Templars, Rosicrucians and the Shelter Harbor
M∴W∴ Bradford L Barco
On June 12, 2016, RI College of Rosicrucians met at the Shelter Harbor Inn in Westerly, RI for our summer solstice meeting with our ladies.
This has been an annual event for our College to meet each year at the Shelter Harbor Inn since our college was chartered in 2005. This was a favorite location of our late and Past Chief Adept, Brother Robert F. Poyton. Rumor has it that this location was used as a retreat for the Grand Encampment of Knights Templars in the early 1920's. It was also rumored that a Masonic marker or stone was erected somewhere on the property indicating the above.
We know that Templary in the United States has existed in one form or another for over 240 years. The first date of record for the conferring of the Order of the Temple was on August 28, 1769, when Captain William Davis, a Past Master was knighted, Paul Revere was knighted that same year on December 11th, followed by General Joseph Warren on May 14, 1770.
The Oldest Encampment on record was in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1797, almost 30 years after the knighting of Paul Revere and Joseph Warren, Thomas Smith Webb, one of our Past Grand Masters (1813-1814) while serving as the Templar progenitor in the United States, identified the first Grand Encampment in Philadelphia. Other encampments started to grow along the Atlantic coast.
An Encampment of Knights of the Red Cross was organized in Boston, MA in 1801. In 1802 an Encampment of Knights Templar was organized in Providence, RI. Knights Templary in the United States became a supreme body in 1816 and was called the General Grand Encampment of Knights Templar. On June 20 -21, 1816 representatives from the “eight Councils and Encampments of Knights Templars and the Appendant Orders” met in New York to adopt a Constitution and to elect officers to serve until 1819. Brother DeWitt Clinton, a former U.S. Senator and the current Mayor of New York was elected General Grand Master and was given sovereign control of Templary in the United States.
Through the years Freemasonry continued to grow as did the membership in the Encampments of Knights Templars. During those periods however there were peaks and valleys. From 1816 to 1877 membership increased steadily, but started to decline in late 1877, but shortly thereafter it reversed and a steady rise continued unabated for 50 years. In 1927 the Grand Encampment reached its highest membership totaling 453,836.
Now back to the beginning of the story, after lunch Brother Richard Lynch and myself asked the manager of the Shelter Harbor Inn if she knew of a Masonic marker that might be located on the property, she wasn't sure but told us that we were welcome to look around. We walked over to a small grove about 150 feet from the Inn, there was a large stone that had Shelter Harbor Country Club engraved on the front. As we walked away I turned and looked back and saw the Square and Compasses engraved on the right side of the stone. I called out to Rick and said I've found it. Under the Square and Compasses was engraved A.D. MCMXXVII (1927). On the top there was a cutout that must have had a plaque in it, which is now missing, I'm sure it would have given us more information.
We do know that the Shelter Harbor Inn is located on a farm dating back to the 1800's. The original farmhouse is still there. The Inn was first established in 1911 by Dr. Franklin Lawson from New York City who purchased the property in order to establish a community for musicians. This new community was called “Musiccolony”. It was a retreat for musicians and their families to relax in between the summer performing season in Newport and the winter in New York City. In the early 1920's Musiccolony had grown to include many non-musicians and the community changed its name to Shelter Harbor.
Now we know that the Masonic stone was erected on the property in 1927, and certainly must have been used by our Masonic brothers. The Grand Lodge of New York has been contacted to see if Dr. Franklin Lawson was a Freemason, that may be the connection that we are looking for, as of the writing of this article, we haven't heard back from them. Hopefully some of our older members may have some additional information that they can share with us.
The Shelter Harbor Inn is certainly a gem to enjoy now as I'm sure it was back in the 1920's. Information regarding this article was obtained through the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar and from the Shelter Harbor Inn history.