Knights of the Maccabees

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The KOTM Temple in Pendleton, Oregon was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Knights of the Maccabees was a fraternal organization formed in 1878 in London, Ontario, Canada. Most active in the U.S. state of Michigan, the group's fraternal aspects took a backseat to providing low-cost insurance to members. In the society's early years it also provided other final-expense related benefits such as society cemeteries.

The motto of the Knights of Maccabees was the Latin phrase "Astra Castra Numen Lumen" which means "The stars my camp, the Deity my light".[1]


The Knights of the Maccabees was founded in London, Ontario by members of the Order of the Foresters. They based their name, ceremonies and rituals on the Maccabees, a group of Jewish rebels against the Seleucid Empire whose exploits are described in the Books of the Maccabees, considered part of the Biblical canon by Catholics, but included in the Apocrypha by Protestants. The first convention was held on August 7, 1878.[2][3]

The group grew rapidly in Canada and several US States, reaching 10,000 members by 1880. The organization was not on an actuarially sound basis - no medical exams were required of new members, and assessments of death was 10 cents for each member. As death claims began piling up, the organizations expenses began to outweigh its income. A group of business men in Michigan, where the order had a number of members, endeavored to put the Maccabees on a sound financial basis. To this end a "grand review" was held in Buffalo, New York in 1880 to reorganize the society, drawing up a new constitution and laws. Major N. S. Boynton was elected the new Supreme Lieutenant Commander. This created a brief schism with the Canadian group seceding under a man named McLaughlin. In 1881 a meeting of the two factions representatives met at Port Huron, Michigan, and they agreed to reconcile their differences. A committee was appointed, chaired by Boynton, to draft a new constitution acceptable to both factions, and this was agreed to in February 1881.[4]

Under the new constitution, Great Camps could be formed in states or provinces with more than 1,000 members and the Supreme Tent (overall organization) operated the beneficiary aspect of the organization. The Great Camp of Michigan was incorporated in that state on June 11, 1881, which was considered the foundation date of the reorganized order. Organizational stability remained elusive. At the Supreme Tent in July 1881 the Michigan delegates obtained an amendment to allow individual Great Camps to establish their own beneficiary programs, anticipating that the national organization would become defunct. By 1882, the order had indeed become dormant outside of Michigan, and Boynton became Great Record Keeper and then Great Commander of the state. The Supreme Tent was then revived, again, in September 1883.[5]

In 1914 the organization changed its name from the Knights of the Maccabees to simply The Maccabees.[6]

In terms of finances and benefits, the Maccabees adopted the National Fraternal Congress Tables in 1911 and the American Mortuary Table of Rates in 1920. A "Supreme Review" conducted in 1958, the Macabees became a mutual life insurance company effective 1961, though still kept some fraternal features.[7][8]

Organizationally, the group suffered a split in 1905, when a group called the Western Bees seceded in 1905. This group eventually merged with the Highland Nobles in 1911.[9] In the 1930s the Maccabees began absorbing some smaller fraternal benefit societies, including the Brotherhood of America in 1935, the Slavic Progressive Beneficial Union in 1937 and the Michigan Union Life Association in 1941.[10]

20th Century[edit]

  • By 1920 the ladies' auxiliary, Ladies of the Maccabees, claimed more than 200,000 members.
  • In 1926 they established their headquarters at the Maccabees Building in downtown Detroit, Michigan. In 1960 the Maccabees relocated to a new building in Southfield, Michigan - a suburb of Detroit. In 1986 they built new 251,000-square-foot (23,300 m2) office building, in Southfield.
  • In 1941 the group gained control of the Michigan Union Life Association, furthering its transformation from a benefit society into a modern, legal-reserve insurance company.
  • In 1962 the group changed its name again, this time to the Maccabees Mutual Life Insurance Company.
  • In the 1990s the organization was demutualized and sold to the Royal Insurance Group and operated under the name Royal Maccabees Life Insurance Company.
  • In 1999 Royal Maccabees was sold by its parent company, Royal & SunAlliance Financial Services, to Swiss Re.[11] Swiss Re merged it into its subsidiary, Reassure America Life Insurance Company.[12]


The group was structured on a three tiered model, with local Subordinate Camps, Great Camps at the district level and the whole considered the Supreme Tent.[8] By the 1970s the local groups were called "Subordinate Units". Head offices were traditionally in Detroit, but in 1965 they were moved to Southfield, Michigan.[13]


Membership was open to all white persons between 18 and 70, though those over 52 were ineligible for the beneficiary features. Applicants had to be of good moral character, bodily healthy and socially acceptable. Furthermore, those engaged in extra-hazardous occupations, such as coal miners, electric line men, aeronauts, people engaged in blasting, the manufacture of highly flammable or explosive material and submarine officers were excluded from membership. Also, no one who was involved in the liquor trade or an alcoholic was admitted. Certain classes of railway employees, expressmen, miners (excluding coal miners) and firemen had to pay an additional 25 cents assessment per each $1,000.[14]

On December 1, 1896 the Knights had 182,000 members in 40 states and provinces, though a third of the membership was in Michigan. The death rate among the membership was 5.54 per 1,000, which was considered exceptionally low. They also had a permanent headquarters in Port Huron, which had opened in 1892.[14] By 1915 membership had reached 331,756. However, by 1978 membership was down to about 10,000[7] There were 3,500 members in the US and Canada in 1994.[8]


