[Ed. Note: Bro Derrick McKoy is the PGM, Jamaica & the Bahamas (Irish Constitution). We are grateful for his kind permission to publish.]
I am told that R W Bro Ian Murphy, Past Grand Inspector of Irish Freemasonry in Jamaica, has on several occasions mentioned an Irish Lodge in Jamaica as early as 1738. I have never been able to confirm it, and I can find no reference of any Lodge owing allegiance to the Grand Lodge for Ireland having been established in Jamaica or being established elsewhere, such as in a military regiment, travelling to this Island before 1767. This history of early Freemasonry in Jamaica is fascinating, even if the sources are occasionally a little suspect.
Irish Lodges were among the first in Jamaica, but by the nineteenth century, Irish Craft Masonry had disappeared from the Island. During that period, Lodges here owed their allegiance to the English and Scottish Grand Lodges. Apparently, Freemasonry in Jamaica in the nineteenth century was developing along race or colour lines. This was not unusual in colonial countries. I was recently directed to a book by John Mandelberg, ‘Ancient & Accepted: A chronicle of the proceedings 1845 – 1945 of the Supreme Council, established in England in 1845’ (London, 1995). It was written to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the English Ancient and Accepted or ‘Scottish Rite’, but it contains many fascinating references to all aspects of Masonry. Mandelberg wrote that R W Bro Robert Hamilton, sometime Provincial Grand Master of English Freemasonry in Jamaica, under the English Constitution, said of the four Lodges in his province:
‘… The Royal No. 207 consisted principally of coloured brethren: The Friendly 239 was almost exclusively Jewish. The Sussex (354) was composed of the few White Merchants and planters who still took an interest in Freemasonry. And the Union et Concordia, originally established to meet the wants of the Spanish and French residents, in which the degrees used to be given in French or Spanish according to the nationality of the recipient and often the ritual of the French Rite, was at the time I refer to almost exclusively composed of Negro Brn.’
Mandelberg went on to suggest, on the authority of Hamilton, that by the time the District Grand Lodge was established:
‘There were, however few white brethren who were members of its lodges, those that there were generally lived within a few miles of Kingston with their wives and families, and were disinclined to come into Kingston to attend lodges; “the Jews remained resident in Kingston and became very influential in the Lodges as they did in political and civil life”.’
There was at this time, no Irish Lodges remaining in the Island. Royal Lodge had initially obtained a warrant from the Grand Lodge of Ireland, but the members later abandoned it in favour of a Warrant from the Grand Lodge of England (Antients). Hamilton reported during this period a ‘Sir Knights’ or ‘Red Cross’ degree was worked and ‘… almost all the influential Masons both Christians and Jews belonged to it.’ This seemed to him to be similar to what he called the ‘15th, 16th and 17th degrees of the Irish Rite’ that he had taken in Dublin in 1857. I suspect that these might be the degrees now conferred by the Council of Knights Masons. Before these degrees were placed in their own Councils of Knights Masons in Ireland, they were conferred by Craft Lodges and later in the Preceptories. Hamilton could not find any authority in the English Craft Lodges in Jamaica for the conferral of those degrees.
I believe that Phillip Crossle’s ‘Irish Masonic Records’ would contain the most authoritative reports of Irish Lodges in Jamaica. This would include not only the list of warrants issued for Jamaica but, far more difficult to ascertain, warrants issued to Regiments that were from time to time stationed here. I have set out below a list, extracted from Crossle’s, ordered by date of warrant (where it was a town lodge) or date of residence in Jamaica in the case of a Regimental Travelling Lodge (indicated by an asterisk, *). Quite a few Irish Lodges, including two in Jamaica, were struck off the register in 1813 for non-payment of dues. Grand Lodge seemed to have taken a firm line that year and had previously advised Lodges that if they were not up-to-date, they would be struck from the Register.
