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Joseph Sylvester McCoy, Grand Master, 1880

The subject of this sketch has to his credit more than three decades of active and valuable work for the benefit of the Fraternity. Possessed of an unusual intellectual equipment he has also ever been an indefatigable worker, and these qualities, united with a magnetic and pleasing personality, a courteous demeanor, a genius for executive work, and an exceptional ability as a convincing speaker, gave to the administration of the many offices to which he has been called a rare degree of success. His autobiography, amended only to the extent of several additions his modesty ignored, is of such interest that it is here quoted in extenso:

"I was born on a farm, some five miles back of the present town of New Rochelle, Westchester County, New York, on Monday, November 18, 1839. My parents removed to New York City in 1844, and when seven years of age I entered the public schools of that city. In September, 1854, I was promoted to the grammar class, and graduated therefrom in June, 1855. Subsequently, I entered St. John's College, New York, and in June, 1857, concluded my sophomore year. By reason, however, of the financial panic of that year, I entered the service of the Methodist Book Concern, then located in New York City, where I remained until September, 1857, when I secured a school. I taught school from September, 1857, until June, 1860, when I was offered a more advantageous position to teach at Montgomery, Alabama. I sailed from New York in July, 1860, with the purpose of accepting the position. On arriving at Savannah, Ga., I proceeded by rail to Montgomery, but on arriving there I found that sentiment was such, at that time, that I returned to New York. "Being desirous of trying my fortune on the Pacific Coast, and with that object in view, there being a regiment of cavalry there at the time, to which I was assured I would be assigned, I enlisted in the regular army, for the cavalry service, on the 27th of August, 1860. Instead of being assigned to the Department of the Pacific, I was assigned to the Department of Texas, commanded by Maj. Gen. David E. Twiggs. I was assigned to Company B, 2nd U. S. Cavalry, the officers of which were Edmund Kirby Smith, Captain; Walter H. Jenifer, 1st Lieut; and Fitz-Hugh Lee, 2nd Lieut. The field officers of the regiment were Albert Sidney Johnson, Colonel; Robert E. Lee, Lieut. Col.; George H. Thomas, Senior Major, and Earl Van Dorn, Junior Major. The regiment, rank and file, was considered the best and its officers the ablest in the service. For a time I was much disappointed with my assignment, but in a short time, owing to the consideration shown me by both officers and men. I became fully reconciled with it.

"My company was stationed at Camp Colorado, Coleman Co., Texas, and during the time I was there, with drill, and reading the northern papers and magazines a month old, time passed pleasantly. We learned of the election of President Lincoln a few days before Christmas, 1860, and subsequently that the Southern States had, or would soon secede from the Union. Rumor was abroad, but it was not until the military forces were surrendered by Maj. Gen. Twiggs, commanding the Department of Texas, that we realized our condition. By reason of the influence of our officers and the fact that the paroling officer of the State was our own Major (Van Dora), who had resigned from the army, my regiment alone of all the troops stationed in Texas, was not 1 captured and paroled'

"My company left Camp Colorado in February, 1861, and proceeded to San Antonio, thence to Indianola, where we embarked, leaving only our horses and horse equipments with the State authorities, and proceeded, via Key West and Havana, for New York, where we arrived early in April, 1861. Maj. Geo. H. Thomas was at the wharf to receive us. That afternoon we left for Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where we obtained our remounts, and on May 2, 1861, proceeded to Washington, District of Columbia, where we arrived May 5, 1861.

"On the night of May 31 - June 1, 1861, under instructions from Lieut. Gen. Winfield Scott, my company made a raid on Fairfax, C. H. We lost four or five men and some horses, and regained our camp near Falls Church, Virginia, on the morning of June 1, 1861. On July 18, 1861, my Division (the First), Army of Northeastern Virginia, made a reconnaissance along the Confederate lines at Bull Run, and was with General Tyler, its commander during the engagement. On the 19th of July, 1861, I was one of General Barnard's escort, in his observations of the several fords along the line of Bull Run. I participated in the Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, and my company formed a part of the rear guard, at Centerville and Fairfax Court House, during the retreat of the Federal Army from the battlefield.

"I also participated in the battles of Williamsburg, Gaines' Mill, Savage Station, Nelson's Farm, Glendale, and Malvern Hill, during the Peninsular Campaign. I was wounded in the latter engagement. Subsequently to my discharge from the army, on April 1, 1863, to accept an appointment in the office of the Adjutant-General of the Army, I served in Company A, War Department Rifles, from June, 1864, until June, 1865, my commissions being signed by Assistant Secretary of War Tucker.

"During my service in the army I held the following grades: recruit, private, corporal, duty sergeant, orderly sergeant, second lieutenant, first lieutenant, and captain, Assistant Adjutant-General of Volunteers." I received the Master Mason's degree in LaFayette Lodge, No. 19, March 11, 1867; the Royal Arch degree in Mt. Vernon Chapter, No. 20, April 22, 1867, including the Royal, Select, and Super Excellent Master's degrees, which were conferred in the Chapters of this jurisdiction in those early days. I was Master of LaFayette Lodge, No. 19, 1873-74, and after filling several of the subordinate chairs was Grand Master for the year 1880; was High Priest of LaFayette R. A. Chapter, No. 5, during the years 1874 and 1875, and Grand High Priest of this jurisdiction for the year 1878; Master of LaFayette Council, No. 1, Royal Select and Super Excellent Masters, under the jurisdiction of the Grand Council of Massachusetts, from 1875 until 1883; Charter Master of Washington Council, 1888 to 1890; knighted in Columbia Commandery, No. 2, Knights Templar, March 14, 1868; was Grand Lecturer of the Grand R. Chapter of the District of Columbia from December, 1873, to December, 1875, and Grand Lecturer of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia 1876.

In the absence of the High Priest of LaFayette Chapter in Europe nearly the whole of the year 1873, and while King of that Chapter and Grand Lecturer of the Grand Chapter of the District of Columbia, at the request of the Grand Chapter of Canada, and as representing LaFayette Chapter, I conferred the Royal Arch degree on three actual candidates before the Grand Chapter of Canada, in the town hall at Kingston, Canada. I held, at various times during my Masonic career, the offices of Grand Representative of the Grand Chapter of Canada; the Grand Chapter of Nova Scotia, B. C; the Grand Mark Lodge of England, Scotland, and Wales, and the Colonies and Dependencies of the British Crown, and of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, F. A. A. M., which latter representation I still hold."

AHGP District of Columbia

Source: History of the Grand Lodge and Freemasonry in the District of Columbia, compiled by W. Brother Kenton N. Harper, 1911.

 
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