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Grand Secretary (Mass. Indep.), 1772-1782


Presented by Grand Historian Sereno D. Nickerson in 1908 at the September Quarterly Communication:

Among the useful services to the Fraternity by Brother John T. Heard may well be reckoned the catalogue of Officials of the Grand Lodge appended to his Historieal Account of Columbian Lodge, published in 1856. The catalogue comprised the years 1792 to 1856 inclusive. It commenced with the year 1792, when the two Provincial Grand Lodges were united, forming the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. As an Appendix to the Proceedings of the Grand Lodge for the year 1871, a new and more complete Catalogue of Grand Officers was printed, the list commencing from the date of the election of the first Grand Master in this country, March 8, 1777, it being the date from which we reckon our first independent Grand Lodge. This second catalogue was probably prepared by Grand Master William Sewall Gardner, or under his direction. Since the year l871 the list of Past Grand Officers annually printed has included only Grand Masters, Deputy Grand Masters, Senior and Junior Grand Wardens, Grand Treasurers and Recording Grand Secretaries.

The incumbent of the office of Grand Secretary named for the year 1777 is Nat. Peirce. He seems to have been first only in point of time, inasmuch as we find the following entry in the record for Feb. 14, 1777: Nat. Peirce, G. Sec. pro tem. 53 N. B. The Three following Leaves was Cut out by order of the Grand Master: (the three Quarterly Records being made thereon by Bro. Nat. Peirce Rather too Carelessly is the reason) which are again fairly Recorded.

Brother Peirce was given ample opportunity to mend his ways, but the Grand Lodge lost all patience, and on the first of May, 1778, it was Voted Unanimously tbat Brother Nathl. Peirce be dismissed as Secretary of this Grand Lodge for a General Neglect of duty. He appears to have been acting as Secretary pro. tem. during the occasional absences of Bro. William Hoskins, who held the office from 1772 to 1782, and whose absences were owing to his service in the Revolutionary Army. Brother Hoskins' life presents an interesting history but little known to the Fraternity. The recent change in the office affords a favorable opportunity for presenting a brief sketch o! one who did good service in very troublous times.

William Hoskins was born in Boston in December, 1735, and baptized at the Old South Church, Jan. 4, 1736. Hie father was Christopher Hoskins, mariner, who is supposed to have come from England about 1724, when, as a stranger, he was warned to leave town. He seems not to have complied, inasmuch as in 1727 bis intention of marriage to Susanna Mellins was published. She was baptized at the Old South Church, Jan. 28, 1705. William was the fifth child and third son. Little is known of his life until his twenty-sixth year, when he formed a partnership with Joseph Wheelwright, brother of Nathaniel, a leading merchant of Boston in whose employ Hoskins is supposed to have received his business training.

The new firm appeals to have engaged from the start in a very large business. In 1762 they were actively concerned in the slave-trade, and a little later they started a distillery for rum - the usual adjunct of the slave traffic. In 1763 they added a sugar house to their numerous enterprises. At this period the number of shipmasters in their employ is said to have been neatly one hundred, sailing vessels in which the firm as largely interested, It was a perilous venture for a young firm to launch out so extensively when the political horizon was so dark, but to the young people their immediate surroundings seemed bright and prosperous and so, on the twelfth of June, 1764, William Hoskins was married to Lydia Box, at King's Chapel by the Rev. Henry Caner. She was baptized April 24, 1745, the daughter of John Box. Her father was initiated July 23, 1740, in the First Lodge in Boston. Her maternal grandfather, Elisha Story, was a shoemaker, lived, in 1700, where the Revere House now stands and was the great grandfather of Joseph Story, who was born in Marblehead in 17?9 and served for thirty-four years as a justice of the United States Supreme Court.

The young merchant took his bride to an elegantly furnished home in Clark Square, now known as North square, then the most fashionable quarter of the town. The house was nearly opposite that of Paul Revere and in the near neighborhood of the famous Clark Mansion House, then owned by Sir Henry Frankland, celebrated in story, novel and poem, from the roof of which the lovely widow Frankland is said to have watched the battle of Bunker Hill while waiting to sail for England. Among the luxuries furnished for his bride by Brother Hoskins was a one-horse shay, the handiwork of Bro. Adino Paddock, a vehicle of which there were probably at that time not more than fifty specimens in use among the 16,000 inbabitants of Boston. Brother Paddock was the man who planted the elms which formerly stood in front of the Granary Burying Ground. He was a Tory and fled to Halifax with the Refugees in 1776.

The year 1?64 was a very prosperous one for the young firm, although the smallpox was prevalent and the merchants were constantly harassed by rumors of taxes laid and to be laid; the Sugar Act was not repealed and the Stamp Act was threatened. The firm was specially annoyed in consequence of the seizure of a vessel owned by them by the Port Officer of Boston. The brigantine Free Mason was bound from Bordeaux to St. Eustatia and, bearing a cargo of wine for the latter port, came into Boston for water and repairs, having a Letter of Liberty giving permission for the vessel to remain in port for three days. The Court of Admiralty condemned her on the suspicion that it was intended to land the cargo in Boston. The firm appealed and the case was sent to England for trial. The books of the sufferers now on hand do not furnish the result. The interest of Bro. James Otis in this case prompted him to publish A Defence of the Rights of the British Colonies, in which he several times reflects upon the Admiralty Court particularly with respect to this case. He warmly espoused the cause of the merchants which he had so vigorously defended in his famous argument against the Writs of Assistance.

