Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

James L. Ridgely
MSA SC 3520-15006


James Lot Ridgely was born in Baltimore City on January 27, 1807. He married Anna Jane Jamison, daughter of Major Jamison of Baltimore City; in 1828. Anna Jane passed away in 1835. Ridgely then married her sister, Esther P. Jamison, in 1836. They had three children, Henry Clay Ridgely; James L. Ridgely Jr., and a daughter. James L. Ridgely died at his home, 267 Lanvale Street, on November 16, 1881, at 7:20am.

Ridgely completed his classical education at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmittsburg, and pursued his legal education at the University of Maryland School of Law. He was then admitted to the Baltimore Bar in 1828. At the age of 22, he became an Odd-Fellow and rapidly rose through the ranks of the organization and in 1842 was elected to the position of Grand Recording and Corresponding Secretary. He held this position until the time of his death. During his time as an Odd-Fellow, Ridgely also compiled a history of the order, which has been considered an authoritative work. In 1855, and until his death, he was the president of the Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Baltimore County, and for several years he was the president of the Baltimore County Board of Education.

Along with his work in the private sector, James Ridgely had a diverse political career. He was elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1834 and 1835. Ridgely then went on to serve for a term in the House of Delegates in 1838. Later, he would serve for two terms as the Register of Wills for Baltimore County, beginning in 1852, but resigned one year before the end of his second term. Ridgely would also represent Baltimore County as a member in the Constitutional Conventions of 1850 and 1864.

As impressive as his political career was, perhaps Ridgely’s greatest accolades can be found in his service to the Masonic order. He first participated in the Masons when he attended the Grand Lodge of the United States’ annual session of the order in September 5, 1831 as a representative for Maryland. During the session he headed the petition for a charter to open a Grand Encampment in Baltimore City. The charter was granted and the grand body was instituted the following year, making it the first of such in the world. In 1833 he was elected to the position of grand secretary of the Grand Lodge of Maryland. While in the lodge he participated in the adoption of the Revised Work in 1835.  Ridgely would later be elected to the position of Grand Sire of the Order (the highest position in the Order in the U.S.) both in 1836 and 1840. However, he would decline the position after the 1840 election. That same year he was elected to grand corresponding secretary and eventually to the position of grand recording secretary. He would hold both positions until his death.

Ridgely would extend his standing in the order further when he was sent as a delegate to the meeting of the order in Manchester, England in 1842 and as a special grand representative to the 1848 Grand Lodge of British North America’s meeting in Montreal. He would also serve on a commission for the Grand Lodge of the U.S. that was organized in New York on January 17, 1848. At the commission he heard and took testimony about the constitutional differences in the jurisdiction of New York. The result of the commission was the division of the state into two lodges. In 1855, Ridgely was also commissioned to visit several lodges in British North America under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of the U.S.

"Death of Mr. Jamse Lot Ridgely, a Prominent Odd-Fellow." The Baltimore Sun, 17 November 1881.

Written by James Watson, September 2008.

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