Freemasonry in the United States of America occurs on this side of 1717, and so its history is much clearer than that of England, though not without hazards. The greatest pitfall, because the records are scant and incomplete, seems to lie in trying conclusively to establish one state for the first appearance of Masonry in America. Nonetheless, we can easily find evidence of Masonic activity in the American colonies shortly after 1717.
The account book of a St. John's Lodge in Philadelphia, known as "Libre B," has its first entry dated June 24, 1731, just fourteen years after the formation of the premier Grand Lodge in London. It is not known where St. John's Lodge met, but the earliest known meeting place of a Pennsylvania Lodge was at the Tun Tavern. The first lodge in Boston was constituted July 30, 1733, at the house of Edward Lutwych, an inn at the Sign of the Bunch of Grapes in King Street. In 1736, Solomon Lodge No. 1 of Charleston, South Carolina, held its first meeting; by 1738 there is evidence of Masonry in Savannah, Georgia, and New York City, and 1739 saw the meeting of the lodge at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Very quickly Masonic lodges spread throughout the colonies and established themselves as accepted adjuncts of civic responsibility.
In 1776 a group of African-American Masons in Boston began meeting as a lodge; they were formally chartered by England in 1784 as African Lodge No. 459. African Lodge and its descendants developed a separate Grand Lodge system, known as Prince Hall Masonry (after the first Master of African Lodge) which continues today. Prince Hall Masonry has all of the usual collateral Masonic Bodies: Eastern Star, York and Scottish Rite, Shrine, and so on.
To appreciate the character of early American Masonry, it is instructive to consider the formation of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island. On May 27, 1791, following the lead of other recently freed colonies, the Masons of Rhode Island decided to form their own Grand Lodge. After installing their Grand Officers, note what the Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Rhode Island show were the first two official actions of the new Grand Lodge:....the Brethren walked in Regular Procession to Trinity Church where an Excellent discourse was delivered by the Reverend William Smith, Rector thereof, & a collection made of œ11.9.4 Law. Money, to be invested into Wood & distributed to the Poor of this Town the ensuing Winter.
Worship and charity were of central importance not only to the Masons of Rhode Island but also to their brethren throughout the new nation.
In the development of social services in the emerging nation, the Masonic definition of charity diverged sharply from that of many states. Dorothy Ann Lipson captured this idea clearly in her book Freemasonry in Federalist Connecticut.
Masonic charity differed in its underlying assumptions and in its style from civic charity. In Connecticut charity was available to the settled members of a town, regulated by law, and invoked in times of extreme need and as a last resort. Persistent vestiges of the older Puritan ethic, which associated misfortune with divine retribution, made appeals to civic charity a painful necessity. Masonic charity, more broadly defined than its civic counterpart, was available to its members in times of personal crisis wherever they were. (p. 213)
Masonic charity was secret unlike civic charity whose administration made the entire town privy to the needs of each recipient. The derogation of character implicit in acknowledging poverty must have compounded suffering. In contrast the Masons asked, "What has the world to do with private transactions whether a widow, an orphan, or a pilgrim has obtained relief?" (p. 207)
A touching example of this private, compassionate relief during personal crisis is cited by Professor Lipson (pp. 208-209). Federal Lodge in Watertown, Connecticut, purchased a cow for the use of a widow and her children, and the cow was carried on its books for several years as a lodge asset, presumably to spare the family the embarrassment of accepting charity.
THE TEXAS REVOLUTION: In March 1835, five Freemasons, including Anson Jones, met in Brazoria and petitioned Grand Master John H. Holland of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for a charter to form a lodge in Texas. Their petition was granted and soon two more lodges were chartered in Nacogdoches and San Augustine.
Although only a small percentage of early Texas settlers were Freemasons a surprisingly large number of well-known Texas patriots were, including: William B. Travis, James Bowie, David Crockett, James Bonham, Ben Milam, David G. Burnet, James Fannin, Mirabeau B. Lamar, Lorenzo de Zavala, Edward Burleson, Jose Navarro, Juan Seguin, Thomas Rusk, and others.
GRAND LODGE OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS: On 16 April 1838, two years after independence had been won, representatives of the three Texas lodges met in the city of Houston, presided over by President Sam Houston, and formed the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas, installing Anson Jones as their first Grand Master. During the four administrations that governed Texas during the decade of the Republic all the Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Secretaries of State were members of the fraternity.
In 1844, George K. Teulon, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Texas, addressing a gathering of Freemasons in Portland, Maine, observed "Texas is emphatically a Masonic Country: Our national emblem, the 'Lone Star', was chosen from among the emblems of Freemasonry to illustrate the moral virtues - it is a five-pointed star, and alludes to the five points of fellowship."
