The Solution of a Masonic Mystery

New Brunswick society a century ago was notable for the number of its benevolent and fraternal orders. The provincial almanac for 1899 listed twelve of these organizations as being active within Westmorland County alone. Many, such as the Sons of England Benefit Society, and the Grange or Patrons of Industry, have long since disappeared. Others, for example, the Knights of Columbus, Oddfellows and the Masonic Order are still with us.

Historians of Free Masonry trace its origin to the mediaeval stonemason’s guilds, who used secret signs to ensure that unqualified persons were not employed in their trade. The term lodge was derived from the worker’s quarters that were built adjacent to their construction sites.

Centuries later, a society was organized utilizing Masonic terminology and Christian doctrine in its rituals. Shortly after the creation of the Grand Lodge of England, on June 24, 1717, the order crossed the Atlantic to take root in the New England colonies. The first Masonic Lodge, within present day Canada, was organized in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, in 1738.

On November 28, 1871, the Sackville Borderer reported that Lebanon Lodge #28 F & AM Sackville, heretofore working under a dispensation, was duly constituted. Present were a large gathering of members from Sussex Lodge, Dorchester, and Acacia Lodge, Amherst. After the ceremonies, a supper was served at the Brunswick House and the usual toasts were given, accompanied by speeches and songs. The Masonic Order had arrived in Sackville.

Now to the Masonic Mystery. In 1997, following the death of George Anderson Sr., the family discovered among his effects, a handmade silk apron, which they believed might be of historical significance. Fortunately they were able to call upon someone knowledgeable, in the person of David Jones, who identified the object as a rare Masonic apron.

Convinced that a story lay behind this item, David embarked on a quest to trace its background. What follows is a summary of his research in tracing the apron to its original owner. As he expressed it: Who was the man of the apron? What of his Masonic career? What of his life?

Further investigation uncovered a Grand Lodge Certificate bearing the name, Master Mariner Thomas Rheese Anderson (1840–1918), father of the deceased George Anderson Sr. A further search of the records of Sussex Lodge revealed that Captain Thomas R. Anderson was initiated on July 5, 1866, passed on July 12 and raised on August 2 all within a thirty day period during that summer.

It is David’s surmise that Captain Anderson was in Dorchester for ship repairs, and thus had limited time to properly receive his degrees. The search also disclosed that his brother, Captain Charles M. Anderson (1838–1895), also became a member of Sussex Lodge on June 20, 1867, just a few days prior to Confederation. He was later to withdraw his membership before emigrating to New Zealand in 1870. Captain Charles M. Anderson died there, December 5, 1895.

Unfortunately a gap remains in tracing Captain Thomas R. Anderson’s later career in the Masonic Order. Records show that he remained on the roll at Sussex Lodge until 1872, when his name disappears. Since Lebanon Lodge received its charter in 1871 it was thought that he may have simply transfered his membership. To date, no verification of such a move has been found.

Beyond his involvement with the Masons, Captain Thomas R. Anderson’s seafaring career is well documented. This is, in part, due to the deposit in the Mount Allison University Archives of his valuable papers. Briefly stated, he spent more than thirty years travelling the world to ports in the United States, Europe, Africa, Australia and the Orient. Some of the famous ships under his command were the Arcadia, Gideon Palmer, Gussie Trueman, Algeria and the Asia. David Jones has also uncovered a fine painting of the latter vessel.

Captain Anderson retired to his home in Sackville in 1892. In later life he played an active role in community affairs. A supporter of the incorporation of the town of Sackville in 1903, he was elected an alderman in the first civic election.

A contemporary account of Anderson’s entrepreneurial success concludes: His record as a successful shipmaster would be hard to excel. He never made a voyage without it resulting in a dividend for the shipowners, never stranded a vessel or had it touch the ground, nor varied from the voyage for repairs or stores in short never went into a port in distress. His integrity, no less than his seamanship and business ability, was always recognized

I wish to express my gratitude to Sherman Estabrooks for suggesting this Flashback topic. Special thanks must go to David Jones for his historical detective work and willingness to share this story with a wider audience.