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
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
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,
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
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.