In the inaugural edition of Meet The Past Master, we introduce you to Dr. John Koyall Read, the Third Master of Richmond Randolph No.19. Brother Read served in the east at Masons’ Hall from June 23, 1793 until June 22, 1795, after having previously served a two year term as Deputy Grand Master of Virginia Masons from 1790 to 1792.
Brother John Read was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1746. His father was James Read, the younger brother of Brother Benjamin Franklin’s wife Deborah Reed, whose father was also named John Read. In addition to his uncle Ben, his father James was an important connection for John and to our country’s founders and delegates as he was employed by the Continental Congress to sign the continental currency. This would prove to be a critical relationship in the early history of the United States Navy, resulting in its first hero.
John became a physician and to Virginia, residing in Hanover and then Goochland Counties. During his name in Virginia he became an active Mason and took interest in a wayward mason, John Paul Jones who had recently arrived in Fredericksburg. A new face in a new town that looked suspiciously upon strangers, Jones was welcomed with open arms by Fredericksburg Lodge No.4 and found a friend there with another mason named John, John Read.
The two Johns were of similar age and became fast friends. Jones would spend significant time at Read’s plantation “The Grove” where he would fascinate his new friend with tales of his adventures during his former life in King George’s Navy as “Capitan Paul”. It was here Jones would become acquainted with the ways of Virginia’s landed gentry and learn from Dr. Read how to be a gentleman. According to the book John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of The American Navy, during those solitary hours spent with Dr. Read at the Grove, Jones read a great deal. He was self-educating.”
It was during his time in Hanover County with Read where not only was he forming a friendship and self-educating with his host’s robust library, he was also was looking for love. He began a relationship with Dorothea Spotswood Dandridge, which her influential father did not approve of. Later, after Jones’ departure, John K. Read would have to break the bad news to his friend in a letter that Ms. Dandridge was to become Mrs. Patrick Henry. He reports “Mis Dandridge is no more! She a few month since gave herself into the arms of Gov. Henry.”
In 1775, desirous of a naval commission, Jones left for Philadelphia in hopes to join the continental navy that was to be formed. He was put in contact with and hosted by John’s father, James Read and introduced to the influential members of congress that could sponsor his commission, including Benjamin Franklin. These efforts were successful and Jones received his appointment as a 1st Lieutenant. Year later in a letter to Franklin, John Paul Jones said, “I can mention a person whom I very much esteem, and who has always expressed great obligation to you. I mean Dr. John K. Read.”
While Jones went to sea, Dr. Read stayed in Virginia supporting the cause for independence by serving the cause as a surgeon for the Virginia Militia. Read and Jones would maintain a correspondence throughout the war and after. After the revolutionary War John K. Read would become an influential presence in Virginia politics and would continue his involvement and dedication to freemasonry.
In 1790, with the Grand Lodge of Virginia now firmly established in Richmond at Masons’ Hall, Read would be elected Deputy Grand Master of Virginia Masons. As Deputy Grand Master in 1791 and a member of Richmond Randolph No.19 , Dr. Read would author and publish the Grand Lodge’s first Methodical Digest under the lengthy title and description “The New Ahiman Rezon: Containing the Laws and Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of Virginia. To which is added the history of masonry, from creation, to the death of Queen Elizabeth. Also illustrations of the royal art, and a variety of other matter relative to that institution. Carefully collated, from the most approved authors, ancient as well as modern.”
Read remains credited in the current and all subsequent editions including in the editions later authored by No.19’s own Dr. John Dove. The book was enormously influential in the organization of Virginia masonry during the early republic as the current edition acts as the foremost guideline for today’s lodges. Kentucky also adopted Read’s first edition in 1792 to establish its Grand Lodge and govern its subordinate lodges.
