William Davis - The First Knights Templar in The United States
Carson Smith

The following is an excerpt from a work by Michael Kaulback titled "The First Knights Templar in the United States."

Who was William Davis, and what was his background? How did he happen to be in the right place at the right time to become the first Knight Templar created in America? He was born on 13 June 1724, the son of William and Mary Davis in Boston, Massachusetts and baptized in the Episcopal Church on 19 July 1724. He had a sister, Hannah, born on 17 February 1723. He must have been an educated man, as he owned an apothecary shop on Prince Street near the Charles River Bridge in Boston. He was married three times, and his third wife, Sarah (Winchester?), outlived him. He had one son, Benjamin Davis, born 20 March 1765, who eventually became a Major in the local Massachusetts Militia. William Davis was very active in local politics, and from May to November 1776, he was a member of the Committee on Correspondence in charge of inspection and safety in the area.

Military life must have fascinated him as well, for it was he who proposed the “barrel defense” used at the battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June 1775. This was a simple but effective defense and consisted of barrels filled with stones and earth rolled down on the attacking units. He appears on the list of men subscribing to regulations for formation of an independent company to be raised in Boston. The officers of this company were commissioned in council on 7 December 1776, with John Hancock named as Major General and Colonel of the Regiment. His immediate superior was Colonel Henry and the dates of his service were from 1 February 1777 to 15 October 1778 when he received an honourable discharge from General John Sullivan. Freemasonry was also an important part of his life. He is listed as a member of St. John's (First) Lodge in Boston on 26 December 1750. He then disappears for a time, emerging again as Worshipful Master of the British Army Lodge No. 58 and is, in fact, one of the signers of the petition sent to the Grand Lodge of Scotland for the appointment of Joseph Warren as Provincial Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the “Ancients” established in Massachusetts. This is recorded in the proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. Although there are no written records, it is obvious from his attaining the Chair of his Lodge that he not only continued his masonic career, but excelled at it. It was during this period that we see mention made in the records of the Massachusetts Grand Lodge and the Lodge of St. Andrew, that he joined the Lodge of St. Andrew (1757) and presumably became friendly with Paul Revere and Joseph Warren. He was present at the St. John's Day banquet on 27 December 1769 when Joseph Warren was installed as Provincial Grand Master and again on 2 March 1770 when he was appointed to serve on a Committee ”To prepare a body of laws for the regulation of the Grand Lodge.” He also served as Secretary of British Army Lodge n° 58 until 1772 when the 29th Regiment and the 14th Regiment were shipped out to other areas because of the unrest surrounding the Boston Massacre.

It was a natural extension of Davis's masonic career that led him to petition for and receive the four steps of Excellent, Super-Excellent, Royal Arch and Knight Templar on 28 August 1769. He was a member of two Ancients Lodges, St. Andrew's and British Army Lodge n° 58. At that period the Lodges of the “Moderns” did not recognize any degree above the Third or Master Mason Degree, and it was through the Scottish and Irish Ancient Lodges that the Higher Degrees of York Rite Masonry arrived in America. Here we might pause and ask the question, “If English (Modern) Lodges did not confer the so-called Higher Degrees, how then did the members of British Army Lodge n° 58, become acquainted with them?” The answer is simple; they probably became aware of and received them in Halifax, Nova Scotia sometime between June of 1766 and of 1768 when both Lodge n° 58's regiment and Lodge No. 322's regiment were stationed there. Lodge n° 322 was an Irish Lodge and had been stationed in Ireland for some years before being shipped out to North America. It is therefore a logical assumption the ritual or ceremonial system used to confer the four steps in St. Andrew's Lodge in August of 1769 was, in fact, learned in Ireland where Glittering Star Lodge n° 322 was active between 1759 and 1765. In the museum of the Grand Lodge are several Knight Templar membership certificates: one dated 1759 from Ireland, and several others dated in the period 1770-1790. What Ritual was used to confer the Four Steps or Degrees? There has been much speculation on this question but no certain answer has been given. We would love to the content of those early degrees, but our curiosity and thirst for knowledge will remain forever unsatisfied. There are no written records, and those that may have existed have long since disappeared. There does exist a plate used in the printing of Lodge Summonses in 1790. This does have many recognizable emblems, and seems to show that the central idea of the Knight Templar Degree was basically the same as it is today with a very much shortened ritual. We do know that it was the regular custom to “work” or “communicate” the Four Degrees at one meeting. The degrees must have been communicated as a Bylaw of St. Andrew's Chapter of 1769 appears to indicate that the early meetings were held with the members seated around a table. In his book Pour La Foy, (pp. 207-211), George Draffen gives an extract form the Regulations of the Temple relative to the reception of new fraters. The extract consists of a list of questions and answers that was apparently used to admit knights into the medieval Order of the Templars. At the end of the text it is indicated that the Scottish Templar Ritual is based on this working. It is thus probable that the degree communicated to William Davis that evening followed this Ritual to some extent.

In 1769 there were already Knights Templar in America, but William Davis has the honour and distinction of being the first Knight Templar to be created in what is now the USA.


Receive Masonic education, event notifications, and more by signing up for our weekly emails at www.pratheryorkrite.com/newslettersignup.