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The Earliest Record and Minutes of the Scottish Rite’s Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction

Minute_book_NMJ_inside_cover_webIn 2013, the Scottish Rite’s Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (NMJ) celebrates its bicentennial. Among the important treasures in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is a ledger book that contains the earliest record and minutes of the meetings of the NMJ’s governing body, the Supreme Council, from 1813 until 1851. The inside cover of the ledger book (at left) notes that these are the:

Records [of the] Sovereign Grand Lodge of R[ose Croix] of H-R-D-M. of the 18th; Sovereign Grand Consistory (30th, 31st and 32d degrees) of Sublime and Valiant Princes of the Royal Secret, and of the Grand and Supreme Council of the most Illustrious and Puissant Sovereigns, Grand Inspectors General of the 33d degree, sitting at New York City, State of New York, for the Northern Masonic District and Jurisdiction of the United States of North America, by 40° 42' 40" North Latitude.

As stated above, not only does the book contain records of the "Grand and Supreme Council...for the Northern Masonic District and Jurisdiction," but also contains information related to Masonic bodies in the lineage of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction and which pre-date its founding in 1813.

The ledger book was kept by and is in the handwriting of John James Joseph Gourgas (1777-1865), who served as the NMJ’s first Grand Secretary General and was its third Sovereign Grand Commander, serving from 1832 until 1851. Gourgas is often referred to as the “Conservator of the [Scottish] Rite” not only because he collected and kept safe the important early documents of the Scottish Rite, but because he also revived the Scottish Rite in the 1840s after it had nearly died out completely, owing mostly to an anti-Masonic movement in the late 1820s and 1830s. The bottom half of the page above shows Gourgas's elaborate, armorial book plate and, to the right of the plate, lists "Dates of [Masonic] powers granted me at various times," and begins with July 9, 1806, when Gourgas was initiated into the Grand Chapter of Rose Croix d'H-R-D-M of Kilwinning at New York City.

The earliest records in the ledger book are not minutes of meetings, but consist more of a general overview of the earliest days of the formation of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, which appear to have been written by Gourgas at a later date, as a way of preserving the history of the formation of the organization and tracing the organization's Masonic lineage. In addition to recording the formation of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, Gourgas also includes handwritten copies of various patents, excerpts from registers, and other material that provides a foundational background for the Masonic legitimacy of the group that, in 1813, became the “Northern Masonic Jurisdiction and District” (later called the “Northern Masonic Jurisdiction”).

The first recording in Gourgas’s ledger of what could be properly termed “minutes,” are for the June 15, 1844 meeting of the Supreme Council, the beginning of what might be called the revival of the Scottish Rite’s NMJ.

The NMJ’s Supreme Council recognized the importance of publishing these minutes as early as 1872 and the entirety of the ledger was published in 1876. The introduction to the 1876 book reads, in part, “The early Proceedings of the Supreme Council never having been published, and many that were published being out of print, a proposition was made at the session in 1872 to reprint them.” In addition to the Gourgas ledger book, the 1876 publication also includes reprints of the Supreme Council Proceedings from 1851 to 1863, the years directly following Gourgas’s leadership of the NMJ. The volume is also indexed, which makes this an especially useful tool for researchers.

If you are interested in reading this primary source material, you don’t have to leave your house to gain full-text access to these minutes. Because a copy of these published Proceedings is in the collection of the University of Michigan's libraries, one of the contributors to the Google Books project, a fully digitized copy can be accessed online, and downloaded as a PDF.

Here's the citation for the Proceedings published in 1876:

Proceedings of the Supreme Council of Sov. Gr. Inspectors General 33°, for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States: Gourgas Body, 1813-1851; Raymond Body, 1851-1860; Van Rensselaer Body, 1860-1862. (Portland, [ME]: Stephen Berry, printer, 1876)
Call number:
17.9735 .Un58 1781-1862

Photo caption:
Record and Minute Book, 1806-1846
John James Joseph Gourgas
New York, New York
Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, Lexington, Massachusetts, SC 011


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