Founder of the Supreme Council, 33º In the United States of America
By: Illustrious Brother McDonald L. Burbidge, 33º
Freemasonry first enjoyed consideration and a firm footing in Germany when the highly gifted crown prince, afterwards King Frederick II of Prussia, was initiated. Without his influence Masonry in Germany would not have met with the support nor have been very extensively disseminated.
In the year 1801 Charleston, South Carolina was known as “The Antebellum City” because of the rapid expansion of rice and cotton growing along with the fabulous prices that these Commodities brought to the planters.
During the war Colonel Mitchell held the title of, Deputy Quartermaster General. The duties of his job were to supply any officer whatever they needed at the time and to make sure they were received what they had requested.
In the latter half of 1778 a correspondence began between George Washington and John Mitchell. In a letter from General George Washington to Mitchell (Fredericksburg, November 11, 1778) indicates there had been earlier correspondence. It acknowledges certain goods received from Mitchell, and then mentions Mrs. Washington is en route to Philadelphia which Washington asks a favor of Mitchell.
“Upon her arrival in Philadelphia I must beg the favor of you to give me notice of it by the Lay expresses that I may send for her, if my own quarters for the winter should happen to be fixed up. But as this is not the case yet, and I do not know when it will be, I cannot, under the Uncertainty of her stay in the city, think of accepting yours and Mrs. Mitchell’s kind and polite Invitation to her to lodge with you; the trouble of such a visitor (for more than a day or so) being too much for a private family. But I shall be equally thankful to you for providing good lodgings for her, as I do not know how long it may necessary for her to remain in them.”
In other letters between these two gentlemen you will find that Colonel Mitchell supplied General Washington with china, candlesticks, clothes, hats, and writing paper. Mitchell showed a great amount of admiration for General Washington that is seen in the letters passed between these two gentlemen throughout the War.
On June 25th, 1781, “says Mackey, Barend M. Spitzer, in a convention of Inspectors held at the city of Philadelphia, conferred the degrees, and the rank of an Inspector upon Colonel John Mitchell.” He later became Master of the Lodge of Perfection established at Charleston in 1783, Most Equitable (Master) of the Grand Council of Princes of Jerusalem. In the year 1802 he held the following titles of Perfect Sovereign of the Rose Croix Chapter, President of the Council of Princes of Jerusalem, and Grand Commander of the Grand Consistory.
In September 1787 Brother Mitchell was elected a Warden of Ward 2, Charleston, South Carolina. The statutes of South Carolina at the time provided a requirement that wardens must have resided in the State at least three years previous to election and would indicate that Brother Mitchell had arrived in Charleston sometime during 1784.
According to Grand Commander Fitzgibbon of Ireland, Mitchell is believed to have been initiated in an Ulster Lodge No. 8, in Charleston. In 1789 and 1790 he was Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina and in 1799 and 1800 he was Deputy Grand Master. This is where he found the opportunity for exercising that Masonic foresight and vision, which was so well, manifested a couple of years later. Under the date of June 24, 1799, he signed a circular to other Grand Lodges to unite all lodges under a systematic plan to work together.
The Charleston Orphan House, the oldest municipal orphanage in the United States at the time, was founded on October 18, 1790, at the instigation of John Robertson, a philanthropic citizen and a member of City Council. The Charleston Orphan House stood at the corner of Calhoun and St. Philip Streets. It’s main purpose was to establish the Institution for the purpose of supporting and educating poor and orphan children and those of poor and disabled parents who are unable to support and maintain them. From its founding John Mitchell was one of the Commissioners of the Orphan House at Charleston. A tablet commemorating the first meeting of the Commissioners on October 28, 1790 lists Mitchell second after Major Charles Lining. He is recorded as being present at every meeting thereafter until 1794. The minutes show no one more active than Colonel Mitchell in promoting public support for the Orphan House and in the management of its affairs during the difficult first years. On Saturday May 7, 1791 President George Washington, with the City Intendment and Wardens, visited the Orphans House, and Mitchell is listed as the senior Commissioner receiving him, afterwards entertaining him at breakfast in the Commissioners’ Room.
A set of tablets containing the names of the first commissioners- Arnoldus Vanderhorst, Charles Lining, John Mitchell, John Robertson, Richard Cole, Thomas Corbett, William Marshall, Thomas Jones, and Samuel Beekman, and also, individual tablets to John Robertson, was made and put on pubic display at the Orphan House. At the one-hundredth anniversary of the Orphan House a banner was made. On the front of the banner was written, 1790 Charleston Orphan House 1890. On the back of the banner located in the center was a drawing of a ship’s anchor with a chain on it. Above the anchor is the word “Faith” and below it is written “Charity.”
