As communicated from the Grand Lodge of Texas
WHERE DID MASONRY COME FROM?
Where did Masonry come from? To a great extent, much that is said and written about Freemasonry necessarily represents the personal opinion or thinking of an individual or a group of individuals. In this fact lies one of the great strengths of our Fraternity. As you progress and learn about Freemasonry, you will find that while the truths and principles of the Order are positive and fixed in character, much of their interpretation is left to you, the individual. It is this factor which affords you the opportunity for a lifetime of research and study.
One of the most interesting and romantic parts of Freemasonry is its history. You may have heard or read that Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest organizations. Where did it come from? How did it originate? Here again, conjecture and interpretation play their part. We can but give you the generally accepted views of many Masonic scholars.
In general, the history may be divided into two distinct eras or parts. The first refers to the era which came before recorded or written history. The second refers to the era which runs back from the present day approximately 800 years and covers that period of which there is a definite record.
There are those who believe that Freemasonry originated with the very beginning of civilization, indeed with the start of intelligent thinking man. However, there is no absolute basis for such a belief. We do know that as time and experience proved certain truths, these truths were taken and carried to the thinking people of the various tribes. We do know, also, that in several of the ancient civilizations there existed certain mystic societies; that these mystic societies had a Lodge form, with Lodge officers, all similar in character and all teaching moral living. Thus it might rightfully be supposed that the ideals and teachings of our Order have come to us from the learning and wisdom of the dim past.
While we refer to ourselves as "Freemasons," the accepted term for hundreds of years was simply "Masons." Defined, Mason means "Builder." Starting some 800 years ago, and lasting nearly 400 years, was the era during which were built in western Europe the hundreds of great Gothic cathedrals. Many of these immense structures still stand as a memorial of the past and as an inspiration to the people of today.
To us, it is almost incomprehensible that these magnificent cathedrals were built completely by hand, with only the simplest of tools. The credit goes to the Builders or Masons of that era. It was their ingenuity, imagination, resourcefulness and industry which produced these monuments.
To accomplish what they did, these Masons banded themselves together in workmans' Guilds. Each of the Guilds formed a Lodge, with regular Lodge officers and each with three levels of membership. The first, or lowest form of members, were apprentices or bearers of burdens. The second form were craftsmen or fellows, the skilled workmen on the Temples. The third and highest form were the masters, constituting those who were the overseers and superintendents on the building. Also, certain states of proficiency were required before a man could pass from one degree to the next. Furthermore, they all taught and required of their membership certain attributes of moral conduct. It was these Guild Lodges that actually gave birth to modern Masonic Lodges and to present-day Freemasonry.
We refer to these Guild Masons as "Operative" Masons, because they actually operated as and performed as working masons in the building of the cathedrals. However, during the sixteenth century there began the decline of the Gothic building and with it a decline in the strength of the Guild Lodges. For two hundred years these Lodges struggled and fought for their very existence. During this struggle some of the Lodges, to preserve themselves, began taking in other members -- that is, men of high moral character, but not necessarily followers of the builders' trade. These non-operative members were referred to as "Accepted" Masons and later as "Speculative" Masons. Eventually the Guild Lodges came to be known as "Speculative Lodges." This was particularly true in the British Isles, where a considerable number of men in all walks of life were admitted to membership in the Lodges of Freemasons.
The start of the eighteenth century saw the birth
of modem architecture and with it the complete fade-out of Gothic building. It
appeared that Freemasonry was doomed when, in 1717, four Lodges in London met
together and probably for no other reason than to strengthen and preserve
themselves, decided to form a Grand Lodge. In 1723 they adopted a constitution
to govern themselves. Their success led to the establishment of other Grand
Lodges in similar fashion. In 1725 some of the Lodges in Ireland formed a Grand
Lodge for that island, and a similar body was instituted in Scotland in 1736.
Moreover, the original Grand Lodge of England did not remain without rivals in
its own country, and
at one time in the eighteenth century there existed in England three Grand Lodges in addition to the one organized in 1717. Two of these died out without influencing the history of Masonry in general, but the third had a great part in the spread and popularizing of Masonry throughout the world. It styled itself the "Ancient" Grand Lodge, while the original body was known as the "Modern" Grand Lodge. The two were long and vigorous rivals, but they finally united in 1813 into the present Grand Lodge of England. Thus, from one of these two Grand bodies in England, or from that of Ireland or Scotland, are descended directly or otherwise all other Grand Lodges in the world today.
It was inevitable that Freemasonry should follow the colonists to America and play a most important part in the establishment of the thirteen colonies. Freemasonry was formally recognized for the first time in America with the appointment by the Grand Lodge of England of a Provincial Grand Master in Massachusetts in 1733. American Masons worked under foreign jurisdiction until 1781, when the first Grand Lodge was established in the State of New York.
