In His Life
1818 (Aug. 31) - Born Robert Williams Peckham in New York City.
1825 At the death of his father, was placed in a foster home in Western NY where he took the name of his Foster Father, John Morris.
1846 (March 5) - Became a Master Mason in Oxford Miss.
1849/50 Began writing first ritual for O.E.S.
1855 Organized "Supreme Constellation" headquartered in New York.
1858/59 Served as Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons in KY.
- Drafted Constitution of the Grand Lodge.
- Transferred authority to Robert MaCoy who published a
ritual using Morris' "The Rosary of the Eastern Star" as a
1870 Grand Chapters organized in MS, NJ and NY.
1876 (Nov. 16) - All Grand Chapters united under General Grand Chapter in Indianapolis, IN.
1880 Title of Master Builder of the Order of the Eastern Star conferred upon Dr. Morris by the General Grand Chapter.
1884 Named Poet Laureate of Masonry.
1888 (July 31) Died. Buried at LaGrange, KY.
ON AUGUST 31, 1818 AT 26 RECTOR STREET, NEW YORK CITY, A SON WAS BORN TO CHARLOTTE LAVINNIA SHAW AND ROBERT PECKHAM WHO HAD RECENTLY MOVED FROM MASSACHUSSETTS. THIS WAS THEIR FOURTH CHILD AND THEY CHOSE TO NAME HIM ROBERT WILLIAMS PECKHAM.
THE COUPLE HAD LOST THEIR FIRST TWO CHILDREN IN INFANCY AND A THIRD HAD BEEN NAMED JOHN ANSON. LATER, IN 1821, A FIFTH CHILD WAS BORN, A GIRL, WHO THEY NAMED CHARLOTTE FALES.
LATER IN 1821, THE SEPARATION OF THE PARENTS SPLIT THE FAMILY. CHARLOTTE FALES PECKHAM RETURNED WITH HER MOTHER TO THEIR ORIGINAL FAMILY HOME IN TAUNTON, MASSACHUSSETTS. JOHN ANSON AND HIS BROTHER ROBERT WILLIAMS WERE TO REMAIN WITH THEIR FATHER IN NEW YORK CITY.
ON FEBRUARY 2, 1825 ROBERT PECKHAM SENIOR DIED IN NEW YORK'S CITY HOSPITAL. HIS TWO SONS WERE THEN SENT TO LIVE WITH THEIR MOTHER. SHORTLY THEREAFTER, YOUNG ROBERT WAS PLACED IN A FOSTER HOME WHERE HE TOOK THE NAME OF HIS NEW PARENTS, MR. AND MRS. JOHN MORRIS OF WESTERN NEW YORK. HE WAS TO REMAIN WITH THEM UNTIL 1837.
LITTLE IS KNOWN OF YOUNG ROBERT'S FORMAL EDUCATION, HOWEVER, IT MUST HAVE BEEN EXTENSIVE BASED UPON HIS LATER ACCOMPLISHMENTS. ALTHOUGH NO RECORDS HAVE BEEN UNCOVERED TO DOCUMENT IT, ROBERT PECKHAM MORRIS, WHO WE KNOW AS ROB MORRIS, STATED THAT HE WAS ADMITTED TO THE BAR AT THE AGE OF 21. IT IS KNOWN THAT HE TRAVELED EXTENSIVELY IN MISSOURI, KENTUCKY, TENNESSEE AND MISSISSIPPI.
ON MAY 26, 1841 HE MARRIED CHARLOTTE MENDENHALL OF TENNESSEE TO WHICH UNION WAS BORN NINE CHILDREN.
ROB MORRIS BECAME THE PRINCIPAL OF MOUNT SYLVAN ACADEMY, A SCHOOL ESTABLISHED BY FREEMASONS, IN OXFORD MISSISSIPPI. HE RECEIVED THE DEGREES OF MASONRY IN OXFORD LODGE #33, OXFORD MISSISSIPPI, BETWEEN THE DATES OF MARCH 5th AND JULY 3rd, 1846. IT WAS HERE THAT HE ALSO RECEIVED THE SO-CALLED "LADIES DEGREES" WHICH BECAME THE BASIS OF THE ORDER OF THE EASTERN STAR.
DR. MORRIS SERVED IN MANY MASONIC OFFICES INCLUDING GRAND CHAPLAIN OF THE GRAND CHAPTER OF ROYAL ARCH MASONS, LECTURER OF THE GRAND LODGE OF MISSISSIPPI, AND HELD MOST OFFICES IN FREEMASONRY THROUGH THAT OF GRAND MASTER OF MASONS IN KENTUCKY.
HE ORGANIZED AND WAS THE FIRST MASTER OF ROYAL SOLOMON LODGE #293 OF JERUSALEM.
