Standing over six feet tall in Hillcrest Cemetery in Londonderry, Nova Scotia is a one-of-a-kind gravestone, which is a reminder of a different time in the history of the Province. Near the top of the gravestone on one side is a skull and crossbones. Beneath that reads:
“In Memory of
David Scott Killen
October 4th 1889
Aged 29 years
Erected by Pioneer
R. B. Preceptory
No. 117 Shubenacadie”
The gravestone is located in what was known as the Protestant Cemetery in Londonderry, Nova Scotia. Londonderry is now a community of a few hundred people, however, during the late 1800s, after iron ore began to be mined, it grew into one of the largest communities in the province. By the late nineteenth century, Londonderry had a population of approximately 5000. At that time, it was known as Acadia Mines. The Township was then called Londonderry and another nearby community, now called Great Village, was known as Londonderry. The area was settled by Ulster Scots – originally from the north of Ireland – in the 18th century who left by ship from Londonderry.
No other gravestone like this has been found anywhere else in Nova Scotia, nor is there another by the R. B. Preceptory, or Royal Black Preceptory. The Royal Black Preceptory (RBP) was a Protestant men’s fraternal group that operated lodges throughout Nova Scotia and Canada. Its members were called Black Knights.
The Grand Black Chapter of Ireland formed in 1797, although independent Black Knight Preceptories existed before that date. The group spread to Scotland, England, Wales, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America, Ghana, and Togo in West Africa.
The Royal Black Institution was established to provide men with further study in the Protestant Faith. Each individual Preceptory had a Chaplain, who was often a minister of a local church. Meetings were held monthly or bi-monthly, sometimes in churches or community halls. Annual elections were held for Officers, which included a Worshipful Preceptor – similar to a Lodge Master or President – Secretary, and Chaplain. Preceptories varied in size between about 10 and 25 members. At the meetings, after conducting business, members earned degrees by learning rituals and stories from the Bible. There were eleven degrees in total. If a member died, their Preceptory held a special funeral service at a local chapel or funeral home, which was led by the Preceptory’s Chaplain.
The Grand Black Chapter of British America (Canada) was formed in 1871. The 1907 annual report for the Grand Black Chapter lists Royal Black Preceptories in Ireland, England, Scotland, Canada, and Australia, each including the name of the Preceptory’s Master or President and the number of registered members. For instance, the Grand Black Chapter of Ireland, Pioneer RBP 117 based in Shubenacadie, Hants County, had 20 members. It was one of twelve active Preceptories in Nova Scotia at that time, many of which were in Cape Breton. In 1911, Nova Scotia formed a Provincial Chapter.
By 1925, the Report of Proceedings of the Grand Black Chapter of British America indicated that the number of Royal Black Preceptories in Nova Scotia had increased to fifteen, adding Amherst, Lunenburg, and Yarmouth to the Chapter. By 1955, the number of Preceptories in Nova Scotia had declined to thirteen with 354 members total. In 1961, the Report of Proceedings of the Grand Black Chapter of British America listed ten active Preceptories. By 1979, that number had decreased to seven. In order to have a Provincial Lodge for Nova Scotia of the Grand Black Chapter, there had to be a minimum of six Lodges in operation.
The Provincial Chapter ceased to exist in 2007, and there are no Royal Black Preceptories in Nova Scotia today. In Canada, only a few Royal Black Preceptories are still active, mainly in southern Ontario. These Preceptories are very different from those active in Nova Scotia in 1889, when Sir Knight David Scott Killen died and was buried by Pioneer RBP 117 of Shubenacadie in Londonderry. His gravestone is one of the only remaining signs of the once-popular Protestant fraternal group, the Black Knights of Nova Scotia.