George Washington

George Washington February 11 1732 O.S. – December 14, 1799 George Washington was Commanding General of the American Continental Army during their War of Independence (1776-1781). He was President of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and from 1789 to 1796 was the first president of the USA. Reputed to have received a masonic apron from Gilbert Lafayette, the only apron listed in Washington’s effects at his death was one made by nuns at Nantes and presented by the firm of Watson and Cassoul. Contrary to the discredited claims made by Governor Ritner (1780-1869)2 in 1837, Washington remained a freemason until his death, whereupon, at his widow’s request, he received a masonic funeral. While his continued membership and regard for Freemasonry is unquestionable, his personal papers suggest that he may not have been a frequent attendee at lodge.

Initiated: November 4, 1752. Passed: March 3, 1753 Raised: August 4, 1753 Fredericksburg Lodge, Virginia, Worshipful Master: May 29, 1788-1789 (elected but not installed) Lodge No. 22 [39], Alexandria, Virginia George Washington, a young Virginia planter, becomes a Master Mason, the highest basic rank in the secret fraternity of Freemasonry. The ceremony was held at the Masonic Lodge No. 4 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Washington was 21 years old and would soon command his first military operation as a major in the Virginia colonial militia. Freemasonry evolved from the practices and rituals of the stonemasons’ guilds in the Middle Ages. With the decline of European cathedral building, “lodges” decided to admit non-stonemasons to maintain membership, and the secret fraternal order grew in popularity in Europe. In 1717, the first Grand Lodge, an association of lodges, was founded in England, and Freemasonry was soon disseminated throughout the British Empire. The first American Mason lodge was established in Philadelphia in 1730, and future revolutionary leader Benjamin Franklin was a founding member. There is no central Masonic authority, and Freemasons are governed locally by the order’s many customs and rites. Members trace the origins of Masonry back to the erecting of King Solomon’s Temple in biblical times and are expected to believe in the “Supreme Being,” follow specific religious rites, and maintain a vow of secrecy concerning the order’s ceremonies. The Masons of the 18th century adhered to liberal democratic principles that included religious toleration, loyalty to local government, and the importance of charity. From its inception, Freemasonry encountered considerable opposition from organized religion, especially from the Roman Catholic Church. For George Washington, joining the Masons was a rite of passage and an expression of his civic responsibility. After becoming a Master Mason, Washington had the option of passing through a series of additional rites that would take him to higher “degrees.” In 1788, shortly before becoming the first president of the United States, Washington was elected the first Worshipful Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22. Many other leaders of the American Revolution, including Paul Revere, John Hancock, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the Boston Tea Party saboteurs, were also Freemasons, and Masonic rites were witnessed at such events as Washington’s presidential inauguration and the laying of the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.–a city supposedly designed with Masonic symbols in mind. Masonic symbols, approved by Washington in the design of the Great Seal of the United States, can be seen on the one-dollar bill. The All-Seeing Eye above an unfinished pyramid is unmistakably Masonic, and the scroll beneath, which proclaims the advent of a “New Secular Order” in Latin, is one of Freemasonry’s long-standing goals. The Great Seal appeared on the dollar bill during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, also a Mason. Freemasonry has continued to be important in U.S. politics, and at least 15 presidents, five Supreme Court chief justices, and numerous members of Congress have been Masons. Presidents known to be Masons include Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, and Gerald Ford. Today there are an estimated two million Masons in the United States.

