William  Hacker

          William Hacker, of Shelbyville, had a profound influence on the Craft in Indiana for more than a half century.  One biographical sketch says that he contributed more to the organization of the ritual, law, and preservation of the early history than any other individual from 1817 on.
          He was born December 5, 1810 somewhere on the Big Darby Plains in Ohio, son of John and Susanna Smith Hacker.  His ancestry goes back to 1498 when  William Heckardt  was born in Saxony.
          When he was five he lost his mother by death.  The family at that time consisted of eight brothers and sisters.  William attended school for six weeks to two months each year for four or five years.  This was all the schooling he received.  The rest of his education was procured at home through his own efforts.
          He worked for his father on the farm until he was 16 and then went to Dayton and served four years as an apprentice in the mechanical trade.  This continued until 1838 when he began operating a general store.  In 1843 he assisted in the organization of a railroad company.  From time to time he returned to the mercantile business, but eventually was forced to retire because of ill health.  In the period from 1841 through 1864 he served as a justice of the peace.
          In January 1838 he was married to  Mary Ann Sargent.  They were the parents of ten children.
          Brother Hacker was made a Mason in St. John's Lodge No. 13 at Dayton, Ohio, on February 4, 1833.  He transferred his membership to Lafayette (now Shelby) Lodge No. 28 on July 4, 1835 and was elected Master at the same meeting although he had never held another Masonic office.  It was said that for the next 29 years he conferred every degree, except two, in this Lodge.  At that time the Lodge met at Shelbyville and Hanover, near Morristown, and had to maintain two Lodge halls.  After a period in which the charter of the Ledge was arrested it was restored with one location only, and that at Shelbyville.
          He accumulated a collection of books on Masonry.  numbering more than 2,000 volumes and presented it to the Scottish Rite of Indianapolis in 1883.  The library, insured for $12,000, was destroyed by fire on November 3, 1894.  Among the books in that collection was a history of Freemasonry in Indiana, written by Brother Hacker in longhand.
          He also wrote a history of Lafayette and Shelby Lodge No. 28 written in longhand.  This history is in possession of Shelby Lodge.  It contains numerous biographies of most of the early members of the Lodge.
          Perhaps the outstanding achievement of William Hacker was the collection, compilation, and printing of the early Proceedings of Grand Lodge.  The historian Daniel McDonald wrote that "when he began the work some of the records were lost and others were on detached slips of paper without order or system in their arrangement."  The collection begins in 1817 and runs through 1845.
          He served as Master of his Lodge 20 years, and in several offices of Grand Lodge, including Grand Master two years and Grand Secretary three years.  In the Royal Arch Chapter he was High Priest nine years and Grand High Priest four years.  In the Council of Cryptic Masons he served eight years as Illustrious Master and six years as Grand Master.  In the Commandery he was Eminent Commander two years.
          Brother Hacker received the Scottish Rite degrees by communication in Indianapolis on May 25, 1864.  the 33rd degree was conferred on him through special authorization of the Supreme Council November 18, 1886.
          He died July 29, 1891 after a long period of failing health.  The funeral was held at his residence July 31.  The Grand Lodge of Indiana performed the regular funeral  ritual and Baldwin Commandery No. 2 escorted the remains to Forest Hill Cemetery, where Nicholas R. Ruckle, Grand Master, presided.
          The home of Brother Hacker, at 39 East Mechanic street in Shelbyville, erected in 1849, has been remodeled many times, but the walls are the same.
          The historian McDonald described him as "tall and slender, being six feet and four inches in height.  In later years he had a full beard to his breast, while as snow.  For years prior to his death he was almost totally deaf and was compelled to use an ear trumpet.  Modest and unassuming, he was dignified to a marked degree in speech and action.  He was not brilliant but painstaking.  One citizen of Shelbyville said that he was of an very cold disposition and did not have many friends for this reason, although everyone admired his ability."
          Many Lodges and Royal Arch Chapters have been named in honor of Brother Hacker, the most recent being William Hacker Lodge No. 759, chartered in 1985 and located at Shelbyville.
