The (Premier) Grand Lodge of England

Premier Grand Lodge of England LogoIn 1716, four lodges assembled at the Apple Tree Tavern in London and established a Grand Lodge pro-term. They laid the groundwork for a Grand Lodge and established St. John the Baptist’s day, June 24 1717, as the date for their first meeting. On the appointed date the four lodges met at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House in London and elected Anthony Sayer, Gentleman, as Grand Master. The other officers consisted of both Speculative and Operative members. However, the Grand Lodge was essentially a speculative organization. The annual communication of the Grand Lodge was established to occur on St. John’s Day each year, with additional quartely communications. Initially, this Grand Lodge controlled only a few of the lodges in London and Westminster. Within a few years, additional lodges throughout England affiliated with it. It was many years, however, before all English lodges affiliated with a Grand Lodge.

Immediately after the organisation of this Grand Lodge, a search was conducted through England for all existing Masonic documents. Old lodge minutes, various list s of charges to the workmen (Old Charges), historical papers of any type, and correspondence were collected and analyzed.

Dr. James Anderson, a Presbyterian minister, sifted through the collected data and constructed a Constitution for the government of the Grand Lodge. This was adopted in 1723. Anderson’s Constitution of 1723 included a “history” of Masonry that preceded recorded history and was actually a condensation of numerous legends and allegories that had previously existed within the craft. This information was communicated to candidates in lecture form and undoubtedly was accepted by many of them as fact. The Constitution also included “Charges” for the Entered Apprentices and Fellowcrafts.

After several years, additional background material was accumulated and Dr. Anderson revised his Constitution in light of the new discoveries. This edition was adopted by the Grand Lodge and is known as Anderson’s Constitution of 1738. Adjustments had been made in the legendary history of the craft, and a number of the charges that had previously been applied to Fellowcrafts were now assigned to the new degree of Master Mason.

The early (Gothic) Constitutions of Freemasonry were decidedly Christian in nature. The operative Masons were predominantely Roman Catholic in England until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. Anderson’s Constitution of 1723 and 1738 omitted all pre-existing references to Christianity and modern symbolic Freemasonry embraces all religions.

The arms of the “Moderns” Grand Lodge, consisting of three castles with a chevron and compasses, was derived from those of the Freemason’s Company of London. Many speculative Masons at that time were of the opinion that this opportunity for promoting emblems with strong symbolic values had been overlooked and future Grand Lodges corrected this oversight. (Note the significant characteristics in the arms of The “Ancient” Grand Lodge)

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederic G. Speidel

The United Grand Lodge of England (1813)

United Grand Lodge of England LogoAfter an extended period of discussion, the Grand Lodge of Ancients and the Moderns merged into “The United Grand Lodge of England” in 1813.

The delegates shared differing views as to the place the degree of The Holy Royal Arch should, or should not, occupy in the official structure of Freemasonry. Delegates from the “Modern” Grand Lodge advocated its omission, while the “Ancients” delegates maintained it should be incorporated into the system. After much debate and arbitration, the following statement was inserted into the Act of Union:

“It is declared and pronounced that pure Ancient Masonry consists of three degrees, and no more; viz: Those of the Entered Apprentice, the Fellow Craft and the Master Mason, including the Supreme Order of the Holy Royal Arch.”

The statement went on to say:

“But this article is not intended to prevent any Lodge or Chapter from holding a meeting in any of the degrees of the Orders of Chivalry, according to the constitutions of the said Orders.”

Thus, in England, in 1813, the Royal Arch and the Orders of Chivalry were acknowledged as having rightful connection with the approved Masonic structure by the highest authority, the United Grand Lodge.

The heraldic arms selected by the United Grand Lodge empaled the castles of the Moderns with the Royal Arch banners of the Ancients, with modified cherubim as supporters, and the crest of the Ancients.

