A Jamaican Supreme Council?

by V:. Ill:. Bro. Afeef Lazarus 33°

The history of the Ancient & Accepted Rite recognises The Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction USA, established in Charleston in or about the year 1800, as the "Mother Supreme Council of the World". Very few recognise, however, that perhaps a Supreme Council was established in Jamaica at roughly the same time.

Towards the end of his life, Francken, perhaps as a result of his having suffered financial misfortune at a time when general interest in these new additional degrees was gaining momentum in the West Indies as well as in North America, was unable to offer the strong leadership that was required to control and direct the various practices that were evolving. His death in 1795 left a void and, in the words of the Rev’d Neville Barker Cryer, "it was clear that a new controlling body was required.". The Comte de Grasse Rouville, Marquis de Tilly and his father-in law, Jean Baptiste Delahogue provided the catalysts that were required for this to happen.

Comte de Grass-Tilly, as he became known, was the son of Admiral de Grasse, a French nobleman who had distinguished himself in the American War of Independence by assisting the American colonies in the defeat of the British at Yorktown in 1782. After the death of his father in 1788, de Grass-Tilly, who had been initiated into Freemasonry in France in 1789, inherited his father’s title and made his way to Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) to manage the family sugar plantation. While there, he met and married the daughter of a local lawyer and fellow Masonic enthusiast, Jean Baptiste Delahogue.

The first black rebellion broke out in Saint-Domingue in 1791 and Tilly, a former Officer in the French Army was among those mobilized to suppress the rebellion. By 1795 the conflict had escalated to such a degree that Tilly, Delahogue and their families, were forced to take refuge in Charleston where Tilly found occupation as an engineer in the United States Army. All this time, Tilly and Delahogue fervently pursued their Masonic activities, first in Saint-Domingue and then in Charleston, claiming to have arrived on American soil as 32nd degree Masons, but, curiously, signing themselves as Deputy Inspectors General of the ‘Francken’ Rite of Perfection’ which only boasted a rite of 25 degrees!

Although a Lodge of Perfection had been set up in Charleston in 1783, followed by a Council of Jerusalem, 16th degree in 1788, in 1797, the Deputy Inspector General in Jamaica, an American by the name of Hyman Long, promoted seven Frenchmen, including Tilly and Delahogue, to the rank of Deputy Inspector General. No sooner than Tilly had received his patent, he set up a Consistory of the 25th degree in Charleston. This did not go down well with the Jamaican Consistory, and it refused to confirm the existence of the Charleston body until it had received an acknowledgement of Jamaica’s supremacy. Tilly then proceeded to confer the 33rd degree on Delahogue, and within a year he began issuing patents to others as Sovereign Grand Commanders of the Supreme Council of the French West Indies. He appointed Delahogue as Lieutenant Grand Commander.

Tilly’s authority to constitute himself and others into a Supreme Council of the French West Indies, was ostensibly rooted in what has become known as the "1786 Constitutions". It is widely accepted that these Constitutions are likely to have been written by the newly formed American Council in Charleston (possibly with the assistance of Tilly and Delahogue) so as to establish a regular, superior and unquestioned authority under which an expanded rite of 33 degrees could be promulgated. This new Constitution provided that,

" … a Supreme Council of 9 brethren in each nation (my emphasis), who possess all the Masonic prerogatives in their own district (my emphasis) that his Majesty individually possessed … are Sovereigns of Masonry".

The Monarch referred to is King Frederick II of Prussia (also referred to as the Sovereign of Sovereigns in Morin’s earlier Constitution of 1762) who, it was claimed, had personally signed the new Constitutions in his capacity as "…Chief of the Eminent Degrees with the rank of Sovereign Grand Inspector General and Grand Master …".

In 1802, Tilly (and possibly Delahogue) returned to Saint-Domingue hoping that the rebellion had subsided to a degree where he could recover his estate. The relative calm was short lived, and the rebellion soon started again. Tilly, was taken prisoner by the British, and, assisted by his acquired American nationality, was evacuated to Jamaica in 1803. At this point the already hazy picture becomes even less clear. The Masonic historian, Paul Naudon, suggests that a Supreme Council might have existed in Jamaica prior to Tilly’s arrival. If this was so, it may have been in abeyance, for during his short stay in Jamaica, Tilly proceeded to raise the local Consistory to a Supreme Council, governing a rite of 33 degrees. His authority was that his personal copy of the 1786 Constitutions stated that there should be a Supreme Council for the British West Indies. As to whether Tilly enlarged the scope of a pre-existing Supreme Council of Jamaica or re-established a new one is not known. What is known is that the Supreme Council primarily consisted of refugees, and when the number of refugees living in Jamaica decreased, the Council died out for lack of support.

Could there have existed a Supreme Council in Jamaica prior to the establishment of such a body in Charleston? Though somewhat unlikely, and certainly not under the authority of the 1786 Constitutions, the answer is far from clear; but as more and more facts come to light about this period of Masonic history, this question may be answered at some future time.

As for Tilley, within a few months after his arrival in Jamaica he was repatriated to France under the Peace of Amiens, where he continued his Masonic career and immediately established a Supreme Council. He also continued his military service under Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.


A.C.F. JACKSON - A History of the Ancient & Accepted Rite for England and Wales, 2nd Edition, 1987 - Lewis Masonic;

A.C.F. JACKSON - Joseph Glock, ACQ Volume 94, 1981 - Q. C. Correspondence Circle Limited;

REV’D NEVILLE BARKER CRYER - Delving Further Beyond The Craft, 2009 - Lewis Masonic;

JOHN MANDLEBERG - Rose Croix Essays, 2005 - Lewis Masonic.