Alpheus Butts Simmons was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Isis-Urania temple in July 1894. No motto was noted down for him in the GD’s records, and his address was given only as “United States”; so it was pretty clear that he was not expected to be an active member.
UPDATE, MARCH 2015
My original biography of Alpheus Butts Simmons was two sentences long, I think! The GD archives gave his address as “United States” - and that was all I could find out! However, things have moved on a very little since then, especially on google. I’ve been prodded to try again with Butts Simmons by Adam P Forrest of Portland Oregon, who recently sent me two short obituaries of Alpheus Butts Simmons that he’d found on the web. So here is what we know now.
THE BUTTS SIMMONS FAMILIES OF GEORGIA USA
There’s a very detailed family history website (for the full name see the Sources section) from which I think I can safely say that Alpheus Butts Simmons was descended from two prominent families long resident in the state of Georgia. The Butts family could trace its ancestors back to a Josiah Butts who had been born in Kent, England, in 1692; and the forename ‘alpheus’ was traditional in the family. The Butts and Simmons families had inter-married several times in the early 19th-century. Though I couldn’t find on the website either mention of the GD’s Alpheus Butts Simmons or any two people who might have been his parents, I think the GD’s Alpheus must be on the family trees somewhere.
ALPHEUS BUTTS SIMMONS’ LIFE
According to his obituaries (all of which were infuriatingly brief) Alpheus Butts Simmons was born on 19 October 1864 in Irwinton, Wilkinson County, Georgia. He studied medicine at the University of Georgia at Atlanta and graduated in 1884. He will then have spent several years gaining experience in general practice; but he probably also spent them learning about and practising electro-therapeutics. Electrotherapeutics is the use of electricity to treat illness. It has a longer history than you would think: a very quick search of the web showed reference books for doctors being published as early as 1874. An English translation of lectures given by a professor in Leipzig, presumably to medical students, was published in New York in 1883 and might have been a work that Alpheus read and used. Although electrotherapy is used for other purposes as well, it’s most notorious as electro-convulsive therapy.
Alpheus set up in private practice in Savannah Georgia in 1889, presumably mainly as a GP but also as a practitioner using electro-therapeutics to treat patients diagnosed as having psychosis or neurosis. He joined the American Electro-Therapeutics Association in 1891, the year it was founded. He retired from his medical practice several years before his death. He died at Little Forest, Chatham County, on 11 February 1915 of a cerebral haemorrhage. There’s no mention in the obituaries of a marriage and my instinct tells me he never married.
THE FREEMASONS IN GEORGIA
It’s clear from the Butts-Simmons family history website that the men in both families had a tradition of becoming prominent freemasons in Georgia: a list of members of the Georgia Grand Lodge, from 1854, has many Butts and Simmons in it. It would have been a natural thing for another member of both families to get involved in freemasonry, and Alpheus was initiated into Zerubbabel Lodge number 15, based in Savannah, in 1890; and into the Alpha Lodge of Perfection in 1891, when he was still only in his twenties. He served as Zerubbabel Lodge number 15’s Worshipful Master twice. Although many freemasons didn’t take their involvement in freemasonry any further than being members of their local lodge or lodges, Alpheus became very committed, perhaps to the extent that his duties as a freemason became more important than his work as a doctor. He was a royal arch mason. But his main commitment seems to have been to the Georgia Knights Templar.
Alpheus was knighted into the Palestine Commandery of the Knights Templar in November 1892 and served as its commander in 1897. The fact that he became a Knight Templar tells you something about Alpheus’ religious beliefs. Whereas the GD (for example) required only a belief in a supreme Being, to be a Knight Templar you had to profess to be a Christian; so that it’s very likely that Alpheus was a regular church-goer. He was elected Georgia’s grand sword bearer in 1902 and thereby became a member of the Georgia Grand Commandery’s governing body. The Grand Commandery held its 49th conclave in Savannah in 1910, the year that Alpheus was serving as its Grand Commander. His photograph appears on the front cover of the conclave’s Proceedings - a slight, rather dapper man, without the engulfing beard that was fashionable at the time, looking very young - as indeed he was, especially to serve as one of freemasonry’s higher officials.
