What is Freemasonry?
Freemasonry is a world-wide organization consisting of men of quality, varying race, religion and creed, consistently teaching and living by a universal moral code founded on the highest standards of ethics, honesty and strength of character.
We are a fraternal organization committed to charity, true fellowship and brotherly love under watchful eye of our Creator. We share a common bond amongst all members and their families, working together toward the betterment of our communities, our country and the world. The Masonic Lodge is a vibrant, respected and contributing part of community life.
A man who becomes a Mason can expect to find the opportunity to learn and to lead; to inspire and be inspired, teach and learn and improve himself as a man, husband, father, Brother and community member. Masons are proud to be a member of an organization committed to making a difference.
It is likely that there are many Freemasons active in your local community. Freemasonry has been known as the quiet fraternity over the years. Masons quietly go about supporting charitable work and community projects, such as blood drives, Special Olympics and Child learning programs.
Origin & History of Freemasonry
The true origins of Freemasonry are clouded in both history and mystery. "Modern" Freemasonry dates back to the forming of the first Grand Lodge in England in 1717, though historical analysis shows Masonry to be much older. Written records of modern Masonry's precursors date back to the 14th century, while other aspects of Masonry date back to thousands of years B.C.
There is much speculation as to the origins of Freemasonry. The earliest known use of the Square and Compasses symbol was its carving in an altar from 3800B.C. There is evidence that an elementary type of craft association existed as early as the time of King Solomon's Temple (about 1012 B.C.).
That structure was the architectural masterpiece of its day; and because of the relationship between those early masons and the building of that spiritual edifice, Masonic tradition is rich in references to its construction.
The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans taught higher education in schools resembling lodges, and protected their learning, and at times their existence when their teachings were proscribed, with secret signs and symbols. Guilds of stonemasons were operative at this time, building the great architectural works of the Roman Empire. Cleopatra's Needle also has symbols used by modern Masons in its base. How these associations and secret societies of the ancient world led to modern Freemasonry is uncertain.
What is certain is that Freemasonry's direct predecessors are the guilds of operative stonemasons that built the great cathedrals of Europe. In England during the 10th century these guilds became subject to regulation by the Crown. In the Regius Poem there is definite reference to Athelstane, the King of England, who presided over a convocation of masons at York and established a series of regulations to govern the individual groups or lodges.
A study of these regulations reveals a marked similarity to our own ancient constitutions and illustrates the strictness with which the operative masons kept the secrets of their trade and cared for each other and each other's families. Because of their importance in building cathedrals and other structures, masons enjoyed privileges denied to other trades and guilds, most notably the freedom to travel from country to country and from place to place as needed. Because of this, they became known as Free-masons.
After the 11th century, the guilds of masons became more settled, though some there was still some traveling from one country to another throughout Europe. There are definite references in the archives of various cathedrals and monasteries indicating that "lodges" of masons were responsible for the erection of these edifices. The lodge was a temporary building to house the artisans while they were employed in their daily work.
By the 14th century, however, many lodges had become permanent. Surviving records are frequent, allusions in historical narrative more common, and by the 16th century definite references to Masonic lodges are not uncommon.
As the centuries went on, cathedral building declined, and as a result, so did the numbers of operative masons. To supplement their numbers, they began accepting individuals outside the profession who were regarded as desirable members, referring to them as "speculative masons" who were taught religious and moral lessons using the tools of masonry as symbols, rather than the craft of the stonemasons. By the 17th century this had become common practice and the membership of some lodges was made up largely of men who were neither directly nor indirectly associated with the trade of masonry. Elias Ashmole, founder of the famous library at Oxford University, recorded in his diary his initiation into a lodge of masons in 1646.
As cathedral building waned, lodges were weakened by lack of purpose and the need for strengthening lodges became apparent. In 1717 four lodges met in London to form the Grand Lodge of London, which gradually expanded to become the Grand Lodge of England. About the same time, a Grand Lodge was formed in Ireland, and shortly thereafter one in Scotland. The Grand Lodge of London published a book of constitutions known as "Anderson's Constitutions", the first truly Masonic book in modern times. Copies still exist. Gradually all connection with operative masonry was abandoned and Freemasonry became what it is now, a purely symbolic philosophic and benevolent institution.
