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EDWARD BASS, 1726-1803



From New England Craftsman, Vol. XVIII, No. 7, April 1923, Page 193:

By Prof. Gilbert Patten Brown, D. C., Ph.D., LL. D.

The lives of many great men furnish lessons in valor and integrity which serve as lessons in ethics far better than monuments to their burning memories.

In New England during the latter part of the colonial period was a type of manhood among its citizens the like of which cannot be found in the history of man. The leading men of the Pilgrim and Puritan Colonies at the breaking out of the War of 1775-1783 were of the Masonic Institution. Such names as Gridley, Knox, Warren, Cutler, Sprague, Hancock, Adams, Revere, Wadsworth, Greaton, Tucker, Otis, Paine, Heath, Crane, Bartlett, Collins, Glover, O'Brien, Sullivan, Thornton, Wooster, Stillman, Hopkins, Putnam, Cilley, Dearborn, Webb, Brown, Barrett, Parsons, Patten, Quincy, Brooks, Burbank, Bradford, Winslow, Webster, Butler, Hale, Fitch, Hall, Crafts, Ocrry, Gerrish and others arc found in the pages of old New England lodges as are these names plentiful on the muster rolls of New England Regiments in the War of the American Revolution.

The subject of our story is a man of many sides and yet one of the most unique men of his time and generation. He was a most devout patriot and a cheerful Mason. His charity is beyond description. In his veins flowed blood of the royalty of the Middle ages, and in his breast beat a heart true to the wants of human kind.

Born at Dorchester. Mass. Nov. 23, 1726, son of Joseph and Elizabeth Bass, and his schooling was in the little red-schoolhouse of those times. He was once asked by a Tory in the midst of the war why he left his native town for old Newburyport. He answered, "The brooks there are not large enough for bass to swim in." This particular Bass was by name Edward.

His emigrant ancestor on the paternal line was John Bass, who married Ruth Alden, daughter of John and Priscilla Alden of Mayflower fame. Of such ancestors he was very proud.

At the ebb of the Colonial period, few churchmen in the Colonies were braver against the despotic hand of the Mother Country than was the Rev. Edward Bass, D. D. With the outbreak of the American Revolution the fall of the church of England in the colonies seemed settled. It never had been the church of the people; from the beginning it had depended largely on the favor of the English governors and included in its membership the beneficiaries of court influence. Those governors were in most cases Masons, yet many were Tories.

In the agitation that preceded the revolution the clergy of the Church of England naturally took the side of the royal government, and when the struggle between the colonists and the king actually began, the Episcopalians as a body were regarded as the natural enemies of the patriotic cause. The Episcopal clergy generally joined the British and shared the fortunes of those who had to leave the country on the evacuation of Boston.

The church, however, continued to preserve some show of existence, although the few people who attended the service in Boston were probably the least enthusiastic of all who had given even a nominal adherence to the American cause.

If they did not actually pray for victory to the royal arms, they would not have been greatly cast down if that event had come to pass.

Rev. Bro. Edward Bass was one of the few Episcopal clergymen of distinction who yielded to the current patriotic sentiment, while maintaining the exercise of his faith.

He was graduated at Harvard University in 1744, and after engaging in teaching for some years he received a license to preach among the Congregationalists. Soon, however, he applied for orders in the Episcopal church, and went to England and was ordained both deacon and Priest by the bishop of London.

He returned to America in 1752, at the age of 28, to become rector of St. Paul's Church in Newburyport, Mass., where he remained to the close of his long and most useful life.

He did not abandon his pastorate when the revolution came, but he had to omit that portion of the Episcopal service which contained prayers for the royal family. For doing this he lost the stipend hitherto received from the society for propagating the gospel in foreign parts.

He continued the services of the church, with what help he could get until the war was over, and then he applied for the arrearages of stipend, but the society refused his application. He published a pamphlet in defence of his conduct. The Tories lost out, but Bass and his con feres will live in history.

After the war the Episcopal church was in an almost hopeless condition. It had to begin a struggle for existence, but it had strong leaders and the work was begun, and today that church is one of the leading ones in New England.

When the church was organized in Massachusetts after the government of the United States had been established, a convention of clerical and lay deputies in Boston unanimously chose Edward Bass to become Bishop.

He was consecrated in Philadelphia in 1797, and his jurisdiction was extended by request over the churches in Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

His administration was distinguished for piety and moderation, and he died quite generally mourned by the people of bis diocese at the age of 77. He was given the degree of LL. D. by the University of Pennsylvania for his loyalty to liberty in the late war.

