BEGINNINGS OF AMERICAN FREEMASONRY
by Bro Julius F. Sachse
Grand Librarian of Pennsylvania, 1911
Taken from the "American Freemason" June 1911
THERE are but few Masonic historians in America. For the one thing,
original material is scarce and opportunities for study along productive lines
are few. The ordinary chronicles of Lodges and Grand Lodges are, of course,
not to be counted as serious historical work. It is necessary and valuable
labor, but it throws no great amount of light on things and times obscure.
Then, again, a peculiar type of man is required for historical work worthy of
the name. He must have the resources both of scholarship and of native
ability. He must have an absorbing love for research, an almost infinite
patience, and an analytical faculty denied to most. And then, as Masonry goes
in America, he must have abundant private means or the steadfast backing of a
rich Grand Lodge or other body.
Were we asked to give first place among those who in jurisdictions of the
United States have devoted themselves to Masonic historical work, the choice
would fall at once, and most likely by common consent, upon Brother Julius F.
Sachse, Grand Lodge Librarian of Pennsylvania. Bro. Sachse has all the
essential qualities enumerated above. He possesses likewise the training which
comes of years of such work, and an enthusiasm proof against all
disappointments and discouragements. For the rest, he has a rich field in
which to glean - that of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. Whatever can be
gathered there is of interest to every American Mason, as added light is cast
thereby upon Craft beginnings in what is now the United States.
On April 29, 1911, the Masonic Veterans of Pennsylvania, having as their
guests Masonic Veteran associations from all over the country, met at
Philadelphia for a three days' session. Before these assembled and singularly
informed Masons Bro. Sachse delivered an address, which we are here permitted
to give in full. It will be found replete with information.
- EDITOR, The AMERICAN FREEMASON.
It is neat and right that you should meet here in Philadelphia - the City
of Brotherly Love - the mother City of Freemasonry in the western world. We
may well say, Masonically speaking, that this is holy ground. Here within the
bounds of the old city proper, the first altar was erected in the new
hemisphere, upon which rested our Great Lights, within the well-tiled portals
of the Masonic Lodge. The Brethren were few in number at that early day.
t was at the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the several brethren
who had been made abroad, and now living in the Province, came together in
this city and erected a lodge of Free and Accepted Masons according to the
"immemorial usage" and began to work according to the old Manuscript
That the example of these Masonic pioneers was followed in other parts of
the Province is shown by Franklin's notice in his "Pennsylvania
Gazette" No. 108, December 3 to December 8, 1730, wherein he states that
lately several Masonic Lodges have been erected within the Province. The
written records of these early Lodges, alluded to by Franklin, have all been
lost with the exception of the Ledger of St. John's or First Lodge in
Philadelphia - and a draft of their By-Laws. We have also the Manuscript
Constitution of St. John's Lodge, written by Bro. Thomas Carmick, dated 1727,
which, according to well founded tradition, was the legal Masonic authority
under which our first Lodge and Grand Lodge were formed; the latter in the
year 1731, it being the third oldest Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons
in the world - England in 1717 and Ireland in 1729 being our only seniors.
The earliest work in America was undoubtedly the same work and ritual which
remains within this jurisdiction to the present day.
About the time our first Grand Lodge was formed in Philadelphia, certain
conditions arose in England which in the wisdom of the brethren composing the
Grand Lodge of England, brought about changes in the time honored ritual;
changes in which the Grand Lodge of Ireland refused to concur; thus came about
the term "Moderns" as applied to the Grand Lodge of England, while
those Brethren who refused to acquiesce in the changes were termed
When these changes in the ritual became known in Pennsylvania, they were
accepted by the local Grand Lodge, thus conforming to Grand Lodge, and they
became and were known as "Moderns."
It was during the middle of the eighteenth century a number of Brethren in
England, longing for the old ritual, and such as owed fealty to the Grand
Lodge of Ireland formed Lodges in London and elsewhere, the outcome of which
was the "Grand Lodge F. & A. M., according to the old
Constitutions" which in turn issued a warrant for a Grand Lodge in
Pennsylvania, dated July 15th, 1761. It is under this Grand warrant, as it
were, that you are now assembled; a copy of this document lies here before
In the sixth decade of the eighteenth century, you will note there were two
Grand Lodges in Pennsylvania, the "Moderns," 1731, and the
"Ancients" of 1761; the former composed chiefly of the aristocratic
element of the Province; the latter of the bone and sinew of the infant
community; and as the political troubles, owing to the Stamp Act and other
encroachments of the home government increased, the "Moderns"
gradually lost ground, while the Lodges and prestige of the
"Ancients" rapidly increased.
