Volume LIXMay 2012Number 2

The U.S. Constitution is 225 Years Old!
...and 13 Freemasons signed it! Five were from Pennsylvania Lodges (sort of...)
By Dr. Glenys A. Waldman, Senior Librarian, The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania

1. Gunning Bedford, Jr. (1747-1812)

Born in Philadelphia, Bro. Bedford graduated from Nassau Hall (now Princeton University) with distinction. He studied law in Philadelphia, then practiced in Delaware.

Bro. and Col. Bedford was an aide to Bro. and Gen. George Washington during the American Revolution. Bro. Washington appointed him the first judge of the U.S. District Court of Delaware in 1789, a position he held until his death. He was also Attorney General of Delaware from 1784-1789 and Presidential Elector in 1789 and 1793. He was made a Mason in 1782 in Christiana Ferry Lodge No. 14 under Pennsylvania (as of 1806, Washington Lodge No. 1 of Delaware)1. It is said that he served as Master of the lodge, but the date is not recorded. He was the first Grand Master of Delaware, 1806-1808.

Bro. Bedford led the heated debate concerning representation of large and small states that determined equal and proportional representation in a bicameral legislature: two U.S. Senators for each state, but the number of representatives based on each state's population.

2. John Blair, Jr. (1732-1800)

Bro. Blair graduated from the College of William and Mary, of which his father, the Rev. James Blair, was one of the founders. He studied law at London's Middle Temple, after which he practiced in Williamsburg, Va.

In the years 1766-1770, he served in the Virginia House of Burgesses; then, from 1770-1775, served on the colonial Governor's Council, but he supported independence from England. In 1776, he took part in the Virginia Constitutional Convention as a member of the committee that framed a declaration of rights as well as the plan for a new government. He next served on the Privy Council from 1776-1778. In 1778, the legislature elected him as a judge of the General Court, and he soon became Chief Justice. In 1787, he served as a delegate from Virginia at the Constitutional Convention.

Bro. and President George Washington nominated Bro. Blair as one of the initial six members of the U.S. Supreme Court in September 1789. Blair's most important opinion was in Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), which held that a state could be sued in federal court even if it objected to the suit.

He was raised as a charter member of Williamsburg Lodge No. 6, having signed the lodge bylaws on July 6, 1773. Bro. Blair was elected Worshipful Master in May 1774 and served as the first Grand Master of Virginia, 1778-1784.

3. David Brearley, Jr. (1745-1790)

Born near Trenton, N.J., Bro. Brearley practiced law in Allentown, N.J. He took an early part in the controversy with England, for which he was arrested for high treason but set free by a mob of his fellow citizens.

Having seen action in the battles of Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth, he resigned from the Army in 1779 to serve as first Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Bro. Brearley decided on the famous Holmes v. Walton case in which he ruled that the judiciary had the authority to declare whether laws were unconstitutional or not. He served until Sept. 25, 1789, when he was nominated by Bro. and President George Washington to be the first federal judge for the District of New Jersey.

While at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he chaired the Committee on Postponed Parts, which concerned itself with questions related to taxes, war making, patents and copyrights, relations with Indian tribes, and Bro. Benjamin Franklin's compromise to require money bills to originate in the House of Representatives. However, the main concern was the presidency. The committee adopted the earlier plan for choosing the president by electoral college and settled on the method of choosing the president if no candidate had an electoral college majority. The committee also shortened the president's term from seven years to four, freed him to seek re-election and moved impeachment trials from the courts to the Senate. They also created the vice president, whose role was to succeed the president and preside over the Senate.

After signing the Constitution in 1787, Bro. Brearley was chairman of the New Jersey committee that approved it.2 In 1789, Bro. Brearley was a Presidential Elector. He was one of the compilers of the Protestant Episcopal Prayer Book of 1785. His lodge is not known: it was possibly Military No. 19 of Pennsylvania, but there is no record. He was, however, the first Grand Master of New Jersey, serving from 1786 until his death on Aug. 10, 1790.

4. Jacob Broom (1752-1810)

In addition to being a school teacher, real estate dealer and surveyor, Bro. Broom was a member of the Delaware legislature from 1784-1788 and the first postmaster of Wilmington, Del., from 1790-1792. Two weeks before the Battle of Brandywine, he drew a map of this area for the use of Bro. and Gen. Washington. Bro. Broom was an early member of Christiana Ferry Lodge No. 14 (Washington No. 1 of Delaware), already a Master Mason by 1780.3 He was elected Secretary and Treasurer on June 24 of that year, Junior Warden on June 25, 1781, and again Treasurer in 1783.

5. Daniel Carroll (1730-1796)

A member of the Continental Congress of 1780-1784 and a delegate to the convention that framed the U.S. Constitution, Bro. Carroll was also a representative in the first Congress in 1789-1791. Bro. and President George Washington appointed him commissioner for surveying the District of Columbia in 1791, serving until 1795. He was a cousin of Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence. Bro. Carroll received all his degrees in Maryland Lodge No. 16, Baltimore, Md., between May 1780 and May 1781.

