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Grand Master 1815-1816


From History of Freemasonry in Rhode Island, 1895, Page 270:

William Wilkinson followed Webb in the office of Grand Master, and was a worthy successor of that distinguished Craftsman. Both names appear in frequent and close relation in the records of Freemasonry and Templary in Rhode Island. Both of these illustrious brethren rendered essential service to the several organizations with which they were connected. William Wilkinson was born in Thompson, Conn., in 1760. His parents, who were Rhode Island people, came back to this State to reside when the subject of this sketch was thirteen years of age. He was a studious lad, of more than usual acquirements, as may be inferred by the fact that he entered the Freshman Class of the Rhode Island College, now Brown University, when he was but fourteen years of age. This was in 1774. The War of the Revolution soon broke out, however, and the College work was for a time abandoned. On Saturday, Dec. 6, 1776, the British Commander, Sir Peter Parker, with seventy sail of men-of-war, anchored his fleet in the harbor of Newport, R. I., and took possession of the place. Providence was at once in confusion. Troops were massed throughout the town, martial law was proclaimed, College studies were suspended, and the students were dismissed to their respective homes. From this date until May 27, 1782, the College was closed, and the beautiful edifice, now called University Hall, which had been erected only six years previous, was occupied for barracks, and afterwards for a hospital, by the American and French forces. The first Commencement after the close of the war, was held on the first Wednesday in September, 1783. No record has been preserved of the order of exercises on that occasion. There is no doubt, however, that the graduating class delivered orations and received their well won and long-deferred diplomas. William Wilkinson was one of the young men thus honored.

Immediately following his leaving of College he was appointed to take charge of the Grammar School, established by President Manning in 1764, as an auxiliary to the College, and which came, under Mr. Wilkinson's charge, to be an exceedingly important adjunct to the mother institution. He was principal of the school for eleven years, during which time he prepared a large number of young men for a collegiate course or for the active pursuits of business. " Among his pupils," says Dr. Guild, to whom we are indebted for many facts in the preparation of this paper, " may be mentioned the names of Hon. Samuel Eddy, LL.D., Secretary of State and Judge of Supreme Court, Hon. James Burrill, LL.D., United States Senator from Rhode Island, Hon. James Fenner, LL.D., United States Senator, and Governor of the State, and His Honor Samuel W. Bridgham, first Mayor of Providence."

For a part of the time, while thus occupied in teaching, Wilkinson fulfilled the duties of Librarian of the College. During the administration of Washington he was appointed Postmaster, and like most of Washington's appointees was removed from office by his successor Thomas Jefferson. About this time he opened the first book store in Providence, in an old building at the corner of what is now Market Square and Canal street. This store he retained, in connection with John Carter, a prominent printer of his time, until the year 1817. Together they carried on the business of book binding, book selling and printing. Much of their stock was lost during the great gale of September, 1815.

Mr. Wilkinson, while Librarian, occupied rooms, with his family, in the College. Here two of his children were born. At a much later period, he built a brick house on George street, where he resided until the time of his death in 1852. His devotion to Brown University was stedfast, being manifested on every possible occasion. He never failed to be present on Commencement days, and was a well known and conspicuous figure in the College procession that marched every year into the First Baptist Church.

In public affairs he was influential. He represented Providence in the General Assembly from 1813 to 1818. He was a member of the Town Council in 1824. He was active and helpful in promoting many enterprises of associated interest, and thus maintained the reputation of worthy citizenship which he early acquired.

His Masonic career shows both zeal and ability. He was a very earnest promoter of the interests of the Craft, and never wavered in his support of the Institution. He was made a member of St. John's Lodge, Providence, on the 29th of August, 1792. In the years 1806 and 1807 he served as Worshipful Master, and again in 1813. He was elected Grand Master by the Grand Lodge in 1815, and again in 1816, succeeding Thomas Smith Webb, who had removed from Providence to Boston. He was also Grand Treasurer five years. He was an active and influential member of Providence Royal Arch Chapter, and contributed not a little to its early prosperity. He was elected Grand King of the Grand Chapter in 1811, re-elected the two years next following, served as Deputy Grand High Priest during the years 1814-17, and was then elected Grand High Priest, being continued in that office for the next four years. He was one of the first received members of St. John's Encampment (now Commandery) in Providence, and was the Recorder of that body in 1802-3. He also held the offices of Senior Warden, Captain General, and Generalissimo, in St. John's, but was not elected Master, or Commander, as the present nomenclature designates the first officer. He was proficient in the Templar work and devoted to the Order, and was called to important positions in the Grand Body. He was called to succeed his friend and long time associate Webb in the office of Grand Master (Grand Commander) of the Grand Templar organization of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He served in this official position, with conspicuous diligence and success, during the years 1818-19.

William Wilkinson was an accomplished scholar, as well as Freemason. He was a gentleman of the old school, possessed of an innate courtesy expressed in dignified and polite manners.

He was an agreeable companion and a welcome presence in social gatherings, Masonic and otherwise. He had a retentive memory, and thus was able to attain that mastery of the complete ritual of degrees and orders which made him a recognized authority only second to Webb himself.

In his religious belief he was a Congregationalist, attending in succession upon the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Hitchcock, the Rev. Dr. Edes, and Rev. Dr. Hall. He died on the 16th of May, 1852, in the 92d year of his age, having retained until the last his mental faculties.

He was twice married. By his first wife, Chloe Learned, of Killingly, Connecticut, he had six children, two sons and four daughters. By his second wife, Marcy Wilkinson, of Pawtucket, he had eight children, four sons and four daughters. William Wilkinson deservedly holds rank among the foremost Craftsmen of our jurisdiction. We can recall with much satisfaction the record of his moral worth and his Masonic virtues. His memory deserves to be cherished by reason of what he was in character and the services he rendered during his long and useful life.

Rhode Island People