ALPHEUS, RICHARD JOSEPH NUNN AND THE GOLDEN DAWN
How did a doctor who spent virtually all his life in the USA get initiated into the GD? I can’t actually prove that Alpheus ever even came to England, and yet he was initiated. The answer is: Alpheus knew GD member Richard Joseph Nunn. On the face of it, they might not look like men who knew each other well: they were born one generation apart (Nunn was born in 1831) and whereas Alpheus was a member of families who had been living in Georgia for at least a century, Nunn had only arrived there from Ireland in 1851. However, these obstacles to any acquaintanceship were outweighed by the things the two men had in common. They were both physicians in general practice in Savannah; and as doctors they both took an interest in new methods of treatment - they were both members of the American Electro-therapeutic Association. The main interest that connected them, however, was freemasonry and its offshoots. Although I cannot prove it beyond all doubt, I believe that, like Alpheus, Nunn was a member of the Zerubbabel Lodge number 15. And Nunn was definitely a member of the Georgia Knights Templar, possibly one of its founders; so in becoming a senior member of the order himself, Alpheus was following a path first trodden by Nunn.
Richard Nunn was one of the earliest GD members, being initiated in November 1889 during a visit to London. I believe that when Alpheus was preparing for a trip to England (the one I suggest he must have made in 1894) Nunn gave him letters of introduction to senior freemasons that he had met there, one of whom was GD founder William Wynn Westcott. Both men will have brought with them to England an experience of a type of freemasonry not well understood by English freemasons - the Scottish rite.
Alpheus was a member of Georgia’s Alpha Lodge of Perfection; Richard Nunn was almost certainly a member as well but I don’t have actual evidence in his case. The lodge was founded in 1888, the first in Georgia to use the Scottish Rite. And the Scottish Rite had what seems to me (as a non-freemason and non-occultist) a peculiar fascination for British freemasons. There’s a detailed wikipedia page on its history which I’ll paraphrase here. Influential books in the 18th and 19th centuries had claimed that Charles II, James II and James II’s son the Old Pretender had all been initiated into the Rite in their exiles. There’s no historical evidence for the claims, but they gave the Rite a romantic and dramatic aura; having lost, in the intervening centuries, any suggestion of treasonable political leanings. The historical evidence shows the Rite starting out in mid-18th century France before travelling via the West Indies and New Orleans to the southern states of America. It was codified at a conference held in May 1801 in Charleston, South Carolina, when the 33 degrees of which it currently consists were established, and a hierarchy set up to rule the lodges who used it. The Rite thus constituted then travelled back across the Atlantic and into Europe. Though the Rite has never been recognised by English freemasonry’s governing body, the United Grand Lodge of England, individual members of English lodges are allowed to get involved with lodges that use the Rite, if they choose.
Their membership of the Knights Templar was another factor which linked Richard Nunn, Alpheus and William Wynn Westcott. A E Waite’s book The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry wasn’t published until 1937 but he had been studying the 18th-century manuscripts on which it was based for decades; and it probably represents ideas that were widely understood to be true by late 19th century freemasons. Waite was a knight templar himself. The earliest evidence he could find for the existence of the “Rites of Strict Observance” (on which knightly orders including the templars were based) was contained in papers written by members of a group called the Martinists, who were active in late 18th-century Lyons. However, he and other members of the templars wanted to believe that the Martinists had merely been the first to write down rites that had been formulated by the medieval templars before the order was banned; and had been passed down verbally, in secret, ever since. Waite saw the order as combining Christianity and a modern version of medieval chivalry. Perhaps this high-minded and serious approach to the obligations of freemasonry was what appealed to Alpheus Butts Simmons about the templars.
Westcott may not have had quite that level of religious fervour that many Knights Templar had; he was just interested in all of freemasonry’s sub-divisions and got himself initiated wherever he could. However, he was happy to meet another senior Knight, and to offer him the same compliment he had paid Richard Nunn - initiation into the GD. The fact that Alpheus never even got as far as choosing himself a motto or giving a full address does indicate that he was not going to follow up his GD initiation in any way: the GD’s administrators were not expecting to need to write to him at all.
