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

The Chapter of Royal Arch Masons

While the keystone is the principal locking stone of the Arch, the Copestone is the top, or cap of the entire wall. Therefore, The Royal Arch of Freemasonry, which has been classed as “the Copestone of Ancient Craft Masonry”, is known as the Capitular Rite.

In the United States, a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons confers the degrees of Mark Master, Past Master, Most Excellent Master and The Most Sublime Degree of the Holy Royal Arch. To add realism to the work, these degrees are usually conferred in appropriate costumes.

In Virginia and West Virginia, the Royal Arch Chapters also confer the Royal and Select Masters degrees of the Cryptic Rite. In Pennsylvania, the Grand Lodge retains control of the Past Master’s Degree.

While solicitation cannot be made for members for the Symbolic Lodge, once a man has attained the rank of Master Mason, he can and should be encouraged to continue his Masonic Education in the York rite. Several Grand Lodges specify a waiting period before a Master Mason is permitted to advance. All Capitular Masons should be familiar with the requirements of their jurisdiction.

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

Mark Master’s Degree

In ancient times, stonemasons placed an identifying symbol upon their work. This symbol was known as their “Mark”. Wheter this practice was utilized during the building of the Great Temple in Jerusalem in accordance with Masonic allegory is uncertain. However, “Operative” Masons in England and on the continent of Europe have left their “Marks” on stonework dating from the dark ages.

The Marks were normally inscribed upon the work with an engravers chisel and mallet and therefore consisted primarily of a combination of straight lines.

The Mason’s Mark served several purposes; to identify the work of each craftsman, and to serve as signature in a period when most people were illiterate. While the mark had no symbolic meaning in operative craft, the workman was classed by the quality of his work. Therefore, most of the stonemasons strove to do their best work prior to identifying the piece by placing their mark upon it.

The medieval lodges of Freemasons maintained a Book of Marks wherein were registered the “Marks” of their members. Several of these volumes have survived to the present day. This practice has been carried over into our speculative craft and each American Chapter maintains a Book of Marks of its members.

At a meeting of the operative Lodge of Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 8, 1600, the presiding Master and the members present certified the minutes by placing their marks upon them.

The first reference to the conferral of a Mark degree is found in the minutes of Phoenix Royal Arch Chapter, working with Friendship Lodge at Portsmouth, England, on September 1, 1769. In that account,Thomas Dunckerley, the Pro Grand Master of the “Modern” Grand Lodge delivered the Warrant to the Chapter and “he made the brethren ‘Mark Masons’ and ‘Mark Masters’, and each chose their Mark”. So, in this first reference, we encounter two degrees concerning the Mark. As written rituals did not exist in those days, we do not know of what those degrees consisted. However, we can well assume that these degrees had existed prior to that date. The Mark Mason degree was conferred in Fellowcraft lodges and the Mark Master in Master Masons lodges.

The ritual of the Mark Master degree very impressively illustrates the inherent values found in honest employment and charitable activity.

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