Friday, June 8, 2012
The Illustrious Role of Haiti in the Freemasonry of the Western Hemisphere
Without question, some of the most important moments in the development of American Freemasonry, (US citizens please note: America is a continent and not a nation) began in Haiti. With that in mind, it is shameful that there has not been a greater response among US Freemasons to the recent natural disasters that have befallen our island neighbors. Masons should be more active in forming a chain of union for Haiti and its people.
Haiti, the Caribbean country so recently devastated by a terrible earthquake has a long history of unattained possibilities and all too material misfortune. It was the scene of important historical events and developments decisive in the evolution of Masonic initiation including being the original site for the introduction of Ecossaisme, the Elus Cohen and Primitive Martinism to the Western Hemisphere.
On December 5, 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on a Caribbean island which he named Hispaniola. The western portion of this island was in 1697, ceded to the French who named the island with the name of Saint Domingue.
The desire for freedom flourished in the hearts of the enslaved, and in 1794, Haiti was declared a nation and became the first country to abolish slavery. The Haitians had to struggle until 1804 to assure independence. The Haitian Declaration of Independence was a far more radical and true attempt at freedom than was that of the United States, as it guaranteed freedom to all men and women regardless of color or ethnicity and it totally abolished slavery. The US granted voting rights regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude to its citizens 66 years after Haiti did and suffrage to women 116 years after Haiti. Without exception, all people on Haitian soil were free. For that, Haiti was a made a pariah state and has suffered until today, to all of our shame.
The Masonic Personalities of the 18th Century in Saint Domingue
A French trader, by the name of Estienne Morin, had been involved in high degree Masonry in Bordeaux since 1744 and, in 1747, founded an "Ecossais" lodge (Scots Masters Lodge) in the city of Le Cap Francais, on the north coast of the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). Over the next decade, high degree Freemasonry continued to spread to the Western hemisphere as the high degree lodge at Bordeaux warranted or recognized seven Ecossais lodges there. In Paris in the year 1761, a Patent was issued to Estienne Morin, dated 27 August, creating him "Grand Inspector for all parts of the New World." This Patent was signed by officials of the Grand Lodge at Paris and appears to have originally granted him power over the craft lodges only, and not over the high, or "Ecossais", degree lodges. Later attempts to disparage the validity of this Patent calimed, without material evidence that it appeared to have been embellished by Morin, to improve his position over the high degree lodges in the West Indies. The political equivocations of the Bordeaux Lodge provide little to support such claims.
Morin again returned to the West Indies in 1762 or 1763, to Saint-Domingue, where, armed with a new Patent, he assumed powers to constitute lodges of all degrees, spreading the high degrees throughout the West Indies and North America. Morin stayed in Saint-Domingue until 1766 when he moved to Jamaica. At Kingston, Jamaica, in 1770, Morin created a "Grand Chapter" of his new Rite (the Grand Council of Jamaica). Morin died in 1771 and was buried in Kingston. On July 21, 1802 the Supreme Council of the French West Indies in Haiti was formed out of the older 1836 Supreme Council of Saint Domingue.
The Caribbean History of Martinez Pasqually
More or less the same time, Jacques de Livron Joachim de la Tour de la Casa Martinez de Pasqually also a Mason from the French city of Grenoble, inherited a property in Saint Domingue and traveled to the place which was within the modern territory of Haiti. He had plans to establish the Chevaliers de l'Ordre de Masons Elus Coens (Order of the Knights Elect Priests of the Universe) which he had previously founded in France. There are still echoes of this Order in the Americas, but despite romantic claims to the contrary, they all appear to derive from the late 19th and early 20th Century based upon the romantic reinventions of Gérard Encausse (Papus) and Robert Ambelain.
Martinez's father Pasqually, was said to have been issued a patent by King Charles Stuart granting him the title of Grand Master and authorizing him to transmit his powers to his firstborn son. This rank and power was transferred to Martinez when he was 28 years old. Martinez subsequently wrote a treatise on the Reintegration of Beings and a commentary on the Pentateuch from the point of view of the philosophy of the High Masonic Degrees.
On September 20, 1774, a little less than two years after his arrival Martinez died in Port-au-Prince. It is said that he named Armand Cagnet Lestère as his successor. However, Armand had little time to devote to the Order and Martinism was silenced. Current claimants to the Martinist banner all derive their origins from the aforementioned 19th and early 20th Century French reinventions.
Out of these origins, according to some authors, the structure of the Scottish Rite has established itself in seven traditional categories:
1) Symbolic Degrees of Apprentice, Fellow and Master;
2) Degree of development of the Universal Symbolic Degrees
3) Degrees based on Enlightenment
4) Jewish and biblical Degrees
5) Templar Degrees
6) Alchemical and Rosicrucian Degrees
7) Administrative and Higher Degrees.
One more significant player in the History of Freemasonry in the Western Hemisphere emerged from the cradle of Haiti. Although much controversy and a great deal of unjustified slander was leveled at him by that autodidact and self appointed revisionist of Scottish Rite Masonry, Albert Pike, Joseph Cerneau, an unassuming, and apparently quite sincere Freemason and Jeweler from Villeblevin in Central France, became involved in Freemasonry while living in Pre Revolutionary Saint Domingue. At the time of the Haitian Revolution he, like quite a few Frenchmen living in Haiti escaped and went to Cuba. He is remembered for having founded the first Masonic Lodge in Cuba in about 1804 or 1805 before having been deported, as far as can factually be discerned, for the triple crimes of having been French, formerly living in Haiti, and being also a Freemason.
The Spanish authorities at the time lived in terror of the French contagion and Cerneau appeared dangerous to them for these reasons. It seems that their suspicion, if misplaced was not totally unwarranted, as a few years after the innocent Cerneau left for New York, an Afro-Cuban freemason, named Aponte, was caught and executed for attempting to lead a rebellion modeled upon that of Haiti.
Although Cerneau himself did nothing that the "Gentlemen" of Charleston did not themselves do, his form of Scottish Rite, although having much if not more to recommend it, fell victim to the savage attacks of Albert Pike and his southern "Gentlemen" after Cerneau himself had already returned to France, disgusted by the corruption and petty politics of North American Freemasonry in the early 19th Century.
Today, Joseph Cerneau is recognized in most of the Americas as the father not only of Cuban Freemasonry, but of the Scottish Rite, and Freemasonry in general in their part of the globe.
This is but a brief introduction to the interaction of Haiti and Freemasonry, a subject to which we will return again.