GW & Masonry
Home Up

 

George Washington's Writings About Freemasonry
and Attendance at Masonic Meetings and Events

(Paul M. Bessel draft September 2, 1996)

Exactly when and in what manner did George Washington participate in Masonic activities? What Lodge meetings did he attend? What did he write about Freemasonry? Many Masons and others are interested to know the facts about this.

The following chronology lists the information written in books by Masons who attempted to show Washington as being as closely connected to Freemasonry as possible. Some of these items may be exaggerated, or the authors may have been relying on unreliable information. It is possible that Washington did not attend the Masonic meetings that some of these writers say he did, particularly since we would expect to have seen more copies of Lodge minutes, letters from Masons who were at meetings with him, etc., to prove Washington's attendance if he was at all these meetings. More research of primary material would be needed to determine this. It would also be useful to determine if Washington did or did not pay dues throughout his life, or at any time, to either or both of the lodges in which he was a member, Fredericksburg and Alexandria.

November 4, 1752

Washington was initiated an Entered Apprentice in Fredericksburg Lodge.(1)

March 3, 1753

Washington was "pass'd fellow Craft" In Fredericksburg Lodge.(2)

August 4, 1753

Washington was "rais'd Master Mason" in Fredericksburg Lodge.(3)

September 1, 1753

Washington is said to have attended Fredericksburg Lodge.(4)

January 4, 1755

Washington is said to have attended Fredericksburg Lodge.(5)

1756

There is a "tradition that he may have attended the 'Lodge of Social and Military Virtues' during a visit to Philadelphia, New York, and Boston in the winter of 1756, and doubtless he attended other Lodges, but ... the facts are not known."(6)

1756-1763

"Tradition, which no Masonic records of that period now exiting either verify or contradict, states that Washington" attended military Lodges during the French and Indian War, and there is a cave near Charlestown, West Virginia, which is called "Washington's Masonic Cave" with an apartment called "The Lodge Room" in which "tradition" states Washington and other Masons held lodge meetings.(7)

December 28, 1778

Washington is said to have met with Freemasons in Philadelphia and participated in St. John the Evangelist Day activities.(8) From the manner in which reports were written, he might have simply marched in a procession with them.(9)

June 24, 1779

Washington is said to have attended American Union Lodge in West Point, New York, and participated in St. John the Baptist Day activities.(10)

December 27, 1779

Washington is said to have attended American Union Lodge in Morristown, and participated in St. John the Evangelist's Day celebration.(11)

June 24, 1782

Washington is said to have attended American Union Lodge in West Point, New York, and participated in St. John the Baptist Day celebration.(12)

December 27, 1782

Washington was recorded as being present at Solomon's Lodge No. 1 of Poughkeepsie, New York.(13)

December 28, 1783

Washington wrote a letter to the Master and Wardens of Alexandria Lodge No. 39, who had written to invite him to come to their meetings now that he was back in private life. Washington included the following in his response:

"....I shall always feel pleasure when it may be in my power to render service to Lodge No. 39, and in every act of brotherly kindness to the Members of it;...."(14)

The author of Masonic Correspondence of Washington wrote that the original of this letter was in the relics of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22. A copy appears in that book.(15)

June 19, 1784

Washington wrote a letter to William Herbert, Secretary of Alexandria Lodge No. 39, in reply to an invitation to join the Lodge at their celebration of St. John the Baptist's Day, including in his letter:

"With pleasure I received the invitation of the Master and members of Lodge No. 39, to dine with them.... If nothing unforeseen at present interferes, I will have the honor of doing it...."(16)

The author of Masonic Correspondence of Washington said the original of this letter is said to be in the relics of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, but he was not able to see or obtain a copy of it.(17)

June 24, 1784

Washington was an invited guest at Alexandria Lodge No. 39, of Virginia, and was said to have been present and participated, and was elected to honorary membership.(18) The minutes state that a banquet was served at Wise's Tavern, which Washington attended, and it is not clear if Washington was said to have attended a lodge meeting plus the banquet, or just the banquet.(19)