The earliest reference I found in Crossle to a Lodge in Jamaica is 1767. Grand Lodge of Ireland began the practice of issuing numbered warrants sometime around 1727. The numbering of warrants makes it reasonably easy to trace the history of a Lodge. Of course, there were several ‘time immemorial Lodges’ that were already in existence before the Grand Lodge began issuing warrants, but these old Lodges were later issued warrants in 1727 or at some time after. I did a quick survey of the first ten of these Warrants issued between 1727 and 1732, and almost all of these were designated by the number and the meeting place (usually a Pub) in Ireland. It is possible that there could have been an Irish time immemorial Lodge (that came into existence prior to Grand Lodge issuing numbered Warrants) or an early Regimental or Naval Lodge in Jamaica in 1738, but Crossle has no record of it, and it is most unlikely that such a Lodge existed.
Crossle’s records on Irish Lodges that were either established for or visited Jamaica are set out below – The first item in the list is the date of the warrant or visit; the second item is the Lodge number:
1767 – Lodge 456: Issued to brethren in Kingston, Jamaica, 5 October 1767. Volume 1 of the extant Grand Registers record 11 brethren registered 5 October, 1767 including John Blackmore, Master. Arch. Murray and John Haddon, Wardens. Cancelled by Order of Grand Lodge, 7 October 1813.
1782 – Lodge 535*: This warrant was issue in 1776 to brethren in the 30th FOOT, later The 1st Battalion The East Lancashire Regiment, 3 October 1776. During the early part of the American War of Independence the host regiment was based in Ireland; but it sailed from Cork, with other reinforcements in 1781, and made one campaign in Carolina. When the Carolina Loyalists quitted their old homes, in December, 1782, the 30th Foot accompanied part of the convoy to Jamaica and remained in that island until 1796. Whilst serving in America it was assigned the county title of ‘The Cambridgeshire Regiment’. We will come back to this Lodge later.
1789 – Lodge 699: Issued to brethren in KINGSTOWN, Jamaica 3 September 1789. Volume 3 of the extant Grand Lodge Registers record Jno. Brown; Jno Miskelly and Saml. Ballard Whitaker registered 3 September, 1789. This is now known as the Royal Lodge, and it has been operating on an English Warrant, No. 207, since about 1793. However, its Irish warrant was not cancelled by Order of Grand Lodge of Ireland until 7 October 1813. This warrant has been reissued and now works in the Province of Down.
1791—Lodge 733: Warrant ordered, 7 April 1791, for PORT ROYAL, Jamaica, but not issued. Volume 3 of the extant Grand Lodge Registers show no title on this page of the Register. This warrant was later granted by Seton to St. Vincent's, West Indies, 1 May 1806.1
1792—Lodge 63*: The warrant was first Issued to 'Minden Lodge' in the 20th FOOT (also XX th Foot), later The Lancashire Fusiliers, 12 January 1737. In June, 1792, the regiment proceeded to the Island of St. Domingo, and subsequently to Jamaica, where it was principally employed in quelling insurrection among the "... disaffected Negroes and brigands." It remained on this station until 1796.
1792—Lodge 759*: Issued to brethren in The 20th LIGHT DRAGOONS, 8 March 1792. Regiment raised in England, 1791, for service in Jamaica, and paid out of colonial revenue. This regiment was known, between 1794-1802, as the 20th Jamaica Light Dragoons. This Regiment returned to England in 1802 and Colonial title was dropped. The Regiment disbanded in 1819.
1869—Lodge 322* (Glittering Star Lodge): Warrant No. 322 to 29th Reg. Of Foot, 3 May, 1759. On 28th October 1869 the Regiment embarked on H.M.S. Tamar for Jamaica, however on arrival at Halifax the transport was pronounced as unfit for service and the Regiment was transferred, on 17th December, to H.M.S. Orontes. It arrived at Kingstown, Jamaica on 30th December and disembarked, moving on to Newcastle, Jamaica and the first meeting was held on 7th May. At this time the minutes show a membership of 18. The records of the Lodge show that, as the current officers had not been able to show their zeal for the Order, they were re-elected for a further period of six months at the May meeting.2 This was one of the early differences between Irish and English Freemasonry, as there was a time when the Master's term of office in an Irish Lodge ran for only six months.
1905—Lodge 390*: (A) South Carolina Lodge in THE WEST INDIA REGIMENT, 27 October 1905 (West Africa and the West Indies). After Regiment was disbanded in 1926, a town warrant was reissued to the Brethren the following year for Kingston (16 December 1927). Incidentally, although Crossle simply refers to a Lodge in the West India Regiment, the early Lodge was known locally as the 'South Carolina Lodge of the 1st West India Regiment', indicating that it viewed itself as having a special attachment to the 1st West India Regiment (where there was a South Carolina Company in the 1st Battalion). The Regimental March for the 1st Battalion in the JDF is still styled 'South Carolina'.