  • Degree of Protection - In the Degree of Protection, the candidate was introduced to the demands of Honor, Courage, and Obedience. The candidate learned the history of Maccabee household and how it protected Judea from King Antiochus during the war of independence. To prove themselves fit to "join in the cause of humanity," the tyros had to undergo an ordeal.
  • Degree of Friendship - In the Degree of Friendship, the Commander takes the part of Mattathias, the Lt. Commander that of Judas, the Past Commander that of John (son of Mattathias), and the Chaplain that of Eleazar (son of Mattathias). The candidate received instruction in the nature of friendship.
  • Degree of Loyalty - In the Degree of Loyalty, the dramatic work revolved around the following characters: Apelles, Mattathias, Matthathias's four sons, Judas, Soldiers, while the candidate, Sentinel, and a Knight took the parts of Jewish peasants. In keeping with the Maccabee legend of the revolt at Modin the patriarch Mattathias remained steadfast to the Jewish religion when ordered to make sacrifice to Roman gods and at great personal risk stops an apostate Jew from offering sacrifice to false gods. The lesson derived from his example was that of genuine patriotism and inculcated the duty to uphold and defend the rights of liberty and conscience when they are threatened by irresponsible power in any form. Additionally, the candidate was reintroduced to the ghost of Eleazar and finally sees the end of the rebellion.[15]

Ladies of the Maccabees[edit]

Lady Maccabees Meeting in the Ironville Neighborhood House, Toledo, Ohio, approximately 1909

The Ladies of the Maccabees were the group's female auxiliary. The Ladies began as a local club, or "Hive" in Muskegon, Michigan, but made application to form a statewide auxiliary at the Great Camps 1886 convention. They were denied. They tried again at the 1887 convention and were turned down. In 1888, permission was given to create a "Great Hive" for the state. Laws were drawn up and officials elected and the Great Hive of Michigan was chartered in May 1890. Great Hives were founded in other states such as Ohio and New York, and a "Supreme Hive" was established on October 1, 1892. By December 1, 1896 there were Great Hives in half of the states in the Union as well as Canada and membership was up to 66,000, with 33,000 in Michigan alone. The Ladies of the Maccabees was the first fraternal benefit society operated exclusively by women.[16] In 1915 the Ladies had 179,719 members. The Ladies of the Maccebees merged into the Knights in 1926.[13]

In 1892 there was a schism within the auxiliary and a new group was formed called the Ladies of the Modern Maccabees.[9] This group became the Women's Benefit Association in 1915 and the North American Benefit Association in 1966. On March 25, 1886, nine ladies met at the home of Adelphia Grace Ward[17] (aka Mother of the Order, Past Great Commander) to establish[18] the order of the Ladies of the Modern Maccabees[19] (L.O.T.M.M.). This was an insurance benefit society which grew to 80,000 members by 1913 and had paid out over $50 million in endowment benefits. She became known as "Mother Ward" throughout the length and breadth of Maccabeedom. The Modern Maccabees were later led by schoolteacher Bina West Miller[20] who wanted to help build a fraternal insurance society for women, and she was quite successful. By the early twentieth century the group had 100,000 members and by the late 1920s over 250,000. It still had 80,000 members in 1994.[21]

Notable people[edit]


  • Emma Eliza Bower (1852–1937) Great Record Keeper; published The Lady Maccabee
  • Lillian Hollister (1853–1911), elected Great Commander of the Ladies of the Maccabees, 1893


See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Alan Axelrod International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies and Fraternal Orders New York; Facts on File, inc 1997 p.166
  3. ^ Stevens, Albert C. Cyclopedia of Fraternities: A Compilation of Existing Authentic Information and the Results of Original Investigation as to the Origin, Derivation, Founders, Development, Aims, Emblems, Character, and Personnel of More Than Six Hundred Secret Societies in the United States New York : E.B. Treat and Co., 1907 p.152
  4. ^ Stevens pp.152-3
  5. ^ Stevens pp.153-4
  6. ^ Schmidt, Alvin J. Fraternal Organizations Westport, CT; Greenwood Press p.212
  7. ^ a b Schmidt p.212
  8. ^ a b c Axelrod p.166
  9. ^ a b Axelrod p.167
  10. ^ Axelrod pp.166-7
  11. ^ "Royal & SunAlliance Announces the Sale of its US Life Operations to Swiss Re Life & Health" (PDF) (Press release). Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group plc. 1999-03-04. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 19, 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-26. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ "Reassure America Life Insurance Company". Company Profile Search. Texas Department of Insurance. Retrieved 2009-07-26. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ a b Schmidt p.213
  14. ^ a b Stevens p.154
  15. ^
  16. ^ Stevens p.155
  17. ^ Adelphia Grace Ward
  18. ^ Founder of the Order; Maccabeeism: from its origin to the present pages 64-65
  19. ^ Maccabeeism: from its origin to the present pages 15-18
  20. ^ Maccabeeism: from its origin to the present pages 42-43
  21. ^ Axelrod pp.183-4

External links[edit]