The History of Freemasonry

 

Free and Accepted Masonry had its roots in the centuries long past when the great cathedrals and edifices were being constructed. Men who developed the knowledge and skills required to not only prepare the sundry material used in the construction but placement of the components as well traveled great distances to find work within their vocation. It was imperative that some method to identify those who were applying for work be established. Initially an applicant was provided a sone or wood piece with specific instruction and was to prepare a piece for inspection

but this method was very slow and tedious. Soon these workers were provided with secret signs and words to provide an identification as a skilled workman and craftsman. The secret signs and words began to be accepted over great distances so a worker who traveled the distance would be accepted on another word of his certification.

 

The workman during this era were overseer or men with the skill and gifts to portray the requirements of the building as well as the dimensions of the pieces that were being prepared, and when prepared any piece from any skilled workman would fit with another workman’s piece with exacting precision. These overseers were also charged with the responsibility for the building progress as well as the edifices It appears these were an early version of the architect or a Master Mason.

 

A second class of workmen were the stone or wood preparers, essentially a Fellowcraft, who could follow the designs and requirements placed on the trestle board. These individuals were charged with the proper preparation of the materials to be used as well as the erection of the building from such materials. Their work from the preparation as well as the construction were continuously inspected by the overseer to confirm all continued on the proper path.

 

The third group of workmen were the bearers of burdens and they were charged with the responsibility of getting raw materials for the craftsmen and for bearing the completed materials to the job site. They also assisted in moving the completed parts into the proper location. One might consider the craftsman as an equivalent to a brick layer of today and the bearers of burdens as the brick layer’s attendant.

 

Many great and magnificent edifices were constructed during the 11th through the 16th centuries and were of very high quality, and quite a number are still in existence.. Though the tools were on the crude side, these skilled workmen could and did provide materials with incredible accuracy. All components of the building needed to fit together and parts from different quarries and forests all were prepared in the same fashion, and when put into place in the edifice all fitted together, much as construction materials today. It is important to remember that skilled workers cut stone to very close tolerances with hammer and chisel.

 

In the latter part of the 16th century, the construction of the great edifices slowed or completely stopped, resulting in new craftsman being introduced to the trade. The guilds or organizations that held the workmen together began to decay and the members began to accept Speculative Masons into their ranks. These individuals, or Speculative Masons, were men with a strong desire to continue the close bonds that experienced previously by the skilled workmen, thus the introduction of the ritual in an earlier format than what we have today. The first recorded credible historical source asserting the antiquity of Freemasonry is the Halliwall Manuscript or Regius Poem, believed to date back from 1390. These documents make reference to several concepts and phrases similar to those found in Freemasonry, and in itself seems to be an elaboration of earlier documents which have not been found.

 

There is another manuscript, the Cooke Manuscript, an undated manuscript from the mid 15th century, the oldest of the Gothic Constitutions. The first statutory use of the word “Freemason” in England appears in the Statutes of the Realm enacted in 1495 under Henry V!, although the archaic term “frank mason” had been in use fifty years earlier. Prior to that, the use of the term “ffre Masons” was in a 1395 reference to the “Company of ffre Masons, one of the numerous craft guilds of London.

 

By 1583, the date of the Grand Lodge Manuscripts, the documentary evidence begins to grow. In 1598-1599 there was evidence of the presence of Lodge Mother Kilwinning, Ayrshire, Scotland who exercised authority over the Lodge of Edinburgh and were referred to as the Head and Principal respectively.

 

Early operative Masons, unlike virtually all Europeans, were free, not bound to the land on which they were born. The various skills required in building complex stone structures, especially churches and cathedrals, allowed skilled masons to travel and find work at will. They were lodged in temporary quarters either attached or near the main stone building.

 

Freemasonry’s transition from a craft guild of operative, working stonemasons into a fraternity of speculative, accepted, gentleman Freemasons began in Scottish lodges in the early 17th century. The earliest record of a lodge accepting a non-operative member occurs in the records of the Lodge of Edinburgh, 8 June 1600, when it is shown that John Boswell, Laird of Aucheinleck, was present at the meeting. The first record of the initiation of a non-operative Mason was on 3 July 1634, when Right Honorable Alexander was admitted as a Fellowcraft.

 

The first record of the formation of a Grand Lodge in England came on 24 June 1717, when four London Lodges came together at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in St Paul’s Churchyard. And formed what they called the Grand Lodge of England.

 

Two separate and distinct elements of Freemasonry developed in England, the Moderns and the Antients. The Modern were essentially the forerunner of the lodge as we know it today, using references to the dedication to the Holy Saint Johns of Jerusalem. The Antients believed they practiced a more ancient and, therefore, a purer form of the ritual and the basic precepts of Freemasonry. Both Grand Lodges established by these conflicting factions existed for quite a long time. As an illustration of how deep the division was between the conflicting Grand Lodges



Factions is in the case of Benjamin Franklin, who was a member of a Modern’s Lodge in Philadelphia. During his travels and stay in France, he became Master of the Lodge Les Neuf Sceurs in 1779. Upon returning from France it transpired that his Philadelphia Lodge had changed to an Antients Lodge, no longer recognizing him and declining to give him Masonic Honors at his funeral. The Great Masonic Schism, was the name applied to the sixty two year division of English Masonry into two separate Grand Lodges. Many hypotheses wqerte put forth to explain the division but even to today the cause or effects is a subject of immense conjecture.

