One of the few woman Masons in the world will long be remembered in Norton, where a picture of her still is preserved, and re1atives still reside. Mrs. James Sproul the only woman it is said ever to be initiated into the Masonic Order, was the great-great-grandmother of the late J.W. Campbell of Norton, whose three daughters, Misses Lucy, Katherine and Minnie now keep a tourist home there.

It is in the tourist home where the pen and ink picture of Mrs. Sproul now hangs in a wooden frame carved by a jackknife. In the picture, Mrs. Sproul is leaning on the grave stone of her husband, who died in 1824 at the age of 41. The stone is in the Sussex Corner churchyard and when Mrs. Sproul died a few years later she was given a similar stone bearing the Masonic crest. The two headstones stood side by side in the cemetery until little over a year ago, when Mrs. Sproul's was broken.

Mrs. Sproul was a daughter of the Honorable Jasper Belding, who is believed to have come to America on the Mavflower. Against the wishes of her parents she married James Sproul who was either a butler or footman in the Belding household. They moved into a log house about three miles above Norton on the road toward Sussex. This house had only two rooms which were separated by a curtain.

Her husband being a Mason, the Order decided one night to hold their meeting in her home, A new man was to be initiated and Mrs. Sproul took her candle and her darning and went into the bedroom. After the service she was asked by the Masonic officers if she had heard anything. Mrs. Sproul replied that although she had not meant to listen, she had heard the service. She was questioned and the officers discovered she had heard the entire proceedings.

This left only two things to be done according to the legend, either kill the woman or make her a Mason. Mrs. Sproul was initiated into the Order that same night and thereafter was regarded as a regular Mason. It is not known, however, whether or not she attended meetings regularly.

Copied from a clipping lent by the misses Lucy and Minnie Campbell

Clipping from a 1947 copy of the Kings County Record

Recalls Incident When Woman was made Member of Masons

The little known fact that a woman was once a member of the entirely male Masonic Order - and in King's County - has been recalled by Miss Grace Aiton, Sussex writer, in an article in a December issue of MacLeans Magazine. Details of the incident, almost forgotten now by those who have heard of this rarest of circumstances, were chronicled by Miss Grace Aiton as follows:

In 1783 when ten thousand refugee Loyalists from United States settled down in the New Brunswick wilderness they did their best to pick up their old ways of life. Many of them who were granted land around Sussex in the Kennebecasis River Valley had been Masons in the U.S. It was not long before they formed Zion Lodge in Sussex. Scattered over a forty-mile area, they travelled to meetings by horse in summer and on snowshoes in winter. They had no hall and met in private homes "on the first Monday after the full moon in the calendar month," with each member taking a turn as host.

One Monday in the early 1900's they journeyed to the two-room log house of young James Sproul, who lived on the edge of the forest between Apohaqui and Norton. As the first of them arrived Mary Sproul, James' wife, picked up her candle and knitting and withdrew to the bedroom, which was separated from the main room of the cabin not by a door but by a flimsy curtain. It was not until the meeting was over, and a candidate had been initiated, that Rev. Oliver Arnold, Anglican rector of the parish, realized that Mrs. Sproul had been able to hear all that went on - that she couldn't, in fact, have helped hearing.

"You listened to the initiation ceremony", Arnold thundered at her.

"I didn't listen," she said, "but you talked so loud …."

The old parson turned pale for it was prescribed that no outsider could be allowed to live after learning the secret initiation ritual.

"Brethren," he gasped, "she must die."

"Have mercy!" cried Sproul.

"But what can we do?" asked Arnold.

"We can swear her in as a Mason," somebody suggested. So that's what was done. Mary Sproul took the oath that made her the only woman member of the Masonic order in Canadian history. She was never to hold office or even to attend another meeting, but the curious incident was eventually reported in newspapers around the world and brought fame to the little lodge in the Kennebecasis Valley.

When Mary Sproul died a stone bearing the Masonic emblem was placed over her grave. As a footnote to the story, Ralph T. Pearson, of Sussex, a direct descendant of James and Mary Sproul, is now grand master of the Masons in New Brunswick.

Aside by Emery C. Daly, also a direct descendant of James and Mary, Mary was Mary Ann Belding the youngest daughter of Loyalist Jasper Belding. She was born in Stamford, CT.

For those individuals who would like additional information about Mary Ann Belding Sproul and other female Masons I would recommend a book that was just published in 2009. "Haunted Chambers" written by Karen Kidd describes "the Lives of Early Women Freemasons". I was fortunate in working with the author regarding the chapter on Mary Sproul.

Main Page Graphic Return to Front Page

email graphic Send email to preparer: Emery Daly