Vol. XXXV No. 1 — January 1957

Masons Signing the Declaration of Independence

Few Masonic subjects have resulted in more arguments and controversy than this. Agreement has been difficult, but at long last the Masonic world has had to concur in the thought that the whole truth is not known; that it may, but probably never will, be known; and that as long as men differ as to what is “real” evidence and what is “circumstantial” evidence, and the credibility to be attached to the latter, no complete agreement among authorities is likely.

This Short Talk Bulletin attempts no pronouncement. It but presents the conclusions of authorities whose learning and study entitles them to a hearing.[1]

In 1927, the late, great William L. Boyden, Librarian of the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction, in Washington, D.C., published his book Masonic Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Signers. In a subtitle, “Signers” is expanded to “Signers of the Declaration of Independence”.

He lists and describes the following as Freemasons:

  1. Benjamin Franklin
  2. Lyman Hall
  3. John Hancock
  4. Joseph Hewes
  5. William Hooper
  6. Thomas McKean
  7. Thomas Nelson, Jr
  8. Robert Treat Paine
  9. John Penn
  10. Roger Sherman
  11. Richard Stockton
  12. Matthew Thornton
  13. George Walton
  14. William Whipple
  15. John Witherspoon

To these names, the Grand Lodge Library of Iowa adds the following names as additional signers who were Masons:

  1. Samuel Huntington
  2. Oliver Wolcott
  3. George Read
  4. Samuel Adams
  5. Elbridge Gerry
  6. Josiah Bartlett
  7. Francis Lewis
  8. Philip Livingston
  9. Robert Morris
  10. William Ellery
  11. Thomas Jefferson
  12. Francis Lightfoot Lee
  13. Richard Henry Lee

In 1937, the Honorable Sol Bloom, United States Representative from New York, an ardent Mason, as chairman of the United States Constitution Sesquicentennial Commission, published an elaborate government brochure on the sesquicentennial of the Constitution and on George Washington, terming the book “A Masonic Tribute.”

In it is a list of the signers of the Declaration, with those believed to be Masons marked with an asterisk. Those listed as Masons are:

  1. Samuel Adams (Mass.)
  2. Josiah Bartlett (N.H.)
  3. William Ellery (R.L)
  4. Benjamin Franklin (Pa.)
  5. Elbridge Gerry (Mass.)
  6. Lyman Hall (Ga.)
  7. John Hancock (Mass.)
  8. Joseph Hewes (N.C.)
  9. William Hooper (N.C.)
  10. Sam. Huntington (Conn.)
  11. Thomas Jefferson (Va. )
  12. Francis Lightfoot Lee ( Va.)
  13. Richard Henry Lee (Va.)
  14. Francis Lewis (N.Y.)
  15. Philip Livingston (N.Y.)
  16. Thomas McKean (Del.)
  17. Robert Morris (Pa.)
  18. Thos. Nelson, Jr. (Va.)
  19. Robert Treat Paine (Mass.)
  20. John Penn (N.C.)
  21. George Read (Del.)
  22. Benjamin Rush (Pa.)
  23. Roger Sherman (Conn.)
  24. Richard Stockton (N.J.)
  25. George Taylor ( Pa.)
  26. Matt. Thornton (N.H.)
  27. George Walton (Ga.)
  28. William Whipple (N.H.)
  29. John Witherspoon (N.J.)
  30. Oliver Wolcott (Conn.)
  31. George Wyche (Va.)

In 1954, Ray Baker Harris, Librarian of the Supreme Council, Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction (he succeeded Boyden on the latter’s death and became grand master in the District of Columbia) published a “Memorandum” on the signers of the Declaration of Independence, with especial reference to those who were Masons. With his permission, we reprint his list as follows:

Following is the complete list of the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence. For twenty-nine of these names there is positive evidence, or basis for presuming that these were Freemasons. All twenty-nine are not conclusive, some are based on purely circumstantial evidence or tradition. It is entirely possible, even probable, that some of the remaining twenty-seven signers were Masons; but no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, has as yet been discovered.


1. Lyman Hall. Lodge membership unknown. Believed to have been a member of Solomons Lodge, Savannah, Ga.

2. George Walton. A member of Solomon’s Lodge No. 1, Savannah, Ga.

3. William Hooper. A member of Hanover Lodge, Masonborough, N.C.

4. Joseph Hewes. Lodge membership unknown. He was recorded as a visitor in Unanimity Lodge, Edenton, North Carolina, 27 December 1776.

5. John Penn. Lodge membership unknown. Evidence is circumstantial.

6. John Hancock. Received the degrees in Merchants Lodge No. 277, Quebec, Canada, 1762. Affiliated with Lodge of St. Andrew, Boston, October 1762.

7. Richard Henry Lee. Grand Lodge of Virginia claims him as a member of the original lodge near Hob’s Hole (Tappahannock) now Hiram Lodge No. 59.

8. Thomas Jefferson. Lodge membership unknown. Considerable circumstantial evidence he was a Mason.

9. Thomas Nelson, Jr. Lodge membership unknown. He was recorded as a visitor with Washington and Lafayette to Lodge No. 9, York, Virginia, after the siege of Yorktown.

10. Francis Lightfoot Lee. Lodge membership unknown. Evidence is circumstantial.

11. Robert Morris. Lodge membership unknown. Believed to have received the degrees in one of the old Pennsylvania lodges. He was presented with a Masonic apron by Washington, and he wore it on a number of public Masonic occasions.

12. Benjamin Rush. Lodge membership unknown. He was referred to as being Worshipful Master of a lodge. He joined with Washington in burial of Captain William Leslie (of the British Forces) with Masonic honors.

13. Benjamin Franklin. Received the degrees in St. John’s Lodge, Philadelphia, 1731, and among other Masonic offices he was grand master of Pennsylvania in 1734 and 1749.

14. George Read. Lodge membership unknown. Evidence is circumstantial.

15. Thomas McKean. Lodge membership unknown. He was recorded as a visitor in Perseverance Lodge No. 21, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and the McKean family genealogy states he was a Mason.

16. Philip Livingston. Lodge membership unknown. Evidence is circumstantial.

17. Francis Lewis. Lodge membership unknown. Evidence is circumstantial.

18. Richard Stockton. Charter Member and first worshipful master of St. Johns Lodge, Princeton, New Jersey.

19. John Witherspoon. Lodge membership unknown, but in his own diary he records the fact that on several visits to Vermont he called together Masons of the neighborhood and held Masonic meetings.

20. Josiah Bartlett. Lodge membership unknown. Circumstantial evidence as to his possible Masonic membership is conflicting.

21. William Whipple. A member of St. John’s Lodge No. 1, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

22. Samuel Adams. Lodge membership unknown. Evidence is circumstantial.

23. Robert Treat Paine. Lodge membership unknown, but he is recorded as being present in the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts at Roxbury, 26 June 1759.

24. Elbridge Gerry. Lodge membership unknown. Believed to have been a member of Philanthropic Lodge, Marblehead, Massachusetts. Family tradition he was a Mason.

25. William Ellery. Lodge membership unknown. Evidence is circumstantial, but he is claimed as a Mason by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

26. Roger Sherman. Lodge membership unknown. Descendants presented his Masonic apron to Yale University. Other evidence is similarly circumstantial.

27. Samuel Huntington. American Lodge of Research (New York) claims him as having been a member of Somerset Lodge No. 34, New York.

28. Oliver Wolcott. Lodge membership unknown. Family tradition he was a mason. However, Connecticut records are confusing because this signer's son, of the same name, was very active as a Mason during his father’s lifetime. The evidence is not sufficiently detailed to distinguish between father and son.

29. Matthew Thornton. Lodge membership unknown. Believed to have received the degrees in an “Army Lodge". There were a number of Masonic mementoes among his personal possessions at the time of his death.

Some of the following signers may have been Masons, but no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, has as yet been discovered:

  1. Button Gwinnett.
  2. Edward Rutledge.
  3. Thomas Heyward,Jr..
  4. Thomas Lynch, Jr..
  5. Arthur Middleton.
  6. Samuel Chase.
  7. William Paca.
  8. Thomas Stone.
  9. Charles Carroll.
  10. George Wythe.
  11. Benjamin Harrison.
  12. Carter Braxton.
  13. John Morton.
  14. George Clymer.
  15. James Smith.
  16. George Taylor.
  17. James Wilson.
  18. George Ross.
  19. Caesar Rodney.
  20. William Floyd.
  21. Lewis Morris.
  22. Francis Hopkinson.
  23. John Hart.
  24. Abraham Clark.
  25. John Adams.
  26. Stephen Hopkins.
  27. William Williams.

What is good “circumstantial evidence” is obviously a matter of opinion. To illustrate the difficulties here encountered by the careful historian, consider the fact that some of the lists quote Samuel Adams as a Freemason.