 

Two separate and distinct elements of Freemasonry developed in England, the Moderns and the Antients. The Modern were essentially the forerunner of the lodge as we know it today, using references to the dedication to the Holy Saint Johns of Jerusalem. The Antients believed they practiced a more ancient and, therefore, a purer form of the ritual and the basic precepts of Freemasonry. Both Grand Lodges established by these conflicting factions existed for quite a long time. As an illustration of how deep the division was between the conflicting Grand Lodges



Factions is in the case of Benjamin Franklin, who was a member of a Modern’s Lodge in Philadelphia. During his travels and stay in France, he became Master of the Lodge Les Neuf Sceurs in 1779. Upon returning from France it transpired that his Philadelphia Lodge had changed to an Antients Lodge, no longer recognizing him and declining to give him Masonic Honors at his funeral. The Great Masonic Schism, was the name applied to the sixty two year division of English Masonry into two separate Grand Lodges. Many hypotheses wqerte put forth to explain the division but even to today the cause or effects is a subject of immense conjecture.

 

Sometime in 1725, a Third Degree, the Master Mason’s Degree, began to be worked in the London Lodges. Its origins are unknown and while it may be older that the first record, no mention appears in any lodge records until April 1727. The Third Degree was not official until the Grand Lodge of England adopted Anderson’s revised Constitutions of 1738.

 

Freemasonry followed the early settlers in America and has provided a significant role in the formation and development of the United States. When the settlers became disenfranchised with the taxes imposed by the English government, it was Masons who led the charge from subjugation to freedom. The earliest recorded incidence in the struggle with England resulted in the “Boston Tea Party “. The lodge of Freemasons met in the second story of a local Ale House. From the depths of this location a number of Indians were seen leaving the Ale House and entering boats, thence to the English ship anchored in the harbor. The was thrown overboard as a protest and the Indians soon left the ship, returning to the Ale House. It was either a very rapid conferring of degrees on Indians or our Brethren had donned customs to perform their acts. I suspect the latter.

 

A bit later a confrontation with the English military personnel was becoming more evident. We read in our nation’s history that a group of Masons were plotting even greater accomplishments in their quest for freedom. The English troops were coming and it was planned to hang lanterns in the church steeple. We remember a Mason’s ride, Paul Revere to alert the local population that the English were coming. From there, to the assembly of a rag-tag group of patriots, under the direction of local Masons, the confrontation came to its climax at Bunker Hill, where the shot heard round the world was fired. Masonry provided leadership during the struggle with England and continued its influence b well past the conflict. Once the hostilities were over the citizens of the new, independent country began the work of creating documents to establish the government of the new country. The discussions and debates were long and extensive. The Constitution was discussed and when it appeared that a majority could not be realized, primarily to the Bill of Rights, and the persons selected to establish the governing rules were ready to give up, a 91 year old Mason, Brother Ben Franklin, rose to address the persons involved. He emphasizes how important it was to approve the Constitution and that the Bill of Rights could be added in the future, and succeeded in convincing the members to adopt the Constitution.

 

Masons who were part of the Constitution debate and ended up signing the Constitution were:

 

Gunning Bedford, Jr Delaware
William Blount North Carolina
John Blair Virginia
William Few Georgia
David Brearly New Jersey
John Langdon New Hampshire
Jacob Bloom Delaware
Robert Morris Pennsylvania
Daniel Carroll Maryland
George Read Deleware
Jonathon Dayton New Jersey
Roger Sherman Connecticut
John Dickinson Delaware
Benjamin Franklin Pennsylvania
Nicholas Gilman New Hampshire
Rufus King Massachusetts
James Mc Henry Maryland
William Paterson New Jersey
George Washington Virginia

 

Freemasonry experienced considerable difficulties in the late 17th century and early 18th century as a number of Grand Lodge emerged with somewhat different beliefs and ritualistic work. Slowly but methodically the Grand Lodge resolved their differences and establish one Grand Body of competent jurisdiction to rule over the concordant lodges. Masonry flourished after the consummation of the mergers and membership grew and new lodges were introduced in numerous American cities.

