Brother Rob Morris
Dr. Rob Morris, Master Builder of the Order of the Eastern Star, was born August 31st, 1818 near Boston, Massachusetts. His childhood and young manhood were spent in New York where he received many educational advantages, including a splendid college training that qualified him as a successful lawyer, lecturer, educator and instructor in Freemasonry. He devoted many years to research and creative writing that benefited all aspects of our Beloved Ancient Craft.
Dr. Morris became a Master Mason in Oxford, Mississippi, March 5th, 1846. At this time, he was President of Mt. Sylvan Academy. He soon became interested in an idea that the female relatives of Master Masons should share, in a measure, the benefits from knowledge of our great Fraternal Order. Imbued with this desire, his fertile mind set forth an Order that would benefit both men and women.
While President of Mt. Sylvan Academy, he met and later married Miss Charlotte Mendenhall. Several children were born of this union. Mrs. Morris was an inspiration to Dr. Morris and a real helpmate for nearly fifty years. They both worked tirelessly on the idea of the Order and invited Brother Masons and thier wives to discuss the plans, with Dr. Morris demonstrating to them the theories he had formulated. This may be rightfully termed the origin of the Order of the Eastern Star, although it was many years before it was recognized or its principles felt by those who were fortunate enough to come within its scope.
During the years he taught as principal in “The Little Red Brick School Building” in Richland, Mississippi (1849-1850), he worked with zeal writing the Ritual of the Order of the Eastern Star. In 1850, he systematized the Degrees with the idea of giving them form, he decided on the degrees, contemplated the themes, incorporated from the pages of antiquity the heroines and names upon which the beautiful work is built, established the signs and passes, colors and emblems of the Order and promulgated the fundamental principles which have remained unchanged through the years.
The first Ritual was compiled and published under the title of “The Rosary of the Eastern Star.” In 1855, he organized a Supreme Constellation with himself as the Most Enlightened Grand Luminary, with headquarters in New York City. Charters were issued in all parts of the United States.
In 1860, the Constellation form of organization was discontinued and charters were issued for the organization of “Families.” In 1868, the Constellation and Families became lost, except for their historical value. In 1866, Dr. Morris became associated with Mr. Robert Macoy, of New York City. Upon Brother Morris’ departure for the Holy Land, he transferred to Robert Macoy all of the authority he had assumed and exercised in planning the Order of the Eastern Star. Under Brother Macoy’s guiding hand, the Supreme Grand Chapter was organized. This was a self-constituted body. Deputies were appointed in all parts of the United States, the Territories and in Mexico. In 1867 and 1868, Brother Macoy compiled and published a Ritual, using Brother Morris’ Rosary as a guide.
This was the beginning of the organization of present-day Chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star. He immediately attempted to make the work more systematic and succeeded in adapting it to organized Chapters in such a way as to assure their success.
Brother Morris traveled extensively in foreign countries. He spent nearly a year in the Holy Land. He also organized the first Masonic Lodge in Jerusalem, Royal Solomon Number One, and became its first Worshipful Master.
He was an author of great ability and wrote numerous and valuable works on Masonry and it kindred subjects. The most popular of which were, “The Lights and Shadows of Masonry” and “Free Masonry in the Holy Land.” He contributed to columns in almost every Masonic publication. He was also a poet of unusual attainment, having written over four hundred poems. His best known poem is “The Level and the Square.” Many of these poems were devoted to the Order of the Eastern Star and are still used by Chapters.
Aside from his work in Freemasonry and Eastern Star, he wrote many religious songs that are used by Churches and Sunday Schools. While seated on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Palestine, he wrote the beautiful song “O, Galilee.”
In 1858-1859, Brother Morris served as Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in Kentucky. In 1860, he drafted the Constitution of the Grand Lodge. Having passed through the chairs in the Blue Lodge, Royal Arch Chapter, Council, Commandery, Consistory and Grand Lodge, and having spent most of the strength, thought and wisdom of his early manhood in a close study of the Rituals, codes, principles and tenets of Freemasonry, he was conceded to be one of the most versatile and learned Freemasons of his day.
