Vol. XXXV No. 10 — October 1957

First American Lodges

The noted historian, Edward Gibbon, expressed the historian’s greatest difficulties, in the face of contradictory and imperfect evidence in these words:

The historian is reduced to collect, to compare and to conjecture; and though he ought never to place his conjectures in the rank of facts, yet the knowledge of human nature, and the sure operation of its fierce and unrestrained passions, might, on some occasion, supply the want of historical material.

Early Masonic history in the Colonies, prior to 1730, is conjectural, sketchy, inchoate, often doubtful, sometimes obviously mythical. No attempt can be made in these few short pages to state what eminent historians have written volumes to prove and disprove.


Beginning with the first lodge of which we have definite knowledge, St. John’s lodge of Philadelphia, a “time immemorial lodge,” was the first such body we can prove to have met and functioned in any of the original thirteen Colonies. Liber B, its ledger or account book, is a treasured possession of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. In it one William Allen, Esq., is referred to as grand master, the date being St. John’s Day in Summer, June 24, 1731.

There may have been other and earlier groups of Freemasons, made such in England, meeting and calling themselves a lodge; in all probability there were. But Liber B and St. John’s Lodge, Philadelphia City, is the first that can be proved. According to the noted historian Henry Borneman of Philadelphia, the lodge was originally constituted with thirteen members prior to 1731; it met weekly, its monthly dues were 6d per month, its initiatory or entrance fee was 3 pounds. That it was in existence prior to June 24, 1731, seems proved from an entry on that date listing “Wm. Burton, late Mastr; William Allen, Esq., Grand Mastr; and William Pringle, Deputy Mastr.”

This lodge, formed without deputation or authority, had no charter. It was one of several in the Colonies without charters — perhaps the most historic is “The lodge at Fredericksburgh” (now Fredericksburg No. 4, Virginia) — which had no charter until several years after George Washington was initiated in it.


The first “regularly constituted lodge” appears to be St. John’s of Boston, originally known as “First Lodge,” which came into being by authority of Henry Price, “father of duly constituted Masonry in America.” Price was made a Mason in England, and received an appointment as provincial grand master of New England in 1733 and his authority was extended over all North America in August 1734. He served as provincial grand master from the receipt of his appointment July 30, 1733; to April 20, 1737; again from July 16, 1740, to March 6, 1743; again from July 12, 1754, to October 1, 1755; and yet again from October 23, 1767, to November 23, 1768.

As provincial grand master, on July 30, 1733, he called an assembly of Masons and brought the Provincial Grand Lodge of Massachusetts into being, which apparently immediately acted upon a petition of eighteen brethren to organize the First Lodge. On February 7, 1783, the Second lodge was consolidated with the First lodge, whose name was changed to its present name, St. John’s. Thus St.John’s lodge of Boston ranks as the first “regularly constituted lodge.”


The Masonic history of Georgia for many years was in some state of confusion, owing to erroneous statements and dates that apparently had been made carelessly by historians who wrote without much documentary evidence. It now appears clear, however, that the lodge of Savannah — now Solomon’s No. 1 — was brought into being by General James Edward Oglethorpe. He came to what is now Savannah, February 2, 1733, and on February 10, a year later, organized the lodge. Dates were confused by Thomas Smith Webb in his Monitor of 1816, who had it 1730; this was later corrected to 1735, which is also incorrect, although right for Roger Hugh Lacey’s warrant as provincial grand master.

It now appears that the “Lodge at Savannah, in ye Province of Georgia” was organized and met February 10, 1734. Somewhere between February 10 and March 25, 1734, one Noble Jones was “made a Mason” in this lodge. Tradition states that the lodge was organized and first met outdoors under a tree. The lodge presumably was chartered by the Grand Lodge of England in 1735, but the charter was later destroyed in the great fire of 1792; doubtless it had been surrendered to the Grand Lodge of 1786 when it received its present charter.

Solomon’s lodge is thus the honored “first lodge” of Georgia and reverenced by her sons as such.

