The Seven Founding Brothers of Jephtha Masonic Lodge

By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA

What do two shipbuilders, a ship’s captain, two farmers, a former Democratic U.S Congressman, a local active Republican and a disgraced freemason have in common? They are the seven charter members of Jephtha Masonic Lodge No. 494 in Huntington.

The First Meeting

Nineteenth century bearded man in suit
Francis Olmsted

The charter members William H. King, Jesse Carll, David Carll, John H. Jarvis, Phineas E. Sills and Charles A. Floyd laid the foundation of Jephtha Lodge at a meeting in the home of Francis Olmsted (1820-1901) in Northport on December 21, 1859, for the “purpose of taking into consideration the feasibility of establishing a Lodge in the Village of Huntington.”

It was unanimously agreed to submit an application to the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of New York to form a Lodge. The application and $40 fee were submitted to Grand Secretary of Masons in New York on December 23, 1859.

The name “Jephtha” is based on a character in the Old Testament who served as one of the Judges in Israel for a period of six years (Judges 12:7) between the conquest of Canaan and the first king. Jephtha lived in Gilead and was a member of the Tribe of Manasseh.

The Planning Stage

The charter members first met in the sloop Rebecca in Huntington Harbor throughout January 1860. The brothers prepared themselves with the many initial plans and ritual work required to operate a masonic lodge. Captain John Knight guarded the door for any trespassers that may disrupt the secret meetings. The future freemason kept a pot of coffee heated in the forecastle of the yacht for the busy members during these frigid winter nights.

Lithograph of American Yacht
The Yacht Rebecca, New York Autumn Regatta first place, 1858

The first official meeting was held in a room over S.T. Shadbolt’s Harness Shop in Huntington Village on January 28, 1860. The purpose of this initial meeting was to elect the seven charter members to their respective officer stations. Other items on the agenda included obtaining an extended lease for future meetings and forming a committee to obtain the necessary regalia.

The Charter Members

William H. King was the acting Worshipful Master of Joppa Lodge No. 201 in Brooklyn during the initial planning meetings. Born in Maine in 1825, the 35-year-old farmer raised three children in Centerport with his wife Jane. The first registered brother and Master in three out the first four years for Jephtha (1860-61, 1863), King and Jonas Pearsall were instrumental in purchasing the property the lodge is currently located. At the dedication of Alcyone Masonic Lodge No. 695 in Northport in 1869, King was the acting Grand Secretary. King officially demitted from Jephtha Lodge on April 26, 1875 after his move out of state.

Nineteenth century bearded man in suit
Jesse Carll

Shipbuilder Jesse Carll (1833-1902) was brother number 2 of Jephtha and the lodge’s first Senior Warden. Later elected as the second Master in 1862, Carll was originally raised in Charter Oak No 249 in New York City. Carll was also a charter member of Alcyone No. 659 in Northport in 1869, where he redirected his masonic responsibilities, forcing him to demit from Jephtha. The Carll Shipyard was the most successful shipbuilder in Northport for over 40 years in the late nineteenth century.

Jesse Carll’s brother David (1831-1917) of Charter Oak No 249 was elected the first Senior Deacon. David Carll was partners with his brother Jesse in the Carll Shipyard and later demitted from Jephtha for unknown reasons.

Phineas Bryan Sills (1813-1869) was a farmer originally raised a mason in Joppa Lodge No 201 and was the lodge’s first Treasurer. Sills has the distinction of being the first member to be suspended indefinitely from Jephtha Lodge for unmasonic conduct in 1861.

Nineteenth century bearded man in suit
Jonas Higbie

Jephtha’s first Junior Deacon was Jonas Smith Higbie (1821-1907). Raised a mason in Charter Oak No 249 in 1854, Higbie demitted from Jephtha Lodge on September 28, 1868 to become a charter member of Alcyone Lodge in Northport.

Born in Centerport, Higbie was a ship’s captain for decades, for a time running the Storm Cloud, a 195-ton vessel built by fellow charter member Jesse Carll. During the Civil War, Higbie served as an officer for the Union Navy and engaged in several successful conflicts. After the war he traded supplies in the West Indies, was active with the local Republican party and was a Commander for the local Grand Army of the Republic Post. The first Jephtha brother to file a U.S. Patent in 1865, his expertise on the water informed his design for an improved boat rudder. After his death, the Jonas S. Higbie Council No. 71, Junior Order of United Auto Mechanics of Northport was founded in his honor.

daguerreotype  of two young brothers during Civil War
John Jarvis and his brother Thomas, 1863

John Hewlett Jarvis (b. 1837) of Lexington No. 310 on Court and Montague Streets, New York City was elected as Jephtha’s first Junior Warden. Jarvis was a yeoman in Brooklyn, which duties delayed his first day as Junior Warden until the fourth stated communication. Jarvis later decided that his responsibilities in Brooklyn were preventing him to attend regular meetings, forcing he decision to demit from the lodge in 1871.