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederic G. Speidel

Colonial Lodges in the American Colonies

During the formative period of speculative Freemasonry in England, lodges were formed in the American colonies. The earliest reference to a lodge Meeting in American Colonies was in Philadelphia, in 1730. This was in an unchartered lodge. Under the “Old Charges”, Freemasons were permitted to assemble, form a lodge, and conduct business without a warrant or charter. If such a lodge achieved a permanency of operation, it was termed a “time immemorial lodge”, and was a regular lodge.

Benjamin Franklin referred to several lodges existing in Pennsylvania in 1730. Franklin became a Mason the following year in a lodge that met at Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern. William Allen became the Master of Tun Tavern Lodge in 1731 and declared he was forming a Grand Lodge with the intent of acquiring jurisdiction over Masonry in the surrounding area. This Grand Lodge was ineffective and expired within a few years.

The Freemasons of Boston, Massachusetts, were probably as active as those of Philadelphia in these early years. However, records of meetings prior to 1733 are not now in existence. In 1733, Henry Price was commissioned Provincial Grand Master of New England by the Grand Master of England (Moderns). Price opened his Grand Lodge on July 30, 1733, in Boston, and constituted what has since been known as “First Lodge”. This lodge became St. John’s Lodge and is still in existence. Massachusetts claims priority for the establishment of “regular Masonry” in the American Colonies.

A commission has been issued to Daniel Coxe in June of 1730 to be Provincial Grand Master of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, but there is no record of any Masonic activity on his part.

James Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony of Georgia and its first governor, was a staunch adherent of Freemasonry. Largely because of his interest, “The Lodge at Savannah, Georgia” was organized on February 10, 1733. In 1776 the name of his lodge was changed to Solomon’s Lodge.

Provincial Grand Masters were commissioned in several other colonies during the following 50 years. At the time of the American Revolution, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New York had had Provincial Grand Lodges of both Modern and Ancient Constitutions. These Provincial Grand Masters occasionally chartered lodges in other colonies that had no Grand supervision. Additionally, a number of “time immemorial lodges” were formed. Many of these resulted from the Masonic activites of military lodges which were attached to British regiments stationed in the Colonies. Most of these military lodges were warranted by the Grand Lodge of Ireland and practiced Ancient Masonry.

The aristocratic nature of the Modern grand Lodge of England carried over into the colonies with the result that, during the American Revolution, a great number of their members tended to be Tories (loyalists). During the war years, many of these Tories returned to England causing many of the Modern’s lodges to wither and die.

With the successful conclusion of the War for Independence, with the poplitical and diplomatic ties broken from England, American Freemasons trough desire and necessity began to form their own Grand Lodges. George Washington was approached, several times, to become Grand Master of the United States. He declined and the various states went on to form their own Grand Lodges. This was a difficult achievement because the individual lodges practiced a diversity of ritual and subscribed to different laws. Notwithstanding, they eventually formed thirteen sovereign Grand Lodges on state areas of jurisdiction. As new states and territories were added to the country, additional Grand Lodges were formed. At this writing there were 49 Grand Lodges in the continental U.S. Alaska is within the jurisdiction of the State of Washington, and Hawaii is under the Grand Lodge of California.

Initially, some of these new Grand Lodges styled themselves Ancient York Masons (A.Y.M.) signifying their adhrerence to the customs and laws of the constitutions of the Ancients, while others proceeded to form a more modern system. The Grand Lodges of the United States today fall under one of the following designations: Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Ancient Free Masons, or Free and Accepted Masons.

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederic G. Speidel

Grand Lodges In the United States

The 49 American Grand Lodges are sovereign and supreme in all respects in governing Symbolic Freemasonry within their jurisdiction. Their Constitution and Laws are binding on all members and all, so called affiliated organizations, must comply with them. In practice, the rights, previledges, and limitations of organizations requiring their members to be Master Masons were established many years ago.

The laws, customs, practices, and rituals vary to a great extent from state to state. However, a regularly made Master Mason feels at home while visiting in all jurisdictions.