IN 1884 IN NEW YORK, BROTHER ROB MORRIS WAS CROWNED "POET-LAUREATE OF FREEMASONRY", THE FIRST LIVING PERSON TO BE SO HONORED. ONLY THE IMMORTAL ROBERT BURNS HAD PREVIOUSLY HELD THIS HONOR AND THAT HAD BEEN 100 YEARS EARLIER, AND AWARDED POSTHUMOUSLY.
ROB MORRIS SPENT MANY YEARS IN THE HOLY LAND RESEARCHING MASONIC ORIGINS AND LORE. HE WROTE A GREAT NUMBER OF MASONIC BOOKS AND PUBLISHED NUMEROUS MASONIC PERIODICALS. HE LECTURED THORUGHOUT EUROPE WHERE HIS TALKS WERE ATTENDED BY MEN FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE. COMMON LABORERS LISTENED INTENTLY TO HIS WORDS IN THE SAME AUDIENCE WITH THE PRINCE OF WALES WHO WAS LATER TO BECOME KING EDWARD VII. IT WAS PROBABLY DURING HIS TOURS OF EUROPE THAT HE BECAME AQUAINTED WITH FRENCH ADOPTIVE MASONRY. THESE DEGREES, ALONG WITH THOSE HE RECEIVED EARLIER AT OXFORD MISSISSIPPI, WERE USED EXTENSIVELY IN HIS LATER "RITUAL OF ADOPTIVE MASONRY" WHICH HE CALLED "CONSTELLATIONS OF THE EASTERN STAR". LATER HE WAS TO CONSIDER THESE CONSTELLATIONS TOO ELABORATE AND COMPLEX AND THEREFORE CHANGED THE RITUAL TO "FAMILIES".
WHEN HE LEFT FOR AN EXTENDED STAY IN THE HOLY LAND, HE TURNED OVER ALL EASTERN STAR WORK TO BROTHER ROBERT MACOY WHO FORMULATED THE "CHAPTERS" AS WE KNOW THEM TODAY. THE DEGREES USED WERE ENTIRELY THOSE OF BROTHER MORRIS.
ROB MORRIS LIVED OUT THE REMAINDER OF HIS LIFE IN LA GRANGE, KENTUCKY. HIS HEALTH BEGAN TO FAIL EARLY IN 1887 AND HE WAS PARALIZED IN JUNE 1888. ON THE LAST DAY OF JULY, ONE MONTH BEFORE HIS 70th BIRTHDAY, ROBERT WILLIAMS PECKHAM, OUR BELOVED ROB MORRIS, HAD HIS NAME ENSCRIBED ON THE ROLLS OF THAT MOST SUPREME OF GRAND BODIES IN THE NEW JERUSALEM, THAT CITY NOT MADE WITH HANDS.
BROTHER MORRIS WOULD HAVE INDEED BEEN PROUD THAT A CURRENT LIST OF OVER 15,000 EASTERN STAR CHAPTERS NOW EXISTS WITH MORE THAN THREE MILLION MEMBERS THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE WORLD. HIS WISDOM AND THE GENEROSITY OF HIS EFFORTS HAVE SHOWN US ALL A BRIGHTER VISION OF THAT BLAZING STAR IN THE EAST.
The above was prepared by Raymond Dotson, P.P. for first presentation before Goldsboro Chapter #54 on 27 Aug. 1984
Brother Morris' Own
"I adopted the apparently quaint and odd cognomen of Rob as a prefix. The immediate cause of this was my determination not any longer to be confounded with Mr. Robert Morris, the author and poet, of Philadelphia." 1851
"The five Androgynous degrees ... are supposed to have been introduced into this country by the French officers who assisted our Government during the struggle for liberty".... 1852
"The degree called the Eastern Star... is strictly my own origination. By the aid of my papers, and the memory of Mrs. Morris, I recall even the trivial occurrences connected with the work- how I hesitated for a theme, how I dallied over a name, how I wrought face to face with the clock that I might keep my drama within due limits of time, etc. The name was first settled upon, The Eastern Star." 1852
First in the array of Adoptive Degrees, highest in the ranks of brilliant and impressive thought, comes the Eastern Star, with its fixed points of Jepthah's Daughter, Ruth, Esther, Martha, and Electa. Those who have heard our lectures in different sections of the United States are aware that we value it both for what it has done and for its future promise. We have personally communicated The Eastern Star to more than three thousand ladies, the wives, daughters, sisters, and widows of Master Masons. The degree is never communicated as from man to man- to impart it at all requires the consent and presence of five or more ladies who must be, if unmarried, at least 18 years of age. This degree is of French extraction, and has all the embellishments of that fanciful race. It is properly conferred in a regular organization styled a Constellation, which in its American form will be shortly placed before the public- when generally adopted in our fraternity, as we doubt not it will be, it will add greatly to the practical importance of the degree." 1854
"My first course of lectures was given in November, 1850, at Colliersville, Tennessee.... At Colliersville, likewise, I conferred the degrees of the Eastern Star and Good Samaritan. Both of these I had received some years before, the latter by Brother Stevens, the same who presided at my passing and raising. The restrictions under which the Eastern Star was communicated to me were 'that it should only be given to Master Masons, their wives, widows, sisters and daughters, and only when five or more ladies of the classes named were present'; these rules I have always adhered to." 1862
"When I was initiated into Masonry in 1846, I received my Third Degree from Brother William H. Stevens, afterwards Grand Master of Mississippi. He was a Mason of considerable ability, burning zeal, and a warm advocate of Ladies' Masonry. In 1847, he conferred upon Mrs. Morris and myself the Degree of Heroine of Jericho; and from him I acquired my first appetite for this whole system of Adoptive Masonry." 1873
