England to the Colonies to the USA
by R.W. Douglas L. Jordan, K.Y.C.H., K.C.C.H., O.P.C.
Past District Deputy Grand Master
Past Grand High Priest
Grand Governor for Virginia, YRSC of NA
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Where Did Masonry Start?
II. Moderns, Ancients, and
III. Masonry in the Colonial
IV. The First United States
V. The Spread across the
I. Where did Masonry start?
Without a doubt, Masonry has existed from the time when
"the memory of man runneth not to the contrary" -that is from
"time immemorial." Some Masonic writers in the late 190' Century
claimed Noah as our founder. Those of us who have had the pleasure of
witnessing Springfield Lodge's presentation on Cleopatra's Needle are aware of
the very Masonic symbols that were found under the base of an Egyptian obelisk
that was erected about 1500 B.C. John Robinson in Born in Blood provides much
evidence that we owe our lodges to the Knights Templar who needed a cover
following their suppression by the Catholic Church in 1307.
The most generally accepted view, points to the guilds of
freemasons. Operative masons have always been involved in the building of
temples and other monuments from antiquity to the present day. Written
evidence indicates that sometime before 926 AD masons had formed guilds or
lodges but appear to have had some problems in their government. The Regius
Poem or Halliwell Manuscript, which dates from 1390, tells how Athelstan, King
of All England, called an Assembly at York in 926 to consider the government
of the Master Masons and Craftsmen. At this assembly, fifteen Articles were
adopted for the government of the Master Mason. These Articles include that:
The Master must be steadfast, trusty and true.
His apprentice must be of lawful blood and have his limbs
The Master must teach his apprentice.
The Master must do nothing that would turn the craft to
In addition, Fifteen Points were adopted for the government
of the Craftsmen. These include that:
The Craftsman must love well God and holy church and his
master and fellows.
The Craftsman must keep his Master's counsel in chamber
and in lodge.
The Craftsman must respect the chastity of his master's
wife and his fellow's concubine.
The Craftsman must swear never to be a thief and never to
help any of false craft.
The poem ends in a manner well known to us: "Amen!,
Amen!, So mote it be! Say we all for charity"
These so-called "Gothic Constitutions," with
later restatements, were the law for the government of the craft for the next
In the middle of the 17th Century, joining the Masonic
Lodge became a desirable thing for gentlemen to do. Kilwinning Lodge No. 0 in
Kilwinning, Scotland was primarily an operative lodge claiming descent from
the lodge formed when the abbey was built in 1140. Their minutes of 1672 show
the admission of Lord Cassilis as a speculative Mason. The diary of Elias
Ashmole, who donated the Ashmolean Museum to Oxford University, records under
the date of October 16, 1646 that he was made a Free Mason at Warrington in
Lancashire. From this and other notes by other writers, it can be concluded
that there were a number of small lodges located around England and Scotland,
and that many of them included speculative members.
Until 1717, however, Masonry remained a truly secret
society - one whose very existence, let alone its membership, was not
publicized. Its lodges met in various taverns and ale houses for dinner,
sociability, and a little degree work. (Since the new members paid for the
banquet, the degree work was probably an essential activity.) Its membership,
especially in the cities, was increasingly made up of speculative masons, not
operative ones. Then on June 24, 1717 at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in
St. Paul's Churchyard, London, Freemasonry came out of the closet. Speculative
Masonry had become too popular an activity, and four lodges felt that some
sort of control should be exercised. They had met at the Apple Tree Tavern in
1716and there formed a Grand Lodge pro tempore. At the meeting in 1717
they elected one of their number, Anthony Sayer ("Oldest Master Mason and
then Master of a Lodge") as Grand Master and agreed to hold a Grand Feast
once a year. Sayer also appointed Grand Wardens and "commanded the Master
and Wardens of Lodges to meet the Grand Officers every Quarter in
Communication." The four lodges were those that met at the Goose &
Gridiron Ale House, the Crown Ale House, the Apple Tree Tavern, and the Rummer
and Grapes Tavern. (Masonry had a different view of taverns in those
days.) They agreed that only the Grand Lodge would have the authority to
issue a warrant, and that lodges without warrants were unlawful.
back to top
Moderns, Ancients and Others
The Grand Lodge constituted in 1717 was titled '"The
Right Worshipful Fraternity of Accepted Free Masons," and later became
"The Most Ancient and Honourable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons
under the Constitution of England" more generally known as The Premier
Grated Lodge or The Grand Lodge of England. Their purpose was to revive
the institution from its depressed state. Their original jurisdiction extended
for about three square miles, not all England, but they were certainly the
start of today's Grand Lodge system.
