Masonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternity for men. Although the details of Masonry’s beginnings are lost, it is certain that in 1717, four lodges met in a London coffeehouse and formed the first association of lodges known as a Grand Lodge.
Masonry entered this country early in our history. Benjamin Franklin, an active Mason, printed the first Masonic book published in the United States and George Washington and other American leaders were also active Masons. As Masons moved across the continent, they brought Masonry with them. Freemasonry is the oldest and largest world wide fraternity dedicated to the Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of a Supreme Being. Although of a religious nature, Freemasonry is not a religion. It urges its members, however, to be faithful and devoted to their own religious beliefs. The organization of Freemasonry is based on a system of state-based Grand Lodges, each sovereign within its own jurisdiction. There is no central authority governing all Grand Lodges, however to be acknowledged by others, acceptable traditions, standards and practices must be maintained.
Our traditions can be traced directly to the associations of operative stonemasons. Builders of the Middle Ages, like all other workmen, were organized into societies known as guilds. The builder guilds were usually more important than others, because their work was more difficult and required a high degree of skill and intelligence; such among them who had a hand in the erection of the great cathedrals possessed among their membership the outstanding geniuses of the times. The art of building was, according to the customs of the time, held as a trade secret, therefore the young men entering a guild of builders were solemnly obligated to divulge no secrets of the craft. Because the work was difficult, these young men were given a long course of education under the direction of a Master Mason. The members in these guilds were known as "free" masons; men of outstanding character and high ideals who built the cathedrals, abbeys, and castles of the Middle Ages, and as such, were allowed to freely travel abroad for the purpose of building the great structures wherever the work demanded, while those trade laborers considered of average skill were tasked with constructing shacks and other menial structures and were forbidden to leave the confines of their territory.
With the decline of cathedral building in the 17th Century, many guilds of stonemasons, called “Operative” masons, started to accept into their membership those who were not members of the masons’ craft and called them “Speculative” or “Accepted” masons. It was in these groups, called lodges, comprised mainly of “Accepted” masons that Freemasonry, as we know it today, had its beginning. In 1717, four such lodges, which had been meeting regularly in the 'Goose and Gridiron' Tavern in London, England, united to form the first Grand Lodge, known as the Premier Grand Lodge of England, under the direction of a Grand Master. From that first Grand Lodge, Freemasonry started to spread. The Grand Lodge of Ireland was established in 1725 and the Grand Lodge of Scotland followed in 1736. The three "Home Grand Lodges" began to parent the course of Freemasonry around the world but by 1751, a another rival Grand Lodge was formed in London, known as the Ancient Grand Lodge of England, who believed that the Premier Grand Lodge had made modifications to the ancient customs of the Order, and referred to them as "Moderns" and themselves as "Ancients". Grand Lodges that were born of the Premier Grand Lodge are titled "Free and Accepted"(F. & A.M.), and those that were born out the the Ancient Grand Lodge are titled "Ancient Free and Accepted"(A.F. & A.M.). For more than 60 years, the two Grand Lodges existed side by side, although in opposition to one another, until on December 27th, 1813, after four years of negotiations, the two Grand Lodges united to form the United Grand Lodge of England(UGLE); a union which led a standardization of Masonic practices by what is often referred to as the "Mother" Grand Lodge for recognized Masonry in the United States and other countries.
The doors of Freemasonry are open to men who seek harmony with their fellow man, feel the need for self-improvement and wish to participate in making this world a better place to live. Any man who becomes a Mason is taught a pattern for living – reverence, morality, kindness, honesty, dependability and compassion. He must be prepared to honor his country, uphold its laws and respect those in authority. He must be prepared to maintain honorable relationships with others and be willing to share in Masonic activities. Freemasonry is a way of life.