Installed but Did Not Serve

As mentioned in the previous post, Greenwood Cemetery, in Columbia, Tennessee, has several prominent Masons buried in the small cemetery, including Hezekiah Ward, who held the exalted office of Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons in 1831 and 1832.  In a box or chest tomb not far away lies buried Taswell Alderson.

The following is a partial inscription on the top of his tomb:


to the memory of


Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee and Past Grand High Priest of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee.  A native of Virginia and long a citizen of Tennessee, He was born on the 2nd of November 1802 and departed this life 24th of August 1842.   He was a Christian. And in his life adorned the doctrines of the one and obeyed the precepts of the other.  He took delight in doing good.  He was a friend to the poor the widowed and the fatherless.  Sorrow and want were never turned from his door without consolation and relief.  His whole life was one of active usefulness and benevolence and though death struck him down almost without warning In the full strength and pride of manhood. Still he was not unprepared for the blow.  For he made the word of God his counsel.

According to an article written by Nancy Adgent titled, “In Peace and Harmony”: Masons in Greenwood Cemetery, which appeared in the Association for Gravestone Studies QUARTERLY / Vol. 32, No. 4 / Fall 2008, the Taswell Alderson’s tomb, which was elaborately embellished with Masonic symbols indicated that Alderson was the second of two Grand High Priest buried in the tiny cemetery. 

            Adgent goes on the describe the panels of the Alderson box tomb that display Masonic symbols and explains why one of the panels may be without symbolism altogether.

“One end panel of Alderson’s tomb has a quarter moon crescent enclosed by the square and compasses, a symbol seen in jewels of the Junior Deacon and Deputy Master offices.  The other end has a blank panel, symbolically facing north, the direction Masons consider a place of darkness.” 

One side panel depicts the pick, hammer, and spade which represent some of the Master Mason’s tools.

Another panel adjacent panel “contains three six-pointed stars (hexalpha) above a crescent.  In ancient Masonry, the hexalpha was considered the Seal of Solomon and Shield of David, and it represented the universe, sun, and the planets.”

“Perhaps the most arcane carving is on the opposite side.  Although three and nine are significant numbers in Masonic culture, and candles are integral to the Masons’ search for spiritual illumination, the specific meaning of this motif is speculative. Pyramids often indicate God and the universe or ancient knowledge.  The triangular placement of the columns supporting the Masonic rule replicates the configuration of the three great lights on the lodge floor with the candles representing the sum, moon, and Master of the Lodge.  It may also be a stylized form of the icon for the Cryptic degree of Royal Master.  In addition to the number three, three-sided symbols also represent the Holy Trinity as well as wisdom, power, and creativity.”

“The last Alderson panel show three triangles, each with a trowel hanging from the top, a symbol found in jewelry for the Senior Warden office and the Cryptic degree level.”

However, there should be an asterisk on this box tomb, because while Alderson was inducted as the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, he did not serve.  In fact, he was unable to serve because he was dead.

Reported in The Columbia Daily Herald, November 2, 2013, Bob Duncan, the then director of the Maury County archives, noticed the grave of Tazwell Alderson and his elaborate box tomb.  Duncan deciphered the faded entablature on the top of the box tomb. One of the things that the inscription said was that Tazewell Alderson had been Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee.  When he visited the Columbia Lodge No. 31 he discovered that in the great lineup of oil portraits of Tennessee Grand Masters there was not one of Tazewell Alderson.

After a trip to the archives, the mystery was solved.  Alderson who was to be installed as Grand Master died just before the induction ceremony.  As a courtesy to honor the recently deceased Alderson and his family, the members of the Grand Lodge traveled to Columbia to give him Masonic last rites.  First, however, they installed him as Grand Master.  Installed but he did not serve.

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