The contemporary history of Irish Masonry in Jamaica is well known, and I will not spend further time on it here. It is sufficient to say that the Craft Lodges are Western Shamrock No. 889, established in 1984; St James No. 898, established in 1988; Emerald Lodge No. 899, established in 1989; Irish Masters No. 907, established in 1990; True Craftsman No. 921, established in 1996; Port Royal No. 926, established in 2002; Providence No. 928, established in 2003; and Erin No. 932, established in 2005. The Provincial Grand Lodge was established in 1995, and extended to include the Bahamas in 2003. The Irish Royal Arch Chapters are Amity No. 390, established in 1989; and Malone No. 889, established in 1997. The latest addition to Irish Masonry in the Island is the Worton Council of Knights Masons No. 83, in 2003. The expansion of Irish Freemasonry in the contemporary period can be attributed primarily to the late V W Bro Harry Worton, and it is principally on his efforts that the Province Grand Lodge, Irish Royal Arch Masonry, as well as the Council of Knights Masonry are built.
In 2005 the Grand Lodge of Ireland authorized the South Carolina Lodge to celebrate one hundred years of continuous working when it installed its Master in 2006. It was my great honour, and I am sure that some of you had the pleasure of attending the 100th anniversary celebrations which included the presence of the Military Band, whose Zouave uniform is a powerful legacy of the West India Regiment. This 100-year period that was recently celebrated included the Lodge's earlier years as a military lodge when it had a traveling warrant. The Lodge is no longer authorized to travel. Since 1927 the Warrant has been fixed in Kingston, and since then it has moved from the City only once. In 2000, during the 275th Anniversary of Grand Lodge, the South Carolina Lodge was allowed to move its Warrant and to hold its regular meeting in the Grand Lodge meeting room at Freemasons' Hall, Molesworth Street, Dublin.
Indeed, only two of these historical Irish anomalies, Lodges with travelling warrants, still remain in the world: St. Patrick's Lodge and Glittering Star Lodge, both under the Grand Lodge of Ireland.3 But with political correctness of contemporary times, and with the greater respect and comity now accorded to various Masonic governments, not even these two are able to unilaterally hold Lodge meetings wherever the Regiment is stationed. They now hold their meetings with the permission of the Grand Lodge of Ireland and the Grand Lodge of the country where the regiments are, for the time being, stationed.
St Patrick's Lodge No. 295 I.C. is the older of the two remaining Travelling Military Lodges. The warrant was first issued to the (1st Irish Horse) Blue Horse in 1758.4 The Glittering Star Lodge No. 322 is the only other Lodge retaining a travelling warrant.5 It has the distinction of being the only Irish Lodge which meets regularly in the jurisdiction of the United Grand Lodge of England, but it does so only as a 'guest' of English Lodges.6
The South Carolina Lodge lost this privilege to travel with its Warrant when it lost its regimental home. The West India Regiment was disbanded and taken off the British Establishment in 1926. Until then the privilege to travel was fully used. At the time of the Constitution of the Lodge in 1906 the West India Regiment had two Battalions which alternated every two or so years between the Caribbean and West Africa. The Lodge was warranted to the First Battalion and took the name of a Company in that Battalion, the South Carolina Company.
In fact, the South Carolina Lodge of the 1st West India Regiment was erected and consecrated at Sierra Leone, West Africa (which was then called the Gold Coast) on 27th. February, 1906. So we know that the Lodge met in West Africa and the British Caribbean and as the Lodge traveled with the Regiment it is possible, but we do not know for a fact, that it met also in France where the Regiment saw action in the First World War. It still remains to be discovered why the Installed Master's jewel and the founders' jewel for the reconstituted Lodge, worn by the actual Master in the Lodge, have tri-coloured ribbons and whether this has anything to do with service in France. The Regiment also saw action in Palestine in the years 1918 and 1919, but as only the Second Battalion was in Palestine there is no likelihood that the Lodge met there.