169 Years of Masonry in Texas
Freemasonry is a fraternity. Its membership is restricted to men, but there is no hazing as is found in some college fraternities. The Masonic Order is a serious group. It exists to take good men and help them to become better men. Thus, it is not a reform society. It does not exist to reform criminals, nor would such persons benefit from its teachings.
Masonry developed from lodges of operative or stone masons. The Masonry of today is distinguished from the stone masonry of old by being referred to as "Speculative" Masonry. Speculative or Freemasonry does not work with stone but instead works on the lives of men. Its teachings take the imagery of carpentry and architecture and use that imagery to teach by symbols about building a good character.
The oldest Masonic document, the Regius poem, dates to around 1390 A.D. We know of no Masonry prior to that date. Somewhere between 1390 and 1717 lodges of operative masons began to accept as members men who did not work in the building trade. Eventually whole lodges composed of such persons arose, leading to a transition from lodges being composed of stone masons to lodges being composed of men from other occupations who gathered and shared a ritual replete with allusions to carpentry, architecture, and stone masonry.
In 1717, four of these lodges in England met and formed the first Grand Lodge. A Grand Lodge is a Masonic body having jurisdiction over the lodges within a certain geographical area. Each state has its own Grand Lodge. Also the District of Columbia has its own Grand Lodge.
Symbolic, Craft, or Blue Lodge Masonry has three degrees. The three degrees are, in order: Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft, and Master Mason. In early Speculative Masonry there was only one degree. Later a two-degree system developed and finally the three-degree system of today evolved and was firmly in place by around 1760 A.D.
A "degree" is a drama in which a newcomer to Masonry, the candidate, is made to play a key part. These dramas have several characteristics and are progressive in nature, that is, they build on each other. These dramas are enacted with only Masons being present and are for the purpose of moral instruction. A unique characteristic of each Masonic degree is an "obligation" taken by the candidate. The obligation is an oath taken for the purpose of instructing the candidate in his Masonic duty.
The three degrees have a biblical basis. Much biblical imagery is used in the ritual of the degrees. The central biblical image used in Masonic ritual is that of the building of King Solomon's Temple, as meticulously described for us in the Old Testament books of I Kings and II Chronicles. Whenever a Masonic lodge is in session, the Holy Bible is open upon the lodge's altar.
Masonry does require of its adherents a belief in God and in life after death, though it asks no one to expound upon the particulars of his understanding of those two beliefs. There is some memory work the candidate must learn after each degree is conferred upon him. He has a set amount of time to learn the catechism, that is, a set of questions and answers, and to recite them before the lodge members at a lodge meeting.
Masonry is not a religion. There is nothing in Freemasonry to interfere with a man's religious life. Persons of all faiths and Christian denominations are a part of the worldwide Masonic fraternity. Religion and politics are two subjects not allowed to be discussed when a lodge is in session.
Masonry teaches the importance of helping the less fortunate. It especially stresses care for the widows and orphans of Masons. Indeed, most Grand Lodges have within their jurisdiction a home for aged Masons, their wives and widows, and also a home for Masonic orphans. In the U.S.A. alone, all branches of Masonry combined provide over of $1.5 million of charitable aid per DAY!
Masonry asks its candidates not to tell the details of its ritual to non-Masons. This is not because Masonry is ashamed of anything. It is because an element of secrecy serves to heighten interest in Masonic teaching. It is also because most people would not benefit from being introduced to Masonic teachings out of the context of the Masonic degree system.
Why do Masons keep their rituals a secret? For the same reason that the ancient stonemasons kept their trade secrets. Their secrecy helped to maintain a better quality of work. Our secrecy today helps us to make a good man better. It is difficult to believe that the secrets of Masonry are evil when you consider the heritage of Masonry that includes a long list of influential leaders such as Paul Revere, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, Douglas MacArthur, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. It is difficult to believe that the secrets of Masonry are evil when you see so many Masons working as a vital part of every community to provide better churches, better schools and better governments. It is difficult to look into the eyes of a little child in a Shrine Hospital and say the secrets of Masonry are evil. If we really believe the biblical teaching, "by their fruits ye shall know them" then we must believe that the secrets of Masonry really do help to make a good man better.
