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Masonic Bios

Dr. William Dodd


Born 1729, first Grand Chaplain of England, 1775, and died 1777. Weakness of character in money matters caused him to be tried for forgery, and executed. At the dedication of Freemasons Hall in London, 1776, he delivered an oration and he was also the author of many books and literary papers. His Beauties of Shakespeare was very popular.

- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry



Dr. William Dodd
Grand Chaplain

By Bernard Williamson
Strong Man no 45 UGLE

This is the story of a Doctor of divinity, prebendary of Brecon, had a living in East Ham, --Chaplain in Ordinary to his Majesty (George 2nd. ) Minister to Magdalene Hospital. Executed at Tyburn 27 June 1777 for forgery. He was the third chaplain to the craft but the first official Grand Chaplain. Devoting a lot of time on charitable works but mixing in dubious company. He was initiated into St. Albans Lodge no.29 in 1775 he was also a member of the Nine Muses Lodge, which was founded by Bro. Chevalier Ruspini (who founded the Girls charity.)

He was a well-known figure at the French racetracks, being nicknamed the MACARONNI PARSON for his extravagant taste in clothes. One of his dubious friends of the time was the famous or infamous depending on how you viewed the flamboyant Brother John Wilkes who of course as Brother Kipling would say "that is another story." Dr. Dodd was the equivalent of Terry Waites today if you like.

The apprehending of such a man as Doctor Dodd, on a charge of forgery, was a matter of surprise and conjecture among all ranks of people. He stood high in estimation as a divine, a popular preacher and an elegant scholar. He was the promoter of many public charities, and some others he may have been said to be the institutor. The Magdalene for reclaiming young women who had swerved from the path of virtue, the Society for the relief of the poor debtors, and the Humane Society for the recovery of persons apparently drowned, owed their institution to Dr. Dodd. He was patronised by the King and more immediately by Lord Chesterfield; and his church preferment were lucrative. It however appeared that his expenses out ran his income, and for a supply of cash he committed a forgery on his late pupil, the Earl of Chesterfield.

Another singular circumstance in the life of Dr. Dodd was the publication a few years previous to his execution of a sermon, entitled "THE FREQUENCY OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT INCONSISTENT WITH JUSTICE, SOUND POLICY AND RELIGION." This was, he said, intended to be preached at the chapel royal, at St. James'; but omitted on account of the absence of the court during the authors month of waiting.

The method adopted in this forgery was remarkable, he pretended that the noble Lord had urgent occasion to borrow four thousand pounds, but did not choose to be his own agent, and begged that the matter might be secretly and expeditiously be conducted. The Doctor employed one Lewis Robertson, a broker, to whom he presented a bond, not filled up or signed, that he might find a person who would advance the requisite sum to a young nobleman who had just come of age. After applying to several persons who refused the business, because they were not to be present when the bond was executed, Mr Robertson, absolutely confiding in the Doctors' honour, applied to messers. Fletcher and Peach, who agreed to lend the money. Mr. Robertson returned the bond to the Doctor in order to its being executed; and on the following day the Doctor produced it as executed, and witnessed by himself. Mr Robertson knowing Mr Fletcher to be a particular man, and who would consequently object to one subscribing witness only, put his name under the Doctor's. He then went and received the money which he paid into the hands of Doctor Dodd 4000 and produced the bond to the young Lord.

Lord Chesterfield was surprised, and immediately disowned it. Upon this Mr Manly went directly to Mr Fletcher to consult what steps to take. Mr. Flatter, a Mr Innes and Mr. Manly went to the Guildhall to prefer an information respecting the forgery against the broker and Dr. Dodd. Mr. Robertson was taken into custody while Fletcher Innes Manly and two of the Lord Mayors' officers went to the Doctors' house in Argyle St. They opened the business and the doctor was very much affected. Manly told him that if he would return the money it would be the only means of saving him. He instantly returned six notes of five hundred pounds each, making three thousand pounds. He drew on his banker for five hundred pounds the broker returned one hundred pounds the Doctor gave a second draft on his banker for two hundred pounds and a judgement on his goods for the remaining four hundred pounds. All this was done by the Doctor in the reliance on the honour of the parties that the bond should be returned to him cancelled; but not withstanding this restitution he was taken before the Lord Mayor and charged. The Doctor declared that he had no intention to defraud Lord Chesterfield or the gentlemen who advanced the money, he hoped that the satisfaction that he had made in returning the money would atone for his offence. He was pressed, he said, exceedingly for some 300 to pay some bills due to some tradesmen; he took this step as a temporary recourse, and would have repaid it in half a year.