Freemasonry in America
It appears reasonable to assume that there were many Masons among the early settlers of this country. There is no reason to doubt that they did meet, hold meetings, and initiate candidates under the "prescriptive right" meaning that they formed Lodges without Warrants, acting upon their "right from time immemorial."
Over the centuries, Freemasonry has developed into a worldwide fraternity emphasizing personal study, self-improvement, and social betterment via individual involvement and philanthropy.
During the late 1700s it was one of the organizations most responsible for spreading the ideals of the Enlightenment: the dignity of man and the liberty of the individual, the right of all persons to worship as they choose, the formation of democratic governments, and the importance of public education. Masons supported the first public schools in both Europe and America.
There is evidence that a deputation dated June 5, 1730, was granted to Daniel Coxe, of New Jersey, by the Duke of Norfolk, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England, appointing him Provincial Grand Master of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Moreover, there is evidence that Brethren meeting in Philadelphia applied to him in 1730 and received authority to continue to meet as a regular Lodge.
However, no records of such a Lodge are available to indicate that it continued or was even ever established.
The earliest authentic records of such a Lodge available to indicate that it continued on was from "The First Lodge of Boston" in 1733. This was warranted under a Provincial Grand Master.
On April 30, 1733, this Provincial Grand Master Henry Price, who had received his appointment a short time before from Viscount Montague, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England convened a number of Brethren into a Provincial Grand Lodge, and then form and constituted a subordinate Lodge on Boston. This Lodge, later consolidated with two others, still functions in that city.
Many of Patriots of the American Revolution were Masons including George Washington, Ben Franklin, James Hamilton, and even the Marquis de Lafayette to name just a few. There were enough Masons in the Continental Army to establish traveling military Lodges, which allowed them to continue to enjoy the warmth of fraternal fellowship. American Union was just such a Lodge and was attached to the Connecticut Line of the Army. The minute books of this Lodge show that General Washington attended meetings of the Lodge on several occasions.
The period of the American Revolution also saw the first American Indian to be made a Mason. Thayendangea was the son of the chief of the Mohawks in the 1750's, and was brought up in the household of a prominent British administration official, Sir William Johnson, who was also a Freemason. Johnson gave him the name Joseph Brant, and when Brant was an adult, he fought several battles against the French with Johnson. Brant became Johnson's personal secretary, and by the time of Johnson's death in 1774, Brant had become accepted by the British administration.
Chief Joseph Brandt
Brant traveled to England in 1775, and was made a mason in a London lodge in 1776. He then returned to America to enlist the Mohawks in the fight against the American rebels. The Mohawks, under the command of Col. John Butler and Brant, attacked and massacred the Americans in several battles, and captured prisoners were turned over to the Mohawks to be tortured to death. Brant, however, took his Masonic oaths seriously, and in a few recorded instances, released prisoners who made Masonic signs as they were about to be tortured. After the war, Brant became a member of St John's Lodge of Friendship No.2 in Canada, of which Col. Butler had become Master, before returning to the Mohawks in Ohio.
During the 1800s and early 1900s, Freemasonry grew dramatically. At that time, the government had provided no social "safety net". The Masonic tradition of founding orphanages, homes for widows, and homes for the aged provided the only security many people knew.
By the year 1800 there were Lodges established in nearly all of the states east of the Mississippi except in Illinois and Wisconsin, and Grand Lodges had been formed in most of them. As an example, Kentucky formed her Grand Lodge in 1792 and was instrumental in forming Lodges in Indiana and the other states around her.
By 1892 there were fifty Grand Lodges in the United States, including one in the Indian Territory which later became the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma. There are now fifty one Grand Lodges in the United States. The Grand Lodge of Alaska even helped to establish the Grand Lodge of Russia after the fall of communism.
The Masonic Fraternity continues this tradition throughout North America by giving generously each day to causes that range from operating children’s hospitals, providing treatment for childhood language disorders, treating eye diseases, funding medical research, contributing to local community service, and providing care to Masons and their families at Masonic Homes.
The millions of Masons worldwide continue to help men and women face the problems of the 21st century by building bridges of brotherhood and instilling in the hearts of men ideals for a better tomorrow.