The Knights of Pythias

The Knights of Pythias was initially a fraternal organization and secret society [1] founded at Washington, DC, in 1864.  It was the first fraternal organization to receive a charter under an act of the United States Congress. [2]   It was founded by Justus H. Rathbone, who had been inspired by a play by the Irish poet John Banim about the legend of Damon and Pythias. This legend illustrates the ideals of loyalty, honor and friendship that are the center of the order.  By 1900, the order had over two thousand lodges in the United States and around the world; and by 2003 it had a total membership of over 50,000 in 2003.

The Legend of Damon and Pythias

Around the 4th century BC, Pythias and his friend Damon, traveled to Syracuse. Pythias was accused of plotting against the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius I. As punishment for this crime, Pythias was sentenced to death. Accepting his sentence, Pythias asked to be allowed to return home one last time, to settle his affairs and bid his family farewell. Not wanting to be taken for a fool, the king refused, believing that once released, Pythias would flee and never return.

Damon asked the king to take his spot while he went. The king agreed, on the condition that, should Pythias not return when promised, Damon would be put to death in his place. Damon agreed, and Pythias was released.

Dionysius was convinced that Pythias would never return, and as the day Pythias promised to return came and went, Dionysius prepared to execute Damon. But just as the executioner was about to kill Damon, Pythias returned.

Apologizing to his friend for his delay, Pythias told of how pirates had captured his ship on the passage back to Syracuse and thrown him overboard. Dionysius listened to Pythias as he described how he swam to shore and made his way back to Syracuse as quickly as possible, arriving just in time to save his friend.  Dionysius was so pleased and astonished with their friendship that he pardoned them both.

To join, a member must be at least 18 years of age. He cannot be a professional gambler, or involved with illegal drugs or alcohol and he must have a belief in a Supreme Being. The oath taken by members:

I declare upon honor that I believe in a Supreme Being, that I am not a professional gambler, or unlawfully engaged in the wholesale or retail sale of intoxicating liquors or narcotics; and that I believe in the maintenance of the order and the upholding of constituted authority in the government in which I live. Moreover, I declare upon honor that I am not a Communist or Fascist; that I do not advocate nor am I a member of any organization that advocates the overthrow of the Government of the Country of which I am a Citizen, by force or violence or other unlawful means; and that I do not seek by force or violence to deny to other persons their rights under the laws of such country. [3]

The first in the state—

Newmarket’s Pioneer Lodge No. 1, was formally accepted March 3, 1870 as the first Lodge in New Hampshire.  In January, 1870, William Arnold Frye took the first steps toward organizing a Lodge in New Hampshire.  He credited the assistance of Henry A. Tuttle, John T. Young, Oliver H. Copeland and Bradford S. Kingman.

William Frye was born in East Greenwich, R.I. September 13, 1819.  He was educated in the common schools and academy of his native town, and always connected with the weaving departments of cotton mills.  In 1860 he was living in Durham,  and by the 1870 census he and his family had moved to Newmarket.   His sons were born here and also worked in the cotton mills as well.  In 1896 his son Clarence (age 29), and one year later, his son George (age 21)  both died of consumption.  William’s wife Emily also died of consumption in 1897 at age 53.  The following year, William retired and spent his engergies in running of the Lodge he had organized back in March 1870,  when he became the first Knight at the Institution of Pioneer Lodge #1.

 The esteem in which he was held is best evidenced by the a note which accompanied his portrait when it was presented by the Grand Officers of New Hampshire, to the Pioneer Lodge No. 1, Thursday evening, July 11, 1895:

“To the Officers and Members of the Pioneer Lodge No. 1 Knights of Pythias:

“In presenting the portrait of Past Chancellor William A. Frye to Pioneer Lodge, the Grand Officers and Supreme Representatives desire, not only to perpetuate the memory of a Pythian Patriarch – one whose name was the first to adorn the annuals of our Order in the Old Granite State — but to commerorate a life in which the exalted precepts of our grand fraternity, crystallized and beautiful, a constant beacon to guide the longing hearts of earnest and loyal men into the fields of Pythigian love and restfulness.” [4]

This Lodge was particularly attractive to many of our Civil War veterans.  As the G.A.R. limited their responsibilities to veterans and their families, many G.A.R. members became a Pythian and extended their volunteer altruism towards community-wide efforts. The G.A.R. Woman’s Relief Corps  also joined the Sisters of Pythias which was active in town by 1915.

(photo: the Creighton block with several lodge halls on the 2nd and 3rd floors)

They first met at  Odd Fellow’s Hall in the Brooks Building (above The Big Bean).  The group later moved by 1915 to  “The Grange Hall” in the Creighton Block.  The Creighton Block was described in 1908 as the “most attractive, up-to-date business block, a modern, high-posted, three story brick building fronting on Main Street.”  It housed a grocery, with upstairs stories contained the GAR Hall and the Knights of Pythias Hall.  The building was destroyed by fire in 1968, and the modern American Legion built on the site.

(photo: Ceighton block destroyed by fire 1968)

Frank Pinkham, the 1875 founder and editor of the Newmarket Advertiser, was a member of this lodge; and he published notices of meetings as well as reported on their civic events and accomplishments.  Mr. Pinkham was a social gadfly, for he also belonged to and publicized the events of numerous fraternal and social organizations: Rising Star Lodge, No. 47, Free and Accepted Masons, of Newmarket; the Lamprey River Grange, No. 240, Patrons of Husbandry;  the Pocasset Tribe, Improved Order of Red Men; the New England Order of Protection, with membership in Piscataqua Lodge, No. 72; member of North Star Lodge, No. 259, Knights of Honor of Dover; and the Pascatoquack Club of Newmarket.  Besides his newspaper, he was a business partner and involved in the running of Pinkham & Neal, a restaurant and lunch room in town.

The following were the first officers in 1870:  William A. Frye, Venerable Patriach; Oliver H. Copeland, Worthy Chancellor; Henry A. Tuttle, Vice Chancellor; William H. Huntington, Recording Scribe; Lewis F. Hanson, Financial Scribe; John F. Ham, Jr., Banker; John T. Young, Guide; Thomas Garland, Inner Steward; Cyrus R. Rand, Outer Steward.

In addition to the original applicants, the following were charter members:  B.F. Tuttle, E.R. Nowell., J. Bradford, C.E. Downing, T. Mitchell, C.R. Rand, G.K. Smart, D.A. Stevens, Dr. Albert H. Varney, H.S. Remington, Bradford S. Kingman, J.W. Wiggin, N.H. Leavitt, O.J. Davis, W.H. Gibson, and H.J. B. Hudson.

Exeter Newsletter 19 July 1899:  These Officers of the Newmarket’s Pioneer Lodge, K.of P., were installed Thursday evening. J.E.M. Smart; Joseph Pinkham; P., Gillman D. Chapman;  William M. Roberts; Arthur M. Hutchins; Robert J. MItchell; Freeman E. Tuttle; Frank A. Brackett; Nathaniel J. Edgerly and WIlliam A. Frye.

Exeter Newsletter, 12 April 1899:  William A. Frye Division, U.R.K.P. has announced its annual concert and ball for May 1, 1899


1. Carnahan, James R. Pythian Knighthood: Its History and Literature, 2nd Ed, Revised and Enlarged. The Pettibone Manufacturing Company, Fraternity Publishers, Cincinnati, 1892.

2. Approved May 5, 1870 [16 Stat. at L. 98, chap. 80]

3. Application for Membership.

4. Pythian History, 1904, part 2.  Chapter XL1V, New Hampshire Lodges,  by William D. Kennedy, pg 929