"My Lord Chesterfield cannot but have some tenderness for me as my pupil, I love him and he knows it. There is nobody wishes to prosecute. I am sure my Lord Chesterfield does not want my life. I hope that he will show clemency to me. Mercy should triumph over justice."

Clemency, however' was denied and the Doctor was committed to the compter, in preparation for his trial. On the 19th February Doctor Dodd was put to the bar at the Old Bailey, when the evidence was gone through, the court called upon the Doctor for his defence which was as follows:-

"My Lords and Gentlemen of the jury; upon the evidence which has been this day produced against me I find it very difficult to address your Lordships: there is no man in the world who has a deeper sense of the heinous nature of the crime for which I stand indicted than my self. But, my Lords, I humbly apprehend, though no lawyer, that the moral turpitude and malignancy of the crime always both in the eye of the Law and of religion consists in the intention. I am informed, My Lords that the act of parliament on this head runs perpetually in this style, with an intention to defraud; such an intention, my Lords and gentlemen of the jury has nor been attempted to be proven on me, and the consequences that have happened, which have appeared before you, sufficiently prove that a perfect and ample restitution has been made. I leave it to you my Lords and Gentlemen of the jury, to consider that if an unhappy man ever deviates from the law of right, yet if in the single first moment of recollection he does all that he can to make full and perfect amends what my Lords and gentlemen of the jury, can god and man desire further?

I must observe to your Lordship that though I have met with full candour in this court, yet I have been perused with excessive cruelty: I have been persecuted after the most express engagements, after the most solemn assurances, after the most delusive, soothing arguments of Mr. Manly: I have been prosecuted with a cruelty scarcely to be paralleled. Oppressed I am with infamy. Loaded as I am with distress sunk under this cruel prosecution, your Lordships and the Gentlemen of the jury cannot think life as a matter of any value to me. No my Lords, I solemnly protest that death of all blessings would be the most pleasant to me after this pain. I have yet- my Lords, ties which call upon me- ties which render me desirous even to continue this miserable existence, I have a wife, my Lords, who for 27 years has lived an unparalleled example of conjugal attachment and fidelity, and whose behaviour during this trying scene would draw tears of approbation, I am sure, from even the most inhuman. My Lords, I have creditors, honest men, who will lose much by my death. I hope for sake of justice towards them some mercy will be shown to me. If upon these whole, the considerations at all avail with you my lords and you the gentlemen of the jury- if, upon the most impartial survey of the matters, not to replace it in 3 months- of this I assured Mr Robertson frequently, and had his solemn assurances that no man should be privy to it but Mr Fletcher himself- and if no injury was done to any man upon earth, I then hope and trust, I fully confide my self in the tenderness humanity and protection of my country."

It just shows how desperate he was, basing his pleas on the fact that his wife would be a widow if he was convicted and that his creditors would lose out.

Do we have any Jewish brothers here? It's the classical definition of CHUTZPAH, you know the young boy up at the old bailey on a charge of murdering both his parents when asked if he had any thing to say replied " have mercy on a poor orphan!

The jury retired for about ten minutes and then returned with a verdict that the prisoner was guilty: but at the same time presented a petition humbly recommending the Doctor to the royal mercy. The opinion of the judges was that he had been legally convicted. Here he sank down overcome with mental agony; and some time elapsed before he was sufficiently recovered to hear the dreadful sentence of the law which the recorder pronounce upon him in the following words.