In 1880, the General Grand Chapter conferred on Most Worshipful Brother Morris the title of “Master Builder of the Order of the Eastern Star” and August 31st, the birthday of this illustrious man, was set apart as the Festival Day of the Order, to be observed by having special programs on that day. He also had the honorary Degrees of Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Laws conferred upon him later in life.
The crowning event in the carreer of this remarkable man occurred in 1884 when over 500,000 Master Masons throughout the world expressed their desire that he be crowned with the laurel wreath, symbolizing Poet Laureate of Masonry. One hundred years had elapsed since the first Poet Laureate, Robert Burns, had received this singular honor. Brother Morris was the first poet thought capable of filling this place after Robert Burns. In the presence of more than seven hundred dignitaries from around the world, this honor was conferred for the second time in the history of the craft.
The first Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star was organized in Michigan in 1867. Three years later, Grand Chapters were organized in Mississippi, New Jersey and New York. Before the close of 1876, Grand Chapters were organized in California, Vermont, Indiana, Connecticut, Nebraska, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, the publication of different Rituals and revised editions brought considerable confusion and diversity in the work where there should have been uniformity. It, therefore, became necessary that this be corrected with all Grand Chapters united under one body and using the same Ritual. Thus, the General Grand Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star was organized in Indianapolis, Indiana on November 16, 1876. Committees were appointed to compile and edit a standardized Ritual of the Order of the Eastern Star. The one now in use has evolved from the Ritual edited by the Committees appointed at that time.
The Chapters of the Order of the Eastern Star now encircle the globe. The General Grand Chapter has jurisdiction over all Grand Chapters in the United States (except New York and New Jersey, which are independent Grand Chapters,) the Provinces of Canada and the Grand Chapter of Puerto Rico. There is a Supreme Grand Chapter of Scotland with jurisdiction over Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, South Africa, and New Zealand. The States, Territories and Dependencies of Australia are under the jurisdiction of the United Grand Chapter of Australia, which was established in 1985.
Chapters have been organized subordinate to the General Grand Chapter in Alaska, Aruba, Austria, Bermuda, Taiwan, Panama, Germany, Guam, Hawaii, Japan, Mexico, Okinawa, Italy, Philippines and Saudi Arabia. The membership in the Order numbers over 1,000,000 in over 8,000 Chapters.
In 1950, the General Grand Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star, observed the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Writing of the Ritual with appropriate ceremonies, held in Washington, D.C. The International Eastern Star Temple and the offices of the General Grand Chapter are located in Washington, D.C. In the Reception Room of the International Easter Star Temple, over the mantel hangs an oil painting of the distinguished Master Builder of our Order. This was a gift from the Grand Chapter of Kentucky and was unveiled by his Granddaughter, Sister Ella Morris Mount, Past Grand Matron and Grand Secretary of Kentucky.
Brother Morris spent a great part of his life in Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. The last twenty-six years of his life were spent in LaGrange, Kentucky where his family was reared and educated. His home is now the property of the Grand Chapter of Kentucky and is maintained as a Shrine in honor of the Master Builder of our Order.
The “Little Red Brick School Building in Mississippi” is owned by the Grand Chapter of Mississippi and is maintained as a Shrine in honor of Brother Morris’ writing of the Ritual in Mississippi.
On July 31, 1888, when the news of his death was sent to all parts fo the world, profound grief was expressed at his passing as his whole life had been devoted to the uplifting of humanity. He was buried in the cemetery in LaGrange, Kentucky, where admiring friends from all over the workld have erected a tall marble column in his memory. On one side of the shart is the Square and Compasses and on the other side is the Five Pointed Star.
Brother Morris was generous, tender of heart and loving in disposition. He was the happiest when sharing with others that which the Lord had bestowed upon him.
As the stars which bedeck the canopy of heaven are the beauty and glory of the night and light the pathway of man on his journey through life, so may the beautiful Star in the East, with all of its significance, ever remain the glory of the Order of the Eastern Star and light the pathway of the members in the fulfillment of their vows.
Adapted from “The Ritual Of The Order of the Eastern Star” published by the General Grand Chapter