The Formation of the Orange Order

A Battle for Simplicity  (1798-1801)

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The Formation of the Orange Order
21st September 1795

The Orange Institution was founded on 21st September 1795 shortly after the ‘Battle of the Diamond’ outside Loughgall, Co. Armagh. Three well-known local men of the area, James Wilson, Dan Winter, and James Sloan, formed the institution. History reveals that all three men were dedicated Freemasons and two of the three were local pub owners.

The ‘Battle of the Diamond’ itself lasted only fifteen minutes and was centred on Dan Winter’s public house, which was located at the Diamond crossroads. This battle (or skirmish) resulted in Winter’s premises being burnt to the ground by the attacking Catholic’s who were known as ‘the Defenders’. The public house itself was the special focus of the attack as it was the gathering house for the local Protestant militia, the ‘Peep O Day Boys’.

Winter’s supporters, many of whom were Freemasons, gathered around the debris of the public house and pledged themselves to form a new secret society, made up solely of Protestant men. Devoid of Winter’s premises as a meeting place the men retired to James Sloan’s public house in the local village of Loughgall. It was here that the Orange Institution was properly organised.

James Wilson was probably the most influential of the founding fathers of Orangeism and was an ardent Freemason. Respected Orange historian R.M. Sibbett records, “Wilson was a member of the Society of Freemasons, which fully qualified him for establishing a new Order of a secret character.”

Winter, Sloan and Wilson, accompanied by others, felt the great need to instigate a ceremony of initiation into the new body and not surprisingly Freemasonry was chosen as the model. The three early degrees in the Order were known as the Orange, Orange Marksman and Purple Marksman degrees.

Whilst little is known of the exact content of these three degrees it seems certain that they were highly ritualistic in character, being modelled on the first three degrees of Freemasonry, namely, Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason (collectively known as the ‘Craft’ degrees or the ‘Blue Lodge’). The Royal Arch Purple Chapter book testifies to the effect that these three initial Orange degrees were “elaborate degrees” (p. 59)

Entered Apprentice degree——–Orange degree
Fellowcraft degree——————Orange Marksman degree
Master Mason degree—————Purple Marksman degree

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These were the three main degrees that were worked within the Order between 1795 and 1798, although many other ritualistic degrees were finding their way into Orangeism throughout the island of Ireland. Most of the additional degrees can be found today within the Royal Black Institution.

During this early period each individual Orange lodge administered its own control over the working of degrees, as no controlling authority existed to govern the degree system. A Grand Lodge of Ulster, as it were, was formed on 12th of July 1797, although it seemed to exercise little power over the whole island of Ireland.

Royal Black Order Formation

The Royal Black Institution in Ireland traces its official roots back to 16th September 1797 although they have no evidence to how, by whom, or where it was formed. Their only evidence rests on an old unofficial certificate, dated many years later, which makes a passing reference to this questionable date.

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Formed (21st April 1798)

There was no central authority within the Orange Order in Ireland from its formation until 21st April 1798, when a Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland was formed.

The prevailing confusion within the Order, coupled with a large influx of new members, due to the deteriorating political situation in the form of the Republican uprising of the ‘United Irelanders’, resulted in the formation of a Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland in 1798. This brought much needed stability and leadership to the Order at a strategic period in their history.

Wasting little time, Grand Lodge released a strong statement on 13th December 1798 which reflected the hierarchy’s desire to separate themselves from former error.

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (13 December 1798) 

Grand Lodge warned, “That many persons having introduced various Orders into the Orange Society which will very much tend to injure the regularity of the institution. The Grand Lodge disavows any Order but Orange and Purple and there can be none other regular unless issuing and approved by them.”

1st degree: Orange degree 2nd degree: Purple degree

From this date forward, the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland accepted only two degrees within the Order, – ‘Orange’ and ‘Plain Purple’. This degree format has survived in Ireland ever since.

NB. Up until 1820 the Purple degree was sometimes known as the Purple Marksman degree, thereafter as the Plain or Small Purple.

Grand Lodge immediately addressed the bewildering amount of unnecessary ritualism that had found its way into Orangeism, and here began a process of reform which purged out all the varying amount of neo-Masonic ritualistic baggage which had settled itself within the Order. This resulted in the disposal of the original three (elaborate) degrees of the Orange. These were replaced with two simplified degrees of ‘Orange’ and ‘Plain Purple’. Out with the old degrees went the old leadership of James Wilson, Dan Winter, and James Sloan.

Grand Lodge began the great task of implementing simplification by standardising procedures throughout every lodge in Ireland.

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (15 January 1799)

Those ritualistic Orangemen inside the Order who bore allegiance to the former neo-Masonic degrees were far from happy at this radical reform. Some continued to practise the illegal degrees in a clandestine manner, in blatant violation of the rules of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. The ritualists at this time were mainly concentrated in the County of Armagh area, where they had sufficient strength to pose a threat to the overall authority of Grand Lodge.

Grand Lodge wrote to the secretary of Armagh County – Woolsely Atkinson – warning him about the dangers of their rebellious behaviour. They warned, “being delegated by the Grand Lodge of Ireland finally to settle the differences that have existed for near twelve months (much to the injury of the Institution)…You cannot be surprised that we feel ourselves much hurt at the illiberality of sentiment which from your conversation many of our Brethren of Armagh entertain of us, but acting as we do with the approbation of the [United] Kingdom (part of Armagh only accepted) and that from the purest motives for the general good of the cause, we despise such calmuny which can arise only from ignorance and selfish motives, and which if not counteracted by the firmness of the Grand Lodge of Ireland might possibly prove the destruction of the Orange System.”

