BENJAMIN RUSSELL 1761-1845
Junior Grand Warden, 1811-1812
Senior Grand Warden, 1813
Grand Master, 1814-1816
MOUNT CARMEL CENTENNIAL, 1905
From Proceedings, Page 1905-89, Address by Past Grand Master and Corresponding Grand Secretary Sereno D. Nickerson:
Another prominent actor on that occasion was the Grand Marshal, Benjamin Russell, who six years later succeeded Timothy Bigelow as Grand Master. He also was an apprentice of Isaiah Thomas, and like his master picked up most of his education in the printing office. He was born in Boston, Sept. 13, 1761, the son of John Russell and the nephew of Joseph Russell, long the Town Treasurer of Boston.
His connection with the memorable events of his time commenced at a very early age and continued through the whole of his long life. On the morning of the nineteenth of April, 1775, as he was wont to tell, the exercises of Master Carter's Town School in Scollay's buildings were disturbed by martial music. One of the boys was sent out to learn the occasion for the dreaded sounds. He soon returned with the information that the British troops had attacked the "Yankees" at Lexington and Concord, that several of each party had been killed, that reinforcements had been sent for and the "Regulars" were parading on Boston Common in great numbers. Master Carter at once declared "Boys, war has begun — the school is broken up." As Major Russell used to say: "This announcement was received with three cheers, and the boys, having gained their own freedom, sallied forth to see whether the men would gain theirs."
Some of the boys, and among them Ben Russell, followed the British troops through Roxbury to the college grounds in Cambridge, where they rested, while the soldiers marched on through Wrest Cambridge to Lexington. Towards sunset the boys had the pleasure of seeing, at some distance, the British in full retreat, followed by the "Yankees." The college buildings were converted into barracks, where the boys were given quarters and rations, serving as clerks to some of the patriot companies. This relation was continued about four months and during that period the boys saw something, and heard a great deal, of the battle of Bunker Hill and the burning of Charlestown.
One day in August, the father and uncle, having escaped from Boston, came suddenly upon the boy while engaged in commissary duty. The surprise of the encounter was rather enhanced by the attempt of the father to give the young soldier a good shaking as a reward for his four months in the line of independence, a proceeding which the soldiers would not permit. The father and son, however, at once repaired to the tent of "Old Put," an honorable discharge was granted, and the next day the pair proceeded to Worcester, where the boy was bound as an apprentice to Isaiah Thomas. There he became associated, as a fellow apprentice, with Timothy Bigelow, and together they enjoyed the advantages of a school in which such minds could not fail to profit, a "school where the highest principles of liberty were taught." In 1780 Brother Thomas was drafted for service in the Revolutionary Army. Young Russell volunteered to go in his stead and served until the army was disbanded. Between these three men, Thomas, Bigelow and Russell, the most sincere, cordial and uninterrupted friendship prevailed through life.
An interesting anecdote is related of his experience while in the service. One day' as he was passing a certain tent the curtain blew aside and he saw many comrades assembled there, among whom he observed an ordinary sergeant of one of the regiments on an elevated seat and covered, while uncovered sat General Washington among the multitude. Being accustomed to regard the Commander-in-Chief almost with reverence, as one of the greatest of human beings, he could not understand why one of the least should be more honored than the greatest. Upon enquiry he was informed that the assembly he had seen was a Lodge of Masons and that one of the tenets of the Craft was the. equality of all men. So pleased was he with the idea that he declared he would seek to become a Freemason as soon as he returned home.
On his release from the army he resumed his trade and, following the example of his master, started a newspaper, which he christened the Columbian Centinel. The first number was issued on the twenty-fourth of March, 1784, and it was continued until his death, Jan. 4, 1845. Many comments were made on the spelling of the second word of the title. On the day of the first appearance of the paper, meeting an intimate friend on the street who told him the word was misspelled, that it should have been Sentinel, he replied, "Well, Cen. it is and Cen. it shall be," and Cen. it was to the end of its existence. During the whole period it was the most popular and influential newspaper in New England, if not in the country. Its readers said it seemed to come everywhere like a familiar acquaintance. It told them just what they wanted to know. The editor kept about the streets — he saw and knew everybody — he gathered something from every current of conversation as it drifted by.