The Lodge's contemporary history is well recorded by V. W. Bro. Edward G. Groves, Hon P.G.D., who wrote the first history of the Lodge published in 1977. In that year, R. W. Bro. Ian Murphy, now a Past Grand Inspector, was then Master. Indeed, R. W. Bro. Murphy has promised an update and we are looking forward to that. There is much in the Lodge's contemporary history that is interesting, including its relationship with the other service Lodges, the Moore Keys Lodge under the English Constitution and the Imperial Service Lodge under the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Before the formation of the South Carolina Lodge, the minutes of the Imperial Service Lodge record the dissatisfaction of some its members with the fact that Lodge meetings were disrupted when Lodge Officers were assigned on military duties overseas. At that time only the Grand Lodge of Ireland issued travelling warrants. Although the Brethren of Lodge Imperial Service did not surrender their Scottish warrant for an Irish one, we do not know what influence the dissatisfaction of the Imperial Service Brethren might have had on the formation of the South Carolina Lodge. We do know from the old bylaws, that members of Lodge 390 who were also members of Moore Keys Lodge, English Constitution, or Lodge Imperial Service, Scottish Constitution, paid reduced dues.
However, it is not so much the Lodge's contemporary history as its past incidental connections that we are now pursuing. The Lodge is incidentally connected to the South Carolina Company, to the First Battalion, and to the West India Regiment, and this warrants further study. In this discourse we are therefore not looking at the Lodge's history. Instead we are looking at the historical context and circumstances within which the Lodge later developed. V. W. Bro. Edward G. Groves identified the Lodge's name as one of its most controversial features. He said, "The popular legend which accounts for our name, and the one I was exposed to when I first joined the Lodge, was that the South Carolina Lodge was an old American Lodge whose members were Loyalists who joined the British Army during the American War of Independence." This is not true. Enquiries by our Provincial Deputy Grand Master, when he was Provincial Grand Secretary, to the Grand Lodge of South Carolina have received no support for that legend.
What we know for a fact, however, is perhaps even more fascinating. There was a South Carolina Company in the 1st West India Regiment. Even today, the regimental march for the First Battalion, JDF, is still called the 'South Carolina March,' and the badge of the 1st Battalion forms part of the traditional Masonic emblem of the South Carolina Lodge. The name of the Lodge has evolved over the years from 'The South Carolina Lodge of the 1st West India Regiment', to the 'The South Carolina Lodge (1st West India Regiment and Associated Garrisons)', to now simply 'The South Carolina Lodge.' As V. W. Bro. Groves explained, it is not known whether the Founders of the Lodge were necessarily members of that South Carolina Company in the Regiment or whether they merely had a nice sense of history, but it is with this name that we are linked with American Revolutionary History, the history of Black America, the history of Central America and the Caribbean, the history of West Africa, and the West India Regiments.
In the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), also known as the American War of Independence, the American colonists took up arms against King George III and the British Government. The colonist expelled the royal officials in 1775, set up the Second Continental Congress, formed an army, and declared their independence as a new nation, the United States of America, in 1776.
V. W. Brother Groves' history of the Lodge reports that during the American War of Independence, a British Expeditionary Force from New York captured the State of Georgia. As a result, Loyalists flocked to the British camp where they were formed into a number of Corps, the South Carolina Corps being one of them. This Corps took an active part in the war, became a Cavalry Regiment in 1780 and, at the end of the war, part of what was left of that Regiment moved to Jamaica and Grenada.
V. W. Brother Groves reports that the new South Carolina Regiment had a short life as such, however, for in 1795 it was amalgamated with another Regiment, Whyte's Regiment of Foot to form a single battalion Regiment, the 1st West India Regiment. The link with the original Corps was perpetuated by the formation of a 'South Carolina Company' within the new Regiment. But V. W. Bro. Grove's history only tells half the story, because the South Carolina Corps was sometimes more accurately called, the 'Black Carolina Corps' and that is what really make our history intriguing.
Blacks have long been a part of the British military forces. This is natural for a country that early became a dominant colonial power in Africa. We know that the British Army recruited African soldiers as musicians in the household regiments. A painting by David Morier dated c. 1751 shows a black trumpeter in a splendid ceremonial uniform of the 1st Horse Guards. What may not be generally well known is that during the American Revolution War many Blacks, freedmen as well as slaves, fought on the side of the loyalists and played roles important to the outcome of that conflict.