While pursuing the same general theme, the ritualistic work in various Grand Lodges may be found to be of “Ancient” or “Modern” derivation, depending upon the knowledge and past experience of the founders. A number of Grand Lodges were originally founded on Ancient York Masonry and so stated in their titles.

Whether stated in their titles, or not, all American bodies consider themselves to be Most Worshipful Grand Lodges, except Pennsylvania. In all of their practices Pennsylvania endeavors to adhere to the ancient traditions, and titles themselves as a “Right Worshipful” Grand Lodge. The honorary title of Grand Master of Pennsylvania is Right Worshipful, whereas in all other states the designation is Most Worshipful.

There are many variations in the titles of officers between Grand Lodges, however, in the higher offices the designation are fairly standard. These are:

Most Worshipful Grand Master
Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master
Right Worshipful Senior Grand Warden
Right Worshipful Junior Grand Warden
Right Worshipful Grand Treasurer
Right Worshipful Grand Secretary

The foregoing are normally elected in Annual Communications. In several states the officers serve two or three years. The following officers are elected or appointed depending upon the Constitution of the Grand Lodge:

Worshipful Senior Grand Deacon
Worshipful Junior Grand Deacon
Worshipful Grand Marshall
Worshipful Grand Stewards (2)
Worshipful Grand Tyler
Worshipful Grand Chaplain
Worshipful Grand Historian
Worshipful Grand Lecturer
Worshipful Grand Orator

Additional officers occur in a few Grand Lodges, such as, Grand Sword Bearer and Grand Pursuivant.

Most jurisdictions are divided into Districts and a District Deputy Grand Master is appointed to oversee lodge activities within his area.

In recent years a number of Grand Lodges have added the office of Education Chairman on the State, District, and/or Lodge level and utilize the Lamp of Knowledge as the insignia for that office.

A national conference of Grand Masters meets annually to coordinate matters of mutual interest throughout the craft. This confederation of Grand Lodges supervises and supports several and important national programs. Among these are, The George Washington Masonic national Memorial building in Alexandria, Virginia, and The Masonic Services Association with headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial is an inspiring edifice, dedicated to the principles of Freemasonry. Many affililated Masonic Orders have furnished, and beautifully decorated, memorial rooms in the building. Visitors are welcome. This organization maintains a permanent endowment fund which is planned to eventually provide for perpetual support for the building and contributions are solicited.

The Masonic Services Association prepares monthly “Short Talk” bulletins for the use of the craft, and other informative pamphlets and literature. They also maintain a hospital visitation program for Freemasons who are patients in V.A. hospitals. This program is well established and manned by dedicated Masons throughout the United States.

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry, by Frederic G. Speidel

The York Legend

Athelstan, the grandson of Alfred the Great, ruled England from 924 to 940 A.D. He completed the subjection of the minor kingdoms in England, begun by his grandfather, and has been hailed as the first King of all England. The Regius Poem and other ancient legends relate that Athelstan was a great patron of Masonry, and that he constructed many abbeys, monasteries, castles and fortresses. He studied Geometry and imported learned men in these arts. To preserve order in the work and correct transgressors, the king issued a Charter to the Masons to hold a yearly assembly at York. He also reputed to have made many Masons. The legends proceed to relate that Athelstan appointed his brother, Edwin, as Grand Master and that the first Grand Lodge was held at York in 926. The accounts state that the Constitutions of English Masonry were there established and were based upon a number of old documents written in Greek, Latin and other languages.

Aside from the direct implications of this legend, it is interesting to note that the King and Prince were patrons of Masonry and as such were probably speculative, rather than operative members of the craft. The fact that this concept prevailed as early as 1390 A.D., and possibly earlier, makes it easier to account for the fact that so many speculative members of high rank joined the craft in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Excerpted from: A History and Handbook, The York Rite of Freemasonry by Frederick G. Speide