When, finally, the Revolution broke out, it sounded the death knell of the
"Moderns" organization in Pennsylvania, whose members were chiefly
Tories, while the Grand and Subordinate Lodges of the "Ancients"
were almost solidly patriotic.
To illustrate this point. we have but to look at the list of warrants
issued during those troublesome times, which it is well stated "tried
- No. 19. A Regimental Warrant was issued for the Pennsylvania
Artillery in the service of the U. S.
- No. 20. A Regimental warrant for the North Carolina Line.
- No. 28. One for the Pennsylvania Line.
- No. 29. One for the Military Line, Pennsylvania.
- No. 36. One for the New Jersey Brigade.
- No. 37. One for the Maryland Line.
Lately a number of documents relating to these old Military Lodges have
been found among the archives of the Grand Secretary and are now in the
custody of the Librarian for collation and indexing, and the writer is happy
to say that we will now have some insight into the vicissitudes of these
Lodges, and in several cases a complete list of those patriotic Brethren who
fought and, in some cases, gave up their lives to achieve the liberty of this
country which we are now all enabled to enjoy.
The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania "Ancients," being the oldest in
America, was from the beginning looked upon by the Brethren in adjoining
Provinces and abroad as the Masonic fountain-head, as it were, in the Western
World. Petitions for warrants under its Jurisdiction were presented almost as
soon as its organization was completed. Thus from 1765 to 1770 seven of these
warrants were granted, viz: Three for Maryland, two for Delaware, one for
Virginia and one for New Jersey.
Subsequently, up to the year 1832, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania warranted
no less than fifty-one foreign Lodges, and one Provincial Grand Lodge, viz:
- Delaware 5; Nos. 18-33-44-63-96
- Georgia 1; No. 42
- Illinois 1; No. 107
- Louisiana 8; Nos. 90-93-109-112-117-118-122-129
- Maryland 6; Nos. 16-17-29-34-35-37
- Missouri 1; Nos. 111
- New Jersey 2; Nos. 32-33
- N. W. Territory 1; No. 78
- Ohio 1; No. 105
- South Carolina 4; Nos. 27-38-40-47
- Virginia 2; Nos. 39-41
- Buenos Aires 1; No. 205
- Cuba 2 Nos. 175-181
- Cape Francois 1 No. 146
- Havana 5; Nos. 103-157-161-166-167
- Mexico 1; No. 191
- San Domingo 8; Nos. 47-87-88-89-95-97-98-99 Provincial Grand Lodge
- Trinidad 1; No. 77
- Uruguay 1; No. 217
The Lodge in Uruguay, No. 217 on the roster, was warranted during the
anti-Masonic excitement, February 6, 1832. So great was the feeling against
the Fraternity that eleven years intervened before our Grand Lodge was
petitioned to warrant a new Lodge. This was Honesdale Lodge No. 218 in Wayne
County, September 4th, 1843, and which is still a bright luminary in the
Masonic horizon. It will be seen that during the existence of our Grand Lodge,
from the time of its formation until the anti-Masonic period, no less than 152
local Lodges were warranted, of which 50 are still on the active roll, the
others having been vacated, surrendered their warrants, or succumbed during
the eventful years of emotional bigotry in 1827-1832.
The Masonic Fraternity of Pennsylvania, working according to the old
Constitution, "Ancients," passed through several periods of serious
trial - for instance, the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783; the financial period
of Continental money, 1782- 1789; the loss of Freemason's Hall in Lodge Alley,
1786; the burning of the Chestnut Street Hall, 1819; the anti-Masonic period
before mentioned; the panics of 1837 and 1842, which necessitated the
temporary sale of the Chestnut Street property. All, however, were eventually
successfully overcome, until now our Grand Lodge is housed in this magnificent
Temple, which is rightfully called the "Masonic Wonder of the
World," owned by the Brethren without a single penny of debt or
Now let me say a word in regard to our library and museum. If you will refer
to the preface of our first Ahiman Rezon, original edition of 1783, you will
find the following advice to the brethren at large:
"The officers of Lodges, and those members who wish to be more
completely learned in the grand science and sublime mysteries of Ancient
Masonry, will think it their duty, as opportunities offer, to furnish
themselves or their Lodges, with at least one copy of all approved and duly
authorized books on Masonry, which may be published by the learned Lodges, or
illustrious Brethren, in different languages and countries of the world, from
time to time."