February 12, 1785

Washington wrote in his diary:

"Received an Invitation to the Funeral of Willm. Ramsay....Walked in a procession as a free mason, Mr Ramsay in his life being one, and now buried with the ceremonies and honors due to one."(20)

April 28, 1788

Washington was designated as the Charter Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22, when it became a lodge under the Grand Lodge of Virginia, but no one says he was present and no letter or notation in his diary exists from Washington concerning this event.(21)

December 27, 1788

Washington is said to have been present at Alexandria Lodge No. 22, when he was reelected its Worshipful Master.(22)

August 22, 1790

Washington wrote a letter to King David's Lodge No. 1 in Newport, Rhode Island, in response to a letter from that lodge welcoming him to Newport. Washington included the following language in that letter:

"... Being persuaded that a just application of the principles, on which the Masonic Fraternity is founded, must be promotive of private virtue and public prosperity, I shall always be happy to advance the interests of the Society, and to be considered by them as a deserving brother...."(23)

The author of Masonic Correspondence of Washington wrote that the original of this letter, and the address to which he was replying, are in the Athenaeum collection at Boston, Massachusetts. A copy of Washington's letter, which is in the handwriting of his secretary, not Washington, is said to be in Washington's letter book in the Library of Congress, and another copy is in the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge archives. A facsimile appears in the book.(24)

April 20(exact date uncertain)(25), 1791

Washington wrote a letter to St. John's Lodge No. 2 in Newburn, North Carolina, in response to a letter from that lodge to him, welcoming him to their city. Washington included the following language in that letter, referring to Freemasonry:

"... it is peculiarly pleasing to find my conduct so affectionately approved by a fraternity whose association is founded in justice and benevolence...."(26)

The author of Masonic Correspondence of Washington wrote that the original of this letter had been in the possession of St. John's Lodge in Newbern, North Carolina, and is referred to in the minutes of the lodge, but the original of Washington's letter may have been lost during the Civil War. He said photostats were in the Library of Congress and the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge Archives, but for some reason no copy is in his book.(27)

May (date not known)(28), 1791

Washington wrote a letter to Prince George's Lodge No. 16 in Georgetown, South Carolina, in response to a letter of welcome from that lodge to him. Washington included the following language in that letter, referring to Freemasonry:

"... assuring the fraternity of my esteem, I request them to believe that I shall always be ambitious of being considered a deserving Brother."(29)

The author of Masonic Correspondence of Washington wrote that it is not known what happened to the original of this letter, or the address to which it replied, but that copies were entered in Washington's Letter Book which is in the Library of Congress. However, no copy is included in his book.(30)

May 2, 1791

Washington wrote a letter to the Grand Lodge of South Carolina, in response to a letter from it to him, welcoming him to that State. Washington included the following language in that letter, referring to Freemasonry:

"... I recognize with pleasure my relation to the brethren of your Society.... I shall be happy, on every occasion, to evince my regard for the Fraternity...."(31)

The author of Masonic Correspondence of Washington wrote that this letter was probably destroyed when Columbia, South Carolina, was burned during the Civil War, but the original draft of Washington's reply is among the Washington papers in the Library of Congress and in the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge Archives. A copy of the letter is in his book.(32)

May 1791

Washington wrote a letter to the Grand Lodge of Georgia, in response to a letter from it to him, welcoming him to that State. Washington included the following language, referring to Freemasonry:

"My best wishes are offered for the welfare of the fraternity...."(33)

The author of Masonic Correspondence of Washington wrote that this letter is in Washington's Letter Book in the Library of Congress, and a copy is included in his book.(34)

December, 1792(35)

Washington wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Grand Lodge in response to its dedication of its first Constitution to him. He included the following language in that letter, referring to Freemasonry:

"...a Society whose liberal principles must be founded in the immutable laws of truth and justice.---

"To enlarge the sphere of social happiness is worthy [sic] the benevolent design of a masonic institution; ... the grand object of Masonry is to promote the happiness of the human race...."(36)

