The Virginia Gazette

Today in the 1770s: January 1

WILLIAMSBURG, January 1, 1780.
Monday last, being the anniversary of St. John the Evangelist, the ancient and honourable society of Free and Accepted Masons, being properly clothed, went in procession from the lodge to church, where the Reverend James Madison, their Chaplain, preached a sermon suitable to the occasion. In the evening there was a ball at the Raleigh, and every thing was conducted with the greatest harmony and order.

Virginia Gazette (Dixon & Nicolson) January 1, 1780

About this entry:

December 27 is the feast of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist. Saint John is one of the two patron saints of the Masonic order (along with Saint John the Baptist). Throughout Europe and the English colonies members of the Masonic order celebrated Saint Johns Day with special activities in towns and villages. In Virginia, it was customary for the Masons (dressed in full Masonic regalia) to hold a procession from their lodge building to the local parish church on Saint Johns Day. The Anglican liturgy for Saint Johns Day was observed at church but the Masons usually heard a special sermon that invoked the blessings of love, unity, fraternity, wisdom, and brotherhood. These are the qualities associated with Saint John. The sermons were often delivered by Anglican clergymen who were themselves members of the Masonic order. After the service the Masons continued to celebrate Saint Johns Day by attending a special ball and supper with their wives and friends. The Reverend James Madison was second cousin to President James Madison. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1772 at the age of 23. After studying law with George Wythe, he joined the faculty of the College as professor of natural philosophy and mathematics. In 1775 he sailed to England where he was ordained an Anglican priest. Upon his return he accepted the appointment of college president, a post he held until his death in 1812. He succeeded in keeping William and Mary open during the Revolution until late 1780 when the arrival of British troops under the command of Benedict Arnold caused faculty and students to flee. The College was reopened in October 1782.

Sources: DiSimone, ANB

Brought to you by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation