Appointed in 1730, Daniel Coxe Jr. (1673-1739) (pictured), America’s first Provincial Grand Master, had nominal responsibility for the combined territory of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. But the limited evidence available indicates that freemasonry had only a modest presence in New York until the late 1730s, and that Coxe was not involved in any way.
The New York Journal on 24 January 1738 reported that a Masonic lodge had met recently at the Black Horse Tavern, that David Provost, the Master, had resigned in advance of leaving the province, and that Matthew Morris, the senior warden, had been elected and installed in his place.
Last Saturday, Mr. David Provoost jur. Master of the Lodge of the Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons in this Place, gave an Elegant Entertainment to the Fraternity at the Black Horse, and being about to Depart this Province, at a Lodge held that Evening, desired leave to resign his Office, and had the Honour to receive the thanks of the whole Society, for his true and faithful Discharge of the great Trust they have reposed in him, and their Hearty Wishes for his Safe and Prosperous Voyage and Speedy return; then Matthew Morris, Esq; senior Warden, was unanimously chosen Master, and being installed and admitted into that Office, with the Usual Solemnity, He was pleased to choose, and Appoint John Saint, Esq; who was junr. Warden, to be senior Warden, and Mr. Henry Holt, to be junr. Warden, and as a further Mark of their Unanimity and Concord the Lodge waited on their New Master to his home in a well-regulated and decent Procession.
No other information is available until the following year when a classified advertisement in the New York Gazette on 22 January 1739 announced the location and dates of future meetings:
The Brethren of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons are desired to take notice that the Lodge for the future will be held at the Montgomerie Arms Tavern on the first and third Wednesdays of every month.
By order of the Grand Master
Charles Wood, Secretary
The first dedicated PGM of New York, Richard Riggs (c.1700-1774), was appointed by London in 1737 but there is almost no information on his activities bar the above and a second classified advertisement announcing that a Quarterly Communication of the Provincial Grand Lodge would take place on 29 September 1739 at 6.00pm : no record of the meeting has survived. Riggs’s term as PGM ended in 1751 when he sailed for England. He was replaced by Francis Goelet (1724-1767), who served for two years, and then George Harison (1719-1774), who was installed as New York’s PGM in June 1753.
The History of Freemasonry in New York and numerous biographies record Harison as substantially more active than his predecessors, chartering lodges both in New York and the surrounding colonies and territories, including New Jersey, Connecticut and Michigan. Harison also extended the province’s charitable remit, donating funds to local charity schools and to the indigent.
There is no evidence that Daniel Coxe exercised Masonic authority as a PGM in New Jersey and another twenty years would pass before the first New Jersey Lodge was chartered. This was St John’s Lodge, No. 1, in Newark, constituted by George Harison, the Provincial Grand Master for New York. A second lodge was chartered a few years later by Jeremy Gridley, the Provincial Grand Master for New England.