The late, great Frederick W. Hamilton, once President of Tuft’s College, Grand Secretary in Massachusetts, a learned and careful Masonic historian, wrote in the magazine, The Master Mason, September 1924, an article entitled “The Adams Family and Freemasonry” in which he apparently conclusively disproved that the great Samuel Adams, John Adams, or John Quincy Adams, could have been Freemasons.

There were three different Samuel Adams whose names appear in Massachusetts Grand Lodge records, but none of these was the great Samuel Adams. One was a member of Trinity Lodge in Lancaster; an apparently entirely undistinguished person. Another was acting deputy junior grand warden at the constitution of the United Lodge of Topsham, Maine, then under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. This was in 1805 and the Samuel Adams died in 1803. Then there was a Governor Samuel Adams, but obviously not the Samuel Adams. It appeared a certainty to Dr. Hamilton that had the Samuel Adams been a Mason, lodges and grand lodge would have taken much notice of his death, but such records do not exist.

Freemasonry has been fortunate in having many brethren to study her records and to write her history. But she has also had the misfortune to have history written by brethren who were enthusiasts first and real historians some time after!

The mere statement, in any history, that “John Smith, signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a Mason,” does not prove such a membership.

The paragraph in a modern magazine, or a newspaper, recounting some ancient “history” which notes that “James Jones, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, walked in a Masonic procession with George Washington” does not prove the fact.

IF the magazine or newspaper is contemporary with the existence of the John Smith or Jim Jones, then the evidence that he was a Mason becomes at least circumstantial enough to be noted, but noted with caution. It is upon such circumstantial evidence that the claim that Jefferson and Madison were Masons, rests. It seems difficult to believe that newspapers published during their lifetime would refer to them as Masons without fact behind the statement.

Today, men do not walk in procession with aprons on, to attend either funerals or cornerstone layings, who are not members of the Craft. But the mere fact that a man does walk in such a procession and wears an apron, is no more than circumstantial evidence that he is a Mason. He MAY have done so in error. He MAY have done so intentionally to deceive. He MAY have done so with some curious idea that he was playing a joke. And the same thoughts apply to ancient accounts of famous men “said to have attended” this or that Masonic meeting or function.

Freemasonry has enough real history, and enough probable connections with important historical events without having to rely upon “it is said” or "it is believed”, that such and such a signer was a Mason, when real proof is lacking!

The wonder is, not that we know so little, but that we have learned so much—even if some of it is not definitely proved—about those who, signing our Declaration of Independence, had first knelt at the common altar of the Ancient Craft!

Just why is it, a most natural question, that there is so much doubt about who was and who was not a Mason among the signers?

Librarian Harris states some of the reasons as follows:

It must be remembered that 18th century records of Masonic memberships bear no resemblance to the complete records maintained by the Fraternity today. In the Colonial period many lodges worked for a short time only. During the Revolutionary War there were numerous so-called “Army Lodges” which conferred degrees, but purposely kept no records or destroyed records for lack of a safe place to keep them. In later years, many Masonic records were destroyed during two wars, were lost by fires, or were discarded (by those who came into possession of them) through ignorance of their value. Surviving records of Masonic memberships in the 18th and early 19th centuries are fragmentary.

Old records come to light from time to time to supply added information. However, it is most unlikely that it can ever be determined, finally and definitely, the exact number of the Signers who were Masons.

It is customary — too customary! — among enthusiastic Masons so to revere the Masonic “Founding Fathers” of early Colonial times, as to imagine that everything they said and did was predicated upon a Masonic membership and attitude of mind. Our Colonial and Masonic ancestors are supposed all to have been deeply thoughtful, highly educated and eagerly enthusiastic members of our Craft and to dictate their every action by Masonic principles!

Of course, such a belief is as naive as it would be if applied to Masons today. Freemasonry was then small, weak, convivial, meeting in taverns, composed then as now of good men and true, but not of super patriots who “tried everything by the square” before they acted!

Lodge records were few, short, and often careless. Many lodges had at first only “time immemorial” rights behind them, and no or but little supervision. Minutes were poorly kept.

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  1. Ronald E. Heaton, Masonic Membership of the Founding Fathers (Silver Spring, MD: MSA, 1965) is still the definitive list of Masonic signers of the Declaration as of 2015. His nine identified with documented memberships are marked with a dagger (†).

The Masonic Service Association of North America