When the first colonist arrived in Texas their life was one of survival without the benefit of churches, schools and lodges, or even homes as they put together shanties of one kind or another until they could find the time and means to build something more substantial. By March of 1835, there were six brethren in Brazoria who had decided that the time had come for making an attempt to have a lodge in Texas. On March 10, 1835, John A. Wharton, Asa Brigham, James A. E. Phelps, Alexander Russell, Anson Jones and J. P. Caldwell met in a secluded grove near Brazoria and petitioned the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for a dispensation to form a new Lodge to be called Holland Lodge. The dispensation was granted and the first meeting of Holland Lodge No. 36 was conducted on December 27, 1835. The charter for this new lodge was eventually delivered to Anson Jones just before the battle at San Jacinto, and the charter remained in his saddlebags through the battle.
Today, special efforts continue to be made to preserve the Brazoria Oak where the March 10th meeting took place. Brethren from the various lodges in the area have maintained the grounds and once a year Masons from all over the state make the pilgrimage to be a part of the annual picnic to celebrate and commerate that first meeting. All Texas Masons are encourage to attend this annual picnic.
It is said that from little acorns, mighty oaks grow. Such was the case in about the year 1600 when an acorn fell to the ground in the vast coastal forest area near the present City of Brazoria. It was an acorn from which to grow a tree destined to play a part in the history of Masonry in Texas.
To survive under the then virgin growth conditions, the acorn has to escape natural enemies. It had to anchor its roots deep in the soil to secure needed food and moisture. But, above all, the tree which was produced from this acorn had to fight, and fight hard for survival and to secure dominance among other trees. This it did.
When the acorn fell to the ground, Columbus had discovered America only about 100 years earlier. The area comprising Texas was then under Spanish rule since the Aztecs and the Kingdom of Tezcuso had been conquered by the Spaniards under Cortez in 1519-21. Masonry was then struggling in England with “Ancient” and “Modern” Lodges based on class distinction, a condition which at that time did not bode well for our fraternity.
It was in 1821, under the Plan of Iquala*, that Mexico proclaimed herself as an independent monarchy. The nation of Mexico then included what is now California, Arizona, Utah and Texas, among other areas. By this period in history the oak tree had grown to maturity. It was ready to play a role in Texas Masonic history.
The tree was subsequently to be known by Masons as the Charter Oak, Masonic Charter Oak, or Masonic Oak, for it was under its spreading branches that Masons met to establish the first Masonic Lodge in the Republic of Texas.
“Here on a day in March 1835 Brothers Anson Jones, John A. Wharton, Asa Brigham, J.A.E. Phelps, Alex Russell and J. P. Caldwell met and resolved to petition the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for a dispensation to form a Lodge of Freemasons. Their prayer was granted and Holland Lodge began work. Lodges were later formed at Nacogdoches and San Augustine, and on December 20th, 1837, these three Lodges created the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas with M.W. Anson Jones as the first Grand Master of Masons in Texas.”
Every May the Masonic Oak Ceremony is held in Brazoria, Texas. The reason is evident in the following remarks made by our first Grand Master, Anson Jones, before the Grand Lodge of Texas on June 4, 1850:
“In the winter of 1834-5, five Master Masons, who had made themselves known to each other, consulted among themselves, and after various interviews and much deliberations, resolved to take measures to establish a lodge of their Order in Texas. This resolution was not formed without a full appreciation of its consequences to the individual concerned. Every movement in Texas was watched, at that time, with jealously and distrust by the Mexican government.”
“The dangers . . . were neither few nor unimportant. But zeal for a beloved institution; a belief that it would be beneficial at a period when society seemed especially to need some fraternal bonds to unite them together, predominated; all fears of personal consequences were thrown aside, and the resolution to establish a lodge was adopted. The five brethren were John A. Wharton, Asa Brigham, James A.E. Phelps, Alexander Russell and Anson Jones, and they appointed a time and place of meeting to concert measures to carry their resolution into effect. In the meantime another Master Mason came into their plans, Brother J. P. Caldwell.
“The place of the meeting was back of the town of Brazoria, near the place known as General John Austin’s, in a little grove of wild peach or laurel . . . The spot was secluded, and out of the way of cowans and eaves-droppers, and they felt they were alone! The six brethren I have mentioned were all present there; and it was concluded to apply to the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for a Dispensation to form and open a Lodge, to be called Holland Lodge.”
The place where they sat was shaded by a majestic oak tree, for many years now known as the Masonic Oak. The city of Brazoria uses the Masonic Oak as its official emblem, and it can be seen on city police cars and elsewhere.
(* Plan of Iquala declared that Mexico was to be declared an independent monarchy under a Spanish Bourbon Prince, the Roman Catholic Church was to retain all its powers, Creoles and Gachupínes were to have equal rights, and there was to be no confiscation of property. Popularly, the plan was known for its three guarantees: religion (Catholic), independence, and union with the Bourbons.)