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Between 1912 and 1920 there were three or four attempts to establish a Portuguese-speaking lodge in New Bedford. A variety of reasons were given for denying a dispensation for such a lodge, as detailed below, but they were generally based on the opposition of local Masons to the idea of a separate lodge for non-English speakers.


On March 4, 1912, a group of Portuguese-speaking Masons in New Bedford, joined by some members of Union Lodge of Nantucket and Eureka Lodge of New Bedford, petitioned the Grand Lodge for a dispensation to form a lodge in New Bedford. The name at the top of the dispensation, and nominee for first Master, was Wor. Bro. Antonio F. de Chaves, of Charity & Relief #72 of Mystic, Connecticut. The petition was endorsed by the Master and Secretary of Star in the East Lodge, and countersigned by Rt. Wor. John G. Tinkham, District Deputy Grand Master of the New Bedford 30th Masonic District.

On March 13, Brother Rossa Moriarty of Eureka Lodge wrote a letter to the Grand Lodge regarding the petition. Brother Moriarty stated that his business was "right in the heart of their settlement", i.e., the Portuguese-speaking community in New Bedford, and that he was "personally acquainted with the movement and all connected with it. The whole purpose," he added, "is to let a lot of fellows in to our body that got taken in with a fakir namely 'Dr. Milson'." After speaking with Bro. De Chavez, Moriarty claimed that he had been told "with some heat" that if a dispensation could not be obtained, De Chaves "would get one from Europe."

As was required by the Grand Constitutions, approval by nearby lodges was required to obtain a dispensation, and Star in the East had already given its assent; accordingly, Rt. Wor. Bro. Tinkham attended a meeting of Eureka Lodge in April to determine whether that lodge supported the action. There was significant opposition. The Secretary confirmed the negative vote, and Wor. Charles Coombs, Master of the lodge, wrote a longer letter (dated May 1) explaining the thoughts of the Brethren and noting that there would be no reconsideration.

"No notice of reconsideration is on the May notice," Coombs wrote, "because no Brother made any motion to have the matter taken up again . . . So far as I know or have any information nothing further is to be done by Eureka Lodge about the dispensation for a Portuguese Lodge. The reason Eureka voted 38 to 1 against a dispensation . . . was this: 1st, Our members felt there was no necessity for another lodge in this city; 2nd, they felt no dispensation should be granted to any other nationality to be distinct and separate, feeling that was unmasonic and contrary to the ancient landmarks; 3d, the petitioners themselves (De Chaves) accused of being cold toward the Portuguese members causing them to feel that they were not welcome in the lodge, where the contrary has been the rule. . . 4th they felt there would be a tendency to cheapen Masonry in our city by admitting members that would be unwelcome in our lodge . . . they should first apply to the existing lodges and be made in them until they had a considerable number, then apply for dispensation."

Bro. Tinkham's reply to Coombs is tactful but direct. "When I visited you last," he wrote, "you will remember that I asked to know the reason for your action as a lodge but no one seemed willing to give any although I found out before I left for home that night that at least two of the most bitter ones against it were present . . . Regarding the reasons you give . . . allow me to call your attention to some things. You say first that your members feel that there is no call for another lodge in your city, yet I am informed that one of the bitterest opponents to the formation of the lodge asked for has an ambition to form a lodge of high-toned members. Your second reason that no lodge should be formed of entirely Portuguese or any other nationality . . . I would not approve the same. You say that 'the petitioners (De Chaves) accuse us of being cold toward the Portuguese members', have they not cause to say so - the records of the Grand Lodge show that no other lodge in the state had so many rejections the past year as Eureka . . . many of your rejections have been of that nationality and many of them are good persons." Bro. Tinkham forwarded the entire exchange to Grand Master Benton.

Wor. Bro. Coombs' lines of argument were consistent, but concealed the true objections in the existing Masonic community. On May 25 they were laid out explicitly in a letter from Rt. Wor. Bro. Henry W. Mason, immediate Past District Deputy, to Rt. Wor. Bro. Tinkham; he noted that the proposed lodge "would be almost entirely of the Roman Catholic faith . . . a Catholic believes that a priest has the power and authority to absolve him from any oath whatsoever . . . and that consequently our obligations would not be absolutely binding upon him. It appears to be the fact that the Roman Catholics, from the Pope down, cordially hate us and strenuously oppose our Order whenever an opportunity presents itself." In short, Bro. Mason concluded, a Mason could not be a good Catholic, and a Catholic could not be a good Mason.

Most Wor. Bro. Benton concluded that the petition met with too much opposition, and did not grant it. It should be noted that within ten years there were two more lodges in New Bedford: Quittacus and Abraham H. Howland, Jr. Lodges, just as Rt. Wor. Bro. Tinkham had indicated.


