committees appointed at that time.

The Chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star now encircle the earth. The General Grand Chapter has jurisdiction over all Grand Chapters in the United States (except New York and New Jersey which are independent Grand Chapters), the Provinces in Canada, and the Grand Chapter of Puerto Rico. There is a Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland with jurisdiction over Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, South Africa, and New Zealand. The States, Territories and Dependencies of Australia are under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Chapter of Australia which was established in 1985.

Chapters have been organized subordinate to the General Grand Chapter in Alaska, Aruba, Austria, Bermuda, Taiwan, Panama, Germany, Guam, Hawaii, Japan, Mexico, Okinawa, Italy, Philippines and Saudi Arabia. The membership in the Order numbers over 1,000,000 members in over 8,000 Chapters.

In 1950 the General Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star, observed the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Writing of the Ritual with appropriate ceremonies held in Washington, D.C.

The International Eastern Star Temple and the offices of the General Grand Chapter are located in Washington, D.C. In the Reception room of the International Eastern Star Temple, over the mantel, hangs an oil painting of this distinguished Master Builder of our Order. This was a gift from the Grand Chapter of Kentucky and was unveiled by his grand daughter, Miss Ella Morris Mount, Past Grand Matron and Grand Secretary of Kentucky.

Dr. Morris spent a great part of his life in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. The last twenty-six years were spent in LaGrange, Kentucky, where his family was reared and educated. His home is now the property of the Grand Chapter of Kentucky and is maintained as a Shrine in honor of the Master Builder of our Order.

The "Little Red Brick School Building in Mississippi" is owned by the Grand Chapter of Mississippi and is maintained as a Shrine in honor of Dr. Morris' writing of the Ritual in Mississippi.

On July 31, 1888, when the news of his death was sent to all parts of the world, profound grief was expressed at his passing as his whole life had been devoted to the uplifting of humanity. He was buried in the cemetery in La Grange, Kentucky, where admiring friends from all over the world have erected a tall marble shaft in his memory. On one side of the shaft is the Square and Compasses and on the other side is the Five Pointed Star.
 

Compiled by Mamie Lander, Past Most Worthy Grand Matron and Right Worthy Grand Secretary, (1955), and adapted from "The Ritual Of The Order Of The Eastern Star" published by the General Grand Chapter.

 

 

         

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