From the October, 1988 issue of  The Indiana Freemason.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

William Hacker.* I trace my ancestorial [sic] line back near five hundred years. In the year 1491, so far as is now known, my line of descent commenced at the birth of  Wilhelm Heckardt, near the city of Dresden, in Saxony.  This gentleman being the first born of his parents, of course under the laws of the country then prevailing, inherited his father's estates, which were large and extensive.  In early manhood he espoused the cause of the Reformation as taught by Luther and his co-adjutors.  In consequence, for personal safety, he was compelled to leave his native State and he became reduced to want if not to real beggary.  In 1520, he reached the city of London.  Being true to his convictions of religious faith, for a term of some six years, he employed his time in preaching the Reformation and distributing the Bible with Luther's tracts, in and about London and Essex.  While thus engaged he became (quite proficient in the English language, and having now nothing left to ever call him back to his native country, he Anglicized his name, writing it ever after William Hacker.  This is the origin of the name, and with his descendants it has remained such in all lands.  The Bishop of London had been watching the Reformation with much uneasiness.  In 1527, he caused Hacker to be arrested, thrown into prison, examined, abused and mistreated in many ways in order to make him confess and renounce his faith, and finally by order of Sir Thomas More, as Chancellor under Henry VIII, he was placed in the rack and tortured, but no renunciation of his convictions could they extort from him.  He was left by his tormentors to linger along in awful agony and suffering for perhaps near a year when he died.  About 120 years later a great-grandson of this original William Hacker, became the famous Col. Francis Hacker, the Drill Officer and Commander of Cromwell's Iron-Side Brigade, and led that famous brigade in many a well-fought battle during the Commonwealth of England.  During the imprisonment of Charles I, Col. Hacker had command of the troops that kept guard over the King, and lead that unhappy Monarch to the scaffold at his execution. Among the first acts of Parliament after the restoration of the monarchy was the bill of attainder against those who had taken part in the condemnation and execution of Charles I, which was to extend -to them and their posterity forever. Under this act Col. Hacker was arrested, condemned by the king's star chamber court, and on the 20th of October, 1660, was lead off to execution.  A son of  Col. Francis Hacker during the Commonwealth of England, became a cadet under Admiral Blake. The law of attainder being passed, of course this gallant sailor became an out-law, he accordingly made his way to the now free State of Holland, where under an assumed name, he joined the Holland Navy, in which he continued rendering good service for the remainder of his life.  A son of this sea captain, named William, born in 1680, was taken by his father with him on shipboard almost from his infancy, and thus in every sense of the word he became a true sailor-boy.  In 1725, being then about forty- five years of age, he determined to quit the sea, come to America, and settle down for life.  He accordingly shipped as a common sailor on an emigrant vessel, and on his way over he became acquainted with a young lady of Scotch descent, and on arriving at Philadelphia, they were married, and soon after moved to the Shenandoah Valley, near Winchester, Virginia, where they continued to reside, cultivating a farm until 1773, when they removed with their children over the mountains on the west fork of the Monongahela, near what was then called Fort Buchanan, when two years later he died at the age of ninety-six years.  His widow survived him thirty-one years.  She died in 1803, at the age of ninety-five years.  They had two sons William and John and five daughters.  William, during the French and Indian war, became a soldier under Washington, and served in the army through the Revolution and until the treaty of Greenville with the Indians.  John, the second son of the sailor-boy, became my grandfather.  He remained with his parents on the farm near Winchester, Virginia, until 1769, when he brought his family over the mountains into Western Virginia and settled on a tract of land he had purchased from the State near where the town of Weston, in Lewis County, is located, where he continued to reside cultivating his farm until 1824, when he died at the age of eighty-one years.  Grandfather Hacker was connected with the army in some capacity on the frontiers from the commencement of the Revolution, until the close of the Indian War in 1795, and was with General Wayne at the treaty of Greenville, in that year,~ which closed the Indian War in the west.  My father, also named John, was the second son of his parents.  Born in a block-house on the west fork of the Monongahela, in Lewis County, Virginia, January 17, 1773.  He continued to reside with his parents, assisting in cultivating the farm and fighting back the marauding bands of Indians until 1805, when he emigrated with his family to Ohio, and settled for a time in Greene County.  In 1809, with a number of his neighbors, he moved up into what was then called the Big Darby Plains, where he remained until about the commencement of the last war with England, when he returned with his family to Greene County.  