...in 1733, 18 men gathered at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern on King Street in Boston and organized the first Masonic Lodge in North America. The fraternal society was based loosely on medieval stonemasons' guilds. Members pledged to be true to each other, to God, and to their king. However, a number of Masons including George Washington, John Hancock, and Paul Revere played major roles in the Revolution. Long associated with secret rituals and symbols, Freemasons are now more open about their mission of self-improvement and service to the community. Still all-male, the society today has 6,000,000 members around the world;2,000,000 live in the United States, 50,000 in Massachusetts.
Even today, when Masons are more open about their activities and goals, the nature of Freemasonry remains shrouded in mystery. It developed, in part, out of stonemasons' guilds. By the seventeenth century, English gentlemen who had never practiced the craft of stonemasonry began to join the fraternity for social reasons. In time, the fraternity borrowed various regulations, tools, and mythology from the stonemasons to create a code of conduct and a system of morality.
Freemasonry's overarching allegory is the Biblical story of the building of King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. Through symbols, ceremonies, and lectures, Freemasonry teaches its members the tenets of "Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth." Following earlier stonemasons' customs of boarding in lodges located near their place of work, Freemasons organize themselves into membership "lodges" where they meet periodically for fraternal and social activities.
By 1717 four London lodges formed a so-called Grand Lodge to supervise, coordinate, and charter new lodges. Soon after, an English merchant-tailor and active Mason named Henry Price immigrated to Boston. Finding other Masons there, he decided to return to England to secure an official "warrant" for a Grand Lodge in North America. He sailed in the winter of 1732 and returned the next summer with the necessary documents. On July 30th, he gathered together the required number of Masons and organized what would later be called "The Mother Lodge of America."
The Boston lodge grew quickly and many other lodges in New England were chartered. But as membership was generally limited to well-to-do gentlemen, workingmen felt excluded. As a result, in 1752 men who called themselves "Masons according to the Old Customs" formed their own Boston lodge. They secured their charter from the Grand Lodge in Scotland.
Although Masonry traditionally emphasized conservatism and fidelity to one's ruler, this Lodge soon became a hotbed of revolutionary activism in Boston. Members met at the Green Dragon Tavern, and some historians believe that the Boston Tea Party was planned there.
Freemasonry continued to grow after independence; many leaders of the new federal government were members of the society. When Mason George Washington helped lay the cornerstone of the US Capitol in 1793, he did so in a Masonic ceremony. By 1825, when the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument was laid in a Masonic ceremony, lodges had spread all across the Commonwealth.
A Comprehensive View of Freemasonry, by Henry Wilson Coil (Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1973).
A Short History of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, by Louis C. King (privately published, 1983).
"Masons let 'light shine in,' try to shed image of secrecy," by Michael Paulson, The Boston Globe, July 30, 2001.
American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities, by Mark A. Tabbert (National Heritage Museum and NYU Press, 2005).
Stalwart Builders: The Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, 1733 1970, by Thomas Sherrard Roy (The Masonic Education and Charity Trust, 1971).