Beginnings of American Freemasonry

THERE are but few Masonic historians in America. For the one thing, original material is scarce and opportunities for study along productive lines are few. The ordinary chronicles of Lodges and Grand Lodges are, of course, not to be counted as serious historical work. It is necessary and valuable labor, but it throws no great amount of light on things and times obscure. Then, again, a peculiar type of man is required for historical work worthy of the name. He must have the resources both of scholarship and of native ability. He must have an absorbing love for research, an almost infinite patience, and an analytical faculty denied to most. And then, as Masonry goes in America, he must have abundant private means or the steadfast backing of a rich Grand Lodge or other body.

Were we asked to give first place among those who in jurisdictions of the United States have devoted themselves to Masonic historical work, the choice would fall at once, and most likely by common consent, upon Brother Julius F. Sachse, Grand Lodge Librarian of Pennsylvania.
Bro. Sachse has all the essential qualities enumerated above. He possesses likewise the training which comes of years of such work, and an enthusiasm proof against all disappointments and discouragements. For the rest, he has a rich field in which to glean - that of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. Whatever can be gathered there is of interest to every American Mason, as added light is cast thereby upon Craft beginnings in what is now the United States.

On April 29, 1911, the Masonic Veterans of Pennsylvania, having as their guests Masonic Veteran associations from all over the country, met at Philadelphia for a three days' session. Before these assembled and singularly informed Masons Bro. Sachse delivered an address, which we are here permitted to give in full. It will be found replete with information.
- EDITOR, The AMERICAN FREEMASON.


Note: The illustrations which accompany this text are not directly related to the subject matter, but show the various meeting places of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in its early development.


It is meet and right that you should meet here in Philadelphia - the City of Brotherly Love - the mother City of Freemasonry in the western world. We may well say, Masonically speaking, that this is holy ground. Here within the bounds of the old city proper, the first altar was erected in the new hemisphere, upon which rested our Great Lights, within the well-tiled portals of the Masonic Lodge. The Brethren were few in number at that early day. Tun Tavern 1732-1734
Tun Tavern
1732-1734
It was at the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the several brethren who had been made abroad, and now living in the Province, came together in this city and erected a lodge of Free and Accepted Masons according to the "immemorial usage" and began to work according to the old Manuscript Constitutions.
Indian King Tavern and Royal Standard Tavern
Indian King Tavern
1735-1748
Royal Standard Tavern
1749-1754
That the example of these Masonic pioneers was followed in other parts of the Province is shown by Franklin's notice in his "Pennsylvania Gazette" No. 108, December 3 to December 8, 1730, wherein he states that lately several Masonic Lodges have been erected within the Province. The written records of these early Lodges, alluded to by Franklin, have all been lost with the exception of the Ledger of St. John's or First Lodge in Philadelphia - and a draft of their By-Laws. We have also the Manuscript Constitution of St. John's Lodge, written by Bro. Thomas Carmick, dated 1727, which, according to well founded tradition, was the legal Masonic authority under which our first Lodge and Grand Lodge were formed; the latter in the year 1731, it being the third oldest Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in the world - England in 1717 and Ireland in 1729 being our only seniors.
The earliest work in America was undoubtedly the same work and ritual which remains within this jurisdiction to the present day.

About the time our first Grand Lodge was formed in Philadelphia, certain conditions arose in England which in the wisdom of the brethren composing the Grand Lodge of England, brought about changes in the time honored ritual; changes in which the Grand Lodge of Ireland refused to concur; thus came about the term "Moderns" as applied to the Grand Lodge of England, while those Brethren who refused to acquiesce in the changes were termed "Ancients."
The Freemasons Lodge
The Freemasons' Lodge
1755-1768; 1778-1785
When these changes in the ritual became known in Pennsylvania, they were accepted by the local Grand Lodge, thus conforming to Grand Lodge, and they became and were known as "Moderns."

It was during the middle of the eighteenth century a number of Brethren in England, longing for the old ritual, and such as owed fealty to the Grand Lodge of Ireland formed Lodges in London and elsewhere, the outcome of which was the "Grand Lodge F. & A. M., according to the old Constitutions" which in turn issued a warrant for a Grand Lodge in Pennsylvania, dated July 15th, 1761. It is under this Grand warrant, as it were, that you are now assembled; a copy of this document lies here before you.
In the sixth decade of the eighteenth century, you will note there were two Grand Lodges in Pennsylvania, the "Moderns," 1731, and the "Ancients" of 1761; the former composed chiefly of the aristocratic element of the Province; the latter of the bone and sinew of the infant community; and as the political troubles, owing to the Stamp Act and other encroachments of the home government increased, the "Moderns" gradually lost ground, while the Lodges and prestige of the "Ancients" rapidly increased. The City Tavern
The City Tavern
1777-1778
When, finally, the Revolution broke out, it sounded the death knell of the "Moderns" organization in Pennsylvania, whose members were chiefly Tories, while the Grand and Subordinate Lodges of the "Ancients" were almost solidly patriotic.