They are often called "The Moderns," a term that
probably originated with their rivals. And rivals there were. Some lodges felt
that the creation of a Grand Lodge was in violation of Masonic law, while
others simply were against being ruled from the city. By 1725 the Lodge in
York had declared itself a Grand Lodge. The ultimate problem arose when Dr.
James Anderson, D.D. was commissioned "to digest the (Gothic
Constitutions) into a new and better method." His Constitutions were
adopted in 1723 and the 1738 edition included changes in the modes of
recognition to tell the true from the imposter - a change that was greatly
disapproved in some circles, and possibly was the immediate cause of the
formation of the "Antient" Grand Lodge.
On July 17, 1751 "The Most Ancient and Honorable
Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, according to the Old
Institutions" usually referred to as the "Antient Grand Lodge of
England" or "Atholl Grand Lodge" was formed by six lodges that
appear to have been mostly of Irish Masons. The work of this Grand Lodge was
similar to that used in both Ireland and Scotland. Laurence Dermott was its
guiding hand, serving as Grand Secretary from 1752 to 1771 and then Deputy
Grand Master until 1787. He wrote its Book of Constitutions - the Ahiman Rezon
(i.e. the Law of Prepared Brothers, or A Help to a Brother.) This title will
be found in the law of many US Grand Lodges, including that of Virginia.
A key provision of the Antient work was the inclusion of
the Royal Arch Degree as a part of the working. This was a stumbling block for
all proposals to unite the two Grand Lodges, and was also source of problems
among lodges in the US.
Although Freemasonry in the United States was no longer
influenced by that of England, we should note in passing that on November 25,
1813 the two Grand Lodges united as "The United Grand Lodge of Ancient
Freemasons of England." The key compromise in The Articles of Union
"declared and pronounced, that pure Ancient Masonry consists of three
degrees, and no more, viz., those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft
and the Master Mason (including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal
Although early Irish Masonic records are lacking, there is
a Freemason's Stone in Dublin which appears to date from about 1602, and a
lecture given in Dublin University in 1688 makes references that imply that
Masonry was not unknown at that time. The Grand Lodge of Ireland was
established no later than 1725 and followed the Ancient form of work.
Scotland had many operative lodges, but apparently
speculative members were not very welcome, and a central authority even less
so. (John Robinson notes that American Freemasonry can be classed as Reformed,
English -Conservative, and Scottish - Orthodox.) The example of England and
Ireland proved too strong, however, and in 1736, thirty-three lodges met in
Edinburgh and constituted the Grand Lodge.
In addition, four other Grand Lodges were established in
England prior to 1800, but most of these had no influence on Freemasonry in
the United States. The notable exception was the Lodge at York which declared
itself a Grand Lodge in 1725. While never particularly successful, it expired
in 1790, it was the lodge of William Preston, whose Illustrations of Masonry
as revised by Thomas Smith Webb form the basis for most of our Lodge ritual
back to top
III. Masonry in the Colonial United States
Masonry arrived in the Colonies in 1682 when John Skene of
Aberdeen Lodge, came to Burlington, New Jersey. Nothing much more is known of
Over the next 50 years Colonial Freemasons exercised the
immemorial right of Masons to form a lodge and make Masons. Coil reports
evidence that although no chartered lodge existed in the Colonies, a lodge was
held in King's Chapel in Boston in 1720, and that the Boston News Letter for
May 25, 1727 gave a detailed account of the Grand Lodge meeting in London.
Starting in 1730, the Modern Grand Lodge appointed
Provincial Grand Masters in the Colonies. The first Provincial Grand Master in
America was Daniel Coxe, appointed for New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania
in 1730. There is no record of his performing any actions as a Grand Master.
The Modern Grand Lodge also warranted lodges throughout the colonies starting
with St. John's Lodge in Boston in 1733, and in that same year, Henry Price
was appointed Provincial Grand Master for North America. He opened the St.