South Carolina

Another Solomon’s Lodge — equally honored and honorable and of almost the same age — is in South Carolina. This is Solomon’s Lodge of Charleston which came into existence in 1735. Unfortunately Charleston has, at various times, suffered much from storms, earthquakes and fires that destroyed many early records and left historians with less sources of exact facts than true history requires.

The late, great George T. Harmon, deputy grand master of South Carolina when he died, contributed a history of South Carolina Masonry to the Scribner edition of Gould’s History of Freemasonry. In this he wrote:

Fortunately, it is not left to conjecture when Solomon’s Lodge in Charleston was actually organized. Another contemporaneous source of equal importance is found in the South Carolina Gazette, a weekly journal published in Charleston during its early days. In the issue of Friday, October 29, 1736, the following interesting news item is recorded: “Last night a Lodge of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons was held, for the first time, at Mr. Charles Shepheard’s, in Broad Street, when John Hammerton, Esq., Secretary and Receiver General for this Province, was unanimously chosen Master, who was pleased to appoint Mr. Thomas Denne, Senior Warden, Mr. Tho. Harbin, Junior Warden, and Mr. James Gordon, Secretary.” This item convinces us that Solomon’s Lodge, of Charleston, South Carolina, unquestionably received its Warrant from Lord Weymouth, Grand Master, in 1735, and that is was organized on October 28, 1736.

It is interesting to note that the first master of the first lodge organized in South Carolina was the first provincial grand master of South Carolina. In the List given on page 195 of the second edition of Anderson’s Constitutions, pubhshed in 1738, we read: “Loudoun G.M., granted a Deputation to John Hammerton, Esq., to be provincial Grand Master of South Carolina in America.” In the list of visitors who attended the quarterly communication of the Grand Lodge of England, held on April 16, 1738, we also find the name of “John Hammerton, Esq., provincial grand master of South Carolina,” registered. Mr. Hammerton exercised his prerogatives as master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of South Carolina until July 21, 1737, when he was succeeded by James Graeme.

North Carolina

Was there, or was there not, a lodge in North Carolina as early as 1736? Historians have so stated — and have been unable to document their statements. Undocumented statements, while interesting and often pleasant to those who read them (George Washington, the cherry tree and “I cannot tell a lie!”), are not history.

In his account of Masonry in North Carolina, Winston does not admit the statement in Stillson and Hughans History, that Wilmington, North Carolina, had a lodge at the same time that South Carolina had its Solomons lodge. Lane’s Masonic Records do not give North Carolina a lodge until 1754. Johnson, in The Beginnings of Freemasonry in America, has no mention at all of an early lodge in North Carolina. But Marshall Haywood, in his Beginnings of Freemasonry in North Carolina and Tennessee, states that “Prior to 1735 the Craft was actively at work in North Carolina.”

There seems to be no question of the fact that John Hammerton was appointed provincial grand master of the Carolinas in 1736, by the Earl of Loudoun and that St. John’s Lodge, now No. 1, of Wilmington, was chartered in 1755. Whether Wilmington had a lodge twenty years earlier is believed by some, denied by others — who shall decide?


Masonic origins in Virginia are as clouded as those in North Carolina. There was — or there was not — a lodge in Norfolk in 1733.

Efforts have been made by historians to prove the date a printer’s error and that the Norfolk Royal Exchange Lodge, came into existence in 1753. Dove, noted Virginia Masonic historian, stated it as a fact, apparently relying upon Auld and Smellie’s Freemason’s Pocket Companion, published 1765 in Scotland, which does list “Royal Exchange No. 172, Borough of Norfolk, Virginia, December 1733.” The same booklists a second lodge, “No. 204, York-Towne, in Virginia, 1755.”

Johnson is positive that the date of the Norfolk Lodge Warrant is 1753 not 1733. The “lodge at Fredericksburgh,” which initiated Washington in 1752, was a “time immemorial” lodge, and had no charter for several years after that historic event. Virginia is just as positive that the date is December 22, 1733!