"I wrote every word of the original lectures and composed the songs. For twenty-eight years I have been communicating it as my own origination. I am the founder of the system, and no one can show any proof of its existence prior to 1849." 1877
"In the winter of 1850 I was a resident of Jackson, Mississippi. For some time previous I had contemplated, as hinted above, the preparation of a Ritual of Adoptive Masonry, the degrees then in vogue appearing to me poorly conceived, weakly wrought out, unimpressive, and particularly defective in point of motive. I allude especially to those degrees styled The Mason's Daughter, and the Heroines of Jericho. But I do expressly except from this criticism The Good Samaritan, which, in my judgement, posesses dramatic elements and machinery equal to those that are in the Templar's Order, the High Priesthood, and the Cryptic Rite, and other organizations of Thomas Smith Webb. I have always recommended The Good Samaritan, and a thousand times conferred it in various parts of the world.... About the first week of February, 1850, I was laid up for two weeks with a sharp attack of rheumatism, and it was this period which I gave to the work at hand.... The only piece of mechanism difficult to fit into the construction was the cabalistic motto known as *****; but this occurred to me in ample time for use.... The theory of the whole subject is succinctly stated in my Rosary of the Eastern Star, published in 1865.... So my Ritual was complete, and after touching and retouching the manuscript, as professional authors love to do, I invited a neighboring Mason and his wife to join with my own, and to them, in my own parlor, communicated the Degrees in 1850. They were the first recipients- the first of twice fifty thousand who have seen the signs, heard the words, exchanged the touch, and joined in the music of the Eastern Star... In 1855 I arranged the system of 'Constellations of the Eastern Star' of which the Mosaic Book was the index, and established more than one hundred of those bodies.... Four years later I prepared an easier plan styled 'Families of the Eastern Star' intended, in its simplicity and the readiness by which it could be worked, to avoid the complexity of the 'Constellations.' This ran well until the war broke out. This ended my work in systemizing the Eastern Star, and I should never have done more with it, save to confer it in an informal manner as at first, but for Brother Robert Macoy of New York, who in 1868, when I publicly announced my intentions of confining my labors during the remainder of my life to Holy Land Investigations, proposed the plan of Eastern Star Chapters now in vogue. He had my full consent and endorsement, and thus became the instigator of a third and more successful system." 1884
"Robert Macoy proposed the plan of Eastern Star Chapters now in vogue." 1884
"Should the parlor room or hall be narrow, and extra chairs are needed on initiation night, the pedestal May be placed in front of the chair, but never back of the chair as the Heroine Point sitting in the chair is the guardian, chairs may also face the Altar or East" **
"All Altar work is given with Three motions, Three Triangles, Three words, Two statements and Three questions." **
"Signs are given above the waistline, a symbol we are Spiritual; as below the waistline is Carnel. We are Individuals and not People." **
"Should the Enlightened, Illustrious or
Eminent Leader or officers pass to the Beyond; or a member of the
Family Chapter, the Burial of the dead Shall be fulfilled.
** Quotes taken from Rob Morris' writings as read by Sister Beulah H. Malone, Past Grand Matron and Past Grand Secretary of Oklahoma.
"I assembled these excerpts from Brother Morris' own writings originally for use in Goldsboro Chapter #54 on the occasion of Rob Morris Day observance in 1986 ... Ray Dotson, P.P., Webmaster"
* Originally Brother Morris constructed the Cabalistic Motto with two additional words... (* * Ten * And * *) Members must substitute the proper word for each asterisk.
*NOTE: IN THE MINUTES OF THE FIRST MEETING OF THE GENERAL GRAND CHAPTER IN 1876, I COULD FIND NO REFERENCE TO THERE BEING ANY SUCH POSITION AS THAT OF ASSOCIATE PATRON.
I was very fortunate to
have recently received a message from Bob Kamman with the following
exerpt from a book published before the death of Rob Morris. As you
can see, some of the facts / dates do not agree with what I have
published above. It is true that information about this Illustrious
Brother differs from source to source. The information shown here
seems to agree fairly closely with that published in the OES Ritual..