To illustrate this point. we have but to look at the list of warrants issued during those troublesome times, which it is well stated "tried men's souls."
  • No. 19. A Regimental Warrant was issued for the Pennsylvania
    Artillery in the service of the U. S.
  • No. 20. A Regimental warrant for the North Carolina Line.
  • No. 28. One for the Pennsylvania Line.
  • No. 29. One for the Military Line, Pennsylvania.
  • No. 36. One for the New Jersey Brigade.
  • No. 37. One for the Maryland Line.
Building In Vidells Alley
Building In Videll's Alley
1769-1790
Lately a number of documents relating to these old Military Lodges have been found among the archives of the Grand Secretary and are now in the custody of the Librarian for collation and indexing, and the writer is happy to say that we will now have some insight into the vicissitudes of these Lodges, and in several cases a complete list of those patriotic Brethren who fought and, in some cases, gave up their lives to achieve the liberty of this country which we are now all enabled to enjoy.
The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania "Ancients," being the oldest in America, was from the beginning looked upon by the Brethren in adjoining Provinces and abroad as the Masonic fountain-head, as it were, in the Western World. Petitions for warrants under its Jurisdiction were presented almost as soon as its organization was completed. Thus from 1765 to 1770 seven of these warrants were granted, viz: Three for Maryland, two for Delaware, one for Virginia and one for New Jersey.
Subsequently, up to the year 1832, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania warranted no less than fifty-one foreign Lodges, and one Provincial Grand Lodge, viz:
  • Delaware 5; Nos. 18-33-44-63-96
  • Georgia 1; No. 42
  • Illinois 1; No. 107
  • Louisiana 8; Nos. 90-93-109-112-117-118-122-129
  • Maryland 6; Nos. 16-17-29-34-35-37
  • Missouri 1; Nos. 111
  • New Jersey 2; Nos. 32-33
  • N. W. Territory 1; No. 78
  • Ohio 1; No. 105
  • South Carolina 4; Nos. 27-38-40-47
  • Virginia 2; Nos. 39-41
  • Buenos Aires 1; No. 205
  • Cuba 2 Nos. 175-181
  • Cape Francois 1 No. 146
  • Havana 5; Nos. 103-157-161-166-167
  • Mexico 1; No. 191
  • San Domingo 8; Nos. 47-87-88-89-95-97-98-99 Provincial
  • Grand Lodge
  • Trinidad 1; No. 77
  • Uruguay 1; No. 217
The Lodge in Uruguay, No. 217 on the roster, was warranted during the anti-Masonic excitement, February 6, 1832. So great was the feeling against the Fraternity that eleven years intervened before our Grand Lodge was petitioned to warrant a new Lodge. This was Honesdale Lodge No. 218 in Wayne County, September 4th, 1843, and which is still a bright luminary in the Masonic horizon. It will be seen that during the existence of our Grand Lodge, from the time of its formation until the anti-Masonic period, no less than 152 local Lodges were warranted, of which 50 are still on the active roll, the others having been vacated, surrendered their warrants, or succumbed during the eventful years of emotional bigotry in 1827-1832. Free Quaker Meeting House
Free Quaker Meeting House
1790 -1799
The State House Independence Hall
The State House
Independence Hall
1800-1802
The Masonic Fraternity of Pennsylvania, working according to the old Constitution, "Ancients," passed through several periods of serious trial - for instance, the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783; the financial period of Continental money, 1782- 1789; the loss of Freemason's Hall in Lodge Alley, 1786; the burning of the Chestnut Street Hall, 1819; the anti-Masonic period before mentioned; the panics of 1837 and 1842, which necessitated the temporary sale of the Chestnut Street property. All, however, were eventually successfully overcome, until now our Grand Lodge is housed in this magnificent Temple, which is rightfully called the "Masonic Wonder of the World," owned by the Brethren without a single penny of debt or encumbrance.
Now let me say a word in regard to our library and museum. If you will refer to the preface of our first Ahiman Rezon, original edition of 1783, you will find the following advice to the brethren at large:

"The officers of Lodges, and those members who wish to be more completely learned in the grand science and sublime mysteries of Ancient Masonry, will think it their duty, as opportunities offer, to furnish themselves or their Lodges, with at least one copy of all approved and duly authorized books on Masonry, which may be published by the learned Lodges, or illustrious Brethren, in different languages and countries of the world, from time to time."
Pennsylvania Freemasons Hall
Pennsylvania Freemasons Hall
1802-1810; 1819-1820
Masonic Hall
Masonic Hall
1811-1819
This advice our present Committee on Library have sought to carry out to its fullest extent, and we are now in a position to claim that we have the largest and most diversified collection of Masonic literature in America. Over eleven thousand volumes, both pro and con; over thirty thousand volumes of proceedings and of Masonic periodicals; we have on file every one published in America, besides many published abroad, all of which are available to the members of the Craft.
As to our museum and its collection of Masonic exhibits, this will have to speak for itself. I will say it has no equal in the Masonic world. The prime mover in planning and the establishing of the Museum was Bro. Samuel W. Latta, a member of the Committee, in which he was heartily seconded by the Chairman, Bro. Wanamaker, and the fellow members of the Committee on Library. The Committee's plans were approved by R.W. Grand Master Kendrick in 1907. In 1908, this room was set aside for museum purposes by the Committee on Temple under direction of R.W. Grand Master Orlady.
Masonic Hall
1820-1835
Washington Hall
Washington Hall
1835-1855
At the beginning of July the cases were completed, and early in October (Founders Week) the exhibits were installed. You will see many relics here of the past, not alone from our own country, but from almost every quarter of the globe. Nor is the present period, our own time, wanting. You will find that this Masonic exhibition is not merely a Pennsylvania one, but that it is a Universal one; taking in every state in our Union, the British possessions in America; Asia, Africa and Australia, as well as Great Britain and the Continent from Sweden and Norway in the north to Italy in the south, from France in the west to Turkey in the cast. The collection is not limited to nation or kind so long as the subject bears on Freemasonry.
You will note that this monument is but in its swaddling clothes, it is as yet but three years old, and the Committee in charge is still active and ever alert to add to and increase this great collection for the edification and instruction of the Craft.
Special attention is called to the unique copy of the Masonic portrait of Washington, painted in pastel by William Williams in Philadelphia in 1794, for his Lodge at Alexandria, Virginia, originally warranted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1793, being No. 39 on our own roster, and now No. 22 under the Grand Lodge of Virginia. The painting before you is the only replica ever permitted to be made of this portrait, and is doubly interesting as the work was done by a great grand- daughter of Thomas Jefferson. Before you also is the Masonic apron embroidered by Madam Lafayette for Washington, and brought over to him by General Lafayette in 1784. [Editor's Note: In 1911, when Bro. Sachse delivered this address, it was believed that Apron was created by Madam Lafayette, but this is not likely to be the case-- read the details at this linked page.]
It was also worn by Brother Washington when he laid the corner stone of the present Capitol in September, 1793. Many of the relics you see here date from provincial, colonial and revolutionary days. The most precious and important of all, however, are the manuscripts and documents in our own archives, which are now gotten in condition to make them available. New Masonic Hall
"New" Masonic Hall
1855 - 1873
These documents for almost a century were supposed to have been destroyed in the burning of the Chestnut street hall in 1819, Such, however, was fortunately not the case, as a large part of these old records were saved and taken to the house of Grand Secretary George A. Baker, at the N. E. corner of Fourth and Cherry Streets. These papers and documents were listed and placed in six wooden boxes securely locked, and were successively stored in the rebuilt Chestnut Street Hall, Washington (Third Street) Hall, the New Masonic Hall of 1855, and lastly in one of the vaults of the new Temple at Broad and Filbert Streets in 1873. Here they remained for years unknown and forgotten, until after the death of the R. W. Grand Secretary, Michael Nesbit, in 1896, when it occurred to Bro. John A. Perry, Deputy Grand Secretary, to investigate the contents of these old boxes, and upon seeing what they contained, at once recognized their great value, and brought his important discovery to the notice of the Grand Officers, who now have placed them at the disposal of the Committee on Library, under whose direction the Curator is arranging, collating and indexing these precious historical documents.
In conclusion, I will express the hope that after examining this great universal Masonic collection, you will bear it in mind, when you return to your homes, and see that your own jurisdictions are worthily and properly represented in this educational exhibition.
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