During the French Revolution the office of the editor was the resort of the principal refugees; they constantly sought his advice and his purse was generously at their service. The most celebrated among these visitors were Louis Philippe and Louis Napoleon, the former of whom always retained a lively sense of gratitude for Major Russell's kindness, and after coming to the throne urgently invited him and his family to come to Paris as the Royal guests.
During his long life Brother Russell had been familiar with some of the most remarkable events in the history of the world — the Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, the w*ars of Napoleon, the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, the introduction of steam for transportation by land and water, and many other facilities, objects of wonder in his day but now in common everyday use. Many of the most famous men of two centuries he had seen and of not a few he was an intimate friend — Washington, Warren, LaFayette, Franklin, Jefferson, Webster, Clay, Calhoun and Choate. What a wonderful experience!
Brother Russell had an active part in bringing about the union of our two Grand Lodges in 1792. He served for many years as Marshal of the Grand Lodge, and the record of an occasional ceremony when he was absent shows how greatly his experience and skill were missed in the arrangement and conduct of the ceremouy. Fortunately he was present at the constitution of Mount Carmel Lodge in 1807, and all went well. Seven years later he followed his friend Bigelow as Grand Master — then too all went well.
From TROWEL, Summer 1997, Page 30:
Benjamin Russell: Public Servant, Active Mason
By R. W. James T. Watson, Jr.
Benjamin Russell was born in Boston in September, 1761. As a teenager he studied at the celebrated Master Lovell School until the excitement of April 19, 1775. When the British troops moved out of Boston on their way to Lexington and Concord, Master Carter announced, "Boys, war has begun—the school is broken up," (as recorded in Francis Baylies. Eulogy on the Hon. Benjamin Russell, Boston: Freemasons' Magazine, 1845).
Benjamin, now 13, and others, followed the troops as far as the college in Cambridge. Allowed to go no farther, the boys remained there to play on the Common until sunset, when they saw the British units returning, now in retreat, chased by the patriots. The boys were close enough to hear the whistling of the bullets and were warned to move out of the way. Treated to supper, they slept that night in the college, now converted into barracks, where they remained for weeks.
On June 17th the boys ran down the Charlestown road, placed away from the musketry from Bunker Hill, but exposed to the cannon balls from the British ships in Boston Harbor. At noon the barges moved from Long Wharf across the Charles River loaded with British soldiers. The patriots repulsed the first two assaults on Bunker Hill but ran out of ammunition during the third attempt, retreating after a three-hour battle. The events of those two months gave Benjamin a great practical knowledge.
After this battle Benjamin became a clerk with the Connecticut troops on Prospect Hill commanded by Captain Putnam. In August he met his father and uncle on the road, their first meeting since April 19th. On that day the youth received an honorable discharge and was released to his father, who took him to Worcester the next day. There he apprenticed him to Isaiah Thomas to learn printing. Another apprentice with Thomas was Timothy Bigelow. Who could foresee that these three, all working together, would serve as Grand Masters in years to come?
When Benjamin's father died in November. 1778, the 16-year-old was left as head of the family, but continued his apprenticeship with Thomas until 1780. when Thomas was called to military service. Benjamin volunteered to serve in his stead and did so until the army disbanded in 1782. Two experiences of army life greatly impressed him. The first was his service as one of the guards of Major Andre on the day of his execution. The second was once viewing by accident a Lodge of Masons in session in a tent. A sergeant-major sat covered on the elevated seat of Master, while Commanding General Washington sat uncovered among the brethren. This fact so impressed him that he applied for membership after his return to Boston.
During the War of 1812 Russell learned that one of his relatives was a prisoner on the British ship, Nymph, commanded by a Freemason. Denied a flag of truce, he hired a boat and cruised about until he found the ship. Upon approaching it he identified himself as a Mason and was permitted aboard. Later, he left with his relative and four other American prisoners.
