Born on 31 January, 1818 in Boston, Massachusetts
Died on 31 July, 1888 in La Grange, Kentucky
Founded the Conservators. Declared Poet Laureate of Freemasonry in 1888.
Past grand master.
Original author of the rituals for the Order of the Eastern Star.
A Place in the Lodge: Dr. Rob Morris, Freemasonry and the Order of the Eastern Star by Nancy Theiss is a really horrible book written about him. This book has many issues. See the review by Arneson in Philalethes, Fall 2015.
Rob Morris is one of those names that might be familiar to a lot of Freemasons, particularly those involved in the Order of the Eastern Star. He was born on August 31, 1818, near Boston, Massachusetts, and after becoming a Mason on March 5, 1846, in Oxford, Mississippi, rose to prominence and fame in 19th century Freemasonry.
“The life of Bro∴ Morris was so active and untiring for the benefit of the Institution of Masonry,” wrote Albert Mackey, “A complete biography would fill volumes.”1 By 1849, he had not only been appointed as Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi and had begun publishing Masonic poetry. In 1850, he wrote the rituals which formed the basis for the Order of the Eastern Star, an accomplishment he considered one of the most important in his Masonic career. In 1952, he and his family moved to Fulton County, Kentucky, and from 1858 to 1859, M∴W∴Bro∴ Morris served as the Grand Master of Masons in Kentucky.2
Does not the subject of Freemasonry suggest to the poetic mind a flight skyward? If religion, and especially that derived from the contemplation of the Holy Scriptures, constitutes so favorable a theme for poets because of its extraordinary array of imagery,—types, symbols, emblems and what not, — does not Freemasonry abound even more in such things? In fact, Freemasonry is composed of allegory, types, imagery, etc.; it is in itself a true “chamber of imagery.” The very nature and purpose of the Order is to teach one thing by means of another,—to suggest an inward truth by an outward emblem.3
In addition to his work with the Order of the Eastern Star, he went on to have a profound impact on Masonic ritual in nearly every jurisdiction in the United States. The Civil War era was a dismal time for ritualists in America, with performances “wretchedly burlesqued by ignorant pretenders.”4 In 1960, Morris formed “The Masonic Conservators,” a secret group intending to reform Masonic ritual across the country.
The Conservators were influential in the development of the Grand Lecturer system that keeps our ritual in check today. They also introduced the ciphers that many jurisdictions use to teach ritual to their members. While his intentions were noble, Morris met a great deal of resistance and a number of harsh attacks from Grand Secretaries and other prominent Masons. By 1865, the Conservators had been banned from every Grand Lodge and were dissolved.5
Morris’s Masonic career was far from over. In 1868, he traveled to the Middle East, visiting what would be modern day Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel. In Damascus, he met Bro∴ Abdelkader El Djezairi, the famous sufi, ex-sultan, freedom fighter and human rights advocate. “My reception by this distinguished brother was cordial in the extreme,” Morris wrote of the encounter.6
In Jerusalem, Morris paved the way for the founding Royal Solomon Mother Lodge № 293, chartered in 1873 under the Grand Lodge of Canada. Morris obviously had a great love for the Middle East and cherished his adventures there. Unfortunately, he never had the chance to visit the lodge he helped found.7
Bro∴ Morris published dozens of books, many of them about Freemasonry. He edited at least six different Masonic periodicals, among them The Voice of Masonry and Tidings from the Craft. He served as a Grand Lodge officer in two different jurisdictions and worked tirelessly for the betterment of the Craft in one of the most devastating and trying periods of our nation’s history. On top of these impressive achievements, by his later years, he was chiefly known for his poetry.
There has certainly been no writer of Masonic literature at any time in the world’s history who has written half as much as he either of poetry or prose. The work he has done would seem too stupendous for any one man to perform in a lifetime, yet he has done it, and well. He has not only written all these works, songs, hymns, poems, addresses and essays, but furthermore he has done such other minor literary work as would require a couple of columns additional merely to enumerate.8
Morris was a dedicated poet, and throughout his life wrote more than 400 poems, many of which were in reference to Freemasonry or the Order of the Eastern Star. In fact, his poetry was so well-received that supposedly over 500,000 Masons expressed a desire to see him honored as “The Poet Laureate of Freemasonry.” He was thus crowned with a laurel wreath in New York City on December 17, 1884. Several thousand Freemasons were in attendance and some had traveled quite far.9 For instance, W∴Bro∴ Hiram N. Rucker, who was serving as Junior Grand Warden of California at the time, was in attendance.10
M∴W∴Bro∴ Rob Morris passed to the Celestial Lodge at La Grange, Kentucky, on July 31, 1888. He was well-known to Freemasons across the world, and his legacy as a ritualist, author, and poet continues to live on.
1 Mackey, Albert Gallatin, and William J. Hughan. “Morris, Robert, LL.D.” In An Encyclopædia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences, 493. Vol. II. New York and London: Masonic History Company, 1912.
2 Cabaniss, Allen. “‘Rob’ Morris in Mississippi.” Journal of Mississippi History 39, no. 4 (1977): 291-302.
3 Morris, Rob. The Poetry of Freemasonry. Chicago, New York, London, Berlin, Paris: Werner Company, 1895. viii.
4 The Poetry of Freemasonry. xviii.
5 Davis, Robert G. The Mason’s Words: The History and Evolution of the American Masonic Ritual. Guthrie, Oklahoma: Building Stone Publishing, 2013. 265-272.
6 Morris, Rob. Freemasonry in the Holy Land A Narrative of Masonic Explorations Made in 1868, in the Land of King Solomon and the Two Hirams. Monumental ed. La Grange, Ky.: Pub. for the Author, 1879. 578.
8 The Poetry of Freemasonry. xiv.
9 The Poetry of Freemasonry. xiii-xiv.
10 The Poetry of Freemasonry. 322.