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Masonic Bios

Thomas Smith Webb: Masonic Ritualist

By Bro. R. M. C. Condon, Michigan

In many cases the life story of our Masonic forefathers is buried in a fog of tradition, not always trustworthy, but not so in the case of Thomas Smith Webb. Fortunately he was one of those rare men who kept a diary--it is still in possession his descendants--and from this we can learn not only the events of his own private career but many facts of wide interest concerning the Masonic Fraternity at large, which is indebted to Webb as to few others. Brother Webb, who was born in the time-hallowed city of Boston on October 30th, 1771, was the son of Samuel and Margaret Webb who had migrated from Northern England some few years previously, hoping to make their fortune in New England. As a child Webb was unusually precocious, morally and temperamentally as well as mentally; even while only three years of age his family and friends predicted great things for him, he was so winning in spirit, so bright, so talented.

At an early age he entered a public school, after which he made his way to a Latin school, from which he graduated with highest honors. From boyhood he found his chief pleasure in books, and, like many another boy book-lover, aspired to publish something of his own, and, again like most young literary enthusiasts, he first attempted poetry. Poetry is the most difficult of all literary forms but young Webb became so proficient in it that his effusions attracted the attention of a Boston editor who afterwards took the young man into a partnership which enabled him to learn the printing business. Despite the drudgery of this work he loved it, and persevered the while with his poetry, one of his songs, "Companions Assemble on this Joyful Day," coming to have a wide popularity.

From Boston he moved to Keene, New Hampshire, where he was initiated into Masonry, becoming a member of Rising Sun Lodge. Later on he moved to Albany, New York, at that time one of the principal centers of American Masonry. Here he opened a book store, one of the most regular customers of which was himself, for he had grown in his fondness for books. It was at this time, and while studying the old Preston lectures, that he saw the need for a revision of the ritual for American use. Thus it was that he came to publish in 1797, the now famous "Webb Freemason Monitor," in which he re-systematized, and often re-wrote, the entire Blue Lodge Ritual, adding some new material to it.

Needless to say, Brother Webb became one of the most influential Masons in Albany; he was elected Worshipful Master of Temple Lodge and took a prominent part in organizing a Royal Arch Chapter and an encampment of Knights Templar.

From Albany Brother Webb moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where he became a member of St. John's Lodge in 1801. So zealous in the work of Masonry, so earnest to have it grow and flourish, and so efficient in all its various forms of activities, he was soon prominent throughout the jurisdiction, so prominent that in 1813 he was elected Grand Master, and then re-elected in the following year. During this time he was successful in business, as might have been expected in one whose talents were so various and yet so symmetrical.

It is believed by some that the plan of organizing the first Grand Encampment of the United States was originated by his brain; however that may be, it is certain that he played a conspicuous part in the project. A measure of his popularity is indicated by the fact that he was elected the first Grand Commander.

From Providence Brother Webb moved to Walpole, Massachusetts, where he established a cotton factory which was one of the first in the country to employ safety devices to protect the life and limbs of employees.. In 1817 he moved this factory to Worthington, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, and put his associate Brother John Snow, in charge.

During February of the following year Brother Webb granted a dispensation to Brother Snow to form an encampment in Worthington; at first the plan was to hold meetings for six months in Columbus, but this plan was later changed, and all the meetings were held in Columbus: thus was begun the famous Mt. Vernon Commandery which recently celebrated its one hundredth anniversary with fitting ceremonies.

In 1819 Brother Webb started on a business trip to Columbus, but while in Cleveland, Ohio, making preparations to continue his journey, he was stricken down with apoplexy. This was on June 6th. He died during the evening of the same day. The body was interred in Cleveland but was later removed to Providence in November, at which time the Masonic Bodies of the nation paid a solemn tribute to his memory.

- Source: The Builder - October 1918

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