The origins of Freemasonry are obscure. The creation of the Craft (as it is also called) occurred over time between the first recorded gentleman joining an Edinburgh stonemasons’ lodge in 1599 and the 1721 publication in London of The Constitutions of the Free-Masons by Scots Presbyterian minister James Anderson.1

Freemasonry is fundamentally a self-improvement, volunteer association that teaches moral, intellectual, and spiritual lessons through three initiation ceremonies. Freemasonry’s three degree are modeled after a craftsman’s progress: Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. Freemasonry was, and remains, open to all men of good reputation who profess a belief in Deity (referred to in lodge as The Supreme Architect of the Universe). By the 1750s a variety of Christian and non-Christians, European, and non-European men, and a few women, were members.2

Freemasonry grew popular within cities as political, commercial, and intellectual elites gathered within a lodge. With aristocratic, and later royal patronage, Freemasonry evolved into the preeminent fraternal organization of the eighteenth century. The earliest records of American Masonic lodges are in Philadelphia. In 1732, Boston’s St. John’s Lodge was duly constituted by the Grand Lodge of England and remains the oldest lodge in North America. Interwoven with the British Enlightenment, Masonic lodges formed throughout Europe and the Americas. The network of Scots, English, and Irish Lodge helped knit the British commercial empire together.3

Although American elites initially joined the Freemasons to keep pace with genteel English behavior, the fraternity contributed to the spread of the ideas and ideals behind the American Revolution. During the revolutionary era, Masons of note included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Otis, and Paul Revere. While individual Freemasons actively participated in the American Revolution, Freemasonry, as an institution as well as its local lodges, remained politically neutral.4

Washington joined Freemasonry in the Lodge at Fredericksburg, Virginia. He was 20 years old when he received the first degree of Entered Apprentice on November 4, 1752. He paid the lodge two pounds and three shillings to join. Ten days after turning 21, on March 3, 1753, he was passed to the second degree of Fellowcraft. On August 4, 1753, he was raised to the third degree of Master Mason. The lodge’s surviving minute book records Washington attending only two more meetings: September 1, 1753, and January 4, 1755.5

Many of Washington’s brothers in the Fredericksburg Lodge later served within in the Continental Army or Virginia Militia, including Hugh Mercer, George Weedon, and Thomas Posey. Washington’s “Mother Lodge” was renamed and numbered as Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 after the creation of the Grand Lodge of Virginia in 1778. It continues to meet today.6

Beginning in 1778 and through the remainder of his life, Washington was a frequent participant in Masonic ceremonies. On June 24, 1779, for example, Washington attended American Union Lodge’s celebration of the Feast of St. John the Baptist. That lodge comprised officers and enlisted men within the Connecticut regiments. He also visited King Solomon’s Lodge in Poughkeepsie, New York, on December 27, 1783.7

After the war, in 1784, Washington accepted the invitation of his friends and neighbors to attend a June banquet at Alexandria Lodge No. 39, where he was elected an honorary member. Four years later he agreed to be charter master of the lodge when it transferred its allegiance from the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania to the Grand Lodge of Virginia. In 1794, the lodge commissioned William Williams to paint Washington dressed in Masonic regalia. After Washington’s death the lodge changed its name to Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22.8

As president, Washington exchanged letters with many Masonic local lodges and state grand lodges. He also met delegations of Freemasons during his visit to Rhode Island in 1790 and his 1791 tour of the southern states. His most significant Masonic activity, however, occurred on September 18, 1793. Acting as grand master pro tem, he presided at the Masonic ceremonial laying of the United States Capitol cornerstone.9

At Washington’s 1799 funeral, brothers of Alexandria Lodge performed Masonic rites. After Martha Washington’s death the lodge acquired many valuable items from the estate, including a Masonic apron sent from France in 1793. With these items and many curiosities, the lodge opened a museum in 1812.10

In 1910 the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association was formed. Then in 1932 the Association dedicated its great Masonic Memorial to Washington in Alexandria, Virginia. Today Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 displays many of its valuable Washington artifacts and continues to meet there. The George Washington Masonic National Memorial welcomes the public seven days a week to view its many exhibitions and enjoy the spectacular view for the top of its 333 foot tower.11

Washington himself best articulated his membership in, and relationship to, Freemasonry when he replied to the brethren of King David’s Lodge in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790:

“Being persuaded that a just application of the principles, on which the Masonic Fraternity is founded, must be promotive of private virtue and public prosperity, I shall always be happy to advance the interests of the Society, and to be considered by them as a deserving brother.”

 

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