John's Grand Lodge in Boston, and issued warrants to lodges in Massachusetts,
New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland,
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and
The Grand Lodge of Scotland warranted lodges throughout the
colonies starting in 1756 with St. Andrew's Lodge in Boston and Blandford
Lodge in Virginia. They also appointed Capt. John Young as Provincial Grand
Master in 1757. Joseph Warren was appointed in 1769 to have authority "at
Boston and within 100 miles of the same." In 1773 this was expanded to
cover the "continent of America." As Grand Master he opened the
Massachusetts Grand Lodge and issued warrants for lodges in Massachusetts, New
Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and New York.
Ireland warranted a number of traveling lodges with the
Army in America. These lodges initiated colonists who later became members of
other early lodges. The initiation of Prince Hall and 14 others into an army
traveling lodge near Boston in 1775 was an event that continues to have
ramifications in Masonry today.
Kilwinning Lodge in Scotland, which claims to be the oldest
active lodge in the world, issued warrants to other groups to make Masons on
behalf of the Mother Lodge. The first of these was issued in 1677 to
Cannongate Kilwinning which still meets in Edinburgh on St. John Street, near
the Cannongate. Although Kilwinning Lodge joined in the formation of the Grand
Lodge of Scotland in 1725, a dispute over their proper place on the list
caused them to break away in 1743 for a period of over 60 years. In this
period they warranted other "Kilwinning" Lodges, including now
extinct lodges located in Virginia at Tappahannock and Falmouth, and perhaps
also our Kilwinning-Crosse #2-237 and Fredericksburg #4.
back to top
IV. The First United States Grand Lodges
The death of Joseph Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill on
June 17, 1775 left the lodges under his jurisdiction in a state of confusion,
since his authority was a personal one, and did not include the naming of a
successor. Thomas Smith Webb recounts the events following his death as
The brethren, influenced by a pious regard to the memory of the late grand
master, were induced to search for his body, which had been rudely and
indiscriminately buried in the field of slaughter. They accordingly repaired
to the place, and by directions of a person who was on the ground at the time
of his burial, a spot was found where the earth had been recently turned up.
Upon removing the turf, and opening the grave, which was on the brow of a
hill, and adjacent to a small cluster of sprigs, the remains were discovered,
in a mangled condition, but were easily ascertained (by an artificial tooth);
and, being decently raised were conveyed to the state house in Boston; from
whence, by a large and respectable number of brethren with the late grand
officers attending in procession, they were carried to the stone chapel where
an animated eulogium was delivered by brother Perez Morton. The body was then
deposited in the silent vault...
On March 8, 1777 the brethren assembled, formed the Massachusetts Grand
Lodge, and elected Joseph Webb their Grand Master. By 1783 there was some
misgiving over this act, and so a committee was appointed to examine the
record. Their final conclusion was that although such action was
unprecedented, the political facts made it necessary and therefore it was
proper. They also observed that the existence of two Grand Lodges in England
along with Grand Lodges in Ireland and Scotland showed that there is no
universal authority in Masonry. This was the first independent Grand Lodge
formed in America. It was closed sine dieat the merger of the St. John's and
Massachusetts Grand Lodges in 1792.
The next Grand Lodge was formed in Virginia on October 13, 1778 following a
series of meetings that began in May of 1777. Since the history of the
Virginia Grand Lodge is a separate topic, I will leave that story for later.
The minutes of the forming of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania typify the
occurrences in most of the Colonies.
"The grand officers, together with the officers and representatives of
a number of regular lodges under their jurisdiction unanimously resolved
"That it is improper that the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania should remain
any longer under the authority of any foreign Grand Lodge." Arid the said
Grand Lodge did then close, sine die. The Grand convention thus assembled did
then and there unanimously resolve that the lodges under the jurisdiction of
the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, lately holden as a provincial grand lodge
under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England should, and did form
themselves into a grand lodge to be called the "Grand Lodge of
Pennsylvania and Masonic jurisdiction thereunto belonging".
