Robert Burns was initiated an Entered Apprentice in Lodge St. David, Tarbolton on 4 July (ironic date) 1781, at the age of 23. His initiation fee was 12s 6d, and paid on the same date. Like many other times in his life, Burns came into the lodge amidst a controversy. Originally, there had been only one lodge in Tarbolton, chartered in 1771 from the Kilwinning Lodge, which is said to be the oldest lodges in the world (again, another story worth telling, yet for another time).
In 1773, a group broke away from the lodge, forming Lodge St. David No. 174, and the original lodge became St. James Tarbolton Kilwinning No. 178, only to be reunited in 1781, 9 days before Burns's first degree. However, while St. James was clearly the older of the two lodges, St. David's name was used, and the seeds were sown for further dissension. Burns in the meantime was passed to the degree of fellowcraft, and raised to the degree of Master Mason on lst October 1781. The Lodge record book, according to James Mackay's "Burns" reads as follows:
Robert Burns in Lochly was passed and raised, Henry Cowan (ironic name!) being Master, James Humphrey Senr. Warden, and Alexr. Smith Junr. Do., Robt. Woodrow Secy. and James Manson Treasurer, and John Tannock Taylor and others of the brethren being present"(119).