The author of Masonic Correspondence of Washington wrote that this letter is in Washington's Letter Book in the Library of Congress, and a copy is included in his book.(37)

September 18, 1793

Washington officiated at the Masonic cornerstone laying of the U.S. Capitol.(38)

April 1, 1797

Washington was said to have been at Alexandria Lodge No. 22, when he replied to an address, and went to Mr. Albert's Tavern for dinner.(39)

April 24, 1797

Washington wrote a letter to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in response to a letter from its leaders to him upon his leaving the office of U.S. President. He included the following language in that letter, referring to Freemasonry:

"... my attachment to the Society of which we are members ..."(40)

The author of Masonic Correspondence of Washington wrote that the original of this letter is said to be in the possession of the Massachusetts Grand Lodge, but a facsimile could not be obtained. Nevertheless, a facsimile is printed in his book and is said to be from Washington's original draft, which is in the Library of Congress.(41)

September 25,(42) 1798

Washington wrote a letter to the Grand Lodge of Maryland in response to the Maryland Grand Master's having presented Washington with a copy of that Grand Lodge's book of Constitutions. Washington included the following language in his letter:

"... So far as I am acquainted with the principles and doctrines of Freemasonry, I conceive them to be founded on benevolence, and to be exercised for the good of mankind: I cannot, therefore, upon this ground withdraw my approbation from it...."(43)

In an earlier draft of this letter, Washington had written:

"... So far as I am acquainted with the principles and Doctrines of Free Masonry, I conceive them to be founded on benevolence and to be exercised for the good of mankind. If it has been a Cloak to promote improper or nefarious objects, it is a melancholly proof that in unworthy hands, the best institutions may be made use of to promote the worst designs."(44)

The author of Masonic Correspondence of Washington wrote that the original of this letter was in the possession of the Maryland Grand Lodge as late as 1833, but it had since disappeared. A facsimile of the first draft is included in his book.(45)

1798

Rev. G.W. Snyder, who said he was with the Reformed Church of Fredericktown, Maryland,(46) sent Washington a letter on August 22, 1798, saying, "a Society of Free Masons, that distinguished itself by the name of 'Illuminati,' whose Plan is to over throw all Government and all Religion....it might be within your power to prevent the Horrid plan from corrupting the brethren of the English Lodges over which you preside."(47)

September 25, 1798, Washington wrote a letter to Snyder, including the following language, referring to Masonic lodges:

"... to correct an error ..., of my presiding over English Lodges in this country. The fact is I preside over none, nor have I been in one more than once or twice within the last thirty years...."(48)

October 24, 1798

Washington wrote another letter to Rev. Snyder, after Snyder responded to Washington's previous letter. Washington included the following language in this letter:

"... [referring to] the doctrines of the Illuminati, and principles of Jacobism ... in the United States....I did not believe that the Lodges of Freemasons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavored to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or the pernicious principles of the latter.... That individuals of them may have done it ... is too evident to be questioned...."(49)

The author of Masonic Correspondence of Washington wrote that photostats of both the letter press copies of Washington's letters to Snyder are in the Pennsylvania Grand Lodge Archives, and he included facsimiles of both in his book.(50)

Summary

George Washington may have attended, at most, 9 Lodge meetings in his entire life after he became a Master Mason, plus a few other Masonic Lodge events (not Lodge meetings) as listed. There is no proof that he attended several of the events in this list, just claims by Masons who may have been basing their claims on rumors.

September 1, 1753 Fredericksburg Lodge

January 4, 1755 Fredericksburg Lodge

[gap of 24 years]

December 28, 1778 Freemasons in Philadelphia

June 24, 1779 American Union Lodge in West Point, New York

December 27, 1779 American Union Lodge in Morristown

June 24, 1782 American Union Lodge in West Point, New York

December 27, 1782 Solomon's Lodge No. 1 in Poughkeepsie, New York

June 24, 1784 Alexandria Lodge No. 39, of Virginia

February 12, 1785 Masonic funeral procession of William Ramsay

December 27, 1788 Alexandria Lodge No. 22

[gap of almost 5 years]

September 18, 1793 Masonic cornerstone laying of the U.S. Capitol

April 1, 1797 Alexandria Lodge No. 22

In case it is thought that Washington was too busy to attend Masonic lodge meetings, it should be noted that his biographies indicate that George Washington attended many plays, circuses, and ceremonial dinners throughout his life, including times when Masonic lodge meetings were available and he could have attended them, had he wished to.