The original edition also credits the printing to John Dixon, a charter member and first Senior Warden of Richmond Randolph No.19, who had published the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg before relocating to Richmond along with Virginia’s capital. In addition to his Deputy Grand Master title it should be noted John K. Read also lists himself as a member of the “Sublime
Lodge of Perfection, Charleston, SC “an important component of the Scottish Rite which credits its Southern Jurisdiction founding to 1801, interestingly enough a decade after the initial publication of The New Ahiman Rezon.
Read would dedicate this first edition to George Washington and would send him a hand written manuscript before it went to press. In a letter to George Washington accompanying his work and preserved in the National Archives Dr. Read writes: “If you should find on perusal of the preface, (which will give you the outlines of the work) that there is utility in the production, I flatter myself the obscurity of my name will not militate against the success of my application—I beg leave to refer you to my friend the honorable Mr. Lyons, for my character as a Man—as an Author my claim to your attention, can only be, in proportion to the merits of the work.”
After his term as Deputy Grand Master instead of becoming Grand Master of Masons in Virginia as is the practice today, Dr. Read would instead step aside for John Marshall to assume the position of Grand Master. Read would take on a different position sitting in the east at Masons’ Hall in 1793 as the third Worshipful Master of Richmond Randolph No.19. The Read administration appears to have been a harmonious one according to the activity referenced in the lodge’s published history from 1887. Of note as master, Read receives a communication from the Grand Master that William Waddill, a charter member and the first master of No.19 would be appointed “Inspector General of the Lodges”, an important office at that time. Waddill, also and Past Master of Williamsburg No.6 had previously played an important role in the proceedings establishing the Grand Lodge of Virginia in Williamsburg.
After his service to Richmond Randolph No.19, Dr. Read would marry for the third time and relocate to Norfolk, where he would serve as an Alderman and in 1799 was elected Mayor of the Borough (now City) of Norfolk. In addition to his service to the City of Norfolk, Read would finally decades later follow his friend John Paul Jones into naval service. President John Adams commissioned him as a surgeon to serve as the quarantine inspector for the United States Navy fleet in Norfolk during the Quasi-War with France.
An interesting scandal happened in 1800 which involved Reed occurred during his time as both an official of the US Navy and of the Borough of Norfolk. The famous USS Constellation (presently an attraction in the Baltimore Harbor) was in port at Norfolk. Dr. Reed ordered the captain of ship Thomas Truxtun to turn the custody of Hugh Jones, suspected of being a British deserter, over to the British consul, John Hamilton. Jones was promptly transferred to the British territory of Jamaica where he was tried and hanged.
This prompted an investigation by the Virginia House of Delegates as the mariner was argued to be under the protection of Virginia and United States laws. The case was referred to then president Thomas Jefferson by William Wirt, who was clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates at the time, requesting provisions be made in the against similar infractions in the future as the state did not have judicial authority with foreign consuls. The matter was investigated by James Monroe who was serving as Minister to The United Kingdom during which a correspondence with Jefferson on the matter was maintained, including references about John K. Reed’s conduct on the matter with Jefferson.
John Koyall Read, Sr. would pass in 1805 at just 50 years of age. He rests in the churchyard of Norfolk’s historic Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church where his grave marker describes him as a man of “distinguished reputation” and “uncommon ability” that “won the esteem of all”.
John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American
By Evan Thomas
Some New Light On John Paul Jones
The South Atlantic Quarterly, Volume 17
By S.A. Ashe
Virginia Methodical Digest
35th Edition, 2009
To George Washington from John K. Read, 13 April 1791
Washington Papers, National Archives
John Paul Jones
by James Fairbairn Smith
Published by The Grand Lodge of Scotland, 2018
From John Adams to United States Senate, 29 January 1799
Adams Papers, National Archives
To Thomas Jefferson from James Madison, 22 May 1801
From Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 13 August 1801
Jefferson Papers, National Archives
The New Ahiman Rezon: Containing the Laws and Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of Virginia
By John K. Read
History of Richmond Randolph Lodge A.F.&A.M.
By Worshipful Charles P. Rady