Charles Albert Floyd (1791-1873) was the only charter member of Jephtha to be raised a mason on Long Island (1813). Floyd was elected Worshipful Master of Suffolk No 60 in Port Jefferson five times (1818-20, 1824-25) and was the last master of Suffolk No 60 before the lodge ceased meetings due to the anti-masonic period in the 1820’s. Floyd was a founding member of the reorganized Suffolk No 401 in Port Jefferson in 1856 and was elected Jephtha’s first Secretary. The son of John Floyd, a member from Long Island’s first masonic lodge Huntington No. 26, and charter member of Suffolk No 60 in 1796, the younger Floyd was dropped from Jephtha’s membership on April 26, 1869 for unknown reasons.  

Pursing agriculture interests in Commack, Floyd served as Suffolk County Clerk (1820-21), District Attorney (1830), New York State Assembly (1836 and 1838), Huntington Board of Trustees (1837-1840), Suffolk County Judge and Town Supervisor of Huntington (1843-1865). Elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-seventh U.S. Congress (1841-43), Floyd was in session during the one-month administration of William Henry Harrison, the first President to die while in office.

The diverse backgrounds of these seven charter members gave the fledging lodge decades worth of education, cultural and personal traits that enabled freemasonry to prosper in the developing north shore village. Although these seven brothers’ time at Jephtha only lasted a few years, their determined groundwork in forming the lodge is a fitting chapter of the new fraternity in Huntington. Within twelve months, 46 new members were raised master masons in Jephtha Lodge, more than a 600% growth from the cold and uncertain planning days in January 1860. It is a testament to these founders that the lodge continues the tradition of accepting a wide variety of members over one hundred and sixty years after the first meeting.

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Nathan Hale: The Masonic Lodge That Never Was

By W:. Ronald J. Seifried, DSA

Since 1866, Jephtha Lodge brothers were charter members of several other lodges, including Glen Cove No. 580, Alcyone No. 695 in Northport, and Matinecock No. 806 in Oyster Bay. To request a dispensation for a new Masonic Lodge, a group of local brothers are required to petition nearby lodges for permission to form, addressing issues such has regional boundary jurisdiction, qualified charter members, and ritual proficiency. In most cases, new lodges are granted dispensation and start the procedure to obtain a charter from Grand Lodge of Masons in New York.

Nathan Hale
The execution of American spy Nathan Hale, September 22, 1776.

Over the course of three years in the mid-1920’s, two separate proposals were presented to a Stated Communication to form a lodge in Huntington Station, five miles from Jephtha. In both cases, the matter was either withdrawn or rejected and involved two brothers: Eugene Theodore Geissinger (1896-1966) of Island City Lodge No. 586 and Albert S. Walling of Long Island No. 382. Little is known of these two non-Jephtha brothers residing in Huntington Station, their reasons to form a lodge near Jephtha and no records have been found that either were elected officers of any lodge in New York.

The first petition was received and read into the Stated Communication on September 28, 1925, but formerly withdrawn on October 12, 1925 from brothers Geissinger, Walling and Voorhees Allen Herbert (1887-1960). No reason was given for the withdrawal.

Between 1920 and 1927, 14 new lodges were formed in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Grand Lodge had to add districts for the fast expanding fraternity and in May 1927, the Long Island Masonic District was divided into two separate districts: Nassau and Suffolk. At the time, there were 14 masonic lodges in Suffolk county and 18 lodges in Nassau county, including the newly formed Garden City No. 1083. It was believed the time was ripe to form a new lodge on Long Island.

A few months after the formation of the new districts, on October 10, 1927, a group of eight brother’s once again petitioned Jephtha to form a lodge in Huntington Station and proposed to name it Nathan Hale Lodge.

Legend has it that when American soldier and spy Nathan Hale was asked if he had any last words after being led to the gallows in 1776, he supposedly replied with his infamous quote, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” The small hamlet of Halesite in Huntington Harbor was named after the Revolutionary War first lieutenant, near the location the spy was ferried across from Connecticut to gather intel on British occupied Long Island.

