The Origin of Odd Fellowship in North America

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows as we know it today began in Baltimore, Maryland, where five members of the Order from England founded Washington Lodge No. 1 on April 26, 1819, by self-institution. That first meeting was held in the Seven Stars Tavern

In 1821, the "Grand Lodge of Maryland and of the United States of America, of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows," was founded. Brother Wildey also served as the first Grand Master/Grand Sire of the first Grand Lodge, for a period of 12 years. Several more lodges were established, and in 1824, the "Grand Lodge of the United States" now termed "The Sovereign Grand Lodge," was separated from the Grand Lodge of Maryland.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows in North America (United States and Canada) became independent from the Order in England in 1834.

In modern times the Odd Fellows and Rebekahs have been in the forefront of nearly all organizations in helping to make this world a better place in which to live. Odd Fellowship is a family fraternity with activities and programs for every member of the family.

Other North American Lodges in the Early 1880's

Among the first records of the Order in America is that of five Brothers of the English Order who met in New York City in 1806, and formed Shakespeare Lodge No. 1.

The founders were three boat builders, a comedian and a vocalist - a group befitting the name "Odd Fellows," indeed. The lodge was self-instituted, a common practice in those times. Their first candidate was a retired actor who was the keeper of the tavern where they met. Accounts state that lodge meetings were accompanied by merry making and mirth, and that the wares of the tavern were freely indulged in. This lodge was dissolved in 1813 due to poor attendance brought on by controversy over the War of 1812.

Another lodge of which little is known existed briefly in New York in 1816. In 1818, Shakespeare Lodge in New York was re-instituted, in the Red Cow tavern, operated by a former member who had in his keeping the books and papers of the former lodge. They claimed to have received a charter from the Manchester Unity which gave them authority over all other Odd Fellows Lodges in the United States, but this authority was not accepted by other lodges. Several more lodges were founded in the New York City area, and one in Philadelphia, due to the efforts of the Brothers of Shakespeare Lodge.

A second lodge was formed in Baltimore in 1819, but these two lodges and those in New York were unaware of each others' existence for some time, communications being slow in those days and there being no reason such information would travel from one city to another except by pure chance. This is part of the reason that the Washington No. 1 Lodge is often regarded as the original lodge in North America.

The Origin of Odd Fellowship in Massachusetts

The first lodge in Massachusetts, Massachusetts Lodge No. 1 was self-instituted on March 26, 1820 in Boston. A charter was granted May 18, 1823 by the Grand Lodge of the United States. Prior to this recognition, it had acted with the powers of a Grand Lodge and authorized the institution of the Siloam Lodge. The Massachusetts Lodge has been dissolved and reinstated several times throughout the years. In fact, the Grand Lodge ceased to exist in 1832 only to be revived in 1838. The Lodges of Massachusetts have a long history of revival and consolidation. There have been 244 different numbers given out over the years and many numbers have been given out more than once. Today there are 42 active chapters in Massachusetts.

Why the Name Odd Fellows?

There are several different reasons given for our unique name. One old and apparently authoritative history of Odd Fellowship gives the explanation, "That common laboring men should associate themselves together and form a fraternity for social unity and fellowship and for mutual help was such a marked violation of the trends of the times (England in the 1700's) that they became known as peculiar or 'odd', and hence they were derided as 'Odd Fellows.' Because the appropriateness of the name, those engaged in forming these unions accepted it. When legally incorporated, the title 'Odd Fellows' was adopted."

Another, similar explanation is that the original Odd Fellows were men who were engaged in various or odd trades, as there were organizations for some of the larger trades.

Modern references state that the true reason for the name Odd Fellows isn't known or documented.

The Beginning of Odd Fellowship

Although some books claim to trace Odd Fellowship back to Roman times when members of the Roman Legions in England were called "Fellow Citizens", what is said to be the earliest printed record of an Odd Fellows Lodge appears in a reference to a lodge meeting at a Globe Tavern in England, in 1748. This lodge was numbered nine, so apparently there were at least nine associated Odd Fellows lodges at that time.

Other evidence suggests that our origins were in an organization known as the Ancient Order of Bucks which thrived in England in the 18th Century, and had as its emblem three bucks with their antlers intertwined. These men had as their leader a "Most Noble Grand" and met in club rooms and taverns. One of their principal emblems was "a bundle of sticks," familiar to modern Odd Fellows as signifying strength in union. They dropped "Bucks" from the name in 1802. Whatever the origin, solid evidence begins to be found in the late 18th Century. By 1796 Odd Fellow organizations were numerous in England, and each was independent from the others. Fraternal groups such as the Odd Fellows were suppressed in England for a time, but by 1803 the Odd Fellows were revived by an organization called "London Union Odd Fellows," which later became known as the "Grand Lodge of England" and assumed authority over all Odd Fellow lodges in that country.

Victory Lodge in Manchester declared itself independent of the Grand Lodge of England in 1809. In 1814, the six Odd Fellows lodges in the Manchester area met and formed The Manchester Unity of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which elected officers and proceeded to standardize degree work of the lodges.

Additional Links

Read more about Clarence Plant, PGM NO 56, and Grand Secretary.

See the list of Past Grand Masters and when they served.

Find out more in the History section of the Sovereign Grand Lodge Web Site!

Much of the information here is from: The Three Link Fraternity - Odd Fellowship in California An introduction to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Rebekahs by Don R. Smith and Wayne Roberts which was published by Linden Publications in 1993.