One of the most enthralling and romantic portions of all Masonic history lies in the story of the part played by Freemasons in the formation of our country. We will never know just how great a part Freemasonry actually did play; but without exaggeration, we can say that Freemasonry and Masonic thinking contributed most significantly to the founding of this great democracy.
A significant number of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as well as the drafters of the Constitution were members of our Fraternity, many of them most active in the affairs of their Lodges. George Washington was a staunch Freemason, and it is said that before the close of the Revolution he placed no one but Freemasons in posts of importance. He was the first of thirteen Masonic Presidents and the only one to serve as Worshipful Master of a Lodge and President at one and the same time. The others after Washington are Jackson, Polk, Buchanan, Johnson, Garfield, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and Ford -- of whom Jackson and Truman served also as Grand Masters.
In the struggle for Independence such well-known patriots as Paul Revere, Joseph Warren, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Hancock, as well as Lafayette, Von Steuben and many others, were members of the Craft. No doubt Freemasonry was responsible for and shaped much of their thinking and opinions.
Volumes have been written about the participation of Freemasons in the Revolution and the founding of America. Time will not permit us to say more except that it was an episode in history of which we can all be most proud.
Ever since that period Masonry has grown and flourished, following closely the growth and expansion of the United States. Freemasonry came to Texas as part of that expansion.
There were many Masons among the early settlers in Texas, with membership in Lodges all over the world. The first attempt to organize a Lodge in Texas was destined to failure. On February 11, 1828, Stephen Fuller Austin, the beloved "Father of Texas," an active Mason and a member of St. Louis Lodge No. 3 in the territory of Missouri under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, met with six other Masons, Hosea H. League, Ira Ingram, Eli Mitchell, Joseph M. White, G. B. Hall, and Thomas M. Duke, and signed an application for a Masonic Charter addressed to the Yorkino Grand Lodge of Mexico. The Charter, if ever granted, was lost, probably due to the existing uncertain transportation and travel conditions. In this same year, however, Masonry was outlawed in Texas by the Mexican government, and Masonic activity went underground for several years.
The next attempt to organize Masonry in Texas met with success. In March, 1835, six men met in a little grove of wild peach or laurel back of the town of Brazoria and concluded to petition the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for a dispensation to form and open a Lodge of Masons. The officers named in the petition were Dr. Anson Jones, Master; Asa Brigham, Senior Warden; and J. P. Caldwell, Junior Warden. They were joined in signing the petition by John A. Wharton, James A. E. Phelps and Alexander Russell. Later the signature of W. D. C. Hall was added. The petition requested that the Lodge be named "Holland Lodge" in honor of the then Grand Master of Louisiana, J. H. Holland. The petition was forwarded to New Orleans by messenger, was granted, and on December 27, 1835, the first meeting of Holland Lodge No. 36, U. D. was opened at Brazoria in the second story of the old Court House. By this time open hostilities had broken out between the settlers and Mexico. The last meeting of the Lodge was held in February, 1836, and it is worthy of note that the immortal Fannin acted as Senior Deacon at this meeting. Brazoria was abandoned in March and General Urrea of the Mexican army destroyed the records, jewels and books of the Lodge.
Brother John M. Allen, an illustrious Texan, was in New Orleans recruiting soldiers for the Texas army. The Grand Secretary of Louisiana handed him the Charter for Holland Lodge No, 36 for delivery to Brother Anson Jones. The delivery was accomplished on the prairie between Groce's and San Jacinto, and Dr. Jones placed it in his saddle bags and carried it through the battle of San Jacinto. In October, 1837, the Lodge was reopened in Houston.
There were then in existence two other Lodges in Texas chartered by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana-Milam No. 40 at Nacogdoches and McFarland No. 41 at San Augustine. At the invitation of Holland Lodge No. 36, delegates of the three Lodges met at Houston in the Senate Chamber of the Capitol of the Republic at 3:00 o'clock p.m. on December 20th, 1837. Brother Sam Houston presided and Brother Anson Jones acted as Secretary. At this meeting was organized the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas with Brother Anson Jones as the first Grand Master.
From these three Lodges, Holland No. 1, Milam No. 2, and McFarland No. 3, we have grown to approximately 908 Lodges and 124,000 members. As early as 1848, the Grand Lodge of the Republic provided for an Education and Charity Fund of ten percent of its revenues, and appointed a superintendent of education. Many early schools were established by Masonic Lodges, and actually met in Masonic Lodge buildings. We must never forget that it is now generally recognized that our great Texas free public school system was first conceived and established by the Masons and Masonic Lodges of Texas.
Nor must we forget that our precious Masonic heritage was established by our Masonic forebears under great difficulties and hardships. By their heroism and sacrifice they threw off a semi-barbarious tyranny, and established here a government of freedom and brotherhood. Like the tolling of a giant bell comes the names of Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Anson Jones, Allen, Fannin, Milam, Travis, Rusk and many other Masons far too numerous to mention here. Our debt to them can never be paid.