New Hampshire

The late, great Harry Cheney, past grand master, grand secretary and historian of New Hampshire, wrote this of Masonry there:

What now constitutes the city of Portsmouth in New Hampshire, was first settled in 1623. Freemasonry, however, in its present organized form did not arrive in the Province or New Hampshire until 1736, when St. John’s Lodge, to be located in Portsmouth, was duly Chartered under date of June 24, 1736, by Massachusetts. This lodge, now Lodge No. 1 on the Roll of Lodges in the state, has had a continuous and uninterrupted life. It has on its long list of membership some of the most noted and historic names connected with New Hampshire life, especially during the Colonial period. Perhaps the one name that enkindles the richest pride is that of William Whipple, one of the three men who signed the Declaration of Independence as a representative of the people within New Hampshire confines, a people that yearned for national freedom, that not only yearned, but were willing to fight for it when necessary. This, the citizenry of New Hampshire gallantly did. Indeed it was the yeomanry of this colony who committed the first overt act that led to the War for Independence. This act was the seizure of gunpowder at Fort William and Mary, in Portsmouth, and the later use of it at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Those men knew what they wanted to gain. A host of heroes of that epoch were members of the Masonic Fraternity. According to Melvin M. Johnson, as developed in his The Beginnings of Freemasonry in America, St. John’s lodge, now Lodge No. 1, was the sixth lodge duly established in the entire Western Hemisphere.

New York

The earliest trace of Freemasonry in New York seems to be in some newspaper notices. David MacGregor, tireless historian of New Jersey, uncovered a reference to the subject in the New York Weekly Journal of January 24, 1737/38, which told of one David Provoost, merchant “being about to depart this Province, at a lodge held that evening, January 19, 1737, desired leave to resign his Office as Master of the lodge.” Later in the year, the New York Gazette carried a warning that a dangerous and “new and unusual sect or society of Freemasons at last has extended to these parts” with “a Guard at the Outside to prevent any approach near to hear or see what they are doing.”

The name of the lodge — whether it was warranted or not — and its authority, if any, are as yet unsolved mysteries.

But it is improbable that Freemasonry would get to the Southern Colonies and not reach the prosperous port of New York at the same, if not an earlier, time.

The second provincial grand master of New York (Coxe was the first but inactive as such) was Richard Riggs; he returned from England with his Deputation in May 1738; in September of that year the New York Gazette spoke of a lodge to meet at the Black Horse Tavern.


The introduction of Freemasonry into Connecticut can be more precisely determined than in some of the other Colonies. As early as 1750 a lodge was meeting at New Haven according to ancient usage, the members of which had been made at Boston or in an army lodge at Louisbourg, Cape Breton.

Under date of 12 November 1750, the “Lodge att New-haven” was chartered by Oxnard, provincial grand master at Boston, and given jurisdiction over the entire state. The Warrant, still preserved, is supposed to be the oldest such document in the Western Hemisphere.

The first meeting of record was on the Festival of St. John the Evangelist, 1750, with Captain David Wooster in the chair. Wooster died of wounds received in the Defense of Danbury, 1777. There the “Father of Freemasonry in Connecticut” rests beneath a memorial of Connecticut freestone.

Except for several breaks of a few years each, minutes or financial records extend over more than two centuries. The lodge, now Hiram No. 1, furnished Connecticut with its first grand master and nearly a dozen later ones. It continued unwaveringly at work during the anti-Masonic excitement.

It is a point of pride with the brethren of “Old Hiram” that they assisted in the formation of the grand lodge in 1789 and have never missed being represented at its annual communications.


Maryland suffered as much — if not more — than others of the original thirteen Colonies, in the loss of Masonic records that would today be priceless. Maryland’s noted historian, Edward T. Schultz, explains that when the old Masonic Hall was sold to the City of Baltimore, its old record books, documents, manuscripts were carelessly left in its attic and eventually were destroyed as old paper. Hence, Maryland’s early records are more traditional than evidential.

Apparently Maryland received Masonry originally from Massachusetts, the provincial grand lodge of neighboring Pennsylvania, and the Ancient Grand Lodge in England.

