The Patriotic Order Sons of America (P.O.S. of A.) is one of America's oldest patriotic and fraternal societies still in existence. It once had several hundred Camps (lodges) with several thousand members in the United States of America and its territories, but is now only found in Pennsylvania. Our motto is "God, Our Country and Our Order."
Origin of the Order:
The Order of the Junior Sons of America was founded December 10, 1847 in Philadelphia, PA, by Dr. Reynell Coates (December 10, 1802 - April 27, 1886). Dr. Coates was a surgeon, scientist, statesman, naturalist, teacher, poet, lecturer and essayist, and wished to found a fraternity for American boys to serve as a "High School of American Patriotism."
The organization was open to American boys aged sixteen to twenty-one years of age. Upon turning twenty-one, their membership would be transferred to the United Sons of America, the parent organization of the Junior Sons. Dr. Coates was the organizer and chief promoter of the Junior Sons of America, he wrote the constitution and by-laws, the ritual and ceremonies, and chose the Order's songs which still remain in use.
The first meeting of the Junior Sons of America was conducted on December 10, 1847, on Ridge Road, near Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, PA.
Dr. Coates devised the Order on the Masonic lodge system, with local units called "Camps," meeting around fraternal altars on which the Holy Bible was placed. Secret modes of recognition, such as hand signs, grips or secret handclasps, and passwords were devised and taught to the members.
Immediately after lighting the first Campfire of the Order, the Order expanded throughout the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and by 1859, the Order of Junior Sons of America was established in twenty States and Territories of the Union. The Roll Call of the Order consisted of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, Indiana, the District of Columbia, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, Rhode Island, Vermont, Delaware, New Hampshire, Maine, Iowa, and Texas.
The first national convention of the Junior Sons of America was convened in Philadelphia, PA, August 12th and 13th, 1857. The second was conducted in New York City on the second Tuesday of August, 1858, with eight States and the District of Columbia represented.
While the parent organization, the United Sons of America, had dissolved in the 1850's, the Junior Sons of America continued on. Pennsylvania always had the largest number of members and Camps. Each Lodge is called "Washington Camp #___," a tradition started by Dr. Coates to honor the great "Father of Our Country," General George Washington
The American Civil War:
When the tragic American Civil War (1861-1865) broke out, the first Pennsylvania volunteer regiments were members of the Junior Sons of America. So many members volunteered that only one Camp in Pennsylvania remained active. Some camps enrolled into the Union Army as a whole, proving their loyalty and patriotic love of Flag and Country.
The Order disbanded and fell apart throughout the newly-formed Confederate States of America, and its Camps south of the Mason Dixon Line disappeared.
Towards the conclusion of this unfortunate conflict, a convention was held by several Brothers of the Junior Sons of America in Norristown, PA on August 17th, 1864, to reorganize the Order. It was at this time that the name was changed to the Patriotic Sons of America (P.O.S. of A.) and the age limit of 21 was discontinued.
A State body, the "State Camp," was created in August 1866 in Minersville, PA, through whose efforts or reorganization saw some twenty-six subordinate Camps of the P.O.S. of A. represented by the time of the first annual session of the Pennsylvania State Camp in August, 1867.
The Order adopted a sash, worn from the right shoulder to the left hip, bearing the blue canton and white stars, and red and white stripes, of "Old Glory" as the official regalia for P.O.S. of A. brothers. Jewels of office, consisting of red, white and blue ribbons and silver emblematic devices, were adopted for the Camp's officers to wear on their sash.
In the Masonic tradition, a three-degree ritual was adopted by the Order, and was designated as the Red Degree, White Degree and Blue Degree.
Growth and Expansion:
During the period of 1870-1900, the P.O.S. of A. expanded rapidly, establishing Camps along the Eastern seaboard of the United States, and in States as far west as Wyoming and Colorado. The P.O.S. of A. participated in many parades and other social functions, and their Commandery units were always dressed in military style uniforms with plumed chapeaux, swords and black uniforms similar to the Knights Templars of the Masonic York Rite.
The uniform was later changed to more modern U.S. Army-style dark blue uniforms, with the round peaked cap bearing badges with the letters "P.O.S. of A."
Answering the Nation's Call to Arms:
The Brothers of the P.O.S. of A. have always been ready to serve our nation in times of war, and answered the nation's call to arms. 5,000 Brothers volunteered for military service during the outbreak of the Spanish-American War of 1898. Many made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation; they maintained their bonds of brotherhood during the war, and even held Camp meetings while on duty in Puerto Rico.
In 1917, when the United States of America entered the First World War (1914-1918), 27,413 P.O.S.of A. Brothers enlisted; over 500 gave their lives.
When the United States of America was drawn into the Second World War (1939-1945), close to 5,000 Brothers served in the armed forces; more than 100 made the supreme sacrifice.
Accomplishments of the Order:
At the turn of the last century, the P.O.S. of A. helped purchase and restore General George Washington's Headquarters in Valley Forge, PA. Soon after, the State of Pennsylvania took it over as a park, and it was years before the P.O.S. of A. got the recognition for their tireless efforts. The P.O.S. of A. was also responsible for making Flag Day (June 14) a National holiday in the United States of America on August 3, 1949, the Congressman who drafted the legislation was Brother Francis E. Walter, a member of the Order.
The Order helped save the Betsy Ross Flag House in Philadelphia, PA in 1898, placed monuments and markers at key national shrines such as the birthplace of Francis Scott Key, author of "The Star-Spangled Banner," in Frederick, MD, Washington's Crossing in New Jersey, aided in the preservation of Mount Vernon, VA, and St. Paul's Church, New York, NY, and other notable activities.
The P.O.S. of A. also played a large role in having the U.S. battleship Olympia, Admiral Dewey's flagship from the Spanish-American War, preserved in Philadelphia. The Order continues to present flags to Valley Forge Park, and the flag that flies at Independence Hall comes from the P.O.S. of A.
The P.O.S. of A. stands for education, patriotism, respect for the American Flag. One of the main things we do is donate flags to local organizations and try to spread our love for America. The Order is still proudly in existence and is active in our respective communities.
**A special "Thanks" to Brother Denis P. McGowan who provided the history of this Order. Brother McGowan is a dedicated fraternalist and student of the history of American fraternal organization.