Bishop Bass and his stand and connection with the world's most democratic brotherhood - the Masonic Institution - is most unique and interesting to even the dullest of students of American biography. The second-oldest duly constituted Lodge in New England is St. John's No. 1 of Portsmouth, N. H. Rev. Edward Bass often exchanged pulpits with the Rev. (bro.) Arthur Browne, D. D. of Portsmouth while Doctor Bass preaching at Newburyport, Mass. On April 12, 1758 the records of this most celebrated old New England Lodge read, "Proposeu by our Rev. Brother Mr. Brown, that the Rev. Edward Bass might this night be made » Mason, he being a gentleman of undoulitcj reputation, and the proposal was accepted! and he was unanimously balloted in to be made this night."

"The Reverend Mr. Bass, Capt. Daniel Wentworth, and Mr. Joseph Miller, were this night, pursuant to the vote aforesaid, Made Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts.— Voted that the making of Brother Bass should be presented him." Rev. Doctor Bass fully appreciated the honor of having been made "Gratis" in this celebrated body and often visited the Lodge in years later en. He preached to St. John's Lodge of Newburyport on St. John Evangelist Day 1779 in the midst of the Revolutionary War. He was daring and patriotic in his scholarly address, and several Tories were present.

He was at the funeral of Major General Joseph Warren, M. D., in the King's Chapel, Boston, on April 8, 1776, when the "late and lamented Grand Master of North America" was finally buried with full Masonic honors.

Dr. Bass was consecrated Bishop May h 1798. He died at Newburyport, Mass., Sept. 10, 1803, and his brethren were at his bier in goodly numbers.

The records of St. John's Grand Lodge, Boston under the date of Nov. 23, 1768, read in part as follows, "Voted that the Rev. Brother Edward Bass of Newburyport" be invited to Preach a Sermon to the Fraternity on said Day suitable to the occasion and the Grand Secretary is directed to write to the said Bro. Bass signifying to him this Vote of the Grand Lodge, also to the several Lodges in New England requiring their attendance on said Day." The sermon was to be preached at the following Installation of the Grand Master. The attendance was very large upon that noteworthy occasion.

Dr. Bass made this reply to Bro. Abraham Savage who wrote him in regard to the matter:

Nov. 28, 1768.

Dear Sir:

Yours of October 31 as directed by the Grand Lodge I have received, and returned an answer, that I cannot but comply with the request of a Body for which I have so great regard.

Pray give my love to the Brotherhood and believe me to be with great sincerity,

Your affectionate Brother and Humble Servant,
Edward Bass.

Edward Bass lived a life of worthy emulation by people of all creeds. He was more of a patriot than he was a partisan and a far greater christian than many of those who have followed him in the Ministry. He dared the poisoned hand of foreign despotism when most of the members of his Church took sides with the Mother Country. He praised Gen. (Bro.) Washington and his freezing soldiers at Valley Forge from the pulpit of his church. He never forgot that in his veins there flowed blood of three or more of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Youth of the Republic, look up and learn and you, too, my Masonic pilgrim to eternity, remember the virtues of the patriotic preach-of old Newburyport who prayed and reached while the ragged and hungry Continental Soldiers most of whom were Masons were battling for the liberties of the children of men in the Western World. May his name be ever kept green and may this monograph from the busy few of a late day American Author and historian serve to kindle anew religious patriotism in the human heart the world over.

Old St. John's Lodge No. 1 of rural beauteous and patriotic Portsmouth holds upon its pages of records dimmed with age the names of many eminent men of fame in all walks of life during the Colonial and Revolutionary periods. In the last years of the old Colonial days it was the pleasure of those thrifty masons of Portsmouth to make the Rev. Dr. Edward Bass a Mason free of fees, as worthy in their hearts was be in his day as was Major Joseph Cilley in 1775 when the records read "Major Joseph Cilley, Made a Mason 'Gratis' for his good service in defense of his Country." I have visited this old Lodge of the "Granite" State. Its work is of a high order. Its charity is outbounding. Wor. Bro. Wm. B. Randall is its Secretary. To him I am deeply indebted for many Masonic favors especially for the data used herein on Bishop Edward Bass, D. D., LL. D. Honorable and brave to death.

Dr. Bass sleeps in an old and time-honored graveyard in Quaint Newburyport. This quaint town like Portsmouth was extremely proud of the patriot-preacher in the trying days of the great War of the American Revolution. May his virtues be enshrined in the Masonic heart for generations yet to come. And may there be established a Masonic lodge in the "Bay" State and named in his honor. Dorchester was a rural spot in the boyhood days of Edward Bass — the "brooks there" were "not large enough for bass to swim in." It is now one of the most beautiful and residential sections of the most learned and cultured City in all America. The Masonic bodies there are among the most thrifty ones of New England's Masonic life.

While the tides along the shores of old Massachusetts ebb and flow twice in each twenty-four hours and the stars in the blue canopy of heaven look down upon a grateful people the rational mind who loves the story of New England biography will never tire in hearing of the virtues of Edward Bass who was made a Mason "gratis," and who prayed for Washington and his freezing soldiers in the huts of Valley Forge in the midst of the greatest of our American Wars.

Distinguished Brothers