History of Freemasonry

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Most of the information on this page was taken from a series of booklets published by the Grand Lodge of Connecticut.

      The true origins of Freemasonry are clouded in both history and mystery. "Modern" Freemasonry dates back to the forming of the first Grand Lodge in England in 1717, though historical analysis shows Masonry to be much older. Written records of modern Masonry's precursors date back to the 14th century, while other aspects of Masonry date back to thousands of years B.C.

3 Grand Masters jpeg       There is much speculation as to the origins of Freemasonry. The earliest known use of the Square and Compasses symbol was its carving in an altar from 3800B.C. There is evidence that an elementary type of craft association existed as early as the time of King Solomon's Temple (about 1012 B.C.). That structure was the architectural masterpiece of its day; and because of the relationship between those early masons and the building of that spiritual edifice, Masonic tradition is rich in references to its construction.

      The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans taught higher education in schools resembling lodges, and protected their learning, and at times their existence when their teachings were proscribed, with secret signs and symbols. Guilds of stonemasons were operative at this time, building the great architectual works of the Roman Empire. Cleopatra's Needle also has symbols used by modern Masons in its base. How these associations and secret societies of the ancient world led to modern Freemasonry is uncertain.

      What is certain is that Freemasonry's direct predecessors are the guilds of operative stonemasons that built the great cathedrals of Europe. In England during the 10th century these guilds became subject to regulation by the Crown. In the Regius Poem there is definite reference to Athelstane, the King of England, who presided over a convocation of masons at York and established a series of regulations to govern the individual groups or lodges. A study of these regulations reveals a marked similarity to our own ancient constitutions and illustrates the strictness with which the operative masons kept the secrets of their trade and cared for each other and each other's families. Because of their importance in building cathedrals and other structures, masons enjoyed privileges denied to other trades and guilds, most notably the freedom to travel from country to country and from place to place as needed. Because of this, they became known as Free-masons.

Masters Carpet jpeg       After the 11th century, the guilds of masons became more settled, though some there was still some traveling from one country to another throughout Europe. There are definite references in the archives of various cathedrals and monasteries indicating that "lodges" of masons were responsible for the erection of these edifices. The lodge was a temporary building to house the artisans while they were employed in their daily work.

      By the 14th century, however, many lodges had become permanent. Surviving records are frequent, allusions in historical narrative more common, and by the 16th century definite references to Masonic lodges are not uncommon.

      As the centuries went on, cathedral building declined, and as a result, so did the numbers of operative masons. To supplement their numbers, they began accepting individuals outside the profession who were regarded as desirable members, referring to them as "speculative masons" who were taught religious and moral lessons using the tools of masonry as symbols, rather than the craft of the stonemasons. By the 17th century this had become common practice and the membership of some lodges was made up largely of men who were neither directly nor indirectly associated with the trade of masonry. Elias Ashmole, founder of the famous library at Oxford University, recorded in his diary his initiation into a lodge of masons in 1646.

      As cathedral building waned, lodges were weakened by lack of purpose and the need for strengthening lodges became apparent. In 1717 four lodges met in London to form the Grand Lodge of London, which gradually expanded to become the Grand Lodge of England. About the same time, a Grand Lodge was formed in Ireland, and shortly thereafter one in Scotland. The Grand Lodge of London published a book of constitutions known as "Anderson's Constitutions", the first truly Masonic book in modern times. Copies still exist. Gradually all connection with operative masonry was abandoned and Freemasonry became what it is now, a purely symbolic philosophic and benevolent institution.

Freemasonry in America

      Masonry was first introduced into the colonies by individual masons, some of whom organized new lodges by "immemorial right." A few charters were obtained from the Grand Lodges of England, Scotland, and Ireland. As early as 1733, Provincial grand Masters were appointed to regulate the craft on this continent. A second Grand Lodge at Boston was chartered from Scotland. Its first Grand Master, Dr. Joseph Warren, gave his life for liberty at the Battle of Bunker Hill. In 1751 another Grand Lodge was formed in London, which also chartered lodges in America. Many lodges in the British regiments that fought in America were chartered from Ireland.

George Washington with apron jpeg       By 1775 lodges from these several sources were in existence all along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to the West Indies. During and after the Revolutionary War, lodges in the colonies began to form independent Grand Lodges in their states. Virginia holds the honor of forming the first independent Grand Lodge, in a special convention held at Williamsburg in 1778, while the British forces still threatened the colonial capitol of Jamestown, a few miles away. George Washington was urged to become the first Grand Master of a National Grand Lodge of the United Sates, but brother Washington refused, believing the idea dangerous to local self-government of the Craft.

      Many colonial Masons were involved in the American Revolution. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, John Hancock, John Paul Jones - even Benedict Arnold - were all Masons. In addition, a free black man named Prince Hall was made a Mason, along with 14 of his friends, on March 6, 1775. They would eventually form African Lodge No. 459, which would later develop into a world-wide organization for black Masons with approximately 250,000 members. For more information about Prince Hall Masonry and its status today,CLICK HERE
      The period of the American Revolution also saw the first American Indian to be made a Mason. Thayendangea was the son of the chief of the Mohawks in the 1750's, and was brought up in the household of a prominent British administration official, Sir William Johnson, who was also a Freemason. Johnson gave him the name Joseph Brant, and when Brant was an adult, he fought several battles against the French with Johnson. Brant became Johnson's personal secretary, and by the time of Johnson's death in 1774, Brant had become accepted by the British adminsitration. Brant travelled to England in 1775, and was made a mason in a London lodge in 1776. He then returned to America to enlist the Mohawks in the fight against the American rebels. The Mohawks, under the command of Col. John Butler and Brant, attacked and massacred the Americans in several battles, and captured prisoners were turned over to the Mohawks to be tortured to death. Brant, however, took his masonic oaths seriously, and in a few recorded instances, released prisoners who made masonic signs as they were about to be tortured. After the war, Brant became a member of St John's Lodge of Friendship No.2 in Canada, of which Col. Butler had become Master, before returning to the Mohawks in Ohio.

Freemasonry in Connecticut

      Freemasonry was brought into Connecticut by David Wooster, charter Master of "The Lodge at New Haven" in 1750, now Hiram No. 1. It is believed that Wooster was made a Mason in a military lodge at Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. He became a major general in the Connecticut Militia during the revolution, and died of wounds received at the Battle of Ridgefield. In 1854 the Grand Lodge of Connecticut dedicated a beautiful momument to Wooster, the father of Connecticut Freemasonry, in Wooster Cemetery, Danbury. Annual Masonic services are held at his grave in May.

      Eighteen lodges are known to have existed in Connecticut prior to the Revolutionary War. Eight worked under charters from St. John's Provincial Grand Lodge at Boston, six from the "Ancient" Massachusetts Grand Lodge, and four in Fairfield County were warranted by the Provincial Grand Lodge of New York. Thus there were three Grand Lodges' ties to be welded together when the Grand Lodge of Connecticut was formed in 1789.

      There are now 106 lodges in the state of Connecticut, with over 18,000 members.