Nathan Hale Memorial, Huntington

Despite all these accomplishments, there is no recorded proof that Nathan Hale was a Freemason. The brothers probably chose the name for the patriotic spirit a fallen hero over the local poet Walt Whitman, whose birthplace was in nearby West Hills, and may have experienced more interaction with Freemasons when he tended wounded soldiers during the Civil War.

In the early twentieth century, Huntington Station was centered around the Long Island Railroad Station and the Fair Grounds, an area between present day Depot Road and Lenox Road. The Fair Grounds included a one-mile horse racing track with a 1500 seat grandstand and open fields. By 1911, the area was renamed Huntington Station and beginning in 1921, the Fair Grounds was subdivided into residential properties. Several of the proposers for the new lodge, resided in the area once known as the Fair Grounds.

The Nathan Hale Lodge proposal recommended the following members: Albert S. Walling from Long Island No. 382 for Worshipful Master; Eugene T. Geissinger from Island City No. 586 for Senior Warden; Herman Ehntholdt from Jephtha No. 494 for Junior Warden. The other petitioners were David Ehntholdt from Island City No. 586; Rasmus Rasmussen from Guiding Star No. 565; David MacLetchie from Howard No. 35; Karl Christiansen and George Pike from Jephtha.

Most of the petitioners were members of lodges as far away as Bronx and Manhattan but had homes in Huntington Station. Only two of the eight brothers were from Jephtha. No records can be found on the “third” Jephtha petitioner Herman Ehntholdt.

The only petitioner to be raised at Jephtha was the Swedish born Karl Christiansen (1872-1951). Later becoming a life member of Jephtha, Christiansen was a survivor of the U.S.S. Maine disaster in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. Serving 24 years (1895-1919) in the United States Navy, Christiansen was a veteran of the Philippine Insurrection and the Boxer Rebellion. After his retirement, Christiansen was a custodian in the Huntington Station School for 15 years.

George Chamberlain Pike (1874-1956) affiliated with Jephtha from Putnam Lodge No. 338 in 1923. Pike’s occupation was a stationary engineer. Both Christiansen and Pike were proposed by Voorhees Allen Herbert, one of the three brothers petitioning to form a Huntington Station Lodge in 1925.

Voorhees Allen Herbert truck from his Huntington Station service station

While in Huntington Station, Herbert owned a service station. After twice failing to form a lodge in Huntington Station, Herbert moved to California in 1937 with his wife and four daughters, studied medicine and became a practicing physician in Beaumont, California.  He later affiliated with Sunset Lodge No. 352 in Los Angeles and was active with the Shriners.

At the October 10, 1927 stated communication, a spirited discussion on the petition of Nathan Hale Lodge was held in Jephtha. W:. Charles E. Cragg, Past Master of Alcyone and Jephtha Chaplain and Historian, made a motion to grant the petition. Past Masters W:. Allison C. Lowndes (1922), Fredric W. Hunninghouse (1926) and several brothers gave their reasons why the petition should not be granted.

Past Master W:. Carroll E. Welch (1925) stood for the proposed lodge and listed several reasons why the petition should be granted. After a prolonged and lively discussion with over 90 brothers in attendance, W:. Lowndes made a motion that the matter be made on the table. W:. Welch submitted the prepared resolution and a vote was prepared. Past Masters W:. Cragg, W:. Hunninghouse, W:. Lowndes and W:. Lawrence Henry Newton (1915) were appointed tellers and R:.W:. Douglass Conklin and W:. Welch were appointed inspectors.

One can only imagine the heated discussion on the formation of a nearby lodge. Territorial boundaries were most likely on top of everyone’s mind that evening. Many Jephtha brothers lived a few miles south and a new lodge would surely have witnessed an exodos to a closer meeting place for many brothers, leading to reduced membership dues for Jephtha. This fateful discussion was only two years prior to the stock market crash of 1929, and if the new lodge was granted a dispensation, a third lodge in Huntington could have been disastrous.

Ninety-one votes were cast: 87 against and 4 in favor of the proposed lodge. A copy of the resolution was sent to the proposed master, Albert S. Walling informing him of the rejection. It is a testament to the brothers of Jephtha Lodge to reject this proposal and not giving into a false sense of security, a problem that would return in greater numbers with the masonic lodge boom of the post-World War II years.

Nathan Hale would finally get a masonic lodge named after him when Nathan Hale No. 350 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was charted in 1951.

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