Charles Fierer: Tinker, Printer, Solider, Mason
On the evening of Christmas Day 1776, General George Washington and the Continental Army crossed the frigid Delaware River enroute to Trenton, New Jersey. Colonial spies informed Washington that an army of Hessian mercenaries were garrisoned in the city but were unprepared for a frigid skirmish. The following morning, Washington's fledgling army scored a small but decisive victory in what is now known as the Battle of Trenton. Among the eight hundred Hessian mercenaries captured that morning was Charles Fierer, the first man to lead a Masonic lodge in the future District of Columbia. Fierer: The Solider
Fierer's American journey began on board a Hessian mercenary ship bound for New York in 1776. The British hired Hessian mercenaries during the Revolutionary War in hopes that reinforcements would quickly rout Washington's fledgling army and bring a swift end to the conflict. Following Washington's victory at Trenton, Fierer and the other mercenaries were sent to serve out interment in Virginia. Fierer was sent to Dumfries and, according to historian Anne Lerch, developed an appreciation for the Revolutionary spirit.
Fierer's interest worked to Washington's favor as the Continental Congress devised several incentives to encourage Hessian mercenaries to defect. Fierer accepted the offer to defect and even struck up a friendship with Colonel Greyson, Washington's Aide De Camp, who arranged a rare personal meeting between Fierer and General Washington. Impressed by Fierer’s zeal, Washington wrote to the President of the Continental Congress recommending his appointment. His commission was accepted and Ferier joined Pulaski’s Calvary Legion as a Captain. War records note that fought during the Battle of Savannah.
Fierer then transferred over to the Virginia Calvary, where he was promoted to major. This turned out to be a short stint as he sustained a significant injury during battle that incapacitated him from further duty. Discharged in November 1781, Fierer returned to Germany to seek medical treatment. Upon his return, however, Fierer discovered that he had been labeled a defector. The Prince of Hesse-Cassel seized his property and deprived him of all rights to his titles and estate. Fierer made his way back to the United States and petitioned the Continental Congress for aid.
He eventually moved to Georgetown and set up the print shop with his business partner Charles Fosdick. His shop published the District’s first newspaper The Times and the Patowmack Packet. Fierer associated himself with Georgetown's prominent merchants, landowners, and civil leaders. Some of whom were also Freemasons. In 1789, Fierer, along with merchants James Gardiner and Alexander Peter, submitted a petition to the Grand Lodge of Maryland to form the first chartered Masonic lodge in Georgetown. The Grand Lodge issued them a charter to organize Lodge No. 9.
Fierer: The Printer and Freemason
Much of what we know about Fierer can be found in his personal letters and his newspaper, The Times and the Patowmack Packet. Information about his masonic career is scant. It is believed that he was raised a Master Mason in Virginia during his time there as a P.O.W, and his Masonic connection could be one of the reasons he was able to receive a personal audience with Washington.
His writings and work in The Times and the Patowmack Packet (TPP) provide us a profound insight into his character and his dedication to ideals of Freemasonry and America. He is a staunch advocate for free speech, art, music, science, literature, rule of law, and education. In fact, in his second edition of the TPP, Fierer makes his declaration to these principles. A picture of the female personification of Law, sitting on a chair with a lion, holds a paper with the inscription “We are governed by our Laws only” (a comment against rule by a monarch), while she speaks to the personifications of Liberty, Literature, Art, and Music. Behind her are the scales of justice on a column. The text below the picture says: “Let it be impressed upon your minds, let it be instilled into your children, that the liberty of the Press is the Palladium for all the civil, political, and religious Rights of Freemen. ------ Junius.”
Fierer goes on to fill portions of his paper each week with the writings of famous Greek and Roman artists, politicians, and satirists. He documents the special and political events around the District, mentions interesting events abroad, and pays careful attention to the travels and actions of America’s founding fathers.
Masonicly, Fierer broke away from European customs by publishing Lodge No. 9’s meeting notices, and even documented Masonic events like an early Feast of St. John and the funeral of a lodge member – John Cormie – complete with a rare, published masonic funeral song:
Fierer was also not shy about posting business notices for the other members of Lodge No.9. The following is a notice from one second edition of the TTP featuring the District’s first Grand Master, Valentine Reintzel.
Fierer: The Legacy
Fierer's health deteriorated and his print business proved unsuccessful. He returned to Dumfries, where he had once been held as a prisoner of war, and set up another print shop before passing away in 1794. He was buried by Masons and members of the Society of the Cincinnati (a fraternity composed of officers who had served under Washington). Among Ferier’s personal effects were a simple masonic apron and two land warrants for two thousand acres.
We may never know exactly what kind of impact Fierer had as Master of Lodge No. 9, since its minutes have been lost. But based on his work in The Times and the Patowmack Packet, it’s clear that he espoused the same virtues and values that Masons today are taught all around the world, and he’s a great example of what Freemasonry still looks like in the District: a diverse and international collection of good men, from various socio-economic backgrounds, coming together to make good men better.