At the surrender of General Hull, at Detroit, volunteers being called for, he promptly enlisted under Gen. Harrison, and was with that gallant officer until the war in the northwest closed. He then purchased from the government a tract of land in Montgomery County, Ohio, where he resided until the fall of 1833, when he, with his family, came to Shelby County, Indiana, and settled on a farm some six miles north of Shelbyville, where on the 15th of October, 1834, he died.  While my parents were residing in the Darby Plains, on the 5th of December, 1810, I was born.  As this was at that time an unorganized territory, and claimed by the Indians, they becoming quite hostile toward the white settlers for thus as they claim intruding upon their lands.  A short time before the battle of Tippecanoe, in 1811, my parents moved back to the settlement in Greene County, consequently I never did know the exact place of my birth, but it was some where in what was then known as the Big Darby Plains. When about five years of age I lost my mother, my father being thus left with nine children to look after and provide for, I was in consequence thus left in early life to look after and take care of myself, in a great measure.  This, perhaps, more than any one thing else, taught me self- reliance by which I have been enabled to successfully work my way through life to the present time.  Being thus brought up in a new country, and but thinly settled, I had scarcely no educational privileges.  About two months in the winter season of four or five years is all the schooling I ever had the privilege of receiving.  But my memory being extraordinarily good and my mind active and vigorous, I naturally improved every spare hour in acquiring such a knowledge of matters and things as would enable me to take an honorable position in community and become useful to my day and generation.  This studious habit, commenced in early life from necessity, has become a second nature to me, so that now at the age of seventy-seven years I cannot enjoy an idle moment unless reading and searching for further useful knowledge in some branch of history or science, I am therefore as will be seen emphatically a self- educated person.  And such has been my success in this line that some twenty years ago one of our incorporated colleges thought proper to confer upon me the honorary title of LL.D.  Until the age of seventeen I remained working with my father on the farm, but being of a nervous, bilious temperament and consequently somewhat weakly in bodily organism it was thought best for me to change my occupation, I therefore went to Dayton, and served a four years' apprenticeship to a mechanical profession.  In 1833, I came with my father to Indiana, purchased property in Shelbyville, which has been my home ever since.  In 1838, I left my trade and engaged in mercantile pursuits.  It, however, soon became evident that I was made for a more active life.  My health failed and I was thus compelled to abandon such business pursuits.  In 1843, I assisted in organizing a railroad company, became its secretary, assisted in locating the line, and superintending the construction of the road until completed and in running order.  In 1851, I tried merchandising again, but in the short space of three years failing health compelled me to relinquish the business a second time.  This was my last venture in that line.  Between 1841 and 1864, I served nineteen years as Justice of the Peace, and although in that time I decided thousands of cases between neighbors, yet I never had a law suit with any one on my own account in my life, nor did I ever have a serious quarrel with any one.  The best work, however, as I conceive in which I have, perhaps, been of the greatest benefit to my day and generation, has been in connection with the Masonic Fraternity, the Church, the Sunday Schools and the temperance organizations.  I was made a Mason in St. John's Lodge No. 13, Dayton, Ohio, July 9, 1832.  The principles of pure morality -  taught me at my admission into the order being so in accordance with those taught me in early life, that I at once conceived an ardent attachment for the order which has not abated in the least to the present time.  I have passed through the grades of the lodge, chapter, council and commandry ; have presided over all those departments for many years; have received the grades of the Scottish Rite to the thirty-third and last degree of that rite.  I became a member of the Grand Lodge of Indiana in 1835, and I have been a working member of that body at every session since.  In 1846, I filled the office of Grand Master for two years, and that of Grand Secretary three years.  In 1868, my hearing becoming so defective I was necessarily compelled to decline further service in that position.  I became a member of the Grand Chapter of Indiana in 1848, and have been present and assisted in its labors at every session held since.  Served four years as Grand High Priest and three years as Grand Secretary.  I assisted in the organization of the Grand Council of Indiana, in 1855, and have served six years as its Grand Master, and three years as Grand Recorder; have been present and participated in its labors at every session to the present time.  I also assisted at the organization of the Grand Commandry of Knights Templars of Indiana, in 1854, and have filled almost every station in that Grand Body to that of Grand Recorder three years, and Grand Commander, two years, and have been present and assisted in its deliberations .at every conclave held since its organization but one, when from sickness I was unable to attend.  