ME John Barrett Hammatt
John Barrett Hammatt, the 17th Grand High Priest of our Capitular Jurisdiction, enjoyed a long, active, and useful career in Free Masonry. While he achieved many titles and honors, he was always a hard worker, who gladly "rolled up his sleeves" and assumed many responsibilities and jobs in the several branches of the American or York Rite.
He was born on Hanover Street, near the corner of Blackstone Street, in the old North End of the City of Boston, Massachusetts, on June 12, 1778, while the War for Independence was still raging. At the youthful age of 14, he was apprenticed to Moses Grant, an upholsterer and stainer on nearby Union Street. Seven years later, in 1799, he opened his own establishment on the same street. His natural industry, plus his skill and dependability, insured his success in business throughout his life.
While, unfortunately, little is known of his family or private life, he did serve as a deacon of a church in his native section of the city. Also, he became a member of Boston's Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest voluntary military organization in the land, rising to the grade of sergeant. He obviously possessed both religious and patriotic instincts, two of the most essential ingredients of a true Mason'
The fraternal order of Ancient, Free, and Accepted Masons claimed his favorable attention early, for at the age of 22 he submitted his application to Columbian Lodge in Boston. Here he was initiated on August 7, 1800, then passed and raised on August 21, 1800.
Hammatt affiliated with St. John's Lodge, the oldest (1733) Symbolic Lodge in North America in November, 180l, and proceeded "through the chairs", sitting in the East as Worshipful Master in 1811. It is of interest to note that he offered a motion that resulted in the establishment of a Charity Fund in the Lodge.
Years later, he was made an Honorary Member of Columbian Lodge, his mother lodge, and of King Solomon's Lodge of Charlestown. In those days, the conferring of Honorary Membership was a rare honor, given only to the most worthy! The records of the latter lodge for October 26, 1812 read, "VOTED: that the thanks of King Solomon's Lodge be presented to the Right Worshipful and highly respected Brother John B. Hammatt, who is ever active and liberal in the cause of Free Masonry, for his generous services in contributing to beautify and adorn the Altar consecrated to the service of Him whom we as Masons are taught to worship in the Beauty of Holiness."
The Grand Lodge of Masons of Massachusetts, early recognized his great merit, appointing him a Steward in 1802, Junior Grand Deacon in 1808, Senior Grand Deacon 1809-13; and then, he was elected and served as Junior Grand Warden in 181l and Senior Grand Warden in 1815. All of these Grand Lodge positions were filled while Hammatt was only in his 20's and 30's!
In the Capitular Rite, John B. Hammatt was exalted a Royal Arch Mason in St. Andrew's Chapter of Boston, the oldest Royal Arch Chapter in America, in 1802. He filled the offices of King in 1808 and 1809, and High Priest in 1810 and 18ll. Excellent Companion Hammatt received the Degree of High Priesthood in the same Chapter in 1810.
Hammatt was knighted in the Boston Encampment of the Chivalric Rite in 1805. Later, he served as Commander of Boston Commandery, Knights Templar. Our Brother and Companion was a rare man, indeed, as he was noted for his proficiency in the ritual of all the grades of the Masonic Order. He was always ready to aid in each, by his efficient service and sound advice.
In 1815, Hammatt removed from Boston to Alexandria, Virginia, where he resided for the next fifteen years. The extent to which Freemasonry had become a vital part of his very being is evidenced by the fact that he immediately became extremely active fraternally and continued so throughout the time he was there.
He affiliated with Alexandria-Washington Lodge, No. 22, whose first Master had been President George Washington. He was commissioned as a District Deputy Grand Master by the Grand Lodge of Virginia, in which capacity he was in charge of and visited fourteen lodges.
At the end of the year, he declined a reappointment. However, Bro. Hammatt became interested in the recently formed Evangelical Lodge, in No. 8 of Alexandria (under D.C.), being chosen as Master 1827, and also, he was called on at various times to fill high offices pro tem in the District of Columbia Grand Lodge.