On the other hand, Washington wrote letters including clearly complimentary comments about Freemasonry on the following 10 occasions, most of which are documented.

December 28, 1783 to Alexandria Lodge No. 39(51)

June 19, 1784 to the Secretary of Alexandria Lodge No. 39

August 22, 1790 to King David's Lodge No. 1 Newport, Rhode Island(52)

April 20, 1791 St. John's Lodge No. 2 in Newburn, North Carolina

May, 1791 to Prince George's Lodge No. 16 in Georgetown, SC

May 2, 1791 to the Grand Lodge of South Carolina(53)

May 1791 to the Grand Lodge of Georgia(54)

December, 1792 to the Massachusetts Grand Lodge(55)

April 24, 1797 to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts(56)

September 25, 1798 to the Grand Lodge of Maryland(57)

Conclusions

Washington admired the principles and goals of Freemasonry, but he was not very familiar with them and did not attempt to learn more about Freemasonry.

Washington wrote letters indicating that he was happy to be a Mason; presided in a major Masonic ceremony laying the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol in Masonic regalia, and possibly in some other Masonic ceremonies; never sought to resign or repudiate his Masonic membership; and did not say or do anything negative toward Freemasonry, other than that some Masons promoted the radicalism of the French Revolution (as did others).

However, there is little or no evidence that Washington attended many Masonic lodge meetings in his whole life after becoming a Mason 1753.

Washington attended at most 3 meetings, possibly fewer or none (he may have attended dinners but not the preceding meetings), of the lodge that today is called Alexandria-Washington Lodge #22, and of which he was the first Master under its Virginia Charter. While he was Master of that lodge, he did not do anything to assist the work of the lodge, and he attended, at most, one meeting (if he attended that one), when officers were reelected. There is no indication that he actually presided as Master on that occasion and it is unlikely that he did so. Paintings and sculpture showing Washington presiding as a Master of that or any other Masonic lodge are probably based only on wishful thinking.

Some Masons may have gotten carried away with their delight that the most eminent citizen of the United States, George Washington, joined the Freemasons when we was very young and continued to be a member throughout his life and wrote letters supporting Freemasonry, and they may have attempted to portray him as an active and enthusiastic member of the Craft even though the evidence indicates that he was not.

George Washington was apparently a Mason who was not very interested in attending lodge meetings, although there is considerable evidence that he was happy to be a member and publicly supported Freemasonry.

Bibliography

Masonic Correspondence of Washington as found among the Washington papers in the Library of Congress, by Julius F. Sachse, published by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1915.

The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, by J. Hugo Tatsch, published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, New York, 1931. Tatsch is identified in this book as the Historian of the National Sojourners. According to 10,000 Famous Freemasons by William R. Denslow, Tatsch previously was curator at the Iowa Grand Lodge Library, and later was curator at the Massachusetts Grand Lodge and the Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction

Washington's Mother Lodge: Historical Sketch of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, Virginia, by James Henry Heron, revised edition 1950. This booklet includes such comments as, "Washington and Freemasonry. When the lips have named the one the mind has embraced the other. George Washington was a Mason through and through. He was a Man's Man!"

The Diaries of George Washington 1748-1799, edited by John C. Fitzpatrick, published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York, 1925.

George Washington: Freemason, by William Moseley Brown, published by Garrett & Massie, Inc., Richmond, Virginia, 1952.

George Washington: The Man and the Mason, by Charles H. Callahan, published by the Memorial Temple Committee of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association, 1913.

George Washington, Freemason, by William Moseley Brown, published by Garrett & Massie, Inc., Richmond, 1952.

