The Morgan Affair and the origins of The Tall Cedars
Bro. Robert T Goff, Grand Tall Cedar
Beginning in 1826, Freemasonry in America experienced its darkest period as a result of the incident known as the "Morgan Affair".
Following the mysterious disappearance of William Morgan in upstate New York after he had threatened to publish a book exposing the secrets of Masonry, a firestorm of criticism against the craft spread across the country. Hundreds of Masonic lodges were forced to close or went dark. Masons were not allowed to send their children to school and they were expelled from their churches. Anti-Masonic forces gathered to establish a new political party whose platform was the eradication of Freemasonry from America. In some areas, Masons were accused of poisoning any child who happened to fall ill. Even when the anti-Masonic hysteria began to calm down years later, the result of this nation-wide assault had taken its toll on the fraternity. Grand Lodges attempted to reconstruct the good will of the craft by eliminating alcohol from all lodges and placing more emphasis on ritual and degree work than on fellowship. Many other "Masonic-like" fraternities began to spring up, but Masonry struggled to define itself again.
In 1843, a few Masons in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area, sensing the need to bring some levity back into the craft, created a fun degree which they called the "Ancient and Honorable Rite of Humility". Not too long afterwards, for reasons which remain unknown to this day, the degree took upon the name as the "Tall Cedars Degree". These dedicated and energetic brothers traveled from town to town, lodge to lodge, performing this degree which basically consisted of some good-natured hazing. It was hoped that it would entice brothers back to lodge for fellowship once again, as well as return some of the fun and frolic in the craft that had been lost over the past decade or more. It had the desired effect and as a result, was an integral part of the resurgence of masonry in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania area in the last half of the 1800's.
In 1902, a number of Masons who had undergone the degree, decided that in order to eliminate the haphazard and disorganized method of conferring the degree, as well as to stabilize and preserve what was felt to be a worthwhile ceremony, they established the order of the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. By the middle of the 1900's, over 100 forests had been opened up and down the East coast.
Thus, from the simple beginnings of a fun degree created to help Masonry out of the doldrums of the anti-Masonic period evolved a Masonic body committed to "Fun, Frolic and Fellowship" and a leader in the fight against Muscular Dystrophy.