HISTORY OF ODDFELLOWSHIP
The exact origin of Oddfellowship is involved in obscurity. It must have had a beginning, but just when and where, no historian has ever been able to ascertain. All of its history prior to the introduction of the Order into England is merely conjecture founded upon proofless, and, in most cases, absurd traditions.
For instance, one tradition traces it back to the time of the Jewish priesthood and makes Moses and Aaron the founders, which is barely possible but not very probable. Still another says: it originated with the Emperor Nero, A.D.55, and that the members of the Society were called by various names until A.D. 79, when Titus Caesar dubbed them “Odd Fellows,” because of the singularity of their signs and peculiar ceremonies.
Another tradition has is beginning with two bodies of men, one at Eleusis, in Greece, and the other at Taos, Asia Minor. The members from Eleusis were initiated into what were called Eleusinian mysteries, which were celebrated every fifth year at Eleusis and were accounted the most august of all the ancient Greek ceremonies. None were admitted as candidates until they arrived at a certain age, and particular persons were appointed to examine and prepare them for the rites of initiation. Those whose conduct was found irregular were rejected as unworthy to be admitted. Grand officers presided over their assemblies, and they had peculiar emblems. They had degrees amongst them, and the candidates advanced from one degree to the other until they had received all the lessons of wisdom and virtue taught to therein. They were then admitted as full members of the fraternity.
The tradition coming nearest to the accepted history of the order is this: Oddfellowship was introduced into Spain some time during the fifth century, and in the following century it was carried to Portugal; from there to France in the twelfth century; whence it was carried to England by John De Neuville and five knights of France, who formed a “Loyal Grand Lodge of Honour”.
Past Grand Master W.A. Pledger delivered the oration before the Nashville B.M.C, November 29,1888, and said, “Secret organizations are not creatures of this age. They date back to the time of the building of Noah’s Ark, the building of the Tower of Babel, and Solomon’s Temple. The Masonic fraternity, from which springs this Grand Fraternity of ours, is perhaps the oldest secret society”. The Order of Oddfellows is truly “Friendly Society”, and always has been. Its fundamental principals and distinguishing characteristics are different from that of Masonry. The rich, poor, the high and low, Prince and Peasant, men of every rank and station in life are and always have admitted to Oddfellowship on equal footing. Not so with Free Masonry.
The first lodge in America of he Grand United Order of Oddfellows is known as
PILOMATHEAN LODGE NO. 646
From early dawn of civilization, man has always sought companionship and fellowship with each other. But in many cases find that this has been accomplished only by time, patience and perseverance. The beginning of the 18th century brought about a new era for an oppressed race. About this time such men were born, and approximately thirty-four of them who were brought up in a religious atmosphere and therefore developed to be good Christian. It is found that the majority of them were members of the Mother of the A.M.E. Zion Church. These brethren were very ambitious, had great Ideas, and the desire for knowledge. Therefore they organized among themselves a literary and debating club, and named it the Philomathean Literary and debating Society. The Society was organized about the closing of 1829 and the beginning of 1830. From then on, these coloured brethren made rapid progress in utility as well as membership.
Peter Ogden, a Mariner, born in the Island of Jamaica, West Indies, traveled from Jamaica to Liverpool, where he joined the S.S. Patrick Henry as a Stewart then plying between Liverpool and New York.
In the year 1842, illustrious Brother Peter Ogden, a member of Victoria Lodge No. 448 of Liverpool, England, disembarked on the shores of New York. Being of a Christian character, Peter Ogden visited Mother A.M.E. Zion Church, where he became acquainted with this body of men, and, learning of their desire to become Oddfellows, made himself known to them as such, and offered his service to obtain a charter for them through his Lodge. These men were extremely glad and accepted willingly, and immediately empowered him to procure it. On his return to Liverpool, he applied through his Lodge Victoria Lodge No. 448, to the Committee of Management and the same was granted on January 6th. 1943.
A Committee of five Grand Masters and a Noble Father was appointed to constitute a Lodge in the City of New York to be known as the Philomathean Lodge No. 646, Grand United Order of Oddfellows.
This Committee arrived in New York City on Sunday, February 27, 1843 and convened Wednesday, March 1, 1843.
On March 1, 1843, On Elm Street in the City of New York and State of New York, Philomathean Lodge was instituted at 12 noon with 48 members.
At the installation of the first offices of the Lodge, Peter Ogden delivered to the Noble Grand all Books and paraphernalia belonging to the new lodge.
Past Grand Master Joseph Jones, District Secretary of Liverpool, England, and member of Victoria Lodge No. 448, Grand United Order of Oddfellows, delivered the oration. Brother James B. Field, Noble Grand of Philomathean Lodge No. 646 responded most eloquently, and also called upon his staff of officers to express their gratitude to the delegates from England.
As the years rolled on, the illustrious Peter Ogden thought he had found a haven by receiving so much praise. He then decided to send for his sister to come to America where he could have a temporary home. But as the years rolled on and some of the members passed on, his sweet and gentle voice became boring. He was mocked and jeered openly. He took this performance to heart and discontinued his visits to the lodge. Due to the attitude and performance of the members, Peter Ogden decided to remain in solitude. As time went on he became ill, painful, and heartbroken and in the solitude of his home he passed away. He was buried without receiving the last rites of the Order.
Members of the Order heard of his death from overseas and searched until they found his sister, but she refused to give any information. Her reply was, “You killed my brother. I do not want to see any of you.”
After the institution of Philomathean Lodge, there was no provision for the female. A motion prevailed that each member who desires to may bring his wife, mother or daughter as a contributing member and be benefited thereby. Hence, from such desires, the Household of Ruth was formed to extend, strengthen and perpetuate the bonds of Friendship, Love and Truth.
A fixed admission fee, monthly contribution and special sick and death benefit were enacted and had long continued after Households were established. Some sisters paid dues in both places. This list was continued until 1928.
December 19, 1843, Philomathean Lodge No.646, Grand United Order of Oddfellows, received the authority to establish a Sub-Committee of Management of the Grand United Order of Oddfellow of England, subject to the resolutions and under the control of the Committee of Management of the Grand United Order of Oddfellows, England, of eight Past officers if possible, to carry out the extension of the Order in granting dispensations.