This is a long excerpt from Charles H. Brooks’s History and Manual of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows…….The purpose here is to give a clear and concise look at the origin(s) of our Order as well as clearing up some misconceptions about the Order…….
P. G. M., W. A. Pledger, who delivered the oration before the Nashville B. M. C., November 29, 1888, said, “Secret or organizations are not creatures of this age. They date back to the time of the building of Noah’s Ark, the building of the Tower of Babel, and Solomon’s Temple. The Masonic fraternity, from which springs this grand fraternity of ours, is perhaps the oldest secret society.” The speaker neglected to give a single reason for asserting that Odd Fellowship sprang out of Free Masonry. The claim has been often made before and since, but few speakers or writers have ever attempted to prove it. The Order of Odd Fellows is truly a “Friendly Society,” and always has been. Its fundamental principles and distinguishing characteristics are as different from those of Masonry as chalk is from cheese. The rich and poor, the high and low, the Prince and Peasant, men of every rank and station in life are and always have been admitted to Odd Fellowship on equal footing. Not so with Free Masonry. The principles of our Order, which I propose to discuss in another chapter further on, being so unlike those of other secret societies, I am constrained to reject the idea that Odd Fellowship sprang out of Free Masonry, and to agree with an eminent Past Grand ‘Master of the Independent Order, who declared “that al though we may discover a similitude in the fact of initiation, in rites, ceremonies, and in gradations of degrees, between other institutions and Odd Fellowship, yet we will find no traces of those principles of fraternity which distinguish eminently our affiliation.” And then, “to ‘claim for Odd Fellowship, affinity with secret institutions which had their origin in periods of time when the passions of men were fiercest, and the midnight of idolatry overshadowed and blighted the promptings of the human heart” is but to debase its benign principles of human fraternity. “Odd Fellowship invokes not the aid or sanction of such ages to consecrate its principles; and if, in truth, these could be summoned to attest its antiquity, they would rather awaken just indignation against its character, than serve to commend its merits to an enlightened public opinion.” In view of the admitted fact that no authentic record of its origin can be found, let us assume that its benign principles have been drawn from the image reflected upon man in his creation, and that the teachings of the Bible suggested the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man — the foundation-stone of our Order. Section 2. Of the Origin in England. The first authentic history we have of the existence of Odd Fellowship in Great Britain is in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Yet, strange to say, no one can give the exact date of its introduction. It is commonly believed that the “Loyal Grand Lodge of Honor,” which tradition says was established in England by five knights from France at some period between the twelfth and eighteenth century, was the parent organization of Odd Fellows. However, that may be we know the Order existed in England in the eighteenth century. Authentic fragmentary records of the existence of Lodges in England at that time are valuable relics in the possession of some brethren in England to-day. The following original document, presented to the Editor of the English Quarterly Report and Magazine by the District Secretary of Macclesfield District, was kindly sent by Grand Secretary Livesey for the use of the author in the preparation of his book: UNITED ORDER OF ODD FELLOWS, Grand Lodge, Bohemia Tavern, Wych Street, Strand, Middlesex, Saturday, January 6, 1798. In the Book of Constitution and Journal of Proceedings of the above Lodge, held this day, is found as follows : On the motion of the Grand Master, and by the consent of the Provincial Lodge of this Order, held at the Bull and Mouth Inn, Sheffield, in the County of York. — It is ordered that the Lodge of Odd fellows lately opened and now held at the George Inn, in the Market Place, Sheffield, as aforesaid, be received into the union, and enrolled among the Provincial United Lodges, and that a Bond of union be granted to such Lodge accordingly. Now, therefore, be it remembered that I, the undersigned, the Grand Master of the Order, do hereby certify and declare the said new Lodge to be a lawful United Lodge in this Order, and the Union do hereby bind themselves and the said new Lodge in Strong Friendship and amity, hereby assures them of the protection of the Grand Lodge, as long as the Laws of the Order shall be observed. Given under my hand, the day and year above written. (Signed) RICHARD CORNER, Grand Master. T. SMITH, Grand Secretary. I, the most Noble Grand of the Provincial Lodge of Odd fellows, held at Bull and Mouth Inn, Sheffield, do testify the consent of my Lodge to the granting of the Bond of Union. (Signed) ‘ ‘ THOMAS COCKBURN. October 30th, 1837. — I, James Sunderland, the present Grand Secretary in the G. U. O., do declare the above to be a true copy of the Dispensation now in the Amicable Lodge, Sheffield, which Lodge formerly belonged to the Grand United Order, but declared their independence in the year 1813. The foregoing document appeared in the English Report in March, 1893, and is vouched for by members of unquestioned veracity. The author, thinking that the late Grand Secretary of the Committee of Management could give the exact date of the organization of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in England, addressed a letter to him asking for this information and other data. The following is his reply: COMMITTEE ROOMS, 24 Devonshire Street, Oxford Street, Chorlton on Medlock. GRAND UNITED ORDER OF ODD FELLOWS, Manchester, October 27, 1893. Dear Bro. Brooks : Replying to yours of recent date, I regret to inform you that the early history of the G. U. O. in England is a dead letter with respect to any reliable data. But the contention of our old mem bers is, the I. O. of O. M. Unity was the first split from the G. U. O. in the year 1813, whilst the National Independent Order of Odd Fellows was a split from the M. Unity to O. Then fol lows the Nottingham Imperial O. of O. and others to the number of thirty-four different Odd Fellow societies. Up to 1837 our own Society was managed by the Grand Lodge, which elected