They continued, “It has been a principal wish of the Grand Lodge of Ireland to prevent any interference or innovation from other Societies with them, and it is with pain we find that comparisons have been made between the proper conduct of the Grand Lodge of Ireland and the improper exactions that have been the injury of other institutions with which we hold ourselves totally unconnected.”

Grand Lodge seem here to have been referring to Craft Masonry (an organisation steeped in occultic practice and anti-Christian teaching) and its then recently birthed offspring – the Black Order. Not surprisingly, the Orange leadership was quick to distance itself from any association with such heathenism.

To end any confusion Grand Lodge decided to act in a decisive manner. A committee was set up to report on what was necessary to simplify and standardise the institution.

Grand Lodge was aware of the existence of a spurious highly-ritualistic body known as the Black Order which was trying to link itself to the Orange Institution. Grand Lodge felt compelled to stem the advance of this superstitious order by expelling any of its supporters from the Orange Order.

We recommend The Secret Teachings of the Masonic Lodge by John Ankerberg, John Weldon

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (20 August 1799

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland “ordered that the Deputy Secretary do write to Rev. Richard Powell, Master of a Lodge in Rathdrum, on the subject of his introducing new Orders contrary to the Rules of the Grand Lodge and also of his adopting extraordinary and irregular forms in initiating members into the Orange and Purple Orders.”

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (1st October 1799)

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland reported that ” Mr Jamison on or about the first of August 1799 on the recommendation of an Orangeman of the name of Peter Lyons of the Armagh Militia Lodge initiated Mr John Whiteaker and Mr Wm. Knight at Mr Moor’s house, Earl St., Dublin. The said Jamison demanded a crown from the aforesaid Mr Lyons for initiating him in the Black Order.”

They then ordered that his warrant be forthwith called in and that he be “expelled from the Society of Orangemen.”

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (17 December 1799)

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland “received a certificate signed by Jeremiah Biggs, Master; John Parett, Senior Warden; and Mark Loane, Junior Warden; of Lodge 655 held at Bandon for Wm. Pemberton, applying for a warrant for the West Meath Regiment of Militia , who is hereby stated to have received the degrees of an Orange, Purple, Scarlet, and Royal Marksman.”

They replied and ordered that the Deputy Secretary do “write to Brother Jeremiah Biggs informing him that by the Rules of the Grand Lodge there is no such office as that of Warden and that Grand Lodge recognises no other Orders save Orange and Purple.”

NB. The office of Junior Warden was actually a title belonging to the Masonic Lodge.

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (10th January 1800) 

Whilst Grand Lodge undertook a widespread process of implementing simplification, their campaign of reform was hampered by the variation of ceremonies in certain parts of Ireland. This was most notable in the mode of initiation into the Purple degree. Some country lodges still employed the ritualistic initiation belonging to the old Purple Marksman degree.

To enforce their purge, Grand Lodge cancelled all membership of the Institution obliging every Orangeman to rejoin a now simplified new Orange Institution. Every Orangeman was re-elected and re-initiated into the ‘new simplistic system’.

The Royal Arch Purple Chapter’s book ‘History of the Royal Arch Purple Order’ states, “The keynote was simplicity, all the old “travel” in the Orange Degree was abolished and replaced by a simple catechism and an address.” They continue, “The year 1800 was the most active for Grand Lodge in the history of the institution. During the year it met 27 times” (p.56).

The secretary of Armagh County, Woolsely Atkinson, finally resigned from the Orange Order after further differences with Grand Lodge. His County (Armagh) seemed to submit to the sovereign authority of Grand Lodge and the new system.

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (13th May 1800) 

The committee which successfully implemented the simplification and reconstitution of the Orange Order earlier that year was again employed, this time, to oversee the problematic Purple degree.

Grand Lodge recorded, “The committee who have regulated the New Orange System shall take into their immediate consideration what alterations may be necessary to make in the Purple Order and report with all convenient despatch.”

Whilst we have no historic record of the findings of this enquiry, simplicity was certainly the result (various Grand Lodge statements up until 1820 will bear this statement out).

Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland (24 October 1801) 

It must have been to the complete shock and disdain of Grand Lodge after re-constituting the Orange to learn of several incidents where Orangemen were reported to have been initiated into the various Black degrees.

Grand Lodge stamped their authority upon the situation immediately, warning these renegades, “It having been reported by Several Gentlemen that in violation of the Rules of the Grand Orange lodge of Ireland, some Masters of Lodges in Dublin and elsewhere have initiated Orangemen into Systems which they term Black, Scarlet, etc. Resolved unanimously. That the Grand Lodge of Ireland does acknowledge no other Colour or Degrees among Orangemen but Orange and Purple and that all other colours or Names of Black, Scarlet, Blue or any other Colour are illegal and injurious to the true Orange system, and that if any shall presume after public notice of this Resolution to meet in any such Black or other similar Lodge he shall be publicly expelled, and his name sent to every Lodge in the Kingdom.”

This stern warning seemed to drive the ritualists underground as it was the last recorded for ten years.

For more on the internal debate within the Orders:

Grand Lodges opposition to Royal Arch Purple and Black degrees

The history of the Royal Black Institution
The history of the Black degrees
The beginning of the chivalrous secret society concept

We recommend a revealing book written by the great revivalist Charles Finney who was a former Freemason (The Character, Claims And Practical Workings Of Freemasonry):