It is not surprising that Wor. Hammatt, a Masonic Scholar, was named Grand Lecturer of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia. (1827-28):
During this time, he was continuing his active interest in Capitular Masonry, more particularly in the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Maryland and the District of Columbia. He became the first High Priest of Potomac Royal Arch Chapter, located in his hometown of Georgetown. He also was called to preside over Brooke Royal Arch Chapter, No. 6.
In 1824, he was one of the leaders in the movement to form the new Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the District of Columbia, and later was on committees to procure necessary jewels, consider grievances, prescribe a charter and diplomas for the constituent chapters, etc. In the new Grand Chapter, he was elected Grand Royal Arch Captain; acted as Grand Scribe, pro tem and Grand King, pro tem. On March 5, 1828, Excellent Hammatt was installed as Deputy Grand High Priest. There is no doubt that had he remained in the area, he would have been Grand High Priest of the Jurisdiction.
The writer has been unable to ascertain the definite reasons for John Hammatt's departure from Boston in 1815, or for his return from the District of Columbia area in 1830, a period of fifteen years, but assumes they were of a personal and family nature. Suffice it to say that the latter move was clearly Boston's gain! His superb Masonic record for the remaining years of his long life in this Jurisdiction continued, as he was a born and true Mason, both inside the Temple and in his daily affairs.
Characteristically, soon after coming back to Massachusetts, John B. Hammatt's name appears as one of the signers of the "Declaration of the Freemasons of Boston and Vicinity" (the "Boston Declaration") on December 3l, 1831. This was a public statement issued by a group of several hundred leading citizens and Masons during the height of the Morgan anti-Masonic excitement, proclaiming their full faith and confidence in our Fraternity, despite all the scurrilous attacks leveled against it from many uninformed and vicious sources.
At the conclusion of his terms as Deputy Grand High Priest (1837-40) John B. Hammatt was elected Grand High Priest by the Grand Royal Arch Chapter of Massachusetts on September 8, 1840 and was duly installed on the same day by Most Excellent Simon W. Robinson, later Grand Master. The Grand Chapter Proceedings record that a year later, on September 7, 1841, the latter offered a motion that a vote of thanks be given to Companion Hammatt "for the very able and faithful manner in which he performed the duties of his office the past year". He served only one year as the head of our Capitular Rite. However, Hammatt held the office of Excellent President of the Massachusetts Convention of High Priests from 1841 to 1846.
In 1841, Grand Master Augustus Peabody appointed him Deputy Grand Master of our Grand Lodge.
He also served as head of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Each of these positions Symbolic, Capitular and Chivalric, he filled ably and honorably, giving unsparingly of his time and effort, to promote and strengthen every branch of the Craft!
One of the greatest tributes that can be paid to any man occurred on December 22, 1859, when authority was granted to seventeen Master Masons for the formation of "Hammatt Lodge" in East Boston, Massachusetts.
He was then 81 years old, and the dispensation by Most Worshipful John T. Heard read in part, "This Lodge is named in honor of John B. Hammatt, Esq., who has done eminent service in the cause of Masonry." He had the pleasure of visiting this Lodge on several occasions. Today, more than a century later, it meets in Boston and still proudly bears his name.
It might be mentioned that there is a record in Grand Lodge of the initiation in St. John's Lodge, Boston, on June 5, 1854 of one John B. Hammatt, Jr. However, it shows that he received "E.A. only", as he died on July 14, 185l. While it is not certain, it is believed that he was probably our John B. Hammatt's son.
Grand Lodge proceedings state that Hammatt was present at the Quarterly Communication on June 12, 1861, his 83rd birthday, which was commented on by the presiding Grand Master!
The Boston Evening Transcript and Boston Post reported the death of John B. Hammatt on June 9, 1864 at the venerable age of 86. Funeral services were held (on the l3th) from the residence of his daughter,No. 52 Waltham Street, Boston. He was widely and sincerely mourned.
When the Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts announced his passing to the Grand Lodge, he pointed out that in his more than 60 years of fraternal activity, John B. Hammatt had held nearly every office in Masonry. The resolutions formally adopted by Grand Lodge, among other complimentary reference paid the following tribute:
"His work has been well done and few, if any, in the community have done more to sustain and elevate the character of the Institution of Freemasonry."