History of Masonry in the Northwest

Special thanks to the author of this History of Freemasonry, Kyle A. Grafstrom, for his work in compiling the information and for giving his permission to Olympia Lodge No. 1 to publish his work on our website.
Compiled by Kyle A. Grafstrom


Very few organizations can compare to the history of the Freemasons.  Boasting an all star cast of the 'who's who' of men that changed the world, it is no wonder Freemasonry captivates the mind of just about anyone who hears about it.  Thoughts of what could lie beyond the veil of "secrets" lead people to all sorts of ideas.  But if a man's intellect were strong enough to consider the likelihood of foul play among men such as Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Franklin, Amadeus Mozart and Winston Churchill behind closed doors, he might think otherwise.  Not to mention, these men mentioned are just a few threads in the immense tapestry interwoven by the lives of extraordinary men who all just 'happened' to be masons. 

The question is not "What did Freemasonry do for these men?" but rather, "Why did they do what they did for Freemasonry?"  That answer is of course left to interpretation.  The fact which shall soon be made apparent to you in this reading, is that many of the men who pioneered the west were Freemasons. 

I know that in my own experience, it has always been inspiration that has pushed me forward in this fraternity.   It is without a doubt the role models I have found in Freemasonry both in person and in print that have led me to think as highly of the craft as I do. 

My intention with sharing this rich stretch of history is to bring to light the riches that are at our feet every time we step into a masonic lodge.  I hope that as a result of reading this you come to find a greater appreciation for just how important Freemasonry was to these honorable brothers of the past and consequently are inspired to contribute more to the building of the house not made with hands. 


Whence came we?

One does not need to go back to the days of Ben Franklin and George Washington to find the heroes of our gentle craft.  Just as Freemasons were instrumental in the creation of this great Nation, they also played a major role in the settling and development of the West coast.  While it can be said that the first Freemasons to reach the West were Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the first men to officially establish a Masonic lodge beyond the Rocky Mountains were a small group of pioneers in the Oregon territory.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the first American Freemasons to reach the West.
America as it was in the early 1800s
Just two years before Western seaports were set ablaze by gold fever, two crucial things happened in the Pacific Northwest.  One was that the “Oregon territory” was signed over to the United States by Great Britain and the second that a group of Freemasons met for the first time on record.   The former was a result of political works in Washington, DC and the later a result of 3 masons placing an ad in the Oregon Spectator newspaper. 

The ad read,

“The members of the Masonic Fraternity, in Oregon Territory, are respectfully requested to meet at the City Hotel, in Oregon City, on the 21st, to adopt some measures to obtain a charter for a lodge.  –Joseph Hull, P.G. Stewart, William P. Dougherty, February 5th, 1846.” 
Oregon City, Oregon in 1867
The result of the ad was that on February 21st, 1846, 7 masons convened at the City Hotel (4 in addition to the original 3 that placed the ad) to sign a petition and draft a letter requesting a charter to open a Masonic lodge.  The closest Lodge at the time to request such a charter from was in Missouri, over 2,000 miles away by way of the Oregon Trail.  It might as well have been a trek to the top of Mount Everest to get the charter.  But as was common with the spirit of the time, they went ahead and carried out the request. 
William P. Dougherty
One of the original men who placed the ad and one of the top signers on the petition, Brother William P. Dougherty, had been raised a master mason just three years prior at Platte City Lodge No. 56 in Platte City, Missouri.  This was the lodge the petition would be sent to and Brother Dougherty personally paid for it to get there. 
Missouri during the days of the Oregon Trail.
Joel Palmer, pioneer of Oregon Trail
Entrusted to deliver this petition was Brother Joel Palmer, a man who happened to be returning to Missouri at the time to bring his family back to Oregon.  The petition and letter were delivered in the summer of 1846. 

In the fall of that same year, the Grand Lodge of Missouri granted a charter for “Multnomah Lodge, No. 84” in Oregon City.  The charter named the original three brothers that placed the newspaper ad as its principle officers and the Grand Lodge requested it to be returned to the awaiting brothers in Oregon City.
Pierre Barlow Cornwall, pioneer of Bellingham Bay, Washington
It wasn’t until the Spring of 1848 however, that a suitable carrier for the charter could be found.  That man was Brother Pierre Barlow Cornwall, who at the ripe age of 26 was preparing to make his way West with his younger brother Arthur Cornwall, 16, and their guide Tom Fallon.    These three men were all set to go from St. Joseph, Missouri and were in the prime season to get started on the trail before it became barren later in the year.  Fortunately, their eagerness to make a start was matched by another small party of four.  In that party were Orrin Kellogg and his son Joseph, and two men by the name of Hathaway.  All intended to reach Willamette Valley in the Oregon Territory to receive a free claim for land. 
Illustration of St. Joseph, Missouri in 1868, courtesy of History-map.com
A wagon party crossing the Oregon Trail
Traveling on the Oregon Trail was obviously very dangerous and a huge risk for everyone who took it.  But not only was the risk worth the reward for the particular members of this party, the contributions to society that P.B. Cornwall and the Kellogg family had once they reached the West are incredible! 

