Thomas Harper – who was he?
Scholars will find references to Right Worshipful Bro. Thomas Harper in both the Antient and Modern Grand Lodge records and also in the writings of many Masonic authors. His Masonic activities spanned a period of more than 70 years, the importance of which can only be briefly illustrated.
He was born of humble parents and sadly nothing is known of them or his upbringing, although we are aware of ongoing research. Thomas Harper was initiated in 1761 into Lodge No.24 which at that time met at the Bush Inn, Marsh Street, Bristol. A few years later he was in Charlestown, South Carolina and was the first Junior Warden of Lodge No.190. There is also mention that he was involved in the Holy Royal Arch in this same period of the 1770s. He was a most influential member of the Grand Master’s Lodge No.1 on the Atholl register, now No.1 on the register of the United Grand Lodge of England. He was honoured in September 1785, at the age 50, with Grand Rank under the Atholl Society, being made Junior Grand Warden. He became Master of this lodge in 1793 and Treasurer in 1794, holding office with distinction for 35 years.
He was actively involved in other lodges including Globe Lodge, now No.23, under the banner of the Moderns’ Grand Lodge. He served as its Master in 1793 and acted as Grand Steward in 1796. He joined the Lodge of Antiquity in 1792, now No.2, and from 1797 until 1801 was Treasurer. He had a long association with Nine Muses Lodge, now No.235, first joining in 1800 and served as Secretary in 1801, when his very good friend Chevalier Bartholomew Ruspini was Master (and founder of the Royal Masonic Iinstitution for Girls). He was expelled by the Moderns’ Grand Lodge in 1803 from all lodges under their control, however this was removed in 1810. He immediately rejoined Nine Muses Lodge and in 1814 was elected Deputy Master – a position he held until his retirement in 1827.
This foundation provided a wealth of knowledge and experience as well as a solid schooling for what was to come. There can be no doubt he was a skilful mediator and when WBro. William Dickey, Deputy Grand Master, died suddenly in 1801, he was hurriedly thrust into that office. Thoughts in the Masonic world and in the mind of RWBro. Harper turned to a single Masonic authority. It was commonly known that he shared the same aspirations as his late friend WBro. Lawrence Dermott, who been Grand Secretary and Deputy Grand Master until 1797. Dermott had openly recognised the need for universal agreement between Masons of all denominations with an adherence to the ancient Laws, if the Order were to survive. Thomas Harper served Craft Masonry with distinction, honour, energy and dedication and from a position of considerable knowledge and authority he worked to that end. He was one of the assessors who prepared the Articles of Union and subsequently became one of its signatories in 1813.
It is recorded in the minute book of the Antient Grand Lodge that, at an especial Grand Lodge of the Most Antient and Honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons according to the Old Institutions, held on Thursday 23rd December 1813, the RWBro. Thomas Harper DGM in the Chair, the Duke of Sussex, Grand Master of the other (Modern) Grand Lodge being present as a visitor,
“it was Resolved Unanimously that the cordial thanks of this Grand Lodge be given the RWBro. Thomas Harper for his indefatigable, zealous and honourable conduct during a period of more than 28 years that he had been an Officer of this Grand Lodge but more especially for his unwearied attention for the last 13 years in the discharge of the arduous and important duties of Deputy Grand Master.
That the members of this Grand Lodge were led to the performance of this duty peculiarly gratifying to them from the high sense they entertain of the purity of the principles from which he has acted, from their unqualified admiration of the talents and eloquence which he has constantly displayed on their behalf and from the pleasing anticipation of those happy and glorious consequences which his exertions have so eminently contributed to produce.”
A resounding tribute indeed.
After the Union Thomas Harper was elected annually to the Board of General Purposes or to the Board of Finance and frequently presided over the Lodge of Benevolence until 1831. He passed to the Grand Lodge Above on the 25th April 1832 at the age of 96.
Thomas Harper was also a very successful silversmith, first registering his mark at Goldsmiths’ Hall on May 27th 1790. The mark consists of TH in a plain rectangle and a version is now owned by Thomas Harper Lodge (9612), it being used on silver objects of virtue sponsored by the Lodge for charitable purposes. It is known that Thomas Harper was also in practice whilst in America, the South Carolina Gazette carried an advert describing him as a working jeweller and goldsmith in January 1773.
To the immense pleasure of all Masonic jewel collectors many of his jewels survive and are much sought after.
This text was published on the original Thomas Harper Lodge website, compiled by Austin F (member 292).
Further and more comprehensive accounts of Thomas Harper’s life have been published:
Dawson, PJ. (1982). Thomas Harper. Transactions of the Lodge of Research (2429), Leicester. pp. 55-76.
Kent, T. (2004). Thomas Harper (1736-1832), Masonic Jeweller and the Jewels of His Period. Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge. Vol. 117, pp.104-115.
Reece, RJ. (1971). Thomas Harper: A former Treasurer of Grand Master’s Lodge. Notes on his Masonic Life. [Original paper presented to that lodge in 1912.] Reprinted in: Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge. Vol. 84, pp.104-115.