 

Freemasonry suffered through another very difficult time known as the Morgan Affair. William Morgan of Batavia, New York threatened to expose Freemasonry most closely guarded signs and words. He disappeared and some claimed he had been murdered by overzealous Freemasons but no proof could ever be established. What truly happened has never been conclusively proved and is still a subject of conjecture. Morgan’s disappearance and the minimal punishment received by his kidnappers sparked a series of protests against Freemasons throughout the United States and especially in New York as well as neighboring states. Under the leadership of Thurlow Weed, an anti-Mason as well as an anti Andrew Jackson used the Morgan affair as a stimuli to form a new political party and made the ballot as a precedential candidate in 1828. The new part faired badly but continued until the 1832 election when William Wirt was fielded as the party’s candidate. Rather ironic as Wirt was a Mason, running on an anti-Mason platform. The party suffered an even worse election result that in the previous election. The party was dissolved soon thereafter and the anti-Mason rhetoric abated considerably.

 

The fortunes of Freemasonry declined sharply after the Morgan Affair, only beginning to rebound as the anti-Masonic clamor sputtered out in the mid 1830s. By the late 1850s, Masonry was making a strong comeback and was the subject of renewed popular interest and lodge membership. By the time of the War Between the States Freemasonry had tripled its membership from 66,000 to 200.000 members in 5000 lodges nation wide. The increase in membership helps to explain the tales and actual records of military personnel assisting the enemy when it was determined he was a member of the Craft.

 

Freemasonry enjoyed a quiet period from the 1850’s until the First World War and again Freemasons rose to he challenge. Many military officers were Masons and carried the Masonic attributes into the war. Stories are told of assistance of enemy personnel when it was determined he was a member of the Craft.

 

Freemasons continued to prosper until the Second World War and again Freemasonry exhibited leadership and ideals to carry the nations through this very difficult times. President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, General Douglas MacArthur and General Marshall were all leaders and all were Masons as were most of their more highly ranked officers. We know of Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s leadership and it was General MacArthur who established the present Japanese government and created a democracy out of a warring and fanatical citizenship. Japan is now one of the world’s financial giants and it was a Mason who started them on the path to enlightenment.

 

The Masonic influence has been present in many of our leaders. To date fifteen of our Presidents wee Masons as well as many members of the Congress and the court systems throughout the country. The extent of this influence cannot be accurately measured but the Masonic tenets and beliefs were present whenever or wherever these great men have gone. Our first president, George Washington was a practicing Mason and took his oath as President on the St. John’s Lodge Bible. President Washington became a Mason in 1752-1753. Many others have also opted to take oaths on this Bible. St. Lodge was established in 1733, when the Provincial Grand Master over all of North America for the London Grand Lodge granted a charter to a group of Boston Freemasons. The lodge was later named St John’s and was the first duly constituted Lodge in America.

 

Presidents who were members of the fraternity include:

 

James Monroe, 5th President.  He was initiated in 1758 and no record exist as to whether he took te remaining degrees.

 

Andrew Jackson, the 7th President. He served as Grand Master of Tennessee in 1822-1823

 

James K. Polk, 11th President. Received the degrees in 1825

 

James Buchanan, 15th President. Received the degrees in 1816 and 1817. Served as Deputy Grand Master of Pennsylvania.

 

Andrew Johnson,17th President. Received his degrees in 1851

 

James A. Garfield, 20th President. Received his degrees in in 1864.

 

William McKinley, 25th President. Received his degrees in 1865.

 

Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President. Received his degrees. Received his degrees in 1901.

 

William H. Taft, 27th President. Made a member at sight in Kilwinning Lodge 356, Cincinnati, Ohio.

 

Warren G. Harding, 29th President. Initiated in 1901, passed and raised in 1921.

 

Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32 th President. Received his degrees in 1911


Harry S Truman, 33th President. Received his degrees in
Received his degrees in Belton Lodge 450. Served as Assistant Grand Lecturer and as District Deputy Grand Master for several years. Elected as Grand Master of Masons in Missouri in 1940

 

Lyndon B. Johnson, 16th President. Initiated in 1937 and no record has been found that he took further degrees.

 

Gerald R. Ford, 38th President. Received his degrees in Malta Lodge, no dates given. Received the NY Grand Lodge Distinguished Achievement Award in 1974, the highest award that can be bestowed upon a Brother by the Grand Lodge of Masons in New York.

 

New York State Masons are members of Lodges who have the Grand Lodge of the State of New York as their Grand Body of Competent Jurisdiction empowering the individual lodges to work. Freemasonry’s new theme is service to our fellow man, benevolence, philanthropy and community service.

 

New York State Masons support a Home in Utica, NY for Masons and widows. Also support the Masonic Research Laboratory, one of the top ten Research Centers in the world, located on the Masonic Campus in Utica.. The home is truly home to many of our older Brothers and their ladies. Various levels of living are available from non-assisted living to full care for residents to full care for in firmed or needy residents. The newer housing unit are very nice , well kept, clean and provide for the life style the elderly person desires.

 

Another Masonic Jewel is Camp Turk, a summer camp for boys and girls, located near Woodgate in the Adirondack Mountains. It is a place of incredible beauty, peace and inspiration Each Mason in the greater Grand Lodge on New York are encouraged to support these. facilities with your visits as well as your money.

Welcome to Westbrook Masonic Lodge #333