This advice our present Committee on Library have sought to carry out to
its fullest extent, and we are now in a position to claim that we have the
largest and most diversified collection of Masonic literature in America. Over
eleven thousand volumes, both pro and con; over thirty thousand volumes of
proceedings and of Masonic periodicals; we have on file every one published in
America, besides many published abroad, all of which are available to the
members of the Craft.
As to our museum and its collection of Masonic exhibits, this will have to
speak for itself. I will say it has no equal in the Masonic world. The prime
mover in planning and the establishing of the Museum was Bro. Samuel W. Latta,
a member of the Committee, in which he was heartily seconded by the Chairman,
Bro. Wanamaker, and the fellow members of the Committee on Library. The
Committee's plans were approved by R.W. Grand Master Kendrick in 1907. In
1908, this room was set aside for museum purposes by the Committee on Temple
under direction of R.W. Grand Master Orlady.
At the beginning of July the cases were completed, and early in October
(Founders Week) the exhibits were installed. You will see many relics here of
the past, not alone from our own country, but from almost every quarter of the
globe. Nor is the present period, our own time, wanting. You will find that
this Masonic exhibition is not merely a Pennsylvania one, but that it is a
Universal one; taking in every state in our Union, the British possessions in
America; Asia, Africa and Australia, as well as Great Britain and the
Continent from Sweden and Norway in the north to Italy in the south, from
France in the west to Turkey in the cast. The collection is not limited to
nation or kind so long as the subject bears on Freemasonry.
You will note that this monument is but in its swaddling clothes, it is as yet
but three years old, and the Committee in charge is still active and ever
alert to add to and increase this great collection for the edification and
instruction of the Craft.
Special attention is called to the unique copy of the Masonic portrait of
Washington, painted in pastel by William Williams in Philadelphia in 1794, for
his Lodge at Alexandria, Virginia, originally warranted by the Grand Lodge of
Pennsylvania in 1793, being No. 39 on our own roster, and now No. 22 under the
Grand Lodge of Virginia. The painting before you is the only replica ever
permitted to be made of this portrait, and is doubly interesting as the work
was done by a great grand- daughter of Thomas Jefferson.
you also is the Masonic apron embroidered by Madam Lafayette for Washington,
and brought over to him by General Lafayette in 1784.
It was also worn by Brother Washington when he laid the corner stone of the
present Capitol in September, 1793. Many of the relics you see here date from
provincial, colonial and revolutionary days. The most precious and important
of all, however, are the manuscripts and documents in our own archives, which
are now gotten in condition to make them available.
These documents for almost a century were supposed to have been destroyed
in the burning of the Chestnut street hall in 1819, Such, however, was
fortunately not the case, as a large part of these old records were saved and
taken to the house of Grand Secretary George A. Baker, at the N. E. corner of
Fourth and Cherry Streets. These papers and documents were listed and placed
in six wooden boxes securely locked, and were successively stored in the
rebuilt Chestnut Street Hall, Washington (Third Street) Hall, the New Masonic
Hall of 1855, and lastly in one of the vaults of the new Temple at Broad and
Filbert Streets in 1873. Here they remained for years unknown and forgotten,
until after the death of the R. W. Grand Secretary, Michael Nesbit, in 1896,
when it occurred to Bro. John A. Perry, Deputy Grand Secretary, to investigate
the contents of these old boxes, and upon seeing what they contained, at once
recognized their great value, and brought his important discovery to the
notice of the Grand Officers, who now have placed them at the disposal of the
Committee on Library, under whose direction the Curator is arranging,
collating and indexing these precious historical documents.
In conclusion, I will express the hope that after examining this great
universal Masonic collection, you will bear it in mind, when you return to
your homes, and see that your own jurisdictions are worthily and properly
represented in this educational exhibition.
back to top