James Montgomery, Author of Friendship, Love, and Truth.

James Montgomery may be a poet that influenced some of our ritual. He may have written some of it as well, but he is absolutely the author of the Odd Fellow’s song “Friendship, Love, and Truth.”

James Montgomery’s parents were Moravian missionaries, and from County Antrim,  in what is now Northern Ireland. After James was born, his parents made for the West Indies,west Indies leaving James in England. It is in the West Indies where his parents encountered the evils of African slavery on plantations. Both of Montgomery’s parents will become abolitionists and will die in the West Indies.

James was born in Scotland in 1771 and died at 82 in 1854. He was a hymn writer,  staunch abolitionist, and fought against child labor practices in England. James received some training to become a Moravian minister, but decided not to pursue this profession. Montgomery became enamored with poetry while young. He often had insomnia and found it difficult to sleep when he got caught up in writing or reading poetry.

He became an Odd Fellow around 1792 after being introduced to Odd Fellowship by his employer Joseph Gales, who was a bookseller, auctioneer, and newspaper owner. In 1794, Common_SenseGales will be forced to flee England to escape prosecution for using his newspaper to support popular sovereignty for the people. He ultimately moved to the United States, settling in Raleigh, North Carolina around the year 1795, becoming one of the early Odd Fellows in the United States. Gales, an acquaintance of Thomas Paine (author of Common Sense), will sell his newspaper to Montgomery who was 23 at the time.

In England, James Montgomery was put in prison twice for treason against the Crown: the first time for three months in 1795 over writing and publishing a song commemorating the destruction of the Bastille during the French Revolution.  He was a supporter of the uprising of French peasants against the royals of France. This was viewed as a direct threat against the royals of Britain.   He was convicted of treason, fined twenty pounds, and spent 3 months imprisoned at York Castle.

york castle
York Castle around 1730
York Castle today

From prison, he wrote “I do feel, but I will not sink. Though all the world should forsake me, this consolation can never fail me, that the great searcher of hearts, who’s eye watches every atom of the universe, knows every secret intention of my soul; and when, at the bar of eternal justice this cause shall again be tried I do indulge the humble hope that His approving voice shall confirm the verdict which I feel His finger has written upon my conscience.” This was written after he was an Odd Fellow, and the symbolism and sentiment of the Order seem readily apparent in his statement.

Within two years, Montgomery was in trouble again–using his newspaper, he published an account of an event that occurred in Sheffield, England. Officials described the event as a “riot.” Montgomery took exception and, choosing sides, described the event as a peaceful protest, and that it was unlawful for authorities to break up such a lawful gathering. As a result, he was once again trundled off to prison.

During his life, his poetry was compared to the greatest poets of his time. He also wrote approximately 400 hymns during his life time. He never married, and received a public funeral in Sheffield, England.

In most sources, “Friendship, Love, and Truth” is repeatedly described as a song, but I’ve found no music written for it to date (if anyone has it, let me know). In the first verse, you’ll notice a reference to wording found in the Odd Fellow Initiation. In the second verse, notice the reference to some of our symbolism. You’ll also notice, in the third verse, the use of the word “constellation” and “star” which refers to some of the early symbolism of the Order that was given to the Rebekahs. 

Friendship, Love, and Truth

By James Montgomery, ca. 1792

When “Friendship, Love, and Truth” abound
Among a band of brothers,
The cup of joy goes gaily round,
Each shares the bliss of others.
Sweet roses grace the thorny way
Along this vale of sorrow;
The flowers that shed their leaves to-day
Shall bloom again to-morrow.
How grand in age, how fair in youth,
Are holy “Friendship, Love, and Truth!”

On halcyon wings our moments pass,
Life’s cruel cares beguiling;
Old Time lays down his scythe and glass,
In gay good-humour smiling:
With ermine beard and forelock gray,
His reverend part adorning,
He looks like Winter turn’d to May,
Night soften’d into Morning.
How grand in age, how fair in youth,
Are holy “Friendship, Love, and Truth!”

From these delightful fountains flow
Ambrosial rills of pleasure;
Can man desire, can Heaven bestow,
A more resplendent treasure?
Adorn’d with gems so richly bright,
Will form a constellation,
Where every star, with modest light,
Shall gild its proper station.
How grand in age, how fair in youth,
Are holy “Friendship, Love, and Truth!”

Scott Moye is author of the book “Think Like An Odd Fellow! Wisdom and Self-Improvement in 21st Century Odd Fellowship.” He is an award-winning history educator and collector of Arkansas folklore. He grew up on a cotton farm and is currently a museum worker. Hobbies include: old house 14522791_10157320584235012_6451953840254930674_nrestoration, writing, amateur radio, Irish traditional music, archery, craft beer, old spooky movies, and street performance.  He is a member of Marshall Lodge #1, in Marshall, Arkansas, and a founder of Heart In Hand Blog. 

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