Alpheus also followed Richard Nunn in becaming a corresponding member of the English freemasons’ lodge Quatuor Coronati 2076 at about the same time as his GD initiation; but by 1900 he had allowed that to lapse as well. Clearly he preferred to focus on his work with freemasonry in his home state.
The other group of GD members who might have known of Alpheus Butts Simmons are the GD’s medical practitioners, who all seem to have known each other through their interest in the use of alternative treatments to tackle conditions not susceptible to conventional medical approaches. However, I do think that via Westcott’s contacts in freemasonry was the more likely route.
BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.
Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden. Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01. I have recently (July 2014) discovered that some records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have survived, though most have not; however those that have survived are not yet accessible to the public.
For the history of the GD during the 1890s I usually use Ellic Howe’s The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923. Published Routledge and Kegan Paul 1972. Foreword by Gerald Yorke. Howe is a historian of printing rather than of magic; he also makes no claims to be a magician himself, or even an occultist. He has no axe to grind.
Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.
Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.
Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette. Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web.
Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.
Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.
BUTTS AND SIMMONS
The family history website is at
There are transcriptions of contemporary documents in it including the 1854 list of Grand Lodge members.
Spotted on the web: there are Butts and Simmons family cemeteries in Hancock County Georgia; but I note that Alpheus Butts Simmons was not buried in either of them.
Also spotted on the web: people with the surnames Butts Simmons, living in Georgia now.
At A photo of headstone confirms the year of birth and year of death. However, the website says he died in Montgomery Alabama, which contradicts all the obituaries, such as they are. an entry for Alpheus Butts Simmons who is in Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah.
AS A DOCTOR
Transactions of the American Electro-therapeutic Association issued 1891. Alpheus Butts Simmons is on its list of members.
Early publications on electrotherapeutics:
Electro-Therapeutics by David Francis Lincoln. H C Lea 1874.
Via archive.org to Hand-book of Electro-Therapeutics translation into English by I Putzel MD of lectures given in German by Dr Wilhelm Erb of Leipzig. New York: William Wood and Co 1883.
Practical Electro Therapeutics by William Francis Hutchinson 1888.
The Journal of Electro-Therapeutics was in its 18th volume by 1900.
FREEMASONRY IN GEORGIA
Transactions.. Of the Supreme Council of the 33rd and Last Degree of the Southern Jurisdiction (of the Scottish Rite) of the USA. Issued 1897 by the House of the Temple: p134.
Tableau of Members issued by the Southern Jurisdiction of the House of the Temple 1910. On p10 in a list of current members Alpheus Butts Simmons of Savannah is 2nd, after Joseph C Greenfield of Atlanta.
QUATUOR CORONATI 2076 which was founded to provide a forum and publishing medium for research on the history of freemasonry.
Butts Simmons is not on the list of corresponding members given in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum volume VII 1894, so he must have joined after that time.
Ars Quatuor Coronatorum volume XIII 1900. Endpapers: Alpheus Butts Simmons was now missing from the list of corresponding members.
THE KNIGHTS TEMPLAR
Proceedings of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar for the State of Georgia at the 49th Annual Grand Conclave held in the City of Savannah, Georgia May 11, 12, and 13, A.D. 1910, A.O. 792: p3 - a short biography of Alpheus as the current Grand Commander. Found by Adam Forrest and sent to me February 2015 by email.
The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry by A E Waite. London: Rider and Co 1937: pp305-310; p311; p321.
A E Waite: Selected Masonic Papers edited and with an introduction by Edward Dunning. Wellingborough: Thorson Publishing Group’s Aquarian Press 1988: p73, p97.
AND SEE MY BIOGRAPHY OF RICHARD JOSEPH NUNN
THE OBITUARIES WHICH PROBABLY ALL HAVE THE SAME SOURCE
Journal of the American Medical Association volume 64 part 2 1915 p1778. Also found and sent to me by Adam Forrest February 2015.
Proceedings... of the Grand Commandery Knights Templar of Michigan, issued 1915: p120
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
8 September 2015
Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: