Destiny, Officer, and Grand Master Mason

By: Ill. Brother McDonald "Don" Burbidge, 33º

"When I entered into this contest, I did it with the most mature deliberation and with a determined resolution to risk my life and fortune in the cause...I shall continue to go on as I have begun, that my example may encourage the youth of America to stand forth in defense of their rights and liberties.

Major General William Moultrie

On February 22, 1742 Mordecai Gist was born unto Thomas and Susannah Gist in Reistertown, Maryland. He was the Great-grandson of Christopher Gist the famous Colonial explorer and scout who had joined forces with Colonel George Washington then 21 years of age in Virginia. In 1753 Christopher Gist was credited with saving Colonel Washington life twice when they were surveying in the Ohio country.

General Mordecai Gist was one of the few patriots of the Revolution whose name is honorably connected with Masonry and the history of our country. His ancestors emigrated from England to Maryland and settled in Baltimore. Here he received a mercantile education, and was employed in that business when the war of the Revolution commenced. He later became a member of Lodge No.16 in Baltimore, Maryland in 1775 where he later became Worshipful Master of his lodge.

In 1774 Mordecai Gist established the "Marylanders," in response to a call from the Continental Congress, thus establishing the Maryland 5th Infantry, or as it was otherwise known as the "Dandy Fifth," which later became a member of the "Maryland Line." When this unit was established Mordecai Gist established it with his own money and time as the war had not yet started but he believed it was imminent.

One year later he wrote to a member of the Maryland Convention petitioning a military office. His request was granted. On January 14, 1776, Mordecai Gist was commissioned second major in General Smallwood’s 1st Maryland Battalion. During the Revolutionary his military career was marked by successive promotions. His first experience in battle was at the battle of Long Island in August 1776, and in this battle he also covered the retreat of Washington through New Jersey. He was promoted to the rank of colonel on December 10, 1776. The following year he took part in the battle of Germantown. On January 9, 1779, he attained the rank of brigadier-general. Shortly afterwards he took an active role in the battle of Camden, winning a meed of praise from the dying De Kalb, who was mortally wounded in this disastrous engagement. He was also mentioned in a resolution of Congress on October 14, 1780, for his bravery and good conduct during that action. It was certainly this type of American who helped win the Revolution. His mind was seemingly cast for this one end, and his whole life was conditioned by the times.

While the Connecticut line of the army was encamped at Roxbury for the winter, near Boston, the Masonic brethren in it made a movement, early in February, to establish a Masonic lodge in their camp. For this purpose they applied to the Grand Officers of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, of which John Rowe was Grand Master and Colonel Richard Gridley his Deputy, for the necessary authority. The petition was approved and signed by Colonel Samuel H. Parsons, Colonel Samuel Wylls, Colonel Joel Clark, Major John Park, Major Thomas Chase, and Captain Ezekiel Scott. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania issued a warrant to General Gist, empowering him to hold Lodges in the Maryland line of the army on April 4, 1780 which was by resolution of the Grand Lodge vacated at the close of the war.

During the Revolutionary War General Gist had been a friend and companion in arms of General Washington. On February 27, 1780, General Gist had presided over a convention of Masonic brethren in the army at Morristown that desired to elevate General Washington to the Grand Mastership of all, "American Masons." The brothers present proceeded to elect a president and secretary, whereupon Brother Mordecai Gist was unanimously chosen president. On January 9th, 1781, the Massachusetts Grand Lodge sent a letter to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania which voted against this resolution until a time of peace could reside in the country.

In August 1780 the battle of Camden, in South Carolina took place. It was during this battle that the Americans were defeated by General Cornwallis. When the battle was irretrievably lost General Gist rode his horse in front of his troops amidst a storm of fire, and by his own bravery he helped preserved his broken troops from annihilation.

After General Grist retired from the service of the country he retired to a plantation in Charleston, S.C. to live. In 1786 General Gist again petitioned as he had done in 1780 to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania for another warrant which was granted to him to hold a Lodge. The request was granted with the same registry number (27), at Charleston, S. C. This warrant constituted General Mordecai Gist, Master, Captain Thomas B. Bowen, Senior Warden, and Ephraim Mitchell, Wardens.

It must be noted at this time that Captain Thomas B. Bowen was one of the original members to establish the Supreme Council, which was located in Charleston, South Carolina on May 31, 1801. Colonel John Mitchell established the Supreme Council was the first Grand Commander. Both Captain Bowen and Colonel John Mitchell were also "original" members of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of South Carolina along with 112 other members when it was first established on August 29, 1783 at the "City Tavern." The "City Tavern" was also the site of the first Scottish Rite Supreme Council.

The Hon. William Drayton, who was the chief justice of the State, was at the same time Grand Master of all South Carolina masons and the first Grand Master of the Ancient York Masons in Charleston. General Gist was his Deputy in 1787-1789, and succeeded him as Grand Master in 1790, and held the office for two years, when he was succeeded by Major Thomas B. Bowen, who had been his first Senior Warden under his Pennsylvania Lodge warrant.

After the close of the session of Congress in Philadelphia in the winter of 1790-1791, George Washington returned to Mount Vernon, and in the spring and early summer months he made a visit as President to the Southern States which included a planned visit to Charleston, S.C.

When President Washington arrived at Haddrell's Point located in Mount Pleasant on May 2, 1791 he was welcome to the city by Charles Pinckney and Edward Rutledge. Afterwards everyone boarded the barges for the trip across the Cooper River to Charleston. As the Presidential barge approached Charleston a salute with Artillery welcomed the President.  

When the barge landed at the wharf in Charleston he was greeted by the Governor, the Lt. Governor, the Intendt of the City; the two Senators of the State, Wardens of the City, State Society of the Cincinnati of South Carolina, and the Masons. From this point he then traveled to the Exchange Building located at the intersection of East Bay and Broad Street.

During his stay in Charleston President Washington stayed at the house of Thomas Heyward, Jr., located at 87 Church, now known as the Heyward Washington House. The house was built ca. 1770 by Daniel Heyward and became the city home of his son, Thomas Heyward, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence along with President Washington. The State Society of the Cincinnati for South Carolina now uses this house as their headquarters.

Many dinners and parties where given in honor of President Washington while he was in Charleston. On May 2, General Grist who was then Grand Master of the Ancient York Masons hosted a dinner for him that evening that was attended by many of the Masonic Brethren of the city. Then on May 4, another elegant dinner was held in his honor by, The State Society of the Cincinnati for the State of South Carolina, at Edward McCrady's Tavern then located at No. 1 Unity Alley located off of East Bay Street on the second floor.

General Gist, was an "original" member of the Maryland chapter of the, Society of the Cincinnati before retiring to Charleston to live in 1784. While he was a resident in Charleston he is again listed as an "original" member of the Society of the Cincinnati in Charleston along with Captain Thomas Bowen, Colonel John Mitchell, and 111 other original members.

On September 12, 1792, Major General Mordecai Gist then 44 years of age passed away at Charleston. His body was laid to rest at St. Michael’s Churchyard along side his son States Gist who passed away at the age of 35 and his daughter Susannah Gist who passed away at the age of 8 months and 11 days.

Printed by permission of the SCMRS.


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