The coining of Freemasonry to the western shores is a subject of more than passing interest to the Masonic student who realizes that in free America the fraternity has had every opportunity for growth and development without interference on the part of either church or state. It is in America that we find Masonry to have reached its highest development and where it has assumed the institutional character of those great forces which contribute to the upbuilding of humanity.
Just when the first Free-mason put foot upon American soil is unknown. In the year 1827, Dr. Charles T. Jackson of Boston, while making a survey of Nova Scotia discovered a large flat slab of rock, badly disintegrated, upon which were engraved the square and compasses, the universal emblems of Freemasonry, together with the date 1606. The inscription was deeply cut and while much worn by time and the elements, it was easily discernable.
Dr. Jackson found this curious Masonic relic lying along the shore and partly covered with sand. Just where this stone came from and what led to its being selected as a suitable object for a Masonic inscription will probably never be positively known. From the fact that the rock is similar to that of the vicinity lead Judge T. C. Haliburton, a writer in 1829 to declare that it had evidently been inscribed by the French as a memorial of their formal possession of the territory. This is the earliest evidence of Freemasonry to be found in this country, and is probably the relic of some early pioneer who thought well enough of the fraternity to leave its traditional mark on imperishable rock. A curious thing in connection with this stone is that it remained in the possession of judge Haliburton until the year 1837, when he gave it to the Canadian Institute of Toronto to be inserted in the wall of a new building, then under construction. The workmen who received it were directed to place it with the inscription exposed. Whether ignorantly or intentionally they disregarded their instruction and covered it with mortar and to this day it has never been discovered altho generous rewards were offered for its recovery.
A claim has been made that Freemasonry appeared in the State of Rhode Island at a very early period, from the fact that a resident of Newport found among the effects of a relative, a dilapidated document from which could be made out the story that in 1656 or 1658, Abraham Moses was given "the degrees of Masonry." This evidence, however, is of little value and it would be discredited by competent students from the fact that the document speaks of the degrees of Masonry, when as a matter of fact there was but one degree in Masonry until well toward the middle of the Eighteenth Century.
Jonathan Belcher, who was colonial Governor of Massachusetts 1730-41 visited England, immediately following his graduation from Harvard College. He remained in the British Isles for six years and while there was made a Mason, the date of his initiation being given as 1704. One year later he returned to Boston and there is reason to credit him with being the only Mason in the city at that particular time.
In establishing certain property rights to the title of King's Chapel in Boston in 1712, the discovery was made that a lodge of Masons had met in this chapel in 1720, although these assemblies were of short duration. The generally accepted supposition is that this organization was an army lodge attached to a regiment of British troops.
There is a curious record in the archives of the port of Boston, showing that on September 18, 1721, the vessel "Freemason" cleared from Boston for the West Indies. As this vessel appears to have been owned by a resident of that city, it is fair to suppose that the owner or skipper was a Freemason. Whoever, he may have been the fact remains that he must have been zealously devoted to the Craft to name his ship as he did.
In the year 1730, Daniel Coxe, a resident of Philadelphia, made a journey to England for the purpose of trying to perfect a title to about one-half of the Continent of North America, which he claimed to own by virtue of a grant to his father who had been physician to Charles I and Charles II of England. It has never been denied that Coxe was in England on January 29, 1731, for on that day he is credited with having been present at a meeting of the Grand Lodge of England, and during that same year was registered as a member of Lodge No. 8, at the Devil Tavern. There is evidence that on June 5, 1730, the Grand Master of England appointed Daniel Coxe as provincial Grand Master for the provinces of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania for a period of two years, and this has led some to credit Coxe with being the founder .of Freemasonry in America. But inasmuch as Coxe was in England, in 1730-31 and. there is nothing to indicate his presence in America between 1724 and 1734, it is presumed that Daniel Coxe never made any use of the authority conferred upon him and cannot in any sense be considered as the founder of Freemasonry in this country.
There is sufficient evidence to justify the belief that as early as 1730 Masonic Lodges assembled in Philadelphia, but these assemblies were without any charter or warrant from a constituted governing Grand Body. They were, as we now understand Masonry, irregular and clandestine. They were probably composed of Masons, who had reached the shores of America and who sought to continue the same intimacy and conviviality which they had enjoyed in the English lodges of which they were members. There is nothing to show that the lodge or lodges which assembled in Philadelphia in 1730 claimed any authority either directly or indirectly from the recognized Mother Grand Lodge of the world, the Grand Lodge of England.
In this connection it is interesting to note the affiliation of Benjamin Franklin. At the time of the appearance of Masonic Lodges in Philadelphia, Franklin was not a member of the Craft. He was 24 years of age and was publishing a weekly newspaper. In an issue of December 8, 1730, he printed an alleged exposure of Masonry, which had been circulating in England for some time. It is curious to note that one year after the publication of the so-called Masonic Expose, Franklin was made a Mason in a Philadelphia Lodge, which possessing no authority for the conferring of the honors of Masonry assumed its right to invest all who knocked at its doors with the principles of the art. Franklin evidently took some interest in the society, for the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1732 speaks of him as a junior Grand Warden. It is apparent from an examination of such historical data as is available that Pennsylvania is entitled to credit for having had within its borders as early as 1730, the first semblance of Masonic Lodges in this country although such assemblies according to the present canons of Freemasonry must he considered to have been irregular and illegitimate.