Benjamin Russell is first mentioned in Grand Lodge Proceedings 1733-1792 as a Junior Deacon in Rising States Lodge. After the union of the Grand Lodges Russell become very active in that body, the Proceedings 1792-1815 mentioning him on a third of its pages as Sword Bearer, Grand Marshal. Grand Secretary and on various committees. After 16 years spent as Grand Marshal to five Grand Masters. Russell was elected Junior Grand Warden on December 9, 1811, and occasionally served as Senior Grand Warden and Grand Master pro tern. He was elected Senior Grand Warden in 1812 and then Grand Master in 1813.
Russell's major achievements during his three years as Grand Master were his address after his first installation, The Rise, Progress and Present State of Masonry, his establishment of a charity fund for the three British sea captains and 15 sailors held at Boston during the War of 1812, the establishment of the Grand Lodge Library in 1815 and the funeral solemnities for Dr. John Warren. He delivered his farewell speech on December 27, 1816, after serving faithfully for 24 years as a Grand Lodge officer with close to 100% attendance.
Russell continued to be active, serving as chairman of the committee which honored Lafayette on his return in 1824 for the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument in 1825. In 1834 he presided over Grand Lodge for the ceremonies commemorating Lafayette's death. He spoke at installations and installed the Grand Master for several years.
For 40 years Brother Russell edited the Columbian Centinel. a semi-weekly newspaper which influenced the whole body of mechanics in Boston to become Federalists, even before the approval of the Constitution. When he died on January 4, 1845, and was buried in the Granary Burial Ground, it was impossible to have a public Masonic service because of the anti-Masonic troubles. When he was eulogized on March 10th, the speaker praised his contributions to the public good.
From TROWEL, Winter 2010, Page 9:
Printers, Patriots, Freemasons
By Rt. Wor. Walter Hunt
As Massachusetts Masons we are passionate about the written word. Among the many factors that contribute to our longevity here in the Bay State is the attachment we have to our own documentary record, which has survived fire and flood and anti-Masonic storm for nearly three centuries, and which brings back the words, and through them, the deeds of those who have gone before us.
It should therefore come as no surprise that two of the united Grand Lodge's earliest leaders were intimately connected with the written word — as writers, printers and publishers — and each played a role in the founding of our United States: Isaiah Thomas and Benjamin Russell. They were associates and friends, and each occupied the Oriental Chair of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts: Thomas for four years (1803-1805 and again in 1809) and Russell for three (1814-1816). During his tenure, each helped shape the fraternity that we know today and each left behind a lasting legacy.
Benjamin Russell was fourteen years old when the Minutemen and Redcoats met at Lexington and Concord. The son of a stonemason, Russell had become a capable apprentice typesetter at Isaiah Thomas' Boston printing shop, and his curiosity drew him out to witness those battles on that April morning. In the aftermath, the presence of British troops in and around Boston prevented him from returning; he accordingly found himself employed as an errand boy in the Continental Army. It was his first brush with military service, leaving a lasting impression. When young Russell was able to return, he was welcomed by his father with relief, and it is said, with a sound thrashing. Shortly thereafter, he was apprenticed to Thomas to follow his chosen profession; he accompanied the young firebrand printer to Worcester, and he soon demonstrated that printing and journalism was his true profession, though there were some detours along the way.
When the Declaration of Independence was read in Worcester the following July, Russell celebrated with a number of fellow apprentices, only to discover the following morning that he had enlisted in the Continental Army. Isaiah Thomas was unwilling to lose his skilled apprentice, who was only fifteen years old at the time, and through his itifluence Russell was excused from service. Four years later, however, he did join the Continentals in the stead of his master. His experience there included two significant events, as reported by our Past Grand Master Melvin M. Johnson in his Saint John's Day address in 1914:
He was one of the guard of Major André (a conspirator with Benedict Arnold) on the day of his execution; [and] . . . he once saw by accident a lodge of Freemasons in session in a tent. The Sergeant-Major of one of the regiments sat on an elevated seat on the Master's Chair, while Washington was sitting uncovered among the Brethren.
