Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 17: Nos 1-2) >> Simms, Freemasonry, and His ''Epistle to a Brother Mason in Affliction'' >> Page 112

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Secondary Scholarship | 2009
Transcription 112THE SIMMS REVIEW

with the express assurance that one's religious or political opinions
would not be infringed upon by the fraternity—something that would
have been attractive to Simms during the travails of war. Simms's par-
ticipation in Masonry, then, is a neglected but significant facet of his
post-war attempts to initiate healing not only within the South but also
between the North and the South. He showed his leadership once again
by joining in a delegation to the North to appeal for relief and by writing
in his poem "Epistle to a Brother Mason in Affliction" about the respon-
sibility of Northern Masons to help their distressed Southern brethren.

The Masonic Fraternity
A brief overview of the Masonic fraternity reveals why it would
have appealed to Simms during those trying times. The actual origins of
the Freemasons are lost to time, although there have been thousands of
books written over the past 200 years that propound one theory or another.
According to the most accepted accounts, the Masons of the Middle
Ages were actual stone masons and builders. They were responsible for
many of the famous cathedrals and other magnificent structures found
throughout Europe and Britain. These early Masons are generally referred
to as "Operative Masons."
In the early seventeenth century, as the number of operative
Masons began to decrease, they began to accept non-operative members.
These members, who had no intention of becoming builders, joined for
social reasons, or perhaps from an interest in the craft's ancient customs.
At first there were only a few of these, but as time passed their number
increased until by the early part of the eighteenth century, they were more
numerous and influential than the Operatives.
At this point things began to change. The modern incarnation
of Freemasonry began in 1717 when four local lodges met and formed
the first Grand Lodge at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in London. This
body was charged with the responsibility for instituting regularity among
the various existing lodges and to make provisions for starting new ones.
As this body began issuing charters for new lodges throughout Britain,
Europe, and the Colonies, the Masons began to experience tremendous
growth. Grand Lodges were also formed in Scotland and Ireland and they
also began issuing charters for the formation ofnew lodges, but the English
claim primary responsibility for the origins of modern Freemasonry.