Simon Wiess, first member of the Jewish faith to live in Jefferson county, Texas.
That Simon Wiess was a Jew and that he was a Mason cannot be denied. Lublin, Poland, where he was born was at that time and continues to this day to be a center for Polish Jewry. He was in Jefferson county by 1833, and is said to have served as a customs agent for the Mexican government of Santa Anna (this writer wonders if this isn't a confusion of the fact that he served the Republic of Texas in that role at a later date). He was the first known member of the Jewish faith to live there. Our primary evidences of his travels come from the records of his visit to Masonic lodges around the world.
He was a Royal Arch Mason at Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey), April 2, 1825, and went to Asia Minor (now Turkey) the same year where he held a prominent position in the Masonic circles. His first recorded visit to the United States was on February 22, 1826, when he visited the Mt. Lebanon Lodge in Boston Massachusetts. He was in Santo Domingo on August 17, 1828, where he participated with the Masonic fraternity there. He visited the Albion Lodge at Barbados, West Indies, and received the degree of Past Master. On the ninth of May, 1829, he visited the Amity Lodge _______ on the registry of the Right worshipful G.L. of Ireland. On May 11, 1829, he visited the Integrity Lodge number 259 at _______ and there received Mark Master degree. June 2, 1829, he visited Union Lodge No. 462 at Georgetown, Demarara (now Georgetown, Guyana).
Family lore says Simon brought the papers granting lodge status to Texas' Holland Lodge #1, previously known as LA lodge # 40, and gave them to General Sam Houston who had them in his saddle bags at the battle of San Jacinto. In 1840 the records show he visited Galveston and participated with Harmony Lodge No. 6. In 1847, he met with DeWitt Clinton Lodge No. 129 in Jasper County, Texas. Two years later, on April 17, 1849, he met with the Woodville, Texas Lodge. Simon was the first Tiler of Milam Lodge # 2, originally Louisiana Lodge # 41, and later was a member of the Jasper lodge.
The article quoted below details the existence and circumstances of early Jewish Americans who belonged to the Masonic society and possibly provides valuable insight into our own forebear's membership.
Below is the beginning of an article by Paul M. Bessel – click on the title below to view the entire article.
by Paul M. Bessel – (prepared July 1989, revised September 1995)
Jews were actively involved in the beginnings of Freemasonry in America. There is evidence they were among those who established Masonry in 7 of the original 13 states: Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia.(2)
A Jewish Mason, Moses Michael Hays, helped introduce the Scottish Rite in America. Hays was also Deputy Inspector General of Masonry for North America in 1768, and Grand Master of Massachusetts from 1788 to 1792. Paul Revere served under him as Deputy Grand Master. There were several other Jews who held the title of Deputy Inspector General of Masonry in the late 1700's: Solomon Bush in Pennsylvania, Joseph Myers in Maryland and later in South Carolina, and Abraham Forst of Philadelphia in Virginia in 1781. Another Jewish Grand Master was Moses Seixas in Rhode Island from 1791 until 1800. There were many other American Jewish Masons in early American history, including one in George Washington's original Fredericksburg Lodge.(3)
Jewish Masons played an important part in the American Revolution, with 24 of them serving as officers in George Washington's army.(4) In addition, several helped finance the American cause, including Haym Salomon, a Philadelphia Jewish Mason who, with others, contributed and raised money for the American war effort and loaned money to Jefferson, Madison, Lee, and others for their personal expenses. Salomon was imprisoned by the British and died in his 40's bankrupt and with penniless heirs.(5)
There is evidence that Jews, including Rabbis, continued to be involved in the Masonic movement in the United States throughout our history. There have been at least 51 Jewish American Grand Masters, including 2 in Virginia – Solomon Jacobs in 1810-1812 and Seymour Jonas Levy in 1975. Today there are many Jews active in Masonry in America and other countries. Israel has about 60 Masonic lodges with 3,000 members.(7)
Jews had also been involved to a small extent in the formation of modern Freemasonry in the early 1700's in England. Until then Jews were not permitted to participate in many of the ordinary activities of life. The Enlightenment concept of the universality of all people brought about a society where people's religious beliefs did not affect their rights as citizens. Jews were gradually permitted to exercise the rights of citizenship and to pursue their lives as they wished. Judaism as a religion was also affected by the Enlightenment, with the development of Reform Judaism which teaches a continuing belief in the fundamental concepts of the religion without requiring compliance with all the strict rules of observance.(8)
Many Jews viewed joining Freemasonry as part of their "emancipation" from the old legal and social exclusions. Modern Masonry was as much a product of the Enlightenment as the emancipation of Jews. Many society leaders were Freemasons and if Jews could join this fraternity that would be a sign of their acceptance. They could also use the opportunities presented by their participation in a social organization with Christians to prove the two could prosper by their association. Freemasonry's philosophy of the brotherhood of all people indicated Masonry would accept Jews as members.(9) ....
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