Brother Johnson pointed out these two incidents to describe Russell's character, both as a witness to important events, and as an impressionable young man "charmed with the idea of the practical equality of the Brotherhood." He emerged from the service of his country an ardent supporter of the new nation and as a Freemason, a member of Rising States Lodge chartered under the Massachusetts (Independent) Grand Lodge. His name is among the roll of officers elected and appointed for the united Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, as Grand Sword Bearer for Grand Master John Cutler.
His presence and bearing recommended him for further advancement. He appears frequently on the pages of the Proceedings, prominently as Grand Master Revere's choice as grand marshal in 1795, when he was only 34 years of age. He and the station of Grand Marshal for the new Grand Lodge grew together; he occupied that chair for flfteen years for five different Grand Masters, and the man and the role must have seemed inseparable. In 1811 he was elected a grand warden, and served in that capacity during Grand Master Bigelow's second three-year term. At the end of that time, the Grand Lodge chose Brother Russell as their Grand Master.
Even before he undertook that responsibility he had demonstrated a capacity for coolness under fire. Grand Master Johnson related a story of his evident bravery; "learning of a kinsman who had been detained a prisoner aboard the British frigate Nymph, he sought and was refused a flag of truce to visit him; instead, he hired a boat and approached the frigate, and despite being threatened when hailed, he was able to reach the vessel where he "inquired for the captain, made himself known a Freemason, and received the hospitality which was his due." He was able to thus free his relative as well as four other Americans, and return to Boston in triumph.
Grand Master Russell's term was one more of consolidation than expansion, during which he dealt with the complexities of a fast-growing fraternity in Massachusetts. He entered office while the country was still at war, and much of his early effort was to help address the needs of prisoners and veterans. He governed the Craft during a difficult period, when a third of our subordinate lodges were days away in Maine, and when the relationship between subordinate lodges and the Grand Lodge was still evolving.
Professionally he had made, and would continue to make, his name as a prominent newspaperman, the publisher of the pro-Federalist and ardently patriotic Columbian Centinel. Brother Russell's skill in his profession has given us two memorable expressions; first, the "Era of Good Feeling," a term he used to describe the presidency of James Monroe; second, the term "gerrymander," arising from a cartoon in the Centinel showing a torturously drawn Congressional district in a caricature of Governor Elbridge Gerry, who had designed it to ensure re-election of a political ally.
Until the end of his life, he was usually addressed as Major Russell, for the rank he had held in the Continental Army. He was widely respected and held in high regard by his brethren, not only within Massachusetts but beyond. For some time he took it upon himself to print and distribute laws and official documents for the government of the United States, a service he provided gratis until President Washington, learning of it, caused him to be reimbursed as a "debt of honor."
When Bro. Russell died in 1845, he was eulogized in a memorial ceremony held at the Melodeon, a theater located on what is now lower Washington Street in Boston. The orator, Bro. and Rev. Francis Baylies, said of him:
From an early age until his death, there was scarcely a moment in which he was not occupied in doing something for the public good; and in all public trusts, he displayed more devotion to the public interests than his own. Those trusts were many, and he neglected none, but executed them with his best ability and with great success. He was a faithful soldier and an able editor.
Even today, more than a century and a half later, it is a fitting eulogy to a remarkable, devoted Mason.
From Proceedings, Page V-11, March 12, 1845:
Resolved— That the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts by the decease of its Past Grand Master, the late Hon. Benj Russell, has lost one whose memory should be ever dear and cherished for his many years of Masonic devotion, for his truly chivalrous defence of the Craft at periods when right was almost crushed by political might and traitorous backslidings, when regardless of the selfish policy which impelled so many to step aside from the recognition as Masons, he ever gave his presence and influence to uphold the time honoured and sacred character of the Order —
Resolved— That as a Patriot, a Citizen, a generous Friend, a distinguished mechanic, he preeminently shone; and that having lived an honor to his fellow-citizens, and a blessing to our Institution, his death shall excite in us an emulation of his worth.