The first authorized representative of the Grand Lodge of England to exercise authority in America was Henry Price, who under date of April 2, 1733, received from the Right Honorable and Right Worshipful Anthony Viscount Montague, Grand Master, of Free and Accepted Masons of England a deputation declaring "We have Nominated, Ordained, Constituted and Appointed and do by these presents Nominate, Ordain, Constitute and appoint our said Worshipful and well beloved Brother Mr. Henry Price, Provincial Grand Master of New England aforesaid and Dominions and Territories thereunto belonging." It authorized him to appoint his Deputy Grand Master and Grand Wardens, and "To constitute the Brethren (Free and Accepted Masons) now residing or who shall hereafter reside in those parts, into one or more Regular Lodge or Lodges, as he shall think fit, and as often as occasion shall require."
Henry Price was a native of London and saw the light of day in 1697. The record upon his gravestone states that he removed to Boston in 1723, but he must have returned to England for the minutes of the Grand The Pennfy Lodge of England, state that in 1730, Price was a member of Lodge No. meeting at Rainbow Poppy House. This Lodge is still in existence and is known as Brittainica No. 93. Returning to Boston in 1733. Price at once, formed a Provincial Grand Lodge. He immediately received a petition for the organization of a Lodge in Boston and on August 31, 1733, there was set to work the first legitimate and regularly constituted lodge of Masons on the American continent.
One objection which has been urged against the legitimacy of Price's warrant is the fact that in the minutes of the Grand Lodge of England there is no mention of it and nothing to show that it was ever granted by the Grand Lodge in any form whatsoever. Melvin M. Johnson of Boston, a historical writer, whose accuracy cannot be questioned and to whom the author is indebted for much of the information contained in this chapter, points out that the records of the Grand Lodge of England were very carelessly kept in its early days and further the warrant which came to Price was not a charter from a Grand Lodge, but on the other hand was authority from the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England to organize lodges in America. The correctness of Brother Johnson's assumption will not be questioned, when it is remembered that in those early periods Masonry was very loosely organized. And considering the power granted to individuals to invest worthy men with the attributes of Freemasonry without the formality of initiation in order that the art might be propagated, it is reasonable to assume that a Grand Master would have authority to issue warrants without the sanction of his Grand Lodge. In 1734 the commission of Henry Price was made to extend over all North America.
In the meantime Benjamin Franklin had become the head of the Masonic Fraternity in Philadelphia and realizing the irregular condition of the Lodges existing in that city sent a letter to Henry Price under date of November 28, 1734, in which he acknowledged the want of lawful authority and prayed that Henry Price by virtue of his commission from Great Britain which had been extended over the whole of North America, would confirm, the Brethren of Pennsylvania, etc., admitting that the Grand Master of Pennsylvania would thereafter yield his chair whenever the Grand Master of North America, towit: Henry Price, should be present.
It is apparent from the above that Franklin sought to bring Masonry in Pennsylvania into harmonious relationship with legitimate Masonry of the world as it was then known. Masonry in Pennsylvania continued to exist until 1738, when it ceased entirely. It was, however, revived by Franklin in 1749. He appealed to Thomas Oxnard, the successor of Henry Price as Provincial Grand Master of America for the rights and privileges to work Masonry in the State of Pennsylvania. This authority was granted and that jurisdiction underwent a revival.
In 1775 the young colonies commenced to
experience trouble with their mother country, and on March 8,
1777, the Independence of Freemasonry in America from English
dictation was formally declared. During the war of the Revolution
such Lodges as were in existence fell more or less into decay
because of the heroic sacrifices which were demanded from the
people but while lodges were not so active the spirit of the fraternity
was rekindled and blazed high in the breasts of those sturdy Freemasons
of early colonial days. At the close of the Revolutionary War
the country commenced to assume self-government and rapidly increased
in prestige. As the country grew, likewise Freemasonry. As new
states were formed and pioneers moved westward they carried with
them principles of the Society and a thriving community was no
more than established until evidences of Freemasonry appeared
which resulted in the formation of Lodges of the mystic art. Today
there is scarcely a village or hamlet in America which does not
boast of its Masonic Lodge and nearly two and one-half million
men, the pride of America, hold allegiance to the institution.
While Pennsylvania may rightfully lay claim to the first Masonic
Lodges yet it is to Henry Price we must look for the first lawfully
constituted Masonic authority in this country and the Grand Lodge
of Massachusetts has just cause to, assume the distinguished title
of the Mother Grand Lodge of America.
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