their own officers and filled all vacancies of members in the said Grand Lodge. And at the breaking up of the Grand Lodge and introduction of our present system of general meetings, electing all officers and Committee of Management, report says the books containing the early and chequered history of the Society were destroyed, and I can’t say the date of the Australia first dispensation for the same reason. With respect to the difference between the Manchester Unity and our own, there is certainly a slight difference in the Rituals and General Management ; but the objects, contributions and benefits are much the same in all the thirty-four different’ Odd Fellow Societies. The difference is more in name than reality; as well as the Foresters, Druids, Shepherds, Free Gardeners, etc., etc., too numerous to mention. Sorry I can give nothing reliable about our own early Society. Wishing success to your undertaking, I remain, faithfully and fraternally yours, W. LIVESEY, Grand Secretary, England. To MR. C. H. Brooks, Grand Secretary, America. The author was not surprised to hear the regretful admissions from the Grand Secretary respecting the origin of the Order in England, because he had given the subject of Odd Fellowship five years’ study, and had never been able to ascertain this fact. This letter was requested because we desired to insert it in this history that it might be handed down to future generations, and that the Odd Fellows of this day should have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this chapter. The Union Order or Grand United Order embraced all Lodges in England until 1813, when the first split or secession occurred. The seceding Lodges formed a union and styled them selves “Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Manchester Unity.” This Order grew rapidly, and in less than thirty years had over 400,000 members in England and America. But they were not permitted to enjoy many years of harmony and unity, for dissociation soon sprang up among them, and their Lodges, having been taught the lesson of secession, many of them split off and established other Orders. The Grand United Order, the parent stock, also lost others, and so today we have thirty-four different Orders of Odd Fellows. The most prominent among them are: The I. O. of O. F., America, 747,295 members; the I. O. of O., Manchester Unity, 717,871 members, the G. U. O. of O. F., 174,536; the National I. O. of O. F., 56,083; Nottingham Ancient Imperial U. O. of O. F., 42,866 ; Ancient Noble O. of U. O. F., Bolton Unity, 28,000; also the I. I. O. O., S. L. U, I. O. O., Kent Unity; British United Order of Odd Fellows, and Derby Midland United O. of O. F., The above figures are taken from the official reports for the year 1893. This brings us to the beginning of Odd Fellowship on this side of the Atlantic. Section 3. Of the Origin in the United States. — The first regularly constituted Lodge in America was set apart April 26, 1819, at Baltimore, Md. The meeting was called, and the Lodge was organized by Thomas Wildey, a blacksmith by trade, and Englishman by birth, and an American citizen by adoption. The Lodge was styled Washington Lodge, No. 1, and was instituted to work after the Union Order. However, it shortly afterward changed its working and organization to the Independent Order, and accordingly applied to that Order for a charter. The charter was granted through the Duke of York’s Lodge, Preston, Manchester Unity, February 1, 1820; but was not received until October’ 23 of the same year. Prior to this time it was claimed that Lodges were started in Baltimore in 1802 ; in New York in 1806, and several other cities. But it seems that these were all formed by self-institution, and were not regularly chartered bodies by the fountain-head in England. The charter granted to Washington Lodge at Baltimore in 1820 also constituted this Lodge the “Grand Lodge of Maryland and the United States,” with power to charter Lodges accordingly. By authority of this complex charter the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts was instituted June 11, 1823; the Grand Lodge of New York June 24, 1823 ; the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania June 27, 1823. On ac count of the dissatisfaction among the Grand Lodges of the other States, Maryland agreed to give up her rights under her charter and unite with the other States in forming a distinct National Grand Lodge. So, on the 22nd of February, 1825, the Grand Lodge of the United States, I. O. O. F., Manchester Unity, held its first annual convocation, it having been organized on the fifteenth day of the preceding month. And thus it continued working under the authority, and in harmony with Manchester Unity until 1843, when it succeeded and declared itself “the only fountain and depository of Independent Odd Fellowship on the globe.” The historians of that Order say the causes which impelled them to this separation were “that the Manchester Unity had abandoned the ancient work and land-marks of the Order, as well as violated its principles and attempted to invade our chartered rights.” But the careful reader will observe that there are other reasons, and perhaps the principal ones which prompted this act of severance, viz.: i. The Lodges in this country desired to be relieved of the obligation of granting pecuniary assistance to visiting brethren from England. 2. It was the reassertion of that same spirit of secession which first made itself manifest in 1813. Before leaving this subject the author right here desires to correct a very erroneous impression with respect to the separation of the Independent Order from the Grand United Order. It has been so often asserted that the White Odd Fellows of America in 1843 absolved their allegiance and affiliation with the White Odd Fellows of England because the latter granted a Dispensation to open a Colored Lodge in New York City, until it is generally believed ; but such was not the case. The Independent Order in America was chartered by the Independent Order, Manchester Unity, England, and was therefore not a part of the Grand United Order. Thirty years before the first Colored Lodge was established, the I. O., Manchester Unity, seceded from the Order which authorized the ‘establishment of Colored Lodges in this country. By a singular coincidence the White Lodges in America declared their independence of the Manchester Unity the very same year that the first Colored Lodge was established. This fact may have given credence to the error into which many of us, have been led.