Volune LIIIJanuary 2006Number 1

The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania
Celebrates its 275th Anniversary

The beginnings of Freemasonry in America coincide in many ways with the history and culture of the United States. Records of Freemasonry in America date back to 1730, when Bro. Benjamin Franklin made note of it in the Pennsylvania Gazette, writing, "there are several lodges of Free Masons erected in this province.. "

From here, Freemasonry's origins can be traced to the formation of the first Grand Lodge of England (and in the world) in 1717. It was formed in London by four lodges which had been meeting in different taverns throughout the city. Its Constitution was compiled in 1723 by James Anderson, Grand Secretary. Eight years later, the Grand Lodge of Ireland began work and was immediately recognized by the Grand Lodge of England. During the years 1749 and 1750, a number of English and some Irish Masons could neither affiliate with nor visit Lodges under the Grand Lodge of 1717, because they belonged to "the laboring class." On July 17, 1751, these Masons formed a second Grand Lodge of England, known as the "Most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons according to the old Constitution." Its Masonic attitude was more progressive than the older Grand Lodge and more appealing to men interested in Freemasonry. The members of this organization, contending that their ritual alone preserved the ancient customs and usages of the Craft, styled themselves "Ancient York Masons" and dubbed the 1717 Grand Lodge "the Modern Grand Lodge," because they felt that the older body had modernized its ritual, thus straying from the ancient usages and landmarks. The Constitution of the 1751 or "Ancient" Grand Lodge is the "Ahiman Rezon" compiled by Bro. Lawrence Dermott, Grand Secretary, and printed in 1756. Both English Grand Lodges, "Moderns" and "Ancients," and their subordinate lodges continued their separate ways, as rivals and competitors. The lodges eventually united in 1813, but members from both groups were represented in the early American colonies.

When Masonry came to Pennsylvania is difficult to determine. In 1730, the Duke of Norfolk, then the Grand Master of the (1717) Grand Lodge of England (Moderns), deputized Colonel Daniel Coxe of New Jersey, a member of the Lodge at the Devil Tavern within Temple Bar, London, to be "the Provincial Grand Master of the Provinces of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania." His deputation took effect June 24, 1730 and extended to June 24, 1732. The deputation authorized Bro. Coxe to appoint his officers for the two years he was the Grand Master. This explains a certain entry in "Liber B," which lists William Allen as Grand Master on June 24, 1731. "Liber B" was the account book (from 1731 to 1738) and only known record of St. John's Lodge in Philadelphia. It is now in the possession of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Bro. Allen was then elected Grand Master on St. John the Baptist's Day in 1732, as recorded in the Pennsylvania Gazette, June 19 - 26 of that same year. As Grand Master, Bro. Allen appointed William Pringle, Deputy Grand Master, and Thomas Boude and Benjamin Franklin, Wardens. Bro. Franklin would become Grand Master in 1734, the same year he published "Anderson's Constitutions," the first Masonic book printed in America.

Philadelphia became the Mother City of Freemasonry in America for both the Ancients and the Moderns. According to records from 1732, the first meeting place of the Pennsylvania Masonic Lodges was Philadelphia's Tun Tavern. Built in 1685, Tun Tavern was one of the very first breweries in the country. Located on Philadelphia's thriving Delaware River waterfront, it quickly became a meeting place for several groups, including the Masons in St. John's Lodge No. 1, which was constituted by Bro. Daniel Coxe in 1730.

By Sept. 5, 1749, discontent was stirring among some Brethren of the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge. They worried that their self-constituted Grand Lodge lacked the authority it formerly possessed and made an appeal to the Masonic authorities in London for the second appointment of a Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania. The Grand Master of England (Moderns), William Lord Baron of Rochdale, appointed William Allen, who had been Grand Master in Pennsylvania in 1731. This marked the end of the independent Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and its inception as a Provincial Grand Lodge affiliated with and deriving its authority from the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns). It was composed of three Philadelphia Lodges: St. John's, No. 2 and No. 3. In 1755, the first American Masonic Lodge house was dedicated in Philadelphia by the Grand Lodge of Moderns.

On Feb. 13, 1760, the Members of Lodge No. 1 (Ancients) in Philadelphia, balloted for their own Provincial Grand Master. William Ball, a wealthy landowner, was elected. Following the election of Bro. Ball, an application was made by the Members of Lodge No. 1 to the Grand Lodge (Ancients) in London for a Provincial Grand Warrant for Pennsylvania. They were successful in their efforts, and a warrant for the Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania (Ancients) was issued on July 15, 1761. This venerable document is in the archives of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.

How Freemasons Shaped Our Nation
  • Eight Freemasons signed the
    Declaration of Independence

  • Thirteen Freemasons signed the Constitution of the United States

  • Fourteen Freemasons served
    as U.S. Presidents

         The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania differs most from other Jurisdictions in the expression of its rituals. To possess or use a written or printed ritual or Masonic code or cipher is a Masonic offense. All knowledge of ritual in Pennsylvania, whether the learner is a candidate or an officer, must be acquired "mouth to ear." Pennsylvania is the only Jurisdiction which titles its Grand Lodge Officers "Right Worshipful," instead of the usual "Most Worshipful." The members are universally called "Brother." As of January 1994, Pennsylvania Masons may enjoy dual membership.

Whereas the original Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania (Moderns) had been very conservative and relatively inactive, the new Grand Lodge of the Ancients was progressive and alert to all opportunities. During its entire career, the Modern Grand Lodge never supported more than four constituent lodges, even in its most prosperous years. On the other hand, from the date of its establishment up to the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the Ancient Grand Lodge granted warrants to 16 lodges and during the Revolution warranted seven more.

Indeed, the war only intensified the rivalry and considerable friction between Ancients and Moderns in Pennsylvania, because the Modern lodges, to a great extent, were composed of conservatives who were inclined to be Loyalists, while a large majority of the Ancients espoused the cause of independence. As the American Revolution stirred strong opposition to Great Britain's rule within the colonies, the liberality of the Ancients became contagious in America. The influence of the Moderns waned and was ultimately extinguished as the last record of these beliefs was written in 1793.

By 1813, Modern and Ancients worldwide began to be reconciled and united. But no reconciliation was necessary in Pennsylvania where the Moderns ceased to exist. Therefore, the ritualistic changes and compromises resulting from the reconciliation of 1813 did not affect the ritual in this Commonwealth, and Pennsylvania Masons continued to work in the pure "Ancient" way, as "Ancient York Masons."

This appellation was changed to "Free and Accepted Masons" in 1872. No written record of this change has been discovered, except that at about this time, the general return forms issued by Grand Lodge for the use of the subordinate lodges began to be printed with the "F. & A.M." designation. During the 19th century, Grand Lodge concentrated on building stability and uniformity among the lodges in Pennsylvania, and during the 20th century continued to strengthen the membership. In the 21st century the lodges will be working on increasing outreach into their communities.

In 2006, Pennsylvania Masons across the Commonwealth will celebrate the 275th Anniversary of the Grand Lodge of England's recognition of Freemasonry in America, which marked the beginning of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania as it exists today.

Information and photographs were provided courtesy of The Masonic Libraryand Museum of Pennsylvania, specifically through the efforts of Glenys Waldeman, Librarian, and Dennis Buttleman, Curator.


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