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Deputy Grand Master, 1869-1871


From Proceedings, Page 1898-146:

R.W. S. Lothrop Thorndike presented the following memorial of Brother Woodbury, which, by a rising vote, was accepted and ordered to be spread on the Records:

"In presenting the customary tribute to the memory of our late Brother Charles Levi Woodbury, we place upon our record a sketch of one of the most interesting men of the time. The interest is not confined to this city in which he lived so long. Few persons undistinguished in public office, in literature or in science, have been known as well as he throughout the country. He was not reckoned among the great statesmen, or the leaders of society, or the brilliant orators, or the profound lawyers of the land, but he moved in all these spheres, of politics, of law, of social life, of public speech, so easily and familiarly that the name of 'Judge' Woodbury was more readily recognized, especially in Massachusetts, than that of many others who have left their mark upon its history. He was not even a 'judge,' long as he has borne that title. The title came to him, perhaps, from the quasi-judicial position which he held as United States Commissioner; but it was most appropriate, for he had by inheritance a certain intellectual poise, patience, even temper, and desire for exact justice, which are some of the best characteristics of a judge.

"His earliest ancestor in America was John Woodbury, one of the Old Planters, who was sent by the Dorchester Company, in 1624, to colonize Cape Ann, and who afterward removed to Naumkeag, now Salem, two years before the arrival of Endicott. A branch of the family, in the course of time, settled in New Hampshire, and Woodbury was born in Portsmouth, May 22,1820. His father was Levi Woodbury, for many years the politics of his State and of the nation, and afterward a Justice of the .United States Supreme Court. In 1831 his father was appointed, by President Jackson, Secretary of the Navy, and the family removed to Washington. Here Woodbury received his education, studying law, when the time came, in the office of Benjamin F. Butler, of New York, General Jackson's Attorney-General. He was admitted to the Bar of the District of Columbia in 1840, when only twenty years of age.

"Few young men have had the opportunity, which his father's prominent position afforded Woodbury, of iutimate acquaintance with the most distinguished men of the day. Washington was never the centre of a more brilliant circle than during Van Buren's administration. In the Senate were Clay, Webster, Calhoun, Benton, Buchanan, Preston and Wright; in the House, John Quincy Adams, Cushing, Prentiss, Polk, Giddings and Wise. In the high offices of the army and navy were still to be found the heroes of the War of 1812. Mr. Van Buren had kept about him the confidential friends and supporters of his 'illustrious predecessor', and it was at their feet that Woodbury imbibed the principles of Jacksonian Democracy that remained through life the rule and guide of his political faith.

"When his family returned home at the end of Van Buren's administration, Woodbury went to Alabama, where he practised law for four years. He then came to Boston, and in 1845 was, on motion of Daniel Webster, admitted to the Bar of our Supreme Court. He was for a while a partner of the late Robert Rantoul, Jr. His practice through life wast mainly, but not exclusively, in the Courts of the United States, in the various Circuits, and in Washington, and his acquaintance with the jurisprudence of these Courts was extensive and accurate. He was also a careful and profound student of International Law. He edited three volumes of his father's Circuit Court Decisions, was United States District Attorney in Massachusetts under Buchanan's administration, and was for many years a United States Commissioner.

"On his return to New England he appears at first not to have abandoned his Portsmouth domicile, for in 1857 we find him a member of the New Hampshire Legislature, and at about the same time President Pierce offered him, as a New Hampshire man, the post of Minister to Bolivia, which offer, however, he declined. Later he made his legal residence in Massachusetts, and in 1870 and 1871 he was in the Massachusetts Legislature. These were the only political offices he ever held, but he was always prominent in the councils and conventions of his party, the most earnest of partisans and the most good-humored of opponents; cheerful when his party came up to his expectations, equally even tempered, with perhaps a certain underlying amused pity, when he thought it had gone astray. His partisanship, like all the rest of his life, was permeated by that Masonic charity which was so vital a part of his nature.

"Brother Woodbury's faithful and devoted service to Freemasonry extended over forty years. He was made a Master Mason in Winslow Lewis Lodge, Boston, June 4, 1858; a Royal Arch Mason in the Chapter of the Shekinah, Chelsea, June 22, 1858; a Royal and Select Master in Boston Council, March, 1859; a Knight Templar in De Molay Commandery, Boston, March 18, 1859. He never held office in the Lodge or the Chapter, or, as. far as known to us, in the Council or Commandery. In the Grand Lodge he held the office of Corresponding Grand Secretary during the years 1862-1868, inclusive, and that of Deputy Grand Master under M.W. William S. Gardner during 1869, 1870 and 1871. Since 1885 he has been a Trustee of the Charity Fund.

"The degrees of the Scottish Rite were communicated to him — from the 4th degree to 32d degree — in Raymond Grand Lodge of Perfection, Raymond Council of Princes of Jerusalem, Lowell Chapter of Rose Croix, (all of Lowell and all opened in Boston), and in Boston Consistory, Feb. 20, 1863. He was created a Sovereign Grand Inspector General, 33d degree, at Boston, May 21,1863; was made an Emeritus Member.of the Supreme Council in 1865, and was crowned an active member in 1867. He held for a while the office of Lieutenant-Commander in Boston Consistory, and of Minister of State in the Sovereign Grand Consistory. In the Supreme Council he served continuously as Chairman of the Committee on Jurisprudence from June 24, 1868, and as Grand Lieutenant-Commander from Sept. 17, 1879, until his decease. He also was until his death one of the Trustees of the Permanent Fund of the Supreme Council, and a Director and Secretary of the Corporation of the Trustees of the Supreme Council.

"It will be observed that Brother Woodbury rarely held any office that called for familiarity with what is sometimes styled, not quite adequately, the 'work' of Freemasonry. The true work of Freemasonry was for him something quite apart from its ritual. Of this ritual it may be doubted whether he ever had accurate verbal knowledge, in any of the degrees. But he had something better than that, a devotion to the spirit of Freemasonry and a belief in the beneficent results which it is fitted and destined to accomplish. Of its history, its legends, its traditions and its literature he was a constant student, and his extensive acquaintance with these subjects was evidenced in numerous speeches and writings. He was, besides, from his legal .and business training a valued and useful adviser in the practical affairs of the Institution. Outside of the spheres already mentioned, Brother Woodbury's favorite pursuit was the old town and family history of New England. In this he was a recognized authority, and he was a member of various Historical Societies.

"Brother Woodbury continued in a comfortable state of health, little troubled by the infirmities of age, until last winter. In the early part of the year a bronchial trouble suggested escape from the New England climate, and he passed the greater part of the winter and spring at the South. His illness proved more serious than had been anticipated, and after his return to Boston in June he failed rapidly. The end came quietly on the first of July, and on the fifth the Grand Lodge performed its obsequies around his bier in St. Paul's Church in this city.

"In the daily life of Boston, and especially in his accustomed place at the Parker House table, where he has sat for more years than the Parker House has been upon its present site, his familiar presence, always carrying with it a certain air of authority, but always kindly and genial, will long be missed. In this Grand Lodge he will always be remembered for the wisdom of his counsel, the warmth of his friendship, the cordiality of his greeting, the brilliancy and wit which have illuminated so many of our festive meetings.

Respectfully submitted,


Speeches of Charles Levi Woodbury

Distinguished Brothers