Resolved– That this Grand Lodge be clothed in the habiliments of morning for the period of three months.
R. W. and Rev. Br. Huntoon offered the following resolutions, which were unanimously accepted: —
Resolved— That the Grand Lodge listened with uncommon pleasure to the eloquent, instructive and patriotic Eulogy, on their late Brother Benj Russell, delivered on the evening of the 10th, instant, by Hon. Br. Francis Baylies, and believing it is wanted by the friends of the deceased, and by the friends of the country;
Resolved— That a committee be appointed to present the thanks of the Grand Lodge to Brother Baylies for the address; and to request a copy of it for publication.
From Moore's Freemason's Monthly, Vol. IV, No. 6, April, 1845, p. 163:
EULOGY ON THE LATE BENJAMIN RUSSELL.
In pursuance of previous arrangements, a Eulogy was delivered before the Grand Lodge of this Commonwealth, on the life and character of our late distinguished Brother, Hon. Benjamin Russell, at the Melodeon, on Monday evening the 10th ult, by Hon. Francis Baylies, of Taunton. The hall, holding sixteen hundred persons, was filled to its utmost capacity, by members of the Fraternity, and the friends of the deceased, "whose demise has thrown a mantle of gloom over our city, and whose loss will be long felt in the community, of which he was, for many years, a useful member." There were probably between four and five hundred Brethren present in their regalia. The Grand Lodge, the Grand Chapter, and the Boston Encampment of Knights Templars, occupied the stage; and we are told by persons occupy. ing the body seats, that their appearance was beautiful and imposing. The Brethren of the different Lodges were seated on the lower floor in front of the stage, while the remainder of the hall and the galleries were filled with invited guests of both sexes, including the Governor and Council, members of the Senate and House of Representatives, the Judges of the Courts, Mayor and other members of the City Government, Clergy, and distinguished citi¬ zens. Indeed, a more intellectual and respectable audience was rarely ever before assembled on any public occasion in our city. The services were as follows:—
VOLUNTARY ON THE ORGAN, By Brother Geouge James Barrett, of Boston.
SELECTIONS FROM THE SCRIPTURES, By Rev. Br. E. M. P. Wells, of Boston.
PRAYER, By Rev. Brother Samuel Barrett, of Boston.
FUNERAL ODE, From Brother Thomas Power's Masonic Melodies, No. 109.
Music—Canterbury. A, Major.
What sounds of grief, in sadness, tell
A Brother's earthly doom,
No more in life's fair scenes to dwell,
A tenant of the tomb !
No more the friendly hand now pressed,
No gently-whispered word,
He finds a long unbroken rest,
Where rules his Heavenly Lord.
All earthly joys and sorrows o'er,
Each changing hope or fear,
He sees the light of that fair shore,
Without a sigh or tear.
Then bring to Him, whose holy care,
That better Temple forms,
Our wish that all may gather there,
Beyond life's coming storms.
PRAYER, By Rev. Brother Joseph O. Skinner, of Dudley.
CONCLUDING HYMN, From Brother Thomas Power's Masonic Melodies, No. 108.
Music— Windham. E, Minor.
With bursting sighs, with notes of woe,
What saddening thoughts each bosom swell!
But hope directs from scenes below
To climes where joys immortal dwell.
There sorrowing thoughts and sighs no more
O'er death's cold form shall e'er unite:
No pain shall reach that cloudless shore,
Where Love reflects its holy light.
To Him, our Master, humbly bend,
Whose Spirit gave our mortal breath;
His hand our stay, when life shall end,
Will guide us through the vale of death.
Let Hope's immortal joys arise,
Where grief fraternal fills each breast!
Let faith direct to cloudless skies,
Where each shall find his peaceful rest!
BENEDICTION, By Rev. Brother Asa Eaton, D. D., of Boston.
