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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Daniel Coxe: The Freemason Who Invented the United States

In 1722, an Englishman named Col. Daniel Coxe wrote a book with the unwieldy title, A Description of the English Province of Carolana, by the Spaniards Call’d Florida, and by the French, La Louisiane, and also of the Great and Famous River Meschacebe, or Missisipi [sic]. His father, Dr. Daniel Coxe II, physician to both King Charles II and Queen Anne, and a member of the Royal Society, had been given the largest royal land grant to an individual in America. It included everything between the 31st and 36th north latitudes, west all the way to the Pacific – almost one-eighth of the total landmass of the United States and Canada, comprising parts of what are now Virginia, Georgia, both Carolinas, Florida, Louisiana, and everything on both sides of the Mississippi as far north as Kentucky. It is an unfortunate geopolitical law of survival that land is only yours if you can keep it. For almost a hundred years Coxe and his descendents tried without much success to interest their English countrymen in colonizing the region. The family finally gave up in 1769 and returned it to the king in exchange for a nice, manageable farm in New York. Most Americans have never heard of Daniel Coxe, the onetime owner of the ground that about 95 million of us now water, mow and rake leaves off of every year—much less his book. That’s a shame, because Daniel Coxe—a Freemason—invented the United States.

In A Description of the English Province of Carolana, Coxe described the terrain, flora and fauna of this massive landscape, as told to him by traders, trappers and other ambitious travelers. It was essentially a lengthy brochure to interest potential colonists in the Carolana project. As lavish and romantic descriptions of far-flung, exotic lands go, it’s a masterpiece. Spain and France both had territorial claims to much of the same area, and in the preface to his book, Coxe admits that defending it against foreign claim jumpers would be a challenge, especially if it had no settlers. At one point, he recommends that everything west of the Mississippi be given to the Spanish and everything east of the river should be English land. Any French in the area, it was suggested, should just go home.

One of his greatest frustrations was that the other existing English colonies, stretching along the eastern coastline of America, were a fractious bunch. One thing was certain: if the Spanish or the French decided to flex their colonial muscles, it was a near total certainty that the individual English colonies would have no interest whatsoever in banding together to help defend the all but vacant land from foreign power, or even hostile Indian tribes. Isolated and stubborn, each of the various colonies had its own government, customs and attitudes. They were New York Dutch, Delaware Swedes, New Jersey Scots, Pennsylvania Quakers, Massachusetts Puritans and merchants and Virginia planters descended from fleeing English Cavaliers. Every colony had its own identity. Their neighbors were largely strangers and not to be entirely trusted. What Coxe proposed was the first plan for a Union of the Colonies, with an assembly made up of delegates from every colony, and a national executive who would unite the states for their mutual benefit and protection – an arrangement strikingly similar to the administrative system of Freemasonry’s grand lodges.

Daniel Coxe himself was a Mason, a member of Lodge No. 8 at the Devil’s Tavern at Temple Bar in London. In 1730, while he was back visiting in London, he was named Provincial Grand Master for New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and in 1731, just before his return to America, he was toasted as the Provincial Grand Master of North America.

In 1754, in response to troubles in the West, the English recommended a union and federation of the colonies in defense against the French. Freemason Benjamin Franklin, a representative from Pennsylvania to the Albany Congress, proposed a Plan of Union remarkably similar to Coxe’s. What makes the proposals of Brothers Coxe and Franklin interesting is that their plans were essentially the same system used by Provincial Grand Lodges to govern Masonic lodges in their jurisdictions. Franklin would later say that his Albany plan was not adopted because it gave the colonies too much democracy, which worried both the King (who didn’t entirely trust his subjects) and the colonies (who didn’t entirely trust their neighbors). His proposal would ultimately be voted down by the colonies, who had no desire to work together, much less be watched over by a chief executive “President-General.” But Franklin’s plan would be resurrected again and used as the framework for the Articles of Confederation that governed the states between the revolution and the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania recognizes Daniel Coxe as the first Grand Master for Pennsylvania, but William Allen as the first Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. The Grand Lodge of New Jersey confers a medal of honor named after Coxe.

Coxe's lodge in London met at the Devil's Tavern at number 1/2 Fleet Street, just steps from the Templar Church. The pub is gone today, although it is commemorated by an historical marker—it existed as early as 1563, and its signed depicted St. Dunstan pulling the Devil by the nose with a set of tongs. Coxe and his brother Masons picked the favorite haunt of Samuel Pepys and Dr. Samuel Johnson. The tavern was also home to the Apollo Club, a literary dining club that counted Dr. Johnson, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, and countless others as members. Their welcoming plaque and list of rules are preserved in the vaults of the bank that now sits on the spot today.

For an outstanding paper about Coxe, see Colonel Daniel Coxe, Father of NJ Freemasonry by Matthew Korang, published for the New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research & Education No. 1786.

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