The influence of Masonry is like the influence of the home and the influence of the church. It does not produce perfect human beings. Despite the best efforts of the home there has never been a perfect child. Despite the best efforts of the church there has never been a perfect Christian. Despite the best efforts of Masonry there has never been a perfect Mason. Nevertheless there is a place for all these in our society. Man's basic nature is such that he needs every good influence he can get. He needs the powerful influence of a good home. He needs powerful influence of a dedicated church made up of dedicated believers. The needs the influence of dedicated teachers in the public schools. But, when it is all said and done, it doesn't hurt to have a little extra push that comes from civic organizations, from professional organizations and from fraternal organizations. Masonry has a proud heritage of 169; years of service to the State of Texas and we hope this discussion has helped you come to a better understanding of the purpose of our fraternal organization. Texas Masonry now looks to the future with the hope that a better understanding will allow the lodge to take its rightful place in every Texas community, right alongside of the church, the home, the schools, and the civic organizations as a positive force for good. With this better understanding there is every reason to believe that we can all work together to make our government, our schools and our churches even stronger than before. The strength of Texas has always been built upon the combined efforts of all these groups, and the Grand Lodge of Texas has contributed valuable service to our churches, our nation, our state and our community.
In March 1835 the first Masonic meeting was held in Texas for the purpose of establishing a lodge in Texas. Six Masons met under an oak tree near the town of Brazoria. They applied to the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for a dispensation to form and open a Lodge. A dispensation was issued and later a charter. This first Texas lodge was called Holland Lodge No. 36. It was named after then Grand Master of Masons in Louisiana, John Henry Holland. Anson Jones was the first Worshipful Master of Holland Lodge No. 36, now Holland Lodge No. 1. The charter was brought by John M. Allen and given to Anson Jones just prior to the battle of San Jacinto.
Two more Texas lodges were formed, also given dispensation and charter by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana. They were: Milam Lodge No. 40 in Nacogdoches, and McFarland Lodge No. 41 in San Augustine. Both were formed in 1837. These two lodges, together with Holland Lodge No. 36, sent representatives to meet in Houston and established the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Texas. The convention elected Anson Jones the first Grand Master of Masons in Texas. It should be noted that Anson Jones was the fourth and final President of the Republic of Texas, prior to becoming a state.
There are now over 122,000 Masons in Texas with a total of 914 lodges. How we have grown in those 169 years! We look forward optimistically to the future of Masonry in Texas and trust that its proud heritage will be built upon in the years to come in ways that will continue to serve and honor the great State of Texas of which we are a part.
There are nominal one-time fees collected for the conferring of the three degrees. After that a Mason pays yearly dues to the lodge of which he has become a member. No Mason is supposed to ask another person to become a Mason. It is up to the individual man who has an interest in becoming a Mason to ask a Mason he knows for a petition to join the fraternity.
Taken from the Grand Lodge Website.
by Archie P. McDonald
The origin of Freemasonry is traced from the building of King Solomon's temple, and you can read all about it in the Old Testament of the Bible. That is "operative" Masonry, or brothers who literally earned their bread in the building trades.
"Speculative" Masonry, which hopes to build better lives of men engaged in various occupations, began in the British Isles in the seventeenth century, then crossed the Atlantic to America as York Rite Masonry, and to Spanish colonies as Scottish Rite Masonry. The two forms of Masonry, which have the first three degrees of Masonic work in common, eventually met in Texas. Masons were among the earliest Anglos to arrive in Texas, including those who came illicitly prior to legal immigration. When bonafied settlers arrived, Masons among them naturally wanted to establish lodges.
The first authorization to organize lodges came from John Henry Holland, grand master of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, of York Rite orientation. Holland sent the first charter as the result of a request of Masons led by Anson Jones, and their group was to be known as Holland Lodge No. 36.
The courier bearing the charter arrived in time to participate in the Battle of San Jacinto in April 1836, but when he finally delivered it the action had moved to the new city of Houston, located on Buffalo Bayou, so that is where Holland lodge was established. Meanwhile, Holland also sent charters for Milam Lodge No. 40 in Nacogdoches, named in honor of Ben Milam, who had fallen in the Texas Revolutionary Battle of San Antonio, and McFarland Lodge No. 41 in San Augustine. Both began operating in mid-1837.
Then, in December 1837, members of Holland Lodge hosted a meeting in Houston with a plan to establish a Grand Lodge of Texas. The lodge in Nacogdoches sent Adolphus Sterne and other delegates, also authorized to act in behalf of Masons in San Augustine. Sam Houston, president of the Republic of Texas, presided at the organizational meeting, and delegates selected Anson Jones as Grand Master and Sterne as Deputy Grand Master. In the registry of the new Grand Lodge, Holland Lodge became No. 1, Milam in Nacogdoches No. 2, and McFarland in San Augustine No. 3.
Masonry in Texas, then, was launched in East Texas "in due and ancient form."