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
Posted in Excerpts.

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