The Society of the Cincinnati was established in Charleston, South Carolina in 1783 with the first president being William Moultrie. The Society motto was, “FOR BROTHERLY KINDNESS, FOR UNION AND NATIONAL HONOR. AS LONG AS THEY SHALL ENDURE.”
In the Institution, or basic law of the Society of the Cincinnati, its founders thus explained their choice of its name:
” The Officers of the American Army have been generally taken from the citizens of America, posses high veneration for the character of that illustrious Roman, Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus, and being resolved to follow his example, by returning to their citizenship, they think they may, with propriety, denominate themselves the Society of the Cincinnati.”
Colonel Mitchell was elected a member of the Standing Committee of the Society on July 4, 1798. At the same time Major Thomas B. Bowen was chosen the senior of the Society’s two Stewards. He again appears, as Chairman of this Committee for 1806, 1807, 1808, and 1809. The list of officers elected for the year of 1810 and 1812 shows that John Mitchell was elected Secretary for South Carolina. He was again elected Chairman of the Standing Committee in 1814, 1815, and 1816. It should also be noted that General George Washington who was also a member of the Society was a good friend of Colonel John Mitchell during and after the Revolutionary War.
On May 31, 1801 Colonel John Mitchell along with his close friend Brother Frederick Dalcho established in Charleston a Supreme Council of the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite, Dalcho had received the necessary qualification from Colonel John Mitchell six days before the opening of the Supreme Council.
Colonel Mitchell who was a native of Ireland and an officer of the American Army in the Revolutionary War. Frederick Dalcho was a native of England, who was afterwards Grand Commander of the Council, and Assistant Rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Charleston. This was the first official meeting of the Supreme Council. The place for this historic event was held at “Shepheard’s Tavern” which also served as a meeting place for some of Charleston’s earlier Masonic Lodges since 1736. It was located at the corner of Broad and Church Street in downtown Charleston. Also established on this date by Colonel John H. Mitchell was “The New Age Magazine.” The magazine was used as a tool to informed Brothers everywhere what the Supreme Council was doing at the time; similar to what the, “Circular Throughout the Two Hemispheres” did to inform the world of the creation of the Supreme Council in Charleston.
There has been much debate and concern as to when Col. John H. Mitchell passed away. Ray Baker Harris book on “Eleven Gentlemen of Charleston” lists John Mitchell’s death as January 16, 1816. In 1816 a silversmith by the name of John Mitchell appears in the city directory. He was listed as a jeweler at No. 168 Meeting Street, his name does not appear in any of the city directories again. Colonel John H. Mitchell is listed as living at 17 Guignard Street in the city directory. Albert Mackey lists John Mitchell date of death as in the year 1820 with no month or date provided.
Located in the Charleston city directory for the year of 1822-1827 lists “Mitchell, John H., Quorum Unis & Notary Public, Residence 42 Guignard St. Office 88 E. Bay St. In “The Charleston News and Courier” for January 27, 1816 you will find a death notice for Colonel John H. Mitchell.
“DIED, on Thursday evening, in the 85th year of his age, Colonel JOHN MITCHELL, For many years Notary Public and Magistrate of this city.”
As of yet his final resting-place has not been located in Charleston. The search will continue till one day when his grave will be found.
On May 31, 2001 the Scottish Rite Masons honored Ill. Brother John H. Mitchell along with the 10 other “Gentlemen of Charleston.” Col. John H. Mitchell will always be remembered as the one who succeeded in establishing the Supreme Council for the 33° in the United States of America. Shepheard’s Tavern is no longer located at the corner of Broad and Church Street as it once was. But its memory and what it stands for will always be there for generations to come to Scottish Rite Masons throughout the world.
If you have the chance to visit Charleston, SC, position yourself on the corner of Broad and Church Street just as our founding fathers once did. As you are standing on this corner try to visualize what it might have been like on May 31, 1801 in Shepheard’s Tavern Lodge Room when Col. Mitchell was seated in the East looking around the lodge room at all the Brothers there for the first historic meeting. As Ill. Brother Mitchell stands up and embraces the gavel, the gavel is raised and drops down with a loud bang as he announces the meeting called to order for the first Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite in the United States of America.