Robert Burns the Freemason


Robert Burns was initiated an Entered Apprentice in Lodge St David Tarbolton on the 4th July 1781 at the age of 23.  His initiation fee was 12s 6d (62.5 pence new money) and paid on the same day.  Like many other times in his life, Burns came into the lodge admist a controversy. Originally there had been only one Lodge in Tarbolton, chartered in 1977 from the Kilwinning Lodge which they claim to be the oldest lodge.  In 1773, a group broke away from the Lodge forming Lodge St David No. 174 and the original lodge became St. James Tarbolton Kilwinning No. 178 only to be reunited in 1781, nine days before Burns's first degree. However, while St James was clearly the older of the two lodges, St David's name was used, and the seeds were sown for further dissension. Burns in the meantime was passed to the degree of fellowcraft, and raised to the degree of Master Mason in 1st October 1781. the lodge record book, reads as follows: Robert Burns in Lochy was passed and raised, Henry Cowan being Master, James Humphrey Sen. Warden Alex Smith Jnr. Warden Robt Wodrow Sec. and James Manson Treas. and John Tannock Taylor and others of the brethren being present. Manson and Wodrow would later take the regalia of St James's lodge from the charter chest (containg the minute books, archives and other belongings) stored at John Richard's Inn ( Richard was a Steward of Lodge St David) after tricking Richard into a false errand with a couple of "gills" of punch. While originally ordered to return the regalia and other items by the Grand Lodge, it was eventually ruled that since the union of the 2 lodges were voluntary, then the seperation was as well.  The St James Lodge met again as a seperate body on 17th June 1782 Burns went with Lodge St James and on the 27th July 1784 he was elected " Depute Master" of the lodge at the ripe young age of 25. Sir John Whiteford was the R.W.M. of the Lodge, but it was some what of an honourary position, and the Depute Master in reality was in charge. Burns was faithful to the Lodge attending regulary and 3 minutes were in his handwriting;  29 minutes were signed by him and also show when he changed his name; originally his father spelled the last name "Burness" before 1786, Robert spelled it the same way. On 1st March 1786 Robert's  brother Gilbert received his 2nd degree and 3rd degree; both signed their names as Burns.
1786 was not a happy year for Robert Burns financially or emotionally
. Tradition says that Burns recited his " Farewell Brethren" of St James Lodge Tarbolton on the night of 23rd June at the stated meeting of the lodge, in anticipation of his voyage to the West Indies.
However, Burns decided to stay in Scotland when in July 1786 his Kilmarnock edition of poems was established, by a brother freemason and 350 brethren of Lodge St John Kilmarnock subscribed to a copy.
In October he was made an Honourary Member of Lodge Kilmarnock Kilwinning St John. In honour of the Lodge and its R.W.M. Major William Parker he wrote a 'Masonic Song'
Burns's rise in popularity for his poems also contributed to his rise in Freemasonary. At a meeting of Lodge St Andrew in Edinburgh in 1787, at which the Grand Master and Grand Lodge of Scotland were present, Burns was toasted by the the Worshipful Grand Master Most Worshiful Brother Francis Charteris with the words " Caledonia and Caledonia's bard Brother Robert Burns", which was met with a terrific response from the brethren, Burns was completely taken aback and though trembling, returned the toast of the Grand Master, to response of " very well indeed" from some of the office bearers of the Grand Line
In February 1787 Burns was made the Poet Laureate of Lodge Canongate Kilwinning No. 2 Edinburgh.
When Burns moved to Dumfries, he joined Lodge St. Andrew on St John Day, 1788 and once again showed a great enthusiasm for his lodge. In 1792, he was elected Worshipful Senior Warden and served a one-year term.  This was the last masonic office
he held before his death in 1796. He was 37 years old
Freemasonary's influence on Burns's poetry is quite visible: Poems such as "Libel Summons" " A Mans a Mans for a That" etc.  Auld Lang Syne is a concrete expression of his love of mankind and his ideal of international brotherhood.