The Archives of Phi Kappa Psi PUBL 2014-8-18

The Search for the Site of the First
Grand Arch Council of Phi Kappa Psi

1856 Lithograph of the Academical Village (Rotunda, Pavilions, and the Lawn)
Source: University of Virginia

There are many mysteries within the long history of the Fraternity, and one
for many years was the location of the First Grand Arch Council, held in 1855.

The mystery ultimately was resolved, based on the research and conclusions by J. Duncan Campbell, a
past Historian of Phi Kappa Psi who wrote Volume One of the 1952 two-volume Centennial History of
Phi Kappa Psi.

We are much indebted to him for the following
account of how he resolved the mystery and
what else he learned about the first GAC. (The
account, included in this publication, begins on
page 56 of his volume.)

For those new to Phi Psi history or to this part of
our history, some brief background is required to
explain references mentioned in what follows.

Van Cleve -- Phi Psi historian and author of Phi
Kappa Psi's first published history, in 1902. His
account can be read/or down-loaded at
William Keady -- the first initiate of Penn
Alpha in 1854 and later in life a prominent Phi
Psi and Presbyterian minister.

"Old Boy's Recollections" -- William Keady's
fascinating memories of the early days of Phi
Kappa Psi, written much later in life and first
published in the Van Cleve history and reprinted
in the Centennial History (Vol. 1, Chapter 2,
pages 23-37). We remain indebted to him for his
glimpses of Phi Psi life in our earliest days.

Socrates and Plato -- A short-lived method of
classification of members approved at the 1856
GAC. Brothers automatically were granted the
Socrates degree when initiated and the Plato

degree after a wait of at least a week and then
upon the vote of those Brothers holding the
Plato degree. Portions of chapter meetings were
restricted to attendance by only those holding
the Plato degree. The designations were
abandoned within three years.

Tom Campbell -- Thomas Cochran Campbell,
our first Ritualist and Pennsylvania Alpha's first
initiate in 1853.

"eleventh letter in the series" -- The next to
last in a series of letters written and shared
beginning in April 1855 between George Wilson
Chalfant of Pennsylvania Alpha -- instrumental
in the founding of Pennsylvania Gamma -- and
various other Phi Psis. The letters concern not
only the founding of the Chapter but also the
activities of Phi Kappa Psi at the time.

Washington City -- Washington, D.C. Brown's
Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue (no longer
standing) had been informally proposed by
Pennsylvania Alpha for consideration as the site
of the First GAC, if held in Washington.

"the game of Carolina Governor" -- perhaps a
card game? (If anyone knows, please email

And now, J. Duncan Campbell's report in his
own words and style of the First Grand Arch

In Van Cleve's history of Phi Kappa Psi,
published in 1902, he indicates that the first
GAC, held in 1855, was in Washington, D.C.

In the light of documentary evidence, there
seems to be a good cause to doubt this, and to
state that the First GAC of the Phi Kappa Psi
Fraternity was held at Charlottesville, Virginia.

Van Cleve bases his statement on the memory of
William Keady, who was positive. However, the
"Old Boy's Recollections" contain references
that indicate that Keady was not infallible.

Writing in 1880 he had at that time forgotten the
names given to the two degrees of the Phi Kappa
Psi Fraternity in 1856. Instead of Socrates and
Plato, he says: "The names of the degrees were
not chosen till afterward, and these I do not
remember, except that 'David' and 'Jonathan'
were proposed."

In other minor matters, Keady makes errors of
memory. He ascribes to Tom Campbell certain
work that was done by Founders Letterman and
Moore. These are not cited as a criticism of
either Van Cleve or Keady, but rather as an
indication that an error may have existed for
many years concerning this First GAC.

It was be remembered that in the eleventh letter
of the series, written by George W. Chalfant,
dated Aug. 4, 1855, he states that the meetings
of the GAC will take place in Charlottesville,
Virginia, on August 18. The delegate of
Pennsylvania Alpha, John Seabury Chapman,
had agreed to meet anywhere that might suit
Virginia Alpha, and mentions 'Baltimore,
Washington City, or the Hall of Virginia Alpha
in Charlottesville'.