For the past twenty years or more, I have annually been placed at the head of the committee on jurisprudence in all those Grand Bodies. In consequence, their constitutions and laws, as they now stand, are principally as I have moulded them. I assisted in the organization of the council of High Priests for Indiana, and in 1S55 was elected its presiding officer, which honorable position I held by annual re-elections until the session of 1875, when my hearing becoming so defective that I was compelled to decline further service in that important position.  In 18?6, at the city of Hartford, Conn., I became a member of the General Grand Chapter and Grand Encampment of the United States, and still retain my membership in both of those Grand Bodies to the present day.  I was an officer in the General Grand Chapter for twelve years.  Three years of that time I held that of General Grand King.  At the triennial session at Baltimore, in 1871, from my defective hearing I had necessarily to decline all further official duties with these National Grand Bodies.  The first official station to which I was called in the Masonic fraternity, was that of W. Master of the Lodge.  This was in June, 1835.  Since then I have not been one moment's of time without holding some prominent position among the craft, often, and for years at a time, as high as eleven honorable stations.  At the present I hold, and for the past fifteen years I have held seven, four elective and three appointed offices.  This may signify that my declining years have not abated my interest and zeal in the institution in the least.  In 1825, at about fifteen years of age, I became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and to-day I remain as firmly attached to the government and doctrines of that church as at any time m my life.  In 1843, I was appointed a steward in the church and continued such until my loss of hearing compelled me to decline further service.  For twelve years in succession I represented the district as lay delegate in the annual conference.  In 1850, I was elected as one of the trustees of the church in Shelbyville, which position I held until 1879, when I sent in my resignation.   At the same time I was holding a similar position in the Second Methodist Episcopal Church, which position I still hold and endeavor to discharge its duties to the best of my ability. I became attached to the Sunday School cause as early as 1823, and continued to attend upon its interests and labors until loss of hearing rendered me useless.  After having settled in Shelbyville, I assisted in the organizing of the present Sunday School of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and my labors in that line as teacher, secretary, librarian, treasurer and eighteen years as superintendent or until 1875, when my inability to hear, became so great that I had to retire from further participation in these, to me, pleasing labors.  I have been a warm advocate of temperance all my life, never made use of a drop of ardent spirits except as a medicine, consequently do not know from personal experience, the feelings produced when under the influence of intoxicating liquors.  I connected myself with, and became an active worker, in all the early temperance organizations, and openly advocated their cause until it went into politics.  Not caring to carry a pure moral principle into State and National politics, I declined further co-operation with the present temperance organization, though, adhering as strongly as ever to the principle of temperance as a moral reformation that must and will inevitably prevail, as I believe.  I have always been an ardent politician of the Henry Clay School, though never a noisy one.  I have advocated as strenuouslv as I could, without giving offense to those who might differ with me in opinion, the doctrines of American labor, public improvements, national currency and free schools.  My father left Virginia on account of slavery, consequently I was brought up under the free soil doctrines.  Hence when the present Republican party was organized, I naturally went with that party, and so remain to the present day.  The happiest hour perhaps that I ever felt in mv life, was when I read President Lincoln's emancipation proclamation.  I was married January 20, 1839, to  Miss May Ann,  daughter of  Rev. Thomas W. Sargent,  a distant relative of  Hon. John Sargent, many years a Senator in Congress, from Pennsylvania, as also of the several noted ministers of the Methodist Episcopal Church of that name at Baltimore and Cincinnati.  We have raised seven children, five girls and two boys, one died a few years since, leaving us six still living, all married, settled in life, industrious and striving to make an honest living.  I have thus given as concise a sketch of the male line of my family from the earliest authentic history, down to the present time as I know how, and were I to sketch the female or maternal line, it would no doubt be far more interesting than that of the paternal side of the house, but as this is not called for, like the old Indian chief, I exclaim " Al-a- baim-a," here I rest.
History of Shelby County, Indiana, Brant & Fuller, 1887, "Shelbyville Sketches,"  page 488-92.
Contributed by Phyllis Miller Fleming

Hacker Family Album      Biography Index       Main Page