After making a fortune in real estate and mining in California, Cornwall went on to become president of the Bellingham Bay and British Columbia Railroad Company, Black Diamond Coal Mining Company and the California Electric Light Company.  In addition, he served as president of the Society of California Pioneers, is credited with bankrolling much of the initial industry that came to Bellingham, WA and was the last surviving member of the first California legislature.  The Kelloggs on the other hand, ended up being much more stationary than Cornwall but became successful steamboat captains on the Willamette River in Oregon. 

In order to reach their destiny, this group of 7 had quite a journey on the 2,000 mile trek across the Oregon Trail.  According to The Life Sketch of Pierre Barlow Cornwall, a biography written about his father by Bruce Cornwall in 1906, the journey was never without a dull moment.  The following excerpts are taken directly from the biography:

"The weather was good; grass, water and game were plentiful and men and horses fared well.  All were in high spirits when, without warning, they suddenly rode over a rise of prairie almost in the midst of a camp of two thousand Pawnees... they were surrounded, made prisoners and deprived of their arms.The prisoners were in dire distress.  Fallon, who could speak the Pawnee dialect, wisely concealed this fact. 

For a day and a night they were kept under close guard while  the Indian chiefs, sitting about in council, smoked and debated as to what should be made of them.  Fallon, hearing their speeches, ascertained that the younger braves insisted upon having the lives of the prisoners as a fitting reprisal for those of two Indians of their tribe who had been recently killed.  The old chiefs spoke against this sanguinary procedure and the council was long and heated. 

My father, by means of signs, requested to be taken into the circle, where, in the same manner, attempted to impress them with fear...When he had finished...the council concluded by determining upon the release of the prisoners.

The company again took up its march...steadily until early morning when they encamped near Platte.  They had not slept long, however, when young Arthur Cornwall, who was on guard, woke them hastily with the news that the Indians were on the opposite bank of the river."      
Pawnee Indians, photo credit: Butetown History & Arts Centre
"It was a band of younger braves in pursuit...armed principally with bows and arrows and most of the time kept at a considerable distance, fearing the rifles of the white men; but the air was often filled with feathery darts, one of which pierced my father's right leg below the knee, entering the bone and making a serious wound.  This was the only injury sustained by the white men, while they had the satisfaction of  delaying the pursuit by emptying many of the Indian's saddles. 

The Pioneers continued on their way all day and late into the night, when still close to the Platte River, they were obliged, through sheer exhaustion to stop for rest and refreshment." 
On the Oregon Trail near North Platte river - Wyoming 1872
"...they slept undisturbed until dawn when, to their dismay, the Indians were perceived crossing the river.  Sixty braves in single file emerged from the water.  This time the party's fate was apparently sealed.  The redmen had approached to within a few hundred yards when suddenly Fallon (the guide) sprang to his feet, and, standing at his full height...shaded his eyes from the rising sun and gazed steadily at the approaching horsemen. 