A notable exception occurred in the State of New Jersey. A
convocation of Master Masons in 1787 declared that it being necessary to have
a grand lodge, the Grand Lodge of New Jersey was thereby created, officers
elected, and new charters issued. This is the only instance in which a Grand
Lodge was formed by individual Master Masons not acting as representatives of
back to top
V. The Spread Across the Continent
Since colonial times, after each new state was admitted, a
Grand Lodge was formed so that today we have Grand Lodges in each of the 50
states and in the District of Columbia. In the course of these creations,
interesting events occasionally occurred:
When the state of Tennessee was admitted to the union in
1796, St. Tammany Lodge No. 29 was working in Nashville under a North Carolina
charter. Over the next several years North Carolina chartered a dozen more
lodges. In 1811 these lodges requested that North Carolina assent to the
formation of a Grand Lodge of Tennessee. This resulted in a long period of
discussion, but on December 27, 1813 the Grand Lodge of North Carolina
delivered the "Great Charter" that established the Grand Lodge of
Tennessee. Never before had one Grand Lodge actually chartered another since
it would appear to make the recipient subservient to the giver. There is no
evidence that Tennessee has ever considered themselves subservient to North
In Louisiana, the presence of charters from New York,
Pennsylvania, the Grand Orient of France, and the Provincial Grand Lodge of
Marseilles as well as a mixture of English and French speaking lodges greatly
complicated the agreements. As a result of the essential compromises made at
that time, Louisiana lodges were permitted to work in the York, French and
Scottish Rites. I understand that even today some Louisiana lodges confer the
first three degrees using the Scottish Rite ritual.
In California a meeting was held in March 1850 to discuss
the formation of a Grand Lodge. Four lodges were present: Western Star No. 58
with a Missouri charter, Connecticut No. 175 with a Connecticut charter, New
Jersey Lodge UD with a New Jersey Charter and Pacific Lodge UD who neglected
to bring their charter. These representatives agreed to form the "Grand
Lodge of Free & Accepted Ancient York Masons of California." A month
later, there was a problem raised -the Pacific Lodge charter had been issued
by the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons of Louisiana which at that time was
considered clandestine by Missouri, and there was a question whether a UD
lodge could participate in forming a Grand Lodge. Fortunately California Lodge
No. 13 with a District of Columbia charter, was represented, providing three
regular charters, and the new Grand Lodge was established.
When Hawaii, our youngest Grand Lodge, was planning its
separation from California, a problem was encountered in determining which
lodge should be Number 1. Their solution was based on that adopted by
Massachusetts nearly 200 years before. Their lodges are not numbered.
In 1784 the (Modern ) Grand Lodge of England chartered
African Lodge #459 in Boston, Massachusetts. This lodge remained on the rolls
of the Grand Lodge until the Union of 1813 when it and many others in America
were dropped for failure to remit payments to the charity fund. The lodge,
however, was still functioning and granted warrants to other lodges. It is the
Mother of the Prince Hall Grand Lodges.
Virginia is the mother of two Grand Lodges. Five lodges
chartered by Virginia assembled in Lexington, Kentucky in 1800 and constituted
the Grand Lodge of Kentucky. Similarly, seven of the eight lodges that formed
the Grand Lodge of West Virginia had Virginia charters, as did seven others
that later joined into the new Grand Lodge in 1865.
The Grand Lodge of Ohio was formed in 1808 with the famous
American Union Lodge as No. 1 on its list. American Union Lodge was a
travelling military lodge chartered by Massachusetts during the Revolution. It
had resumed working in Marietta in 1790. Being unwilling to surrender their
unusual charter, American Union refused to join in the new Grand Lodge and
continued to meet under the old charter. Finally in 1815 the Grand Master
declared the Massachusetts charter to be forfeited and American Union to be a
clandestine lodge. The following year the Grand Lodge issued a new charter to
some of the American Union members, and the lodge still stands as No. 1 in
back to top
The defining characteristic of our Masonic organization is the Grand Lodge.
The Grand Lodge provides us with standards for ritual, administration,
membership requirements and fraternal intercourse. The very definition of a
lodge in our ritual requires the existence of a Grand Lodge to provide the
warrant or charter which gives the authority by which the brethren assemble.
Thus, however Masonry may have been initiated, modern Freemasonry originated
in a London tavern on June 24, 1717.
John J. Robinson, Born in Blood,New York, 1989
Richard A. Rutyna and Peter C. Stewart, The History of Freemasonry in Virginia,
Brown, Cummings, and Voorhis, Editors, Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia,New York 1961
Albert G. Mackey, An Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry, New York, Revised 1919
Thomas Smith Webb, The Freemason's Monitor, Salem, 1818
back to top