G. Washington: Master Mason, by Allen E. Roberts, published by Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc., Richmond, Virginia, 1976.

Washington: The Great American Mason, by John J. Lanier, published by Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Company, New York, 1922.

Notes:

1. The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 2; and G. Washington: Master Mason, page 187. Washington: The Great American Mason, says he was the first person to initiated in Fredericksburg Lodge, page 17.

2. The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 2; G. Washington: Master Mason, page 187

3. The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 2; G. Washington: Master Mason, page 187.

4. The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 2; G. Washington: Master Mason, page 187.

5. The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 2; G. Washington: Master Mason, page 187.

6. Washington: The Great American Mason, page 25.

7. Washington: The Great American Mason, pages 24-25.

8. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 127; and G. Washington: Master Mason, page 187.

9. The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 8.

10. The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 8; G. Washington: Master Mason, page 188.

11. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 127-128; and The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 8; and G. Washington: Master Mason, page 188.

12. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 128; and The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 8; and G. Washington: Master Mason, page 188.

13. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 128; and G. Washington: Master Mason, page 188.

14. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 30.

15. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 29, note 21, and page 31.

16. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 34; and Washington: The Man and the Mason, pages 283-284.

17. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 35

18. The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 8; and Washington: The Man and the Mason, page 284; and G. Washington: Master Mason, page 188.

19. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 35; and Washington: The Man and the Mason, page 284.

20. The Diaries of George Washington 1748-1799, volume 2, page 342. Also, The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 6; and George Washington: Freemason, page 353.

21. The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 5.

22. Washington: The Man and the Mason, pages 288; and G. Washington: Master Mason, page 189.

23. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 41-43; and The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 14; and Washington: The Man and the Mason, pages 270-271.

24. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 40-41

25. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 45-50; and George Washington: Freemason, page 443.

26. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 45-50; and The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 14.

27. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 49.

28. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 51-56.

29. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 56.

30. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 56.

31. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 59-60 and 61-64; and The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 17; and Washington: The Man and the Mason, pages 271-272.

32. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 60-63.

33. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 67-68.

34. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 67-68.

35. George Washington: Freemason, page 443.

36. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 83-85; and The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, pages 18-19; and Washington: The Man and the Mason, page 274.

37. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 84.

38. Washington: The Man and the Mason, pages 290-293; and G. Washington: Master Mason, page 189.

39. The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 6-7.

40. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 107 and 109; and The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 22: and Washington: The Man and the Mason, page 277.

41. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 106-107 and 110.

42. George Washington: Freemason, page 444.

43. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 115-116; and The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 23; and Washington: The Man and the Mason, page 278.

44. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 114 and between pages 112 and 113.

45. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 115, and between pages 112 and 113..

46. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 123.

47. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 122 and 121.

48. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 125 and between pages 122 and 123; The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 71. Also, Washington's Mother Lodge: Historical Sketch of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, Virginia, pages 20-21; and G. Washington: Master Mason, page 183.

49. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 131 and between pages 124 and 125; and The Facts About George Washington as a Freemason, page 71; and Washington: The Man and the Mason, pages 278-279. Also, Washington's Mother Lodge: Historical Sketch of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, Virginia, pages 20-21; and G. Washington: Master Mason, pages 183-184.

50. Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 130, and between pages 122 and 123 and between pages 124 and 125.

51. Copy printed in Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 31.

52. Copy printed in Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 41.

53. Copy printed in Masonic Correspondence of Washington, pages 62-63.

54. Copy printed in Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 67.

55. Copy printed in Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 84.

56. Copy printed in Masonic Correspondence of Washington, page 106-107.

57. Copy printed in Masonic Correspondence of Washington, between pages 112 and 113.

Copyright 1998-2014 by Paul M. Bessel - all rights reserved

If you have any suggestions, comments, or questions about this website, please feel free to send an email message to me:  paulb'at'bessel.org 

To see an index of other webpages with similar information, such as webpages with charts comparing Grand Lodge policies, please feel free to click on the following:  http://bessel.org/webindex.htm