The month of October not only marks the beginning of a new season in Virginia, it marks significant beginnings in both the history of Masons’ Hall and of Richmond Randolph No.19. It was in in October of 1785 that the cornerstone of Masons’ Hall was laid and it was October of 1787 when Richmond Randolph No.19 was chartered as a result of the actions made during that October two years prior by the initiative of The Richmond Lodge.
According the account documented in History of Richmond Lodge No.10 by Rev. David K. Walthall PH.D. on October 5th 1785, the Lodge took action with reference to the laying of the corner-stone of the Masonic Hall as stated in the minutes of the Richmond Lodge, which at the time was under then under the number 13, rather than 10: “The Lodge being called for the purpose of adopting some mode of laying the foundation of the New Lodge Room to be immediately built in consequence of former Resolutions of this Lodge and the Business being communicated from the chair, it was Resolved that Bro. Randolph, Bro. Buchanan and Bro. Montgomery should be appointed a committee for the purpose of composing and inscription to be engraved on a silver plate to be deposited under the corner stone thereof, the expense of which plate to be defrayed by funds of the Lodge.”
The plot of land where Masons’ Hall would rest was purchased from Gabriel Galt, a member of the lodge. Galt was also one of the original members who petitioned for a lodge to be chartered in Richmond at the Grand Lodge of Virginia’s 1780 meeting in Williamsburg held at the Raleigh Tavern. Brother Galt, who had been a member of the Williamsburg Lodge No.6, was at the time also the proprietor of City Tavern, located at the corner of 19th and Main Street on the southeastern corner of the same square block. This was the tavern Benedict Arnold and his British forces commandeered from Galt to make his headquarters after his raid and occupation of Richmond in 1781 and where he issued the order for the City of Richmond to be burned.
On October 12, 1785 the lodge was called to order to lay the cornerstone. Those attending were Grand Master James Mercer, the officers of the lodge, which included Secretary William Waddill who would go on to be a catalyst for forming Richmond Randolph No.19 and its first Worshipful Master two years later. Others in attendance were the officers of the Richmond Lodge, 31 other members and three visitors. The official records state:
“This Lodge being called for the express purpose of laying the Foundation of the New Lodge, the Lodge proceeded in procession to the place where the Hon. Jas. Mercer, G.M. of the State of Virginia, laid the Corner Stone of the Building, which had the following inscription upon a place of Silver inclosed (sic) therein” (translated from original Latin inscription by Rev. Walthall):
“In the year of Light 5785, in the year of Christ 1785, in the year of the Republic the tenth, and on the 12th day of the month of October, a Society of Masons, called The Richmond Lodge, No.13, Alexr. Montgomery, Master in festive procession, went forth to lay their foundations with songs, and, the command being given, James Mercer, the Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Virginia Brethren having performed the proper rites, laid the first stone.
Far hence, O be far hence, ye profane.”
And there at that moment on that October day in 1785 Masons’ Hall began its two year construction journey. A journey which had many trials and tribulations in itself and one that also almost proved to be burdensome to the brethren of the Richmond Lodge. The lodge’s history notes that it “would have been far more happy and conditions greatly more prosperous. Masonically, had the Lodge not undertaken this work”. An achievement the lodge despite leaving Masons’ Hall has been nonetheless proud of in their history as builders of what the author of that history refers to as “the first Masonic Edifice in America”.
Prior to building Masons’ Hall the brethren of Richmond No.13 had met at various nearby locations. Most of the members had been members of the Williamsburg Lodge and moved to Richmond when Thomas Jefferson relocated Virginia’s capital here. In an article written by Worshipful D.C. Richardson at least one of its meeting places was in “McGuire’s school-house” which was located next to the present site of Masons’ Hall. Another location prior was at a place near the intersection of 18th and Cary Streets known as the “Vendue Store”, which according to the lodge records from November 28, 1785 the terms had expired and the lodge should “remove this evening to the house before named”, which would have been to the school-house while work was newly underway in the construction of Masons’ Hall.
The disharmony created during the process of completing Masons’ Hall also created another October occasion in 1787 with the founding of our lodge, Richmond Randolph No.19. That summer several members of the Richmond Lodge withdrew their membership. Without details the history of the Richmond Lodge says “Evidences of dissension are painfully perceptible” with the most important withdrawal being that of the sitting Secretary of the Richmond Lodge and
Grand Secretary, the aforementioned William Waddill.
On October 29, 1787 Waddill, along with John Dixon, Sr. (another former Williamsburg Lodge transplant who’s son would later be a master of No.19) and Daniel Lambert would file a petition (the original which is still hanging in the lodge is pictured) for a charter for a new lodge to be named after Edmund Randolph, the sitting Grand Master and Governor of Virginia. According to the History of Richmond Randolph No.19 by Worshipful Charles P. Rady the petitioners were:
“Moved by a desire to extend the area of masonry, and thereby aid in the dissemination of her time-honored principles, as embodied in the truly Masonic virtues of Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love, united themselves together, and formally requested the Grand Lodge of Virginia to issue them a Charter of Incorporation for Richmond Randolph Lodge A.F. and A.M.”
The charter would be immediately granted by Most Worshipful Edmund Randolph with William Waddill, who’s initiative birthed our lodge, elected as the first Worshipful Master of Richmond Randolph No.19. The first in a line that continues to this day at that same illustrious old masonic hall where both the building and the lodge came to life on cool October days centuries ago in Richmond, Virginia.
History of Richmond Randolph Lodge A.F.&A.M.
By Worshipful Charles P. Rady
History of Richmond Lodge No.10 A.F.&A.M.
By Rev. David K. Walthall
William & Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine
Williamsburg Lodge of Masons
Vol. 1, No. 1
Presentation Volume of The Grand Lodge of Virginia