He, however, could not meet until after his
graduation at Jefferson on August 4. On August
4, Chalfant writes that the GAC will be held in
Charlottesville on August 18.

In the present archives of Virginia Beta there is
an original manuscript with this heading:
'Constitution and Forms and Ceremonies of the
Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, as adopted by the
Grand Arch Council, Charlottesville, Virginia,
Aug. 18-24, 1855'.

Since the opening and closing dates of the GAC
are given, it is evident that this was written after
the GAC, but within a few weeks or perhaps
months of the GAC in question. Surely this was
written within a year of the event, for the
Constitution, Forms and Ceremonies were
drastically changed in 1856.

In the archives of Pennsylvania Beta we have
another strong point of evidence. In writing to T.
Ruston Kennedy, Tom Campbell insists that the
next GAC (1856) be held in Canonsburg,
Pennsylvania, and he says that another GAC
within a year would not have been necessary if it
hadn't been held in the South, where Southern
influence was so strong.

On the basis of these two letters and the heading
on the Constitution in the possession of Virginia
Beta, it is believed that the First GAC of the Phi

Kappa Psi Fraternity was held at Charlottesville,
Virginia, Aug. 18-24, 1855. It is hoped that
additional documentary evidence will be found
later, which will eliminate the slightest doubt in
this matter.

No minutes or other records of this First GAC
have yet been found. Van Cleve states that no
record was kept, that the testimony of Brother
Keady indicates that the few delegates were 'of a
decidedly convivial character and played the
game of Carolina Governor to perfection'.
Continuing, he says: "There was no business
done and therefore no record made." We do
know, however, that the Presiding Officer was
James William Morgan, Va. Alpha '53.

It is surely wrong to assume that nothing was
accomplished, for an examination of the
Constitution, et cetera, for 1854 and 1855, after
the GAC made changes, indicates that several
important things must have been agreed upon. It
will be recalled that Chalfant, in writing to
Pennsylvania Gamma, asks that they not put the
constitution and the like, into a permanent book,
for the coming GAC will certainly make some
changes in it.

J. Duncan continues his account with a report on
changes made at the 1855 GAC in the
Constitution, including the preamble which was
revised to read as follows:

"Man is preeminently a social being;
he is so by necessity. A social
feeling is intimately interwoven with
the very fiber of his existence, and
essential to the preservation of his
species, also to the cultivation of the
noble principles of his nature, since
it engenders those feelings of
sympathy which call forth mutual
love and interchange of good offices.
The selfish element in his nature
often causes him to disregard the
promptings of his heart and reason,
and in the blind pursuit of his own
selfish ends, to be careless of the
happiness of those around him. This
is the case with the majority of those
engaged in the active pursuits of life
and more particularly with
Collegians who are removed from
the kind and softening influences of
family, to where sectional jealousies
and rivalries of various kinds are
seen to mar their intercourse and
raise a barrier to the development of
Friendship. Therefore, in view of
these and such considerations, do we
organize the Phi Kappa Psi
Fraternity, solemnlypledging
ourselves to the following

J. Duncan then summarizes several other
changes made in the Constitution, all of which
can be found on page 58 of his volume for those
who are interested in that material.

One question for which there has been no
definite answer is, did Founders Moore and
Letterman attend the first GAC?

There is evidence in an Aug. 4, 1855, letter by
Chalfant that "Brother Letterman, of
Philadelphia, writes that he expected to be
present" at the GAC at Charlottesville. (Founder
Letterman had just been graduated from
Jefferson College and was soon to begin his
studies at Jefferson Medical
College in Philadelphia, from which he was
graduated with his M.D. in 1856.)

Founder Moore had headed to the University of
Virginia to enroll in Law School in 1853,
following his graduation from Union College.
He was instrumental there in the founding of the
Fraternity's second chapter, Virginia Alpha, on
Dec. 8, 1853. As he was admitted to the Virginia
Bar in 1856 following the granting of his law
degree, it would appear likely he also was
present at the GAC, barring illness or some

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