Indeed, this is one of the many contradictions of that war. While the Black precursors to the South Carolina Company in the Southern Colonies (who were not Freemasons) were aligning themselves to the loyalist cause, Black people in the Northern colonies, under the leadership of petitioners like R. W. Brother Prince Hall, founder of Prince Hall Freemasonry in America, were attracting supporters to the cause of the Revolution. We have reports of Prince Hall petitioning the Massachusetts Assembly to enlist slaves in Revolutionary Army and other reports that he later led a successful delegation to General George Washington to accept Negro Freemen into the Revolutionary Army, which resulted in the enlistment of five thousand Freemen into the service. The records show that on April 20, 1778 at the age of 30, Prince Hall himself enlisted in the Revolutionary Army from the town of Medford, Massachusetts.
On the other hand, during the American War of Independence many more men of African descent fought on the side of the British Crown, in numbers that far exceeded those that fought for the Revolutionaries. These units included His Majesty's Troop of Black Dragoons, His Majesty's Corp of Black Artificers and His Majesty's Corp of Black Pioneers. At the end of the conflict, these troops were amalgamated into a single unit called The Black Carolina Corps. There was also a Black corps of Jamaica Rangers, consisting of two battalions, raised in Jamaica in 1779 for the American Revolution. A third battalion was later raised in 1782. It is believed that the corps was disbanded sometime in the 1780's and possibly absorbed in the 1st West India Regiment. 7
The British had set out deliberately to court freed and enslaved blacks in Colonies to help in putting down the insurrection. For example, in November, 1775, the Governor of the Colony of Virginia (John Murray, Earl of Dunmore) issued a proclamation that, in order to defeat 'treasonable purposes', he was declaring that a state of martial law existed in Virginia, and those colonists that refused to "resort to His Majesty's standard" would be traitors. He went on to say:
'And I do hereby further declare all indented servants, Negroes, or others, (appertaining to Rebels) free, that are able and willing to bear arms, they joining His Majesty's Troops, as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing the Colony to a proper sense of their duty, to His Majesty's crown and dignity.'
It is reported that Lord Dunmore had only 300 soldiers, seamen, and loyalist recruits in the entire colony, and was in urgent need for manpower. There was no likelihood that he could expect reinforcement from the other Governors and certainly no help for the Colony was forthcoming from British Headquarters in Boston.
In response to Dunmore proclamation, hundreds of newly freed slaves flocked to him and the loyalist cause. It has been estimated that approximately 800 slaves joined Dunmore, only 100 of them had come with their loyalist owners. From these numbers Dunmore created the Ethiopian Regiment. As well as troops, Blacks were utilised by Dunmore as pilots on the Chesapeake, and its associated waterways, as foraging parties, and on garrison duties at Gwynn's Island. In the course of time, smallpox began taking a toll on his forces, including the ex-slaves. By June, 1776, Lord Dunmore had about 150 effective men, even though 6 or more joined him daily. In August, 1776, the healthiest 300 went with Dunmore to New York, and further military service.
The Ethiopian Regiment's only major action at Great Bridge was not notoriously successful. Dunmore's force of 600 troops (nearly half ex-slaves, together with companies of the 14th Regiment of Foot) was repulsed with 61 casualties. There is, however, an interesting footnote to the history: At a skirmish at a place called Kemp's Landing, one ex-slave had what must obviously have been the pleasure of capturing his old master and bringing him under arms into the British lines.
Dunmore's ex-slaves were not the only blacks to join the British forces. Free Blacks were as able to decide their future as well as any free White, and many were loyal to the British government. It was said at the time, that the belief that a British victory would bring freedom was almost universal in slave society. Tens of thousands fled to the British, and those who sought British protection were received in the British ranks. According to Jefferson, 30,000 Virginia slaves fled to the British. 25,000 (that is two-thirds) of the slaves in South Carolina joined them in the latter part of the war, as did three-quarters of the slaves in Georgia. These people were aware that liberty was, for them, unattainable under an American government. Compare this with Brother Prince Hall's much better publicized 5,000 Blacks who joined the patriot cause, some of whom were 'stand-ins' for their masters who preferred to avoid military service.