The year 1765 brought failures without number, and there was no escape for William Hoskins & Co. The firm was dissolved, and no sacrifices were evaded in the effort to pay their own debts, while they were very considerate and charitable towards their poor debtors. The seizure of the Free Mason greatly intensified his patriotic ardor for maintaining the rights of the people. He became an ardent Son of Liberty, a member of the North End Caucus, an active worker on various committees for the promotion of the public welfare, and Secretary of St. Andrew's Lodge about the period when the record reports that the Consignees of Tea took up the Brethren's time. From the last-named connection Brother Hoskins' family have proudly claimed that he was a member of the famous Boston Tea Party. He was appointed to the Commissary Department of the army by the Committee of Safety, and on the first of January, 1775, was on duty at the magazine in Roxbury. Commissary Gen. Joseph Trumbull soon after appointed him his deputy. Upon the death of General Trumbull Congress appointed Brother Hoskins military administrator of the affairs of the department and ordered him To call to account and make settlement with all persons who had been employed under the late commissary general and prepare all the accounts of the said commissary general remaining unsettled and lay them before the Congress for final settlement, the said William Hoskins being authorized to receive and pay balances ond to account. That for his services be be allowed two and one half per cent. He performed the duty to the satisfaction of Congress and was then offered a Berth in the Board of Treasury and to be one of the Chamber of Accounts." These proposals he declined and applied to Congress for further compensation for his services, but without success. He returned to Boston in 1779, resumed the commission business, but was still actively engaged in public affairs, serving on various committees, among others a committee of thirteen to see that extortion should not be practised upon the people, a committee to see that the lands at West Boston were improved for the raising of vegetables, a committee to publish the names in the newspapers of those who took advantage of their poorer townsmen, a committee to prepare a list of twenty persons to be stationed at the fortifications and Charlestown Ferry to prevent persons going out of town to purchase provisions, and other committees for similar curious purposes which the exigencies of the times seemed to require. In 1785 he was sent to England by his friend John Hancock, on a confidential mission, who thus manifested great confidence in his Brother's business ability and integrity.

The first mention of Brother Hoskins which we find in the records of the Provincial Grand Lodges is under date of June 24, 1767, when he was present at the Festival of St. John, June 24, 1767, held at the Grey-hound Tavern, in Roxbury. The Deputy Grand Master, John Rowe, presided on account of the sickness of the Grand Master, Jeremy Gridley. The Grand Master died on the tenth of September following. The funeral on the twelfth was probably the most imposing service of the kind that had ever been held in the Colony. Brother Gridley was Grand Master of the Modern Grand Lodge, but St. Andrew's Lodge of Ancients sent a committee, consisting of Joseph Webb, Joseph Warren and Samuel Barrett, to request permission to attend the Grand Master's Funeral in due form as Masons. Accordingly that Lodge joined in the procession, including more than sixty members, with William Burbeck, the Master, at their head. Many of these Brethren, among their Brothers Burbeck and Hoskins, had been made Masons in the First and Second Lodges of Boston, which were Modern. This would seem to indicate that the rivalry between the two branches of the Fraternity was not then very violent. Brother Hoskins attended the Festival of St. John the Baptist in the following year - June 24, 1768 - again held at the Grey-hound Tavern, Henry Price presiding as Grand Master. On all three of these occasions the father-in-law and brother-in-law of William Hoskins, John Box and John Box, Jr,, were present and perhaps he attended by their invitation.

On the sixth of December, 1771, he was reported to the Massachusetts Grand Lodge as Secretary of St. Andrew's Lodge; May 29, 1772, he was appointed on a committee to arrange for the Feast of St. John the Baptist, to be held at Masons Arms Tavern - the Green Dragon. On Dec. 4, 1772, he was chosen Grand Secretary, in place of William Palfrey, who declined. He was absent, on military duty, from March 3, 1775 until Sept. 4, 1778, and it was during this interval that Bro. Nat. Peirce failed to render satisfactory service, as already described. On May 7, 1778, Brother Peirce was dismissed, and it was voted unanimously that Brother William Hoskins be Grand Secretary for the Present year. From the date last named he was generally presert and acted as Secretary until Dec. 6, 1782, when Benjamin Coolidge was chosen. From that time Brother Hoskins is frequently reported as serving pro tem, in somd office or as proxy for a Lodge, until June 2, 1?85, when he appears for the last time, acting as Junior Grand Warden. He was initiated in the Second Lodge in Boston prior to Dec. 27, 1760, as he was among those invited to attend tbe Feast of the Moderns on that day.

The Record of the Second Lodge before Dec. 21, 1761, is missing, therefore the exact date of initiation cannot be given. Brother Hoskins died on the thirtieth of May, 1786, being only fifty years of age. He made rum and he bought and sold slaves, but very few knew any better in those days. He was a devoted husband and father, a good citizen and sincere patriot, an earnest Mason and useful officer. The Fraternity has good reason for cherishing his memory.

Distinguished Brothers