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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,


From Proceedings of the Massachusetts Council of Deliberation AASR NMJ 1900, Page 33:

Ill. Bro. Charles Levi Woodbury was born in Portsmouth, N.H., May 22, 1820.

He came of an ancestry of a notable New England type. On his father's side he was descended from John Woodbury of Somersetshire, England, who settled on Cape Ann in 1623—24, and, in 1627, removed to Naumkeag, now Salem, before the Grand Council of Plymouth had granted the Massachusetts to the associates who subsequently became the “Massachusetts Bay Company.” Of this company, when incorporated, he was made a freeman, and several times represented Salem in the General Court.

The father of Charles Levi Woodbury was the Hon. Levi Woodbury, a distinguished statesman and jurist, who, in the early half of the present century, filled many offices of high trust, State and National He was Governor of New Hampshire from 1822 to 1824; Senator from that State in the U. S. Congress from 1825 to 1831; he was appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Jackson in 1831, and in 1834, Secretary of the Treasury,— an office which he continued to hold throughout the administration of President Van Buren, Jackson’s successor. He was a second time elected U.S. Senator from New Hampshire in 1841, continuing ,in that place until his appointment as Judge of the U. S. Supreme Court, a position which he held until the close of his life.

His mother was Elizabeth Williams Clapp, daughter of the Hon. Asa Clapp of Portland, Me., a descendant of Roger Clapp who came to Dorchester, Mass., as one of its first settlers in 1630. Mrs. Asa Clapp was a daughter of Dr. Josiah Quincy of Boston, and a grandniece of Mrs. John Hancock.

Bro. Woodbury’s parents removed to Washington when he was ten years old, and here he was entered as a pupil in a select academy instituted in Washington by Salmon P. Chase, afterwards Secretary of the Treasury under President Lincoln, and, later, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His collegiate education was received in part at Columbia College and in part at the Catholic College at Georgetown, D.C., from which he was graduated at an early age. He immediately entered upon a course of legal study in the office of Benjamin F. Butler of New York, Attorney-General of the United States, and afterwards prosecuted his studies with Roland S. Coxe, a distinguished lawyer of that period. He was admitted to practice in the courts of Washington before he had arrived at the age of twenty years.

A short time after his admission to the bar he removed to Lowndes County, Alabama, where he was in successful practice until 1845, when he took up his residence in Boston. Here he became a law partner of Hon. Robert Rantoul Jr., a lawyer of eminent ability, afterwards a member of Congress from the Essex district, who died on the threshold of what promised to be a career of great public usefulness. This connection continued for two or three years, and after its dissolution Bro. Woodbury remained substantially alone in legal practice, although variously associated from time to time with younger men in the profession; in later years with Hon. Melville E. Ingalls, Mr. Charles G. Chick and Mr. Josiah P. Tucker.

He was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the United States in 1846, upon motion of the Hon. Daniel Webster.

Bro. Woodbury was a lawyer of profound learning and ability,— of clear perceptions and convincing logical powers. His engagements were nearly all before the courts and judges of the United States, tried and argued in almost all the circuit and district courts of the northern, especially the New England districts. They embraced the widest range of equity, patent, prize, railroad, telegraph and corporation cases, including frequently the first adjudication of important legal questions and at the same time weighty pecuniary issues. lie was also engaged in important cases involving questions of constitutional law or personal privilege.

On the accession of James Buchanan to the presidency in 1857, Bro.-. Woodbury was appointed United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and held the office for four years.

In 1846 he was appointed by Judge Sprague U. S. Commissioner, and continued to hold and exercise that trust until, in 1870, he resigned it to become a member of the Legislature of Massachusetts, in which lie served during the years 1870 and 1871.

Upon the death of his father lie removed his residence to New Hampshire, though still maintaining his law office in Boston. The removal was in 1851, and for the purpose of more conveniently administering his affairs. While domiciled for this purpose in New Hampshire he was elected to the legislature of that State, but never took his seat.

He was also a delegate from New Hampshire to the National Convention of the Democratic party held at Cincinnati, and the Vice-President of his State in that Convention, which nominated Buchanan.

By President Pierce lie was tendered and urged to accept various situations near foreign governments in charge of the interests of the United States, but could never bring himself to accept and break up the customary courses of his life-work.

Ill. Bro. Woodbury was in politics a strict Jeffersonian States Rights Democrat, and was never slow or doubtful in the expression or maintenance of his opinions. In the State Conventions of his party he was chiefly relied upon to voice in their resolutions and platforms what should be known as the orthodox doctrines of the democracy.