6. Jonathan Dayton (1760-1824)

Born in Elizabethtown, N.J., Bro. Dayton was the son of Bro. Elias Dayton, a General in the Revolution in whose regiment (3rd New Jersey) Bro. Jonathan served as paymaster.

Bro. Jonathan graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1776, then studied law. He was in many battles, including Yorktown, and had a command under Bro. and Gen. Marquis de Lafayette.

After serving in the New Jersey State Assembly from 1786-1787, and again in 1790 when he was the Speaker, Bro. Dayton was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from N.J. in 1791. He was re-elected for three consecutive terms, serving until 1799, some of that time as Speaker. He was a U.S. Senator from 1799-1805. Arrested for alleged conspiracy with Aaron Burr, Bro. Dayton was not tried.

Bro. Dayton was probably a member of Temple Lodge No. 1 at Elizabethtown, N.J., and was present at the Grand Lodge of New Jersey on Dec. 30, 1788.

7. John Dickinson (1732-1808)

Known as the "Penman of the Revolution," having written the "Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer," among others, Bro. Dickinson was born in Maryland. He studied law in Philadelphia and England, then practiced in Philadelphia. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1764, the Colonial Congress, which convened in New York to oppose the Stamp Act in 1765 and the first Continental Congress.

In 1776, Bro. Dickinson opposed the adoption of the Declaration of Independence and refused to sign, deeming it premature. During the Revolution, he served as a militia officer. On Nov. 13, 1781, Bro. Dickinson became the fifth President of Delaware, serving until Nov. 4, 1782, when he resigned to accept the presidency of Pennsylvania, serving until 1785. Dickinson College and Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa., are named for him.

Bro. Dickinson was raised Jan. 11, 1780, in Lodge No. 18, Dover, Del. (under Pennsylvania).

8. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Born in Boston, Bro. Franklin was apprenticed to his brother, James, a printer, when he was only 12 years old. Leaving James five years later after disagreements, Bro. Franklin settled in Philadelphia. First employed as a printer, he became proprietor of a printing business and published "The Pennsylvania Gazette" from 1730-1748 and gained wide recognition with his "Poor Richard's Almanack," 1732-1757.

In 1727, he organized the "Junto" club (today, the American Philosophical Society); and in 1731, founded the Library Company of Philadelphia, which is still going strong. He was instrumental in improving the lighting of city streets; invented a heating stove around 1744 (which, in many variants, is still made); and, becoming interested in electricity, tried his kite experiments in 1752.

In 1748, having sold his printing business to the foreman, Bro. Franklin retired to devote himself to public life. In 1754, he was Pennsylvania's delegate to the Albany Congress, and from 1757-1762, he was in England representing Pennsylvania against efforts to enforce taxes on proprietary estates.

In 1766, he was called before the English House of Commons to explain colonial opposition to the Stamp Tax. Returning to Philadelphia when war became inevitable in 1775, Bro. Franklin was a member of the second Continental Congress of 1775 and was on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, which he also signed. In 1776, he was sent as one of a committee of three to negotiate a treaty with France. Bro. Franklin became immensely popular during his stay in France, during which time he was U.S. Minister to that country. In 1781, Bro. Franklin was named, with John Jay and John Adams, as negotiators for peace with Great Britain. Upon his return to Philadelphia in September 1785, he served as President of the Pennsylvania Executive Council from 1785-1787.

Bro. Franklin received his Masonic degrees in St. John's Lodge of Philadelphia, which met at Tun Tavern, in 1731. He was Secretary of the lodge from 1735-1738; elected Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania on June 24, 1732, and Grand Master on June 24, 1734. In the same year, he printed Anderson's "The Constitutions of the Free-Masons," the first Masonic book printed in America. Bro. Franklin was (Provincial) Grand Master again in 1749. In 1777, he affiliated with Lodge of the Nine Sisters in Paris, assisted at the Initiation of Voltaire into that lodge in 1778, and at Voltaire's Masonic funeral there later the same year. On May 21, 1779, Bro. Franklin was elected Worshipful Master of the lodge and served two years. By July 7, 1782, he was a member of the Respectable Lodge de Saint Jean de Jerusalem and on April 24, 1785, was elected honorary master of the same. He was also elected honorary member of the Loge des Bon Amis of Rouen, France, in 1785.

9. Nicholas Gilman (1755-1814)

Born in Exeter, N.H., Bro. Gilman received his education in local schools and worked at his father's general store.

Having enlisted in the New Hampshire regiment of the Continental Army, he soon became a Captain and served throughout the war, also as part of Bro. and Gen. Washington's "military family." Bro. Gilman returned home, again helped his father in the store and immersed himself in politics.

He was a member of the Continental Congress from 1786-1788, and in 1787, represented New Hampshire at the Constitutional Convention. He served (with Bro. Brearley) on the Committee on Postponed Matters. He helped shepherd the Constitution through the Continental Congress and was instrumental in obtaining New Hampshire's acceptance of it. Later, Bro. Gilman became a prominent Federalist politician, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1789-1797. He was elected U.S. Senator in 1805 and served until his death.

