Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Gibraltar: Turks, Scots and an 'Orange' Lodge - Belfast 1784 (as reported in the Pennsylvania Packet)

Gibraltar 1779

Gibraltar is in the news again due to 'Brexit' and the fallout from the ‘triggering' of Article 50. Just over 230 years ago, at the tail end of the American War of Independence, France and Spain tried to re-take Gibraltar from British control (who had held it since 1713) in a siege which lasted 3 1/2 years. During the siege, this particular story unfolded.

Surreal as the title of this post might sound, this is a true story. In the mid to late 1700s there were Masonic fraternities who used the name 'Orange'. People who know about these things tell me that they might in some way have honoured the memory of King William III, Prince of Orange – although some online Masonic sources say that lodges used colour as a naming system. There was one at Doagh in County Antrim and a more well known one in Belfast; there may have been others.

Whatever the background, in 1784 Captain Abraham Rahash and his son Ali Rahash made use of the generosity of Belfast's Orange Lodge No 257. Read the story for yourself, from the Pennsylvania Packet newspaper on Saturday 19 June 1784. Here is the full text:

Belfast, April 2. Last Monday captain Abraham Rahash, and his son Ali Rahash, two Turks, taken prisoners by the Spanish in attempting to bring relief to the garrison of Gibraltar, and had afterwards escaped and got to Leith, from whence they came to the town, well recommended by the grand lodge of Scotland, - visited the Orange Lodge No. 257. where they were treated with every respect, civility, and love, by the brethren of that numerous and respectable body ; who gave them a recommendation to other lodges, and a sum of money to enable them to return to Constantinople, the place of their nativity. How greatful to the liberal mind, to perceive the distinction of Turk and Christian, in short, all local and religious prejudices sunk in the more sublime affection which, as the offspring of one common parent, we all owe to one another ; and which every sound principle of religion and virtue never fails to heighten into pure philanthropy, when not obscured by the rankest bigotry and ignorance.

The story was retold in Historical Collections Relative to the Town of Belfast by Henry Joy (1817) - online edition here. The Packet had been founded by Ulsterman John Dunlap in 1771, and in 1784 it became the first daily paper in America. Even an experienced newspaper man like Dunlap, looking for content to fill the demanding pages of his daily newspaper, must have raised an eyebrow at this story from his homeland.

Orange Lodge No 257 is said to date from 6 June 1755. According to this 1782 source, the lodge met at the Donegall Arms once a fortnight. A Past Master of the lodge was Amyas Griffith, a prominent figure in Belfast's social and literary circles, who famously observed shortly after his arrival in Belfast in 1780 that 'the common people speak broad Scotch'. On 28 April 1783, John Brown, the worshipful master of the lodge laid the foundation stone for the Belfast White Linen Hall. The original copper plate bearing the inscription is said to be in the collection of the Ulster Museum. Here is an article about another of the lodge's members, William Todd Jones; and another here, on the consistently excellent Eddie’s Extracts, of lodge member Rev James Bryson. who was minister of 2nd Presbyterian Church, Belfast. The lodge was closely associated with the Belfast Volunteers.

Further research is needed into this unusual story.

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