Grand Lodge of East Jamaica Freemason collection
Scope and Contents
The Grand Lodge of East Jamaica Freemason collection documents Masonic practice in late-1800s Jamaica. It includes papers belonging to Herman John Bürger, including correspondence and membership papers. Also includes a bound book of transcribed correspondence between Bürger and Willoughby DaCosta about Freemasonry which appears to be didactic, although only the letters from DaCosta remain. This collection contains correspondence, notes detailing the secret ceremonies and structure of Masonry (inducing Scottish Rite and York Rite), membership certificates, and a Catholic anti-Masonic pamphlet on secret societies. Notes detailing ceremonies and structure include handwritten notebooks and loose papers, possibly written by different people.
Restrictions on access
Collection is open for research; also available digitally. One fragile item is closed.
Restrictions on use
These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.
Historical note: Freemasonry
Freemasonry, the secret fraternal order of Free and Accepted Masons, is the largest worldwide secret society. According to masonic teaching, the first lodge was established in 3760 BCE. Most scholars believe that modern Freemasonry stems from stonemasonry guilds of the middle ages. As membership in these guilds waned due to the decline of cathedral construction, they began to admit honorary members, giving rise to “speculative” lodges and symbolic Freemasonry. Early in the eighteenth century, some lodges began to imitate religious orders and medieval brotherhoods. Elaborate deist rituals were constructed. Freemasonry in its present form began in 1717 with the establishment of the Grand Lodge of England.
Freemasonry in England and America attracted a large number of Protestants. The Masonic “work,” or ritual, contains many symbols which admit a Christian interpretation and requires from the member a belief in God and the immortality of the soul, but its teachings are rationalistic and deistic. Masons are taught to regard each other as brothers, even in the face of ethnic and cultural divisions.
The two major rites in British Freemasonry are the Scottish Rite and the York Rite. The Scottish Rite has thirty-three degrees of membership, whereas the York Rite has seven levels. Both rites share the first three degrees. Since 1813 both rites have been joined under the United Grand Lodge of England. After becoming a third-degree Master Mason, if he wishes to advance, a Mason may join either or both rites.
Freemasonry in Catholic countries often has tended to be anticlerical and atheistic, so popes have consistently opposed it.
"Freemasonry." in New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Vol. 4. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1985: 966.
Lauer, R.Z. "Freemasonry." in New Catholic Encyclopaedia. vol. 6. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University, 1967: 132-39.
Morgan, William. Morgan's Expose of Freemasonry: As Written by Captain William Morgan. Boston: Colesworthy, after 1882.
“Freemasonry.” In Encyclopedia Britannica Online, July 7, 2018. Encyclopædia Britannica (Accessed April 3, 2020).
Biographical Note: Herman John Bürger
Herman John Bürger was a resident of Kingston, Jamaica, and a member of the Freemasons.
Bürger joined the Freemasons in the 1830s. He and Willoughby DaCosta exchanged letters in 1868 debating Freemasonry; the resulting compilation describes Bürger as a Philomath. On October 16, 1876, he received a certificate of good standing from Friendly Lodge No. 239, and when he gave a lecture on Freemasonry at the Glenlyon Lodge in Kingston, Jamaica in 1877, he had a reputation for literary and oratorical skill. Bürger was elected as an honorary member of the Glenlyon Lodge as a result of that lecture. Bürger had become a third degree Mason at Friendly Lodge No. 239 by 1876. He wrote an article about Freemasonry in Jamaica for The Handbook of Jamaica for 1881.
Beyond his participation and success with the Freemasons, Bürger worked as an auditor (1880s) and tax collector (1890s). He also held the position of City Council member representing Kingston’s No. 1 Ward in 1881, and gave a well-attended lecture entitled “Our Home” at the Institute of Jamaica in 1890.
A Young Master Mason. “Freemasonry In Jamaica—A New Theory.” The Freemason 10 (December 29, 1877): 54. https://masonicperiodicals.org/static/media/periodicals/119-FVL-1877-12-29-001-SINGLE.pdf.
Bound transcription of letters by Herman John Bürger and Willoughby DaCosta, after 1868, Box 1, Folder 1, Grand Lodge of East Jamaica Freemason collection, MS.1986.046, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.
Certificate of admittance into the Free Masonry, in the third degree, from the Prince of Wales, Grand Master, 1878 March 7, Shared box: 13736 (vellum), Folder 1, Grand Lodge of East Jamaica Freemason collection, MS.1986.046, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.
Certificate of good standing, Friendly Lodge No. 239, Kingston, 1876 October 16, Shared box: 12901, Folder 1, Grand Lodge of East Jamaica Freemason collection, MS.1986.046, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.
Sinclair, A.C. and S.P. Musson. The Handbook of Jamaica for 1890-91: Comprising Historical Statistical and General Information Concerning the Island. Compiled From Official and Other Reliable Records. Published by Authority. Tenth Year of Publication. London: Edward Stanford, 1890.
Two Members of the Jamaican Civil Service. The Handbook of Jamaica for 1881: Comprising Historical and Statistical Information; Together With Essays on Economic Plants and Other Subjects Connected With the Island. Compiled From Official and Other Records. Published by Authority. By Two Members of the Jamaica Civil Service. Kingston, Jamaica: Government Printing Establishment, 1881.
3.75 Linear Feet (3 containers)
Language of Materials
The Grand Lodge of East Jamaica Freemason collection documents Masonic practice in late-1800s Jamaica. It includes correspondence, membership papers, and other material relating to Herman John Bürger, a Master Freemason in Kingston and Port Royal, as well as notes describing Freemason ceremonies and organizational structure. Also includes a Catholic anti-Masonic pamphlet on secret societies.
This collection is arranged in four series: I. Herman John Bürger, II. Masonic structure, III. Correspondence requesting admission, and IV. Anti-Masonic pamphlet.
Series II is further divided into three subseries: A. Ceremonies, B. Scottish Rite, and C. York Rite.
These materials were originally part of the Joseph J. Williams, SJ ethnological collection, MS.2009.030.
Existence of digital copies
Collection available digitally. Links are included in the inventory.
- Grand Lodge of East Jamaica Freemason Collection
- Thomas Osborne, 1995; revised by Rachael Young, 2019; reprocessed by Sarah Jauris
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description