Bro. Gilman was a Presidential elector in 1793 and 1797, served in the New Hampshire legislature (1795, 1802 and 1804) and was State Treasurer from 1805-1808 and again from 1811-1814.4 By March 20, 1777, Bro. Gilman was a member of St. John's Lodge No. 1, Portsmouth, N.H.

10. Rufus King (1755-1827)

Born in Scarborough, Maine, Bro. King graduated from Harvard University in 1777. Bro. King accompanied Gen. Sullivan on his expedition into Rhode Island and was later honorably discharged from the Continental Army. Admitted to the bar, Bro. King was a member of the Continental Congress from Massachusetts, 1784-1787, and of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was one of the committee members assigned to make a final draft of the Constitution.

Moving to New York City in 1788, he served a term in the state Assembly; a short time later, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, serving from 1789-1796, and again from 1813-1825. Bro. King twice served as U.S. Minister to Great Britain, 1796-1803 and 1825-1826. He was an unsuccessful candidate for Vice President of the U.S. in 1804 and 1808, and for President in 1816.

He was fairly certainly a member of St. John's Lodge in Newburyport, Mass., as records indicate that Bro. Rufus King was Treasurer and Junior Warden, but there seem to be no degree dates. His brother, Bro. William King, was both first Governor and first Grand Master of Maine.

11. James McHenry (1753-1816)

Born in Ireland and educated in Dublin, Bro. McHenry moved to Philadelphia in 1771, where he studied medicine under Dr. Benjamin Rush. He accompanied Bro. and Gen. Washington to the camp at Cambridge, joined the Army as assistant surgeon in January 1776, and later was surgeon to the 5th Pennsylvania Battalion.

He was made prisoner at Fort Washington and exchanged in the spring of 1778. On May 15 of that year, Bro. McHenry was made Secretary to Bro. Washington, and he remained a trusted friend and advisor to him the rest of his life. In 1780, however, he was transferred to Bro. and Gen. Lafayette's staff, where he remained until the end of the war.

A member of the Maryland Senate from 1781-1786, he was also a member of the Continental Congress from 1783-1786. In 1787, he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. In 1796, he became a member of Bro. and President Washington's cabinet as Secretary of War. Fort McHenry was named in his honor.

Bro. McHenry was made a Mason in Spiritual Lodge No. 23 of Baltimore, Md., in 1806.

12. William Paterson (1745-1806)

Born in Ireland, Bro. Paterson was a graduate of Princeton University in 1763 and was admitted to the bar in 1769. He was a delegate to the New Jersey Constitutional Convention of 1776 and was elected state Attorney General the same year, a role he served in until 1783. While elected a delegate to the Continental Congress, he could not serve because it overlapped with his duties as Attorney General.

Bro. Paterson was a U.S. Senator in 1789, but resigned in March of the following year to become Governor of New Jersey. In 1793, Bro. and President Washington appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court, and he served on that bench until his death on Sept. 9, 1806.

A member of Trenton Lodge No. 5, Trenton, N.J., he was made a Mason in 1791.

13. George Washington (1732-1799)

Renowned as the First President of the United States, Supreme Commander of Continental Forces in the American Revolution and "father of his country," Bro. Washington was born at Bridges Creek, Westmoreland County, Va.

He was initiated in 1752 in the lodge at Fredericksburg, Va., and the records of that lodge, still in existence, show that on the evening of Nov. 4, "Mr. George Washington was initiated as an Entered Apprentice." He was passed on March 3, 1753, and raised Aug. 4 of the same year. It is possible that he received some additional degrees (perhaps the Mark Master), or was re-obligated during the French and Indian War in a military lodge attached to the 46th Regiment. It is also speculated that he received the Royal Arch degree in Fredericksburg Lodge.

Soon after the start of the Revolution, several of the provincial grand lodges declared themselves independent of the Grand Lodge of England. In 1777, a convention of Virginia lodges recommended him to be Grand Master of the independent grand lodge. Bro. Washington, however, declined. The idea of a grand master for all the colonies also became popular. On Feb. 7, 1780, a convention of delegates from Army lodges met at Morristown, N.J., and suggested to several grand lodges that "one Grand Lodge in America" be established. On Jan. 13, 1780, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania had declared that Freemasonry would benefit by "a Grand Master of Masons throughout the United States," and elected Bro. Washington for the position. They then sent minutes of the election to the other grand lodges, but when some failed to come to any determination on the question, the matter was dropped.

The next Masonic record of Bro. Washington is in 1788 when Lodge No. 39 of Alexandria, Va., which had been constituted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, transferred its allegiance to Virginia. The charter to the lodge was issued by Bro. Edmund Randolph, then both Governor of Virginia and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, naming Washington as Master of "Alexandria Lodge No. 22." In 1805, the lodge was permitted to change its name to that of Washington-Alexandria Lodge in his honor.

Much of the information for this article is from Denslow, William R. "10,000 Famous Freemasons" (Trenton, MO: Missouri Lodge of Research, ©1957-1961) and Heaton, Ronald E. "Masonic Membership of the Founding Fathers." (Washington, DC: Masonic Service Association, 1965).
  1. Membership Book 1, p. 163
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Brearley
  3. Membership Book No. 1, p. 162
  4. http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_books/constitution/bio16.htm

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