  • CHARLES S. COOMBS 1863-1949
    • Lawyer in New Bedford
    • MM 1902, WM 1911, 1912, Eureka
    • Charter Member 1922, Quittacus
  • HENRY W. MASON 1840-1928
    • Solicitor of Patents in New Bedford
    • MM 1875, Albia #76, Albia, Iowa
    • WM 1900-1901, Star in the East
    • DDGM, Fall River 26, 1909-1910
    • Charter Member 1922, Quittacus
  • ROSSA MORIARTY 1877-1922
    • Clerk in Fall River
    • MM 1906, Eureka


In May 1917, a new petition was placed before the Grand Master, Most Wor. Bro. Leon M. Abbott, for a dispensation for a new lodge in New Bedford. The lodge once again had a number of Portuguese brothers as petitioners, including Wor. Bro. Antonio DeChaves. The proposed Master was Wor. Bro. Charles E. Oman, Master of Star in the East Lodge in 1912. The petition bore the approval of Star in the East, Eureka and Abraham H. Howland, Jr., lodges, as well as the endorsement of Rt. Wor. Bro. William McLane, District Deputy Grand Master for the Fall River 30th Masonic District. The petition was also revisited with the name changed to Acushnet, with largely the same petitioners.

It would appear that the petition should have met with significantly better chances of success than the 1912 one. There exists correspondence between Rt. Wor. Bro. McLane and the Grand Master. McLane was particularly eager to make a 'canvas' of nearby present and past Grand Officers, but was dissuaded by the Grand Secretary, who informed him that, "as the case now stands, that it would not be wise to grant a dispensation for a new Lodge" and that Most Wor. Bro. Abbott was preparing a letter for Wor. Bro. Oman informing him of this decision. Nonetheless, the Grand Master entertained some of the potential petitioners in meetings at the Grand Lodge in late August 1917, but there were difficulties even at this pass: according to a letter sent to McLane toward the end of the year, a careful examination of the petition showed two of the signers "belonged to Lodges which the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts did not recognize"; further, a call was received from Wor. Bro. Charles Oman by the Grand Master, asking him "in great haste . . . to do nothing further until he heard from him . . . and said that he was afraid he was getting in wrong in the whole matter." In a letter from Oman to the Grand Master, he described his opinions of the Portuguese brothers involved in the movement, characterizing some of them as "crooks" and while he would be willing to "help keep it straight" he objected to the "impetuous and clannish" men in the community.

In any case, it was denied by the Grand Master in due course, though for very abstract reasons - that he thought it imprudent to grant the petition. There is an exchange of letters between Wor. Bro. De Chaves and Grand Master Abbott in June 1919, in which the Grand Master notes that he had refused a request for a new lodge and informed Bro. De Chaves that "If you are contemplating forming a new Lodge in New Bedford at the present time I cannot encourage any petition for a new Lodge formed on racial or class lines."


  • WILLIAM N. McLANE 1867-1935
  • CHARLES E. OMAN 1874-1924
    • Section Hand in New Bedford
    • MM 1901, WM 1912, Star in the East


Where the previous two attempts at forming a Portuguese Lodge in New Bedford had been in the form of a normal petition with a Portuguese membership, the petition for Triangle Lodge in March 1920 took an entirely different aspect. The three principals, Dr. John Carlos Pitta, Antonio B. Gracia, and Joao Neto, all of New Bedford, "beleiving {sic} to be free and accepted Masons with their plain rights reunited" sought to "establish a Triangle in this city under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts." All of their correspondence, stamped with a seal labeled "Resp. Traingulo Verdade Luzo", exists in both English and Portuguese (and the translation is clearly into English, as the phrasing is sometimes difficult to follow). None of the principals appear to have been members of Massachusetts lodges, then or subsequent, as we have no membership cards for them.

A petition was then sent to the Grand Master to solicit a dispensation, which was accompanied by a fulsome letter extolling the virtues of Masonry and of "the memory of our dear Brother George Washington" and the United States.

It is not clear what Grand Master Arthur Prince thought of this unusual petition, though he clearly did some amount of research on the subject; his letter to Bro. Gracia indicated that he had the 1917 petition and the correspondence between Grand Master Abbott and Antonio de Chaves in hand. Bro. Prince was not at all reticent about granting dispensations and charters: he constituted thirty lodges during the years 1920-1922.

Still, his reserved response to Bro. Garcia noted that any petition required "seven signatures of Master Masons in good standing in lodges recognized by Massachusetts" as well as the recommendation of "at least two lodges in New Bedford" and be in the recommended form. "The above information will relieve your mind of the idea that your petition was ignored," he added.

It was apparently enough to prevent any further action, and this petition was also never endorsed by the Grand Master or taken up by the Grand Lodge.

Massachusetts Lodges