A large number of these loyalists Black troops were pioneers, with several assigned to each regiment. These were generally unskilled labourers who were employed in public works, duties such as digging latrines, cleaning the streets, and as officers' servants. 8 On the other hand, the Engineer Corps had many duties requiring skilled labour—constructing batteries, opening trenches, repairing lines. The Royal Artillery received many carpenters, wheelers, smiths, sawyers and turnwheels. Those with the appropriate skills were orderlies in hospitals, pilots on waterways, or crew on the many privateering barges used for foraging and collecting refugees. There were also a number of spies and informers, and those with local knowledge acted as guides to couriers and military forces. In addition, many others took up arms in the loyalist cause and performed with distinction.
Later, during the American War of 1812, similar battle lines were drawn along racial lines. In that war the British government again sought to and attracted many black people to their cause. We understand that many black slaves came over to the Crown, with their families, and were recruited into the (3rd Colonial Battalion) Royal Marines on occupied Tangier Island, in the Chesapeake. A second company of colonial marines was raised at the Bermuda dockyard, where many freed slaves, men women and children, had been given refuge and employment, and was kept as a defensive force in case of attack. 9
After Britain lost the War of the American Revolution, and again after the American War of 1812, the British government was faced with the problem of reparations for and resettlement of those, included its Black loyalists, who had supported its cause. At the end of the Revolutionary war, 80,000 to 100,000 Black loyalists were evacuated with the British, most going to Jamaica, Nova Scotia, and to a then new country on the West Coast of Africa - Sierra Leone. Some also settled in Britain. Others resettled in other parts of the West Indies, where Black men accustomed to bearing arms were not always welcomed by the local inhabitants. You may remember that I earlier reported that when the Carolina Loyalists quitted their old homes, in December, 1782, the 30th Foot (in which Lodge 535 was based) accompanied part of the convoy to Jamaica.
In contrast to the period which followed the American Revolutionary War, the post 1812 experience seems to have been less traumatic. One report says:
‘These former slaves fought for Britain throughout the Atlantic campaign, including the attack on Washington DC and the Louisiana Campaign, and most were later re-enlisted into West India regiments, or settled in Trinidad in August, 1816, where seven hundred of these ex-marines were granted land (they reportedly organized themselves in villages along the lines of military companies). Many other freed American slaves had been recruited directly into existing West Indian regiments, or newly-created British Army units.’ 10
In addition to resettlements the British Government had to address several claims and petitions from loyalists, including Blacks, who had suffered loss in consequence of their support for the loyalist cause and it established a 'Commissioners for American Claims' to enquire into and settle those claims. I have set out in the Appendix below one such claim of Thomas Johnson, a Black man from South Carolina who had joined the loyalist cause in the Revolutionary War. 11
After the end of the American Revolution, Britain struggled to defend its Caribbean colonies from France. It became obvious to the authorities that using unseasoned European soldiers was not practical. Many died, either en route to the West Indies or fell victim to tropical diseases. The high mortality rate being experienced by British troops stationed in the West Indies reached alarming proportions by 1795. In the West Indies the soldiers mostly fell victims to yellow fever. But they also died of dengue, malaria, or of inebriation while overdosing themselves on 'green rum'. It was against this background that a number of Black regiments were raised for service in the British forces. Five such regiments, comprising 500 men each under British officers, came into existence soon after the American Revolutionary War.
These regiments were drawn from the freedmen and liberated slaves which, during the American war of independence, had been formed into the Carolina Corps. These men, because of their loyalty to the British, were sent for settlement in Jamaica, among other places. Great objections were raised by the Jamaican establishment, who did not want ex-slaves, former soldiers who had fought their masters, to become landowners. This point was also maintained by the governors of other territories in the British West Indies, including Grenada.
In 1783 it was decided instead to keep these prospective settlers in the army and send them to Grenada where they formed the 'Black Corps of Dragoons, Pioneers and Artificers.' Three hundred men (plus wives and children) of this corps landed in Grenada in 1783. They were still there in 1793. 12 The Carolina Corps saw service in Grenada in 1783-1793 and in 1796. These men were also to distinguish themselves in fierce actions in Martinique, St. Lucia and Guadeloupe. 13
In 1795, the South Carolina Corp was itself amalgamated with Malcolm's Rangers, which had been raised during that year in the Caribbean island of Martinique. This was later merged, as V. W. Bro. Groves recounted, with Whyte's Regiment of Foot from Jamaica. This became the 1st West India Regiment, first stationed in Martinique, British West Indies as the territory was then known.
