Independent Order of Rechabites
The Independent Order of Rechabites (IOR), also known as the Sons and Daughters of Rechab, is a Friendly Society founded in England in 1835 as part of the wider British temperance movement to promote total abstinence from alcoholic beverages. Always well connected in upper society and involved in financial matters, it gradually transformed into a financial institution which still exists, and still promotes abstinence. The Order has been active in Australia from 1843, promoting temperance and as a benefit society. A branch was established in the United States in 1842, which also flourished for a time.
The order began was founded on 25 August 1835 as the Salford Unity of Rechabites, at the town of Salford, near Manchester, England. Their first lodge was ""Tent Ebenezer #1" and soon "tents" would be founded for adult females (over the age of 12), boys (aged 12–16), and for children of both sexes (age 5-12), as well as other adult males (age 16 and up.)
The rituals and ceremonies of the Rechabites varied from place to place, but the order worked three degrees, Knight of Temperance, Knight of Fortitude, and Covenanted Knight of Justice. Lodges were called tents because the Lord commanded the Biblical sons of Rechab to live in tents and the governing body, in England at least, was called the Movable Committee, meeting in a different city every two years. Membership was open to all who would sign a pledge to completely abstain from alcohol for all religious or medical purposes. There were also death and sickness benefits.
From the late 18th century a number of Friendly Societies had been set up to help working-class people with such things as health insurance, death benefits, etc. Generally these held their meetings in public houses. In the 1830s a group of Manchester Methodists became concerned that by encouraging working men to attend public houses to pay their friendly society dues, then the societies were harming the men's health and financial situation and threatening their moral welfare, rather than helping them. To counter this they set up a new Friendly Society called the Independent Order of Rechabites, named after the nomadic, abstaining Rechabites of the Old Testament. The IOR were an offshoot of the Callithumpians, then a diverse collection of social reformers of independent religious views.
A branch may be known as a "Tent", since the biblical Rechabites lived exclusively in tents. Each Tent was ruled by a High Chief Ruler, assisted by a High Deputy Ruler, Corresponding Secretary, Sick and Tent Stewards, Inside and Outside Guardians, a Levite of the Tent and a number of Elders. Before one could join the Rechabites and benefit from their insurance and saving scheme a document had to be signed swearing that the proposed member and his family would not drink any alcoholic beverages. This document was known as The Pledge and represented a solemn promise. The initials "IOR" on a tombstone may indicate that the deceased was a member of the organisation.
In the United States there were several orders of Rechabites including the Independent Order of Rechabites of North American and the Encamped Knights of Rechab of North America. The most successful, however, was the Independent Order of Rechabites which was founded in 1842, and was reported to have 990,000 at the beginning of the twentieth century. Like the British order, its local groups were called Tents. The national structure was the "High Tent" and the order was headquartered in Washington, DC. Membership was open to white males 16–55 years old who believed in a Supreme Being and signed a total abstinence pledge. Individuals over fifty five were admitted as honorary members, and females over twelve and males under sixteen were permitted to form their own Tents. The Order worked three degrees: Knight of Templiance, Knight of Fortitude and Covenanted Knight of Justice.
In Australia the IOR was first established in Tasmania in 1843, soon spreading to other states. Members of the IOR were provided with assistance during times of sickness, death and hardship. In 1991, IOR Victoria combined with the IOR in other states to form a national private health fund. Members wishing to join IOR's health fund were no longer required to sign a pledge of abstinence from alcohol. In 2005 the IOR health fund was sold to HCF Health Insurance, and the rest of the organisation continued as a temperance promoting organisation. In 2008, 38.5 million dollars of its funds management was transferred to the Foresters Friendly Society (Ancient Order of Foresters). As of 2013, it retains state branches in NSW, Victoria and Queensland, each with a number of affiliated tents.
The archives of the Independent Order of Rechabites have been deposited at Senate House Library, University of London. Some archives are also held by the Archives of the University of Glasgow (GUAS). Numerous archives of branches are held at local record offices.
- Alan Axelrod International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Fraternal Orders New York; Facts on File, inc 1997 p.206
- Axelrod p.206
- Axelrod p.206
- Axelrod p.206
- Schmidt, Alvin J. Fraternal Organizations Westport, CT; Greenwood Press pp.286-7
- Leach, W. T. (William Turnbull), 1805-1886 An address on rechabitism: delivered at the quarterly meeting of the members of the Independant Order of Rechabites, in the hall of the Spring of Canada Tent on the 18th July, 1845 Montreal? : s.n.] 1845
- Rules for the government of the Stepney Tent, no. 83 : of the Independent Order of Rechabites, Salford Unity, Friendly Society, East Riding District Hull : Printed by F. Oliver 1873
- General laws for the government of the Independent Order of Rechabites, Salford Unity, Friendly Society : adopted by the Moveable Conference, August, 1853, and amended by subsequent M.C.s, 1854 to 1873 : registered under the Friendly Societies' Act 13 and 14 Victoria, Cap. 115 Manchester : Published by the Board of Directors, at the Offices of the Order 1873
- Rules of the Independent Order of Rechabites, Salford Unity, Friendly Society, as amended by the Glasgow H.M.C., 1887 : registered under the Friendly Societies Acts 1887
- Official site of the Australian Rechabites
- Records of the Independent Order of Rechabites at Senate House Library
- History of the Rechabites
- Another history
- History of the Rechabites on the Isle of Man
- More notes from the Isle of Man, linking the formation of the Rechabites to the Order of Oddfellows and therefore indirectly to Freemasonry.