The hall was hung in black, and the appointments and proceedings were in keeping with the melancholy nature of the occasion. The Eulogy was a well-written, eloquent and elaborate production. As an able statistical paper, it is of intrinsic value, and will be so esteemed by the reading and reflecting portions of the community. Many of its details, having an important bearing on the early history of our country as an independent nation, and on the organization of its government, were never before published. Much of the secret history of the Convention held in Boston for the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, was detailed by the speaker; and it is an interesting incident, that the only surviving member of that body, the Hon. Judge Davis, of this city, was present as a listener, and a witness to the truthfulness of the narrative. And whatever may be thought of the expediency of introducing so much of political history, we cannot think that any will, question the fitness or propriety of the measure, when it is known that Maj. Russell, though not a member, was an active and efficient agent in producing a favorable action in the Convention, and that he was likewise the reporter of the debates. He was therefore identified with the proceedings, as he was with most of the political movements of his times. His history can never be faithfully written, independently of the political history of the age in which he was a distinguished actor. The expediency of the measure was probably settled in the speaker's mind, by the fact stated, that there is but one member of the Convention now living, and he was needed as a witness.
There was another portion of the Eulogy, which was probably less interesting to a large portion of the audience than that to which we have just referred. It need not be said that Maj. Russell was a federalist, for whoever knows any thing of the history of parties, or of the country, knows that It was the gloty of his life, and be never failed to proclaim it in the streets and on the house-tops, everywhere and under all circumstances. This naturally, if not necessarily, led the speaker into' an examination of the history of the great leading principles on which that party acted. And perhaps a more uninteresting topic could not have come up before a mixed popular audience. But it formed a prominent feature in the public history of the deceased, and it may be a question whether the speaker could, in justice to himself and his subject, reject it. At all events, he met it, and met it boldly. If he did not do it fairly and truthfully,—if he played the partizan and mistated the facts, he will probably be corrected when the Eulogy is published.
The result of the matter was, however, that to the mass of the audience, the Eulogy was tiresome. It occupied two hours and thirtyfive minutes in the delivery, and the speaker labored under the disadvantages of a severe cold, and consequent want of clearness of enunciation. For what follows, with some corrections, we are indebted to one of the city papers, (the Daily Bee,)—preferring to give the views of one not a Mason, and, therefore, a disinterested listener, to any thing of our own:—
The Hon. gentleman who addressed the audience, evidently wrote with the ultimate view to publication, and the work will be found a very interesting and useful book—a succinct history of the leading events of the century behind us, "the times that tried men's souls." The Hon. Speaker apologized in the commencement of his address, for the lengthy historical details which he found it necessary to introduce, in order to show the important influence exerted by Major R., and turning to the Masonic Fraternity he began as follows:
We are assembled, my Brethren, to commemorate the life and death of our departed Brother, Benjamin Russell. His long journey through life is ended, and he has now reached that quiet place, where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest
But we cannot find room for more than a mere outline of that portion of the address relating solely to Major Russell himself; and we gathered from it that he was the son of John Russell, and nephew of Joseph Russell, so long the town treasurer of Boston. He was born in Sept. 1761; and his family for four or five generations immediately preceding him were Bostonians. His English ancestor, John Russell, settled in Woburn, in 1635. I mention these things, said the speaker, to sho wbow thoroughly our departed Brother was identified with this locality. To him, Boston was a sacred city—as much so, as Jerusalem to a Jew.
