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Masonic Service Association of North America

Emessay Notes June 2007

Freemasonry: What was the first lodge in the United States?

      The first duly constituted and chartered American lodge was St. John’s Lodge of Boston, Massachusetts. Henry Price, Provincial Grand Master of New England, constituted eighteen brethren into a lodge on July 30, 1733. They went by the name of “First Lodge” until February 7, 1783, when they changed their name to St. John’s Lodge. Massachusetts lodges are not numbered, so while St. John’s Lodge is the oldest chartered lodge, it does not have “No. 1” in its name.

      Once we get past the requirement of being duly constituted, there is tantalizing evidence of earlier, unchartered lodges.

      The web page for St. John’s Lodge says, “Contemporary accounts reveal that a Masonic lodge had met in King’s Chapel, Boston, as early as the 1720s (meeting according to the “old customs” ).

      Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette for December 8, 1730, says “There are several Lodges of Freemasons erected in this Province.”

      The Historical Society of Pennsylvania owns the unusual volume Liber B, the account book of an unchartered Pennsylvania lodge. On June 24, 1731, Benjamin (Franklin) is entered as paying dues five months back, implying lodge activity back to February 1731 or possibly December 1730, depending how you calculate five months back.

      In 1734 Benjamin sent twenty-five copies of his edition of James Anderson’s The Constitutions of the Free-Masons to South Carolina. Franklin was too shrewd a businessman to send that many books on speculation, and this is a book that most appeals to active Masons. Thus we can infer a lodge was meeting in South Carolina in 1734, but the first known lodge was Solomon’s Lodge No. 1, chartered in Charleston in 1735.

      Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, Fredericksburg, Virginia, George Washington’s mother lodge, didn’t begin meeting until 1752. However, it began as a “time-immemorial” lodge and worked without a charter until 1758, when it accepted one from the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Mother Kilwinning Lodge No. 0 of Scotland is the most famous time-immemorial lodge, predating the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the granting of charters. Mother Kilwinning still works without a charter today.

(Source: The Scottish Rite Journal, May/June 2007)

BUILDERS OF EMPIRE; Freemasons and British Imperialism 1717-1927

Great new book about Freemasonry!

            “This is the first book to study Freemasonry in a global context. Through meticulous research and astute analysis, Harland-Jacobs vividly brings to life the history of the Masonic brotherhood over two centuries in Britain and the empire. She argues convincingly that the tension between inclusion and exclusion in British imperial Freemasonry was the quintessential story of empire. This is an important contribution to imperial history that draws attention to an often neglected chapter in the history of empire: the creation of supranational identities.”

--MRINALINI SINHA, Pennsylvania State University

            “Builders of Empire greatly advances our understanding of Masonry in both Britain and its colonial outposts, and provides an important new perspective on imperialism. This is a significant work, richly imagined, elegantly presented, and deeply engaged with an impressive range of important issues.”

--STEVEN C. BULLOCK, author of Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order; 1730-1840

(Source: Builders of Empire; Freemasons and British Imperialism 1717-1927 by Jessica L. Harland-Jacobs)
ISBN: 13: 978-0-8078-3088-8

DId You Know?

            What is the meaning of the word “Passing” as we use it in the second degree? Has it something to do with the passing up the Winding Stair?”

            After much searching through early lodge Minutes, the first lodge record so far found which uses the words ‘passing’ and ‘raising’ in our modern sense, is in the Minutes of the Lodge Greenock Kilwinning (now No. 12 (SC). It was founded in 1728, eight years before the Grand Lodge of Scotland. Immediately after the election of the Master and appointment of Officers at its first meeting, 27 December 1728, the Lodge made a rule as to the fees that would be payable for each degree:

            ‘That each who shall be received Members of this Lodge shall pay into the Box when entered as Apprentices One pound ten shillings Scotts, twelve shillings when passed Fellow-Craft, and twenty shillings Scotts when raised Master Mason, besides paying the expenses of the night’s entertainment…’

            It is doubtful that the word ‘passing’ in its original Masonic usage had anything to do with passing up a winding stair. At its first appearance in England it was certainly used more often in connection with the MM degree than with the FC, and it does not seem to have come into general use for the second degree until after the third, the ‘raising’, had become general practice in all the English lodges, around the 1750’s.

(The above abstracts are taken from Harry Carr’s The Freemason at Work, Lewis Masonic, 1996)

(Source: ARS Quatuor Coronatorum, Vol. 118, 2005)

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