A dozen single battalion West Indian Regiments were formed between 1796 and 1802 largely to prosecute the Napoleonic Wars. With the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, the need for a large British military presence in the Caribbean diminished. This resulted in all but two of the West India Regiments being disbanded or amalgamated. An army administrator, Lord Howick, had urged an augmentation of the two West India Regiments in the early 1830's.
In the middle of the Nineteenth Century, British military interests in West Africa assumed greater prominence. A Royal African Colonial Corps was raised in West African but its discipline, training, and efficiency fell far below that of troops in the West India Regiments. In 1840 that corps was amalgamated with the West India Regiments which thereafter covered Sierra Leone as well as the Caribbean.
By 1888 all but two of the regiments were disbanded or struck from the Establishment. In 1888, however, two of these regiments, the First and the Second Regiments, were amalgamated as the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the West India Regiment. A 3rd Battalion was raised in 1897 and disbanded in 1904. The 2nd Battalion disbanded in 1920. The South Carolina Lodge No 390 was formed in 1906 by Brethren of the 1st West India Regiment. Whether all the founders or even the majority of them were of the South Carolina Company, is not known. The West India Regiment itself was disbanded 1927 at which point the South Carolina Lodge lost its regimental home. This event forced the Brethren to return their travelling military warrant for a town warrant issued for Kingston, Jamaica.
The West India Regiment was reformed in 1958 mainly from the Jamaican Defence Force (JDF) when the West Indian Federation was established, but the Regiment was disbanded in 1962 when the Federation was dissolved. By that time, of course, the Lodge had long found its permanent home in Kingston, Jamaica. The South Carolina Company has been a continuing link running from the 1st West India Regiment, the 1st Battalion West India Regiment, the Jamaica Defence Force, the reconstituted West India Regiment and the Jamaica Defence Force again. Today, in the Jamaica Defence Force, only the regimental march of the 1st Battalion maintains the link.
There are some interesting facts about the West India Regiment which are often overlooked. First, contrary to popular opinion the Regiment was never a local Regiment. The West India Regiment was the only regiment on the United Kingdom Establishment permanently posted overseas and certainly, except for its Officers and some of its non-commissioned Officers, in its time the only Black Regiment on the UK Establishment. 14
Secondly, it is also not well-known that during their early years the West India Regiments were among the principal importers of slaves. To overcome the shortage of soldiers during the French Revolutionary Wars, the British Army establishment sanctioned the use of enslaved Africans as part of regular line infantry establishment. Recruitment to these regiments was achieved through the purchase of slaves and the use of captured slaves from other European colonies in the Caribbean.
Slaves were purchased from the West African Coast and transported to the islands of the British Caribbean to fill the ranks of the West India Regiments. From 1795 to 1808 it is estimated that the British Government bought 13,400 slaves for its West India Regiments. These purchases cost an estimated £925,000, at an average of £70 per slave. This number represents some 7% of the total 195,000 slaves imported of into the British Caribbean during the same period. The need to purchase slaves became even more pressing as Britain moved closer to outlawing the international trade in slaves.
Once landed at a British Caribbean Island port the slave recruits were lined up and given a rough medical examination. Each slave had to satisfy the army surgeon that "he was sound in body and able to carry arms," met the minimum age of 16 (although with the language limitation this was likely determined mostly by guesswork), met the minimum height of 5 feet 3 inches, and was not encumbered with "family or follower." This latter requirement was hardly likely to be an impediment to someone recently taken from a slave ship. Following this, a white label was tied around the new recruit's neck with his new name. These ex-slaves were then marched off to the army depot to be adorned by British scarlet tunic, probably to shouts of command coming from a Black non-commissioned officer.
With the abolition of slave purchase in 1807 and emancipation of slaves in 1834 the British Army recruited free men into the ranks of the West India Regiments. However, after 1834 the regiments were augmented with enslaved Africans taken from "liberated" slave ships of the other European powers captured by British Royal Navy patrols.