From my own research however, I still believe that Rob Morris was born
Robert Williams Peckham in New York and later adopted by John Morris.
The Viewpoint of his descendants...
During a recent communication
with Brother Rob L. Morris of Tennessee, a Great- Great Grandson of our
Founder, I am told that his family accepts "Robert Williams Peckham" as being the true birth-name of his Illustrious Ancestor
and New York City as his birthplace.
My name is Bonita Hillmer. My daughter, Juliet Nicole Morris, is a direct descendant of Robert Williams Peckham, aka Dr. Rob Morris. I have done considerable research on Dr. Morris and have located the baptism records of John Anson, Robert Williams and Charlotte Fales PECKHAM in Taunton, MA. It was after their return from NY.
You may want to add to your write-up about Rob Morris what transpired between the father's death and his being sent to live with John Morris.
I requested a search of the court records and found that when the children returned to live in Taunton, MA with their mother, her mother-in-law, Widow Mary (Fales) Peckham went to court to attempt to get custody of John Anson and Robert Williams, the only male heirs from her late husband, John PECKHAM. After a terrible court battle, the mother retained custody however, she became ill and died as well. The courts appointed Dr. William Williams (I believe he was a medical doctor and also the brother-in-law to Charlotte (Shaw) PECKHAM.) as guardian to the 3 small children. It was my impression that Robert was apprenticed to John Morris, but I can not prove that... after all, he had a grandmother who wanted him. John and Charlotte remained in Taunton but I am not positive whether they were raised by Dr. Williams or went to live with their grandmother.
I had the Historical Society in Taunton do the research for me. They were very excited to have such a notable person from Taunton. She (The researcher) wrote an article for their newsletter. I am sure she maintained all the records in a file for future reference as I suggested she keep copies. It does contain all the court records she provided to me. This research was done about 15 years ago, when I lived in New Jersey.
If you can shed any light on where in "Western NY" he grew up, and what happened to him between 1825-1850 when I find him in Jackson, Mississippi, I would really appreciate it.
Oh, my daughter is Juliet Nicole Morris, daughter of Robert Lewis Morris b: 1942, son of Paul Leon Morris and Jessica (Handy) Micue. Paul was the son of John Alfred Morris and Elizabeth McTurnan, John was the son of Robert Morris (Rob Jr.) and Elizabeth Larue Blakey, who was the son of Robert William Peckham Morris and Charlotte Lavinna Shaw.
And again on August 11, 2008 I received further clarification as follows:
What a nice page you have prepared on the Rob Morris aka Robert William Peckham. I see you quoted an email message from me. I would like to suggest that you contact the Taunton, MA (outside of Boston) Genealogy Society and get copies of the records they sent me. They were all original records, not transcriptions, and it would make a wonderful addition to the site. Also, it would give you a timeline and would show when Robert was apprenticed to John Morris through the records which if memory serves me correctly was 1837. I wish we could find more on John Morris but alas, it is just such a common name and the areas he traveled were sparse. I did find a death record of a John Morris in the same locale as Rob Morris in TN but not sure if it is the correct John Morris.
There is a book written about Rob Morris in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC that I found a quote of a letter that had been received from Charlotte Fales Peckham (then married) that led me to Taunton, MA and the 'flood gates' opened.
One thing I did want to correct is that Robert was not apprenticed to John Morris until after the death of his mother ... not the death of his father. As I noted before, there was quite a legal battle in the courl records as Robert's grandmother PECKHAM, was trying to get sole custody of Robert and his brother, John Anson, as the 'only legal heirs of her deceased husband'. The judge left custody with the mother. That is why the suggestion that he was put into a foster home after his father's death is total incorrect ... and it was not until he was orphaned that he was apprenticed. As far as actually being placed in a foster home or adopted, it does not make sense since his grandmother would have wholeheartedly taken the boy as the legal heir to her estate.
One thing I would like is to be able to use the PECKHAM connection for my daughter to gain entry into the Mayflower Descendants and the NSDAR. My problem is that we can not prove the name change even though we know it to be correct... but it would not be accepted by either Society. I need to have a 'living MORRIS male' who is descended from Robert William Peckham Morris to take the test. Do you know of any such man who would take the test. It is a Q-tip rubbed on the inside of the cheek and would be at no cost to the participant. .
(Question: Why, with all this documentation available, does the General Grand Chapter continue to insist in their outdated documentation that Rob Morris was born "Near Boston.")
Masonic Poetry of Rob Morris
THE LEVEL AND THE SQUARE
(This poem, written in August, 1854, is the most popular Masonic Poem of all time.)
meet upon the Level and we part upon the Square.
WELCOME TO LADIES
MIND OF GOD
can we know the mind of God,
let us often ponder
hearken, while I tell you