"Dr. William Dodd, you have been convicted of the offence of publishing a forged and counterfeit bond; knowing it be forged and counterfeited; and you have had the advantage which the laws of this country afford to every man in that situation- a fair and impartial and attentive trial-. The jury to whose justice you have appealed, have found you guilty, their verdict has undergone the consideration of the learned judges, and they found no grounds to impeach the justice of that verdict. You have admitted the justice of it and now the very painful duty that the necessity of the law imposes upon the court, to pronounce the sentence of that law against you, remains only to be performed, you appear to entertain a very proper sense of the enormity of the offence which you committed and appear too in a state of contrition of mind and I doubt not have duly reflected how far the dangerous tendency of the offence you have been guilty of is increased by the influence of example in being committed by a person of your character and of the sacred function of which you are a member. These sentiments seem to be yours I would not wish to cultivate such sentiments but I would not wish to add to the anguish of a person in your situation by dwelling upon it. Your application for mercy must be made elsewhere; it would be cruel in the court to flatter you, there is a power in dispensing mercy where you may apply, your own good sense and contrition you express will induce you to lesson the influence of the example by publishing your hearty and sincere detestation of the offence of which you are convicted; and that you will not attempt to palliate or extenuate, which would indeed add to the degree of the influence of a crime of this kind being committed by a person of your character and known abilities. I would therefore warn you against any thing of the kind. Now having this I am obliged to pronounce the sentence of the law, which is that, you, Doctor William Dodd be carried from Hence to the place from Whence you came, that from Thence you are to be carried to the place of execution, when you are to be hanged by the neck until you are dead."

To this Doctor Dodd replied " Lord Jesus receive my soul."

Great exertions were made to save Doctor Dodd; the newspapers were filled with letters and paragraphs in his favour. Individuals of all ranks exerted themselves on his behalf; parish officers went in mourning from house to house to procure subscriptions to a petition to the king; and this petition which with the names filled 23 sheets of parchment, was actually presented to him. Even the Lord Mayor and common council went in a body to St. James' to solicit mercy for the convict. (Just next to the present day mark masons hall.)

As for clemency however had been denied to the unfortunate Perreaus (Daniel & Robert Perreau twin brothers who though popularly believed to be innocent were executed at Tyburn on 17th January 1776 for forgery, they were charged with forging a bond. All evidence pointed to the fact that it was one of their wives who had actually committed the crime but as she had run away never to be traced it was felt that some one had to pay for the crime. A most unpopular decision at the time.) It was deemed inadvisable to extend mercy to Doctor Dodd. This unhappy clergyman was attended to at the place of execution, in a mourning coach, by the reverend Mr. Willette, ordinary of Newgate and the Reverend Mr. Dobey. Just as an aside here it was tradition for the coach to stop outside of taverns and the condemned man to be given a beer, hence the term one for the road. Of course the guards would also partake in the festivities a perk of the job if you like. Naturally the driver could not drink or they would never have made it to the gallows so he was "ON THE WAGON."

Another criminal John Harris A boy of twelve years of age was executed at the same time and this apparently caused no comment at all. Just before the parties turned off the Doctor whispered to the executioner and it was observed that the man had no sooner driven away the cart than he ran immediately under the gibbet and took hold of the Doctors' legs as if to steady the body and the unhappy man appeared to die without pain.

As was the custom in those days a deal had been struck whereby for the passing of a few gold coins the condemned man could be given a short drop, hence the driver leaping forwards to steady the body. It had been pre arranged that after the mandatory time had elapsed that Dr Dodd would be cut down and driven from Tyburn (the middle of Marble Arch today approximately one and a half miles up Oxford street to a barber Surgeon who had prepared hot and cold baths in order to attempt to resuscitate the strangled convict. Ironically owing to the number of supporters who attended Dr. Dodds' execution the road was blocked and an eight-minute journey took over Two Hours by which time all traces of life had become extinct.

As a PostScript to this tale some seventeen years later in October 1794 there appeared in the Northampton Mercury no.32 a letter purported to have been written in July 1777, a month after his execution by Dr Dodd to a "gentleman in Aberdeen" relating how after being resuscitated he went back to France where he was currently residing.

As to the validity of this report I leave that for you to discover together with the manuscript of a history of Freemasonry which he was working on. Allegedly he was going to leave the copy for his wife to earn some income from.

Most of this text is taken from Newgate tales, the Gentleman's' magazine and other material produced at the time. The completed essay is now lodged with the Library in Great Queen St. Together with the file on Dr. Dodd.

- Source: Bernard Williamson

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