He brought his hand to his mouth and gave an Indian yell which was answered in the same way.  The horses were reined, and the Indians seemed puzzled and in doubt.  Fallon again shouted, at the same time advancing and two Indians came forward to meet him.  He had married a Sioux maiden the autumn before and this party proved to be a band of Sioux on the warpath against the Pawnees; among them was Fallon's father-in-law, one of their chiefs." 
Sioux chiefs, 1880s
Brother Cornwall and his party of 7, made it safely and without further excitement to Fort Hall, near modern day Pocatello, Idaho.  This Fort was the “V in the road” between the Oregon and California Trails.  Fortunately for brother Cornwall, his timing was perfect as he had arrived at this junction just months after the first cries of “GOLD!” were being heard in the streets of San Francisco.  Being a man in search of such an opportunity, Pierre B. Cornwall set course for California.  But what about the charter he was entrusted to deliver to Oregon City?
Fort Hall trading post, in 1849, courtesy National Archives
The fork in the two trails
Fortunately, Captain Orrin and Joseph Kellogg, the father and son who had accompanied Cornwall on the journey were continuing onwards to Oregon.  As if by fate, both also "happened" to be masons and fully understood the duty they were about to be entrusted with.  Once the Kellogg's reached Oregon, they went on to establish a lumber mill, townsites, and steamboat lines.  See below for a picture of the 'Lot Whitcomb', the steamboat which Captain Joseph Kellogg co-owned with fellow brother mason, Lot Whitcomb, which operated on the Willamette River.  
The trunk which Orrin Kellogg placed the charter in for safe keeping during the time which it was in his possession. The trunk still exists today in the vault of the Grand Lodge of Oregon and is one of the oldest relics from the pioneer days of Oregon in existence.
Captain Orrin Kellog, Jr.
Captain Joseph Kellogg
The Lot Whitcomb, one of the first steamboats on the Willamette River which Joseph Kellogg captained and co-owned along with brother Lot Whitcomb.
Brother Lot Whitcomb
John Commingers Ainsworth, one of the captains of the Lot Whitcomb and a very faithful Freemason. He was the first elected master of Multanomah Lodge and went on to become the third Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Oregon. Later in 1870, Ainsworth founded the Orient of Oregon and the Valley of Portland of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, S.J. and served as the first Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the Orient of Oregon.
John Ainsworth's house in Oregon City, Or.

1848: The charter arrives in Oregon City

The Kelloggs successfully handed over the charter to the waiting brothers in Oregon City on September 11, 1848.  By this time however, William P. Dougherty the brother who had personally financed the delivery of the charter was nowhere to be found.  He along with many others, had succumbed to the gold rush in Sacramento and had journeyed south before the charter arrived. 

Eventually even Joseph Hull who was the Master of the Multonomah Lodge No. 84, the first masonic lodge on the West coast, left for California.  It was surely an exciting time to be alive and though the faithful pioneers may have had many plates spinning at once, they laid the foundation of Freemasonry in the West for all others to continue building upon. 

It is said, that "65,000 American's, a fifth of all who traveled overland trails west, journeyed to the Northwest between 1830 and 1860".  Until 1849, when California gold became a stronger magnet than farmland, the overwhelming majority of migrants chose Oregon.  It was a great historical migration, its participants driven by a myriad of motivations.  Economic or personal hardship at home, the availability of cheap land and excellent growing conditions, and a desire for adventure were among individual reasons. 

Arrival in the Northwest allowed little time for relaxation.  Early pioneers congregated in the Willamette Valley, but by the early 1850s increasing numbers moved north of the Columbia.  Finding a desirable spot, the newcomer filed a claim at the nearest government land office and prepared to improve his land."  (Ficken & LeWarne, 1988, pg. 20). 

1844-1854: Settlements push North

William T Simmons, first American settler in Washington territory and first junior warden of Olympia Lodge No. 5
The first organized party of American emigrants to reach the Puget Sound was led by Michael Troutman Simmons.  In September of 1844, he arrived in Willamette Valley, Oregon and became disappointed upon finding out that his friend and traveling companion George Washington Bush was not entitled to a free land claim as a black man.  Simmons was not about to settle in such a state and so decided to continue North of the Columbia to British held territory (Hudson Bay Company) where such laws did not apply.  The area they eventually chose to claim is what is now Tumwater, Washington. 

According to the Oregon Trail History Library,

"The Bush-Simmons Party is credited by some historians as having been in large part responsible for bringing the land north of the Columbia River—the present-day state of Washington—into the United States. They established a presence that attracted other settlers and strengthened the American claim to the area in later debates between Great Britain and the United States over partitioning the Oregon Country."
George Washington Bush, veteran of the War of 1812, raised in Philadelphia as a Quaker. Later worked for Hudson Bay Company in the Oregon Territory as a fur trapper gaining many skills he used in settling in Washington Territory. He was known to be a generous and good man to incoming emigrants to the area. His son, William Owen Bush is credited with introducing a bill to the state legislator which established Washington State University (WSU).
Thanks to Bush's previous employment with the Hudson Bay Company, the party was granted safe passage into the territory which was under the companies control.  Eventually Simmons built a mill thanks to monies provided by Bush and the families were able to survive a few years in the new land.  

After steadily attracting additional settlers to the area, a group of 8 men formed the Puget Sound Milling Company in 1847 in what is now Olympia, WA.  Among these 8 was Edmund Sylvester, the man who is credited with being the father of Olympia. 
Edmond Sylvester, father of Olympia, WA and member of Olympia Lodge No. 5
The first masonic Lodge building in Washington Territory, located in Olympia and built in 1853.