Washington: A Grand Master?

Visitors to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, from all over the United States continue to say and believe that George Washington was the first Grand Master of Virginia. Strange as it may seem, it is very difficult to convince these masons without hurting their feelings. Thus through necessity I was determined to find out how that story got started.

Virginia was the first of the Colonial States to form their own Grand Lodge. To begin the search it was necessary to go to the Proceedings of the establishment of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, to see just what happened. I therefore take the following quotes and material from the minutes of Williamsburg Lodge, and the letters and proceedings of those early meetings.

"Convention assembled in Williamsburg Lodge hall on June 23, 1777, (with officers from Blandford Lodge; Kilwinning Port Royal Cross Lodge; Williamsburg Lodge; Cabin Point Royal Arch Lodge, and Fredericksburg Lodge."

With a quick scan of the minutes, I arrived at the point where James Kemp, read into the minutes the following.

"I have set forth the events leading to and transpiring in our convention to date. As the death of our Grand Master Peyton Randolph created a vacancy, and the reason for this convention, I would read from the minutes of Williamsburg Lodge, so that all may know of the events of his passing.

"Peyton Randolph 1721-1775

"Acknowledged and referred to as Grand Master on the Treasurers book of the Lodge held in Crown Tavern in 1762, Peyton was the first Master of Crown Tavern Lodge under the new English Charter of 1773 (Minutes of 1774 - referred to Peyton as Provincial Grand Master of Va.) At the death of our Provincial Grand Master Peyton Randolph Oct. 22, 1775 while attending the Continental Congress held in Philadelphia, the office of Grand Master became vacant. Due to strong feelings of resentment against the crown no Provincial Grand Master was requested..."

At this point we read from the minutes of Williamsburg Lodge, Dec. 3, 1776. William Waddell W.M. presiding.

"....On a motion made; Resolved that the master of this lodge be directed to write to all the regular lodges in the state, requesting their attendance by their deputies at this lodge in order to choose a Grand master for the State of Virginia, on the first day of next assembled.

William Waddell, W.M."

"Letters were written to

Norfolk (Royal Exchange)
Port Royal
St Tammany
Cabin Point Royal Arch

"requesting they send deputies to a convention to be held in Williamsburg Lodge on Tuesday the 6th day of May 1777."

"for the express purpose of choosing a Grand Master for the State of Virginia."

At this point I skip to the meeting held June 23, 1777, as this was the first mention of George Washington as Grand Master.

"The convention was unanimously in favor of dispatching letters to each of the several lodges in Virginia requesting each lodge to consider the name of the proper person to be elected to the office of Grand Master, and in order to give dispatch to this business, this convention beg leave to recommend to their constituents and to the members of all other lodges in this state, His excellency General George Washington as the proper person to fill the office of Grand Master of the same, and to whom the charter of appointment aforementioned be made. But should the lodge prefer any other person to this office, it is recommended that the respective Lodge do elect some other person and notify the same to the Williamsburg Lodge. But in case such an appointment is not made by the first day of June next, then the convention are unanimously of the opinion that the several Lodges of this state should proceed to elect such Grand Master."

October 13th 1778

Besides the election of a Grand Master, It must be remembered that during all these sessions the good brothers were also forming their Grand Lodge of Virginia. I found it very interesting to see the arguments pro and con on the proper way to constitute a Grand Lodge. They finally adopted the same system used by those who formed the Grand Lodge of England, after all, they had formed with only four lodges, while Virginia had eight Lodges.

But let us return to the subject of a Grand Master. Once more I quote from the minutes of Oct. 13, 1778 held in Williamsburg Lodge.

"Brothers at the last meeting of the convention it was agreed that letters be written to all the Lodges requesting them to submit names for the office of Grand Master, none were received. Also it was suggested the name of General George Washington be considered."

"As you may remember, those of you who were at our last meeting, held June 23, 1777, General Washington's name was submitted for consideration as Grand Master, Following the meeting a committee was appointed to approach the General and offer him the nomination. I have here the Committee Report."

"Your Committee awaited upon General George Washington as directed, and presented the dispatches prepared by the committee, extending the nomination to the office of Grand Master of Masons in Virginia.

"General Washington was most gracious in receiving us into his busy schedule, and expressed pleasant surprise at being offered so honorable and distinguished a position.

"However on reflection, the General felt unable to accept the honor. His first reason being, he felt unqualified for the office as he had never served as master of a lodge, his second reason being the pressures and obligations as General of the Continental Army had to take precedence over all other duties, and he would be unable to fulfill the obligations of Grand Master.

"The General was so sincere and appeared so tired and burdened with the weight of responsibility to the Army and his country. We were ashamed to press the nomination upon him.

"We can only add to the report; We have lost a most valuable Candidate for Grand Master, yet our Country has a leadership of a most gallant and courageous General."

The chair then requested a name in nomination for the office of Grand Master.

William Waddill responded "May I place the name of Rt.Worshipful John Blair into nomination? He is a Past Master of Williamsburg Lodge. A most able brother to serve the craft." (Blair was also the Governor of Virginia.)

Everyone stood in agreement, and John Blair was elected First Grand Master of Masons in Virginia.

Now my brothers that is what happened. So why do so many masons believe and insist that Washington was the first Grand Master?

I now believe I have finally discovered the answer. Oddly the Jewel worn by all the Grand Masters of Virginia was designed and partially engraved before they found out that George Washington had declined the appointment, after which additional engraving was added. The following is what is engraved upon the back of the Grand Master's Jewel.

Original Jewel
made in 1778 to be worn by
as first
Grand Master of Masons in Virginia
He declined the offer being in
command of the Army
It was therefore first worn by
Gov. John Blair
who was the first
Grand Master

During the last 200 years every Grand Master of Virginia has been very proud of the Jewel and have made a habit of showing it off where ever they wore it. Turning it over for everyone to read the inscription on the back of the Jewel. Very few ever read the entire inscription. They at least read the first five lines, and that is what they believe and tell others. Yes, there are those who may read the entire inscription, but George Washington as first Grand Master? They may know it is not true but they want to believe it. So as long as our Grand Masters continue to display the back of the Jewel, without explanation, we will never eradicate the story that George Washington was a Grand Master.