In 1865 he was a delegate from Boston to the Peace Convention held at Philadelphia, and before the breaking out of the war he, with Everett, Winthrop, Tobey and Amos A. Lawrence, were a committee to bear the petition of 15,000 citizens to Washington in the effort to try to prevent the impending catastrophe.

Though not a merchant, yet in consequence of his labors in connection with the question of Canadian reciprocity and the promotion of liberal commercial intercourse, he was elected and for several years continued a member of the Boston Board of Trade.

Though a State Rights Democrat of the straightest school he took joy and pride in addressing ten thousand of his fellow citizens from the eastern balcony of the Old State House, on the Sabbath, and urging them to muster and fill up a regiment of Massachusetts volunteers of which his friend Fletcher Webster was to be the colonel.

As a Mason Bro. Woodbury received light in Winslow Lewis Lodge, Boston, on the three days April 2, April 30 and June 4, 1858. He was elected to membership May 27, 1859, qualified himself July 29, 1859, and died a member thereof.

His capitular degrees were taken soon after those of the Lodge, in the Royal Arch Chapter of the Shekinah, Chelsea, Mass. He received the degree of Mark Master June 9, Past Master June 15, and Most Excellent and Royal Arch June 22, 1858. He was elected to membership July 14, 1858, but did not qualify himself as a member. He never held office in the Lodge or Chapter. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Chapter, Dec. 30, 1880, he delivered an oration which was printed.

In December, 1861, he was appointed Corresponding Grand Secretary by M. W. Grand Master William D. Coolidge, and served in that office under him and M. W. Brothers William Parkman and Charles C. Dame, during seven years from 1862 to 1868, inclusive. He was a member of the Committee on the Library sixteen years from Dec. 29, 1868, to Dec. 30, 1884. He was elected a director of the Grand Lodge Dec. 8, I860,'and rendered able service in that office nine years to Dec. 11, 1878. During the years 1869, 1870 and 1871, he held the office of Deputy Grand Master by appointment of M. W. William S. Gardner, Grand Master. He was elected a trustee of the Masonic Education and Charity Trust Dec. 10, 1884, and held that position until his deathIn Boston Council of Royal and Select Masters he received the Select degree Feb. 25, 1S64, and the Royal and Super Excellent degree Dec. 29, 1864, and was admitted to membership Jan. 26, 1865.

In De Molay Commnndery of Boston lie received the order of the Red Cross January 26, and of the Temple March 18, 1859. lie became a member thereof Oct. 26, 1859, and continued the membership during his life.

On the twentieth of February, 1863, the degrees of the A. A. Scottish Rite from the 4th to the 32d, inclusive, were communicated to him in Raymond Grand Lodge of Perfection, Raymond Council of Princes of Jerusalem, Lowell Chapter of Rose Croix (all of Lowell, Mass., and all opened that day in Boston), and in Boston Consistory of S. P. of the R. S. He was created a Sov. Grand Inspector-General, 33°, and an honorary member of the Supreme Council, at Boston, May 22, 1863. He was made an emeritus member of the Supreme Council May 20, 1865, and was elected an active member thereof May 16, 1867, as is shown by the following quotation from the records of that date: —

“Pending a motion, that the foregoing list be transmitted to the New York Council, Bro. Gardner of Massachusetts remarked that while it was one of the fundamental conditions of the Articles of Union that the Active Members of the United Council should, at the time of its organization, be equally divided between the two Councils as now existing, he had the strongest reasons for believing that, in view of the eminent services of I11. Bro. Charles Levi Woodbury of Massachusetts, in effecting the proposed union, the members of the New York Council would most cheerfully ratify the addition of that brother’s name to our list of Active Members, without regard to the preponderance this Council would thereby acquire in the United Council; and on his motion Charles Levi Woodbury of Massachusetts was elected an Active Member of this Council and his name was transferred to the list of Active Members, and it was ordered that the foregoing list, as amended, be transmitted to the New York Council,” which unanimously approved the addition of Bro. Woodbury's name.