Detachments of the West India Regiments were used in "policing" actions to defend the borders of Belize (then known as British Honduras) and Guyana (then called British Guiana). A detachment was also used in Jamaica to suppress the Morant Bay rebellion in 1865. The Regiments were also used in various campaigns and anti-slavery actions in West Africa including the Ashanti War, 1873-1874. Lord Hill, as Commander-in-Chief of the army, opposed the extended use of African forces in the British Caribbean colonies. He believed they might refuse to suppress any public disorder by the newly freed enslaved Africans who made up the greater part of the population. Despite this, the establishment of the West India Regiments was raised in 1836 to 1,500.
Lord Hill's concerns were well founded. Notwithstanding their distinguished military history, the Regiments have had two notorious mutinies, both of which were associated with newly freed slaves who were compulsorily pressed into military service. A small detachment of new recruits in the 2nd Regiment mutinied at Fort Augusta, Jamaica in 1808. Twenty-one were killed during the mutiny and the rest captured by the reminder of the regiment. A further seven of the mutineers were executed after being court-martialled. Two officers were killed by the mutineers. As new recruits these men were purchased by the British Government as enslaved Africans and had rebelled to obtain their freedom.
The 1st Regiment recorded one mutiny in Trinidad in 1837. On the 18th June new recruits, who had recently been liberated by the Royal Navy from slave ships, mutinied. They had not been given the opportunity to volunteer to join the army but had been pressed into service. About 40 of the recruits were killed and 2 were executed by firing squad. As a result of this the British Army discontinued the practice of wholesale drafting of freed enslaved Africans.
The theme of this discourse is that where we are coming from is important, and that the common circumstances behind our Masonic history are also interesting. We may regard this as part the history of a Masonic Lodge, but it is not a 'Masonic' history. I have ignored everything of the contemporary history of the Lodge because it well covered by Bro. Groves and there is further promise that that too, will be updated. We have reflected instead on the pre-Masonic history of the Lodge and in that early history, the few Black Freemasons around were likely fighting on the other side against the Black Carolina Corps.
Rather, we have looked at the circumstances that eventually found representation in the naming a Masonic Lodge. V. W. Bro. Groves speculated that our founding Brethren in 1906 might have had a fine sense of history. This is most certainly true. Reflecting on the actual history of the South Carolina Corps we can see a thread that runs from the American Revolutionary War and the Black Carolina Corps, to the Napoleonic Wars, to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to the Ashanti Wars in West Africa, through the West India Regiments, finally to the South Carolina Lodge in Kingston today. Whither we are going is an important question, to be sure, but where we are coming from is absolutely fascinating.
There is an interesting footnote to the West India Regiments. For many years in Grand Secretary's office in Dublin was a photographic reproduction of a painting of West India soldier, in a Zouave uniform, sitting on his bunk and looking at a map of Africa on his wall. This reproduction was gift from the South Carolina Lodge. The Zouave uniform has become an obvious characteristic of the West India Regiments. How did the Regiments come to adopt the Zouave uniform? On the formation of the West India Regiments in 1795, from the South Carolina Corps and Whyte's and Myer's regiments of Foot, its members were dressed the same as other line regiments in the British army. At that time this consisted of a red jacket with lapels to the waist; this worn with a white waistcoat, white breeches, white stockings, short black gaiters, black shoes and a black hat with a black crest. Over the years, as the uniform changed in the British army so the West India Regiments followed. The Zouave dress uniform was approved by Queen Victoria on the 27th October 1856 and was issued to the regiments in 1858. There is an anecdote that Queen Victoria saw a French Zouave unit on parade and liked the uniform. Her Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, is alleged to have said, “Would Ma’am like to have one?” The Queen obviously replied in the affirmative and thus the Zouave dress of the West India Regiments was prescribed! Today, this is still the dress uniform of the Jamaica Military Band. 15 This anecdote cannot be confirmed, and the better opinion is that the dress is pure affectation. Many regiments in the nineteenth century adopted peculiar uniforms and during the American Civil War several Union Regiments adopted the distinctive Zouave uniform. There is no reason to believe that the West India Regiments’ dress uniform was based on anything other than its officers’ fashion sense.