At the early age of 13 years, while a school-boy under the instruction of the celebrated Master Carter, he came upon the stage of active life, and though in an humble sphere, bore a part in the exciting scenes of which his native city and its adjacencies were then the theatre. The speaker here read an account, from Maj. Russell's own pen, of the formation of the long line of British soldiers under Lord Percy, along Tremont Street—then called Long Acre—preparatory to the march for Lexington and Concord, in which he states that Master Carter having sent one of the school-boys to reconnoitre, on receiving intelligence that the troops had taken up the line of march for the interior, immediately dismissed his scholars with the remark, that "war has begun, boys, and this school is now broken up." Several of the boys, Major R. among them, instead of going to their homes, followed the soldiers over into Cambridge, where they ascended a hillock and waited till the red coats returned in full retreat, under the galling fire of the pursuing provincials. The boys then descended the hill, and having been without food throughout the entire day, "began to search their pockets, but found them as empty as their stomachs." Farmer Hastings, who lived in the neighborhood, took them to his house and cared for them, as it was impossible to convey information of their situation to their families in Boston. During the eventful days just previous to the battle of Bunker's Hill, these boys were continually running about the gathering forces, and as General Putnam—who was a great favorite with them—passed and repassed the little squad, upon his long-tailed Connecticut horse, the enthusiastic little fellows would throw up their caps with a "hurrah for old Put!" at the top of their shrill voices.
Young Russell was received into one of the Companies as its Clerk, and going one day to the Commissary's with some of the soldiers for their rations, he met his father, who with others had effected his escape from Boston, and who had not seen or heard from his son since the 19th of April; the joy of the old gentleman was so great that "he seized hold of me," says Major R. in his narrative, "and gave me a good shaking for not having written to him," upon seeing which the soldiers interfered to protect "our Clerk," as they styled him. His father, however, obtained his discharge as a Revolutionary soldier—and took him immediately to Worcester, where he bound him as an apprentice to Isaiah Thomas, a Printer. At the age of 17 he again enlisted in the Army, and marched from Worcester to share the hardships and the glories of his patriotic countrymen in the field. He was one of the guard at the execution of Major André. At 21, he was again discharged, and at once resumed his trade. On the 14th March, 1784, he published the first number of the Columbian Centinel. While in the Army he had seen a meeting of Freemasons, among whom was General Washington, and he was puzzled to discern how it could be that a sergeant, also in the Lodge, should be above his venerated Chief; this led him to inquire into the practical benefits of Masonry, and resulted in his joining the Order, in which he finally rose to be a Grand Master. As a Mason his unbounded kindness and generosity 'have been felt by many; he never held back the helping hand from a Brother in distress; and when the fiercest storms have gathered around the Order, he showed, like the steel of Damascus, that his temper was true.
An anecdote was here related by the speaker of an interview between the present King of the French and Major Russell, when the former was a fugitive to this country, in poverty and distress. To relieve the necessities of the suffering Prince without inflicting a wound upon his feelings, and with proper delicacy towards Greatness in distress, Major Russell purchased from him some books, which Louis Phillippe had with him; and one of these the speaker held up to the eager gaze of his audience. Another anecdote illustrative of the daring courage of Major R. and also of the benefits of Masonry, was related of his successful visit to the British frigate Nymph, during the last war, for the purpose of procuring the release of a relative of his, who was detained on board that vessel as a prisoner of war.
The speaker here returned to the Columbian Centinel newspaper, which he commended in the very highest terms, and to which he attributed the greatest influence in securing the safety and even the very existence of the federal Government To Major Russell's exertions among the mechanics and merchants of Boston, the Hon. gentleman ascribed the adoption of the Constitution of the United States; and certainly the vivid and graphic picture which he drew of the excitement incident to the discussion of that instrument in the meeting of delegates from the various towns of the Old Bay State, and the important Bearing of the Columbian Centinel and its editor upon them, warrant the belief that but for him the Constitution would have been rejected; an act which all the friends of the Union regarded as the precursor not only of its dissolution, but of general anarchy and confusion.
The patriotic efforts of Major Russell, through his paper, to allay the intense) and dangerous excitement during the famous Shay's Rebellion and in the quasi war with France, were also dwelt upon at length, and so, in short, were his effectual and beneficent exertions in behalf of his country, his countrymen, and all mankind, throughout his long life—as a Revolutionary soldier, as a Freemason, as a Printer, as a Representative of this, city, as a Senator of the County, as a Councillor, as a member of the City Government, as an honest, benevolent, upright man,—whose equal in usefulness, where shall we look for now?
- The complete address can be found here.
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