In the A. A. Scottish Rite ho served in the following positions: He was 2d Lieutenant-Commander of Boston Consistory from 1864 to 1868, inclusive. In 1S66 he was Grand Minister of State of the Sovereign Grand Consistory for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the United States. In the Supreme Council, 33°, he rendered service of the highest value as chairman of the Standing Committee on Jurisprudence, from June 24, 1868, thirty years, until his decease he was Grand Lieutenant-Commander from Sept. 17, 1879, nineteen years, to the close of his life. He was a Trustee of the Permanent Fund of the Supreme Council from the election of a Board of Trustees Aug. 21, 1874, and the Secretary of the Corporation of The Trustees of the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, from its organization in 1872 and the acceptance by the Supreme Council Aug. 20, 1875, and died in that office after a most faithful service of twenty-three years.

But few men in this or any country have been so influential in Masonry or have in a greater degree left the impress of their thought and power on its history, laws, regulations and constitutions than our I11. Bro. Woodbury. Wherever there has been a controversy of Masonic jurisdiction, between bodies holding different territorial claims, in the forming and consolidating of the Constitutions and Statutes of the Supreme Council, and defining the rights and authorities of subordinate bodies under the Supreme Council, in all conferences to settle conflicting interests and opinions of whatever sort, in legislation and historic research, I11. Bro. Woodbury has been among the first and foremost.

Ill. Bro. Woodbury was n great collector of the rarest and most valuable books in the departments of study in which he was particularly interested, legal, historic and Masonic. In the great Boston fire of 1872, some 2,500 of these volumes were burned, including many volumes which can hardly be replaced, even after a long search and the payment of inordinate prices. He, however, left a noble and valuable library of about eight thousand volumes.

The health of Brother Woodbury showed symptoms of decline in the early part of the winter of 1897, and he spent several months in Florida in the hope of obtaining relief from a milder climate. This hope was not fulfilled and he returned to Boston in June. His condition grew rapidly worse, and he died suddenly while sitting in his chair, early in the afternoon of the first of July, 1898. The cause of his decease was aneurysm of the heart. He looked forward to death with manly fortitude. In speaking of his illness he said to an intimate friend a few days before his death, “It is old age and I see no escape. I have done my best and I am ready. I have faith and confidence in the future.”

The funeral of Bro. Woodbury took place at 11 o’clock in the forenoon of July 5 at St. Paul's Church, Tremont Street, Boston. The Protestant Episcopal service was conducted by the Rev. Sumner U. �Shearman, the rector of St. John’s Church, Jamaica Plain, in the absence of the Rev Dr. John S. Lindsay, the rector of St. Paul’s Church. This was followed by the Masonic service, conducted by Charles C. Hutchinson, M. W. Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Masons of Massachusetts, assisted by the Rev. Charles A. Skinner, Grand Chaplain, and other officers and members of the Grand Lodge, and by the Weber quartet. A committee of Masons accompanied the family to Portsmouth, N. H., where they were met at the station by a delegation of the officers of St John's Lodge, Washington Chapter, and De Witt Clinton Commandery, all of that city, and were escorted to the family lot in Harmony Grove Cemetery, where the brethren conducted the committal service and the body of our greatly beloved brother was laid at rest in a grave beside that of his honored father.

In many respects our deceased brother was an exceptional man. The sou of one of the distinguished statesmen and jurists whom New England gave to the nation in the first half of the century, he achieved distinction in the same line of labors. He won recognition as a jurist in the fields of constitutional and international law, and held a conspicuous place at the bar of the higher courts of the State and Nation. His contributions to legal literature were important, and are catalogued among standard works of the kind. In politics, while never seeking office, and actually holding few positions in the public service, and those not conspicuous ones, he was for half a century a leader of his party, upon whose counsels and disinterested labors his associates could rely with implicit confidence.

It has been well said of him that lie possessed the quality of individuality in a very marked degree. The thoughts that he entertained were his own thoughts; the clothing that he wore was a part of himself, in some way differing from that of others, and not adopted from any motive of oddity or eccentricity: it belonged to him. Whatever he did or said ‘bore the impress of his line personality. For social intercourse he possessed qualities which could not fail to make him the centre of any group into which chance threw him; for. with a quiet and genial wit, with frankness of tongue, tempered with kindly affection. with broad mental attainments untainted with intellectual arrogance, he had the ease and readiness of an experienced man of the world. His friends might be numbered by thousands; his enemies it would be hard to find, and he leaves behind him a memory which must always be associated with happy thoughts and kindly deeds.

Respectfully submitted,
Samuel C. Lawrence, 33°,
Charles C. Hutchinson, 33°
Charles C. Dame, 33°,


Speeches of Charles Levi Woodbury

Distinguished Brothers