Annapolis, the state capital, apparently had Maryland’s first lodge. Sometimes it is referred to as “Maryland Lodge,” sometimes as “The Lodge at Annapolis.” At any rate, Thomas Oxnard, “Rt. Wors’l Grand Master” (in Massachusetts) on August 14, 1750, “granted a Constitution” for a lodge to be held in Annapolis. The lodge is stated to have paid thirteen pounds nine shillings for this document.

The lodge disappeared after fourteen years; it was mentioned in the Maryland Gazette in 1761 as having celebrated St. John’s Day and again in 1764 but afterwards no records are available to show how long it lived or why it died.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island tradition is strong that Masonry existed there as early as 1658. But alas, it is only tradition, and the documents that it quotes have never been found. According to Edward Wheeler, in the Scribner-Gould History, the actual beginnings of Freemasonry in Rhode Island date from December 27, 1749.

At that date Saint John’s Lodge in Newport was warranted under authority of Thomas Oxnard, provincial grand master of the provincial grand lodge at Boston. Caleb Phillips was the first master, and because for some unknown reason he withheld the Dispensation granted to the lodge, a second Warrant was issued May 14, 1753.

These Warrants permitted the conferring only of the first two degrees, but this limitation carried little if any weight. It is a matter of record that the lodge conferred the Master Masons degree as well. On being taken to task for the apparent assumption of authority not contained in the Warrant, the brethren gave so plausible an explanation of the matter that the grand lodge confirmed the action by giving them a Charter dated March 20, 1759, empowering them to hold a master’s lodge.

Meanwhile, another Saint John’s Lodge had begun in Providence, under a Charter granted by Jeremy Gridley, provincial grand master of North America, January 18, 1757. This lodge functioned for six years; then for a similar length of time met spasmodically; and from June 1769, to December 3, 1778, was entirely dormant. Revived on this date, it has since had an uninterrupted history.

New Jersey

If not Masonry, a Mason appears in New Jersey in 1682, when John Skene, the first known Mason in America, settled in that Colony. He was made a Mason in “The lodge Aberdeen, No. 1 ter.,” Scotland. The first known native-born to be made a Mason was Jonathan Belcher of Massachusetts. Daniel Coxe was appointed grand master of the Provinces of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania by the Grand Lodge of England, June 5, 1730. While it is not known where he was made a Mason, his name appears as a member of Lodge No. 8, London, which was instituted January 28, 1722. Coxe, however, apparently did not exercise his powers in the Provinces. There are traditions — but tradition is not history! He may, or may not, have been concerned in the formation and/or meetings of St. John’s Lodge in Philadelphia; he may, or may not, have been instrumental in the formation of a lodge in Trenton.

The first known warranted lodge in New Jersey is St.John’s No. 1, of Newark, warranted by George Harrison, provincial grand master of New York, May 13, 1761. Its Charter is lost, but its Minute Book exists and is definite evidence of its formation and activities.


Delaware historians unite in discounting the references to a lodge — possibly a military lodge — in Delaware as early as 1764. There was a Union Lodge, warranted by Scotland in 1764 in connection with “General Majorbank’s Regiment” but there appears to be no connection between that body of soldiers and the Colony of Delaware, except tradition.

Delaware’s first authentic Masonic record is the chartering of Lodge No. 5 by the Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, the document being dated June 24, 1765. The lodge was to be holden at Cantwell’s Bridge (now Odessa), Delaware. The lodge removed to Middletown in March 1822.

The lodge is older than its Charter; its old by-laws refer to the meeting of a “Comitie” of the lodge in March 1759. These minutes indicate a considerable balance for charitable purposes, which probably could not have been accumulated unless the lodge had been already in existence, a “time immemorial lodge,” for some time previous to its charter date.

Question Box

This column will attempt to answer questions about Freemasonry.

Why are we called “Free Masons”?

There are many theories: a man was a Freemason because his ancestors were not slaves nor was he a slave; he was so called because he was free within his Guild, or free of the Guild’s laws and could thus “travel in foreign countries” and work where he would; he was a Freemason because he worked in freestone, which is any stone that can be cut, smoothed, carved in any direction; he was free when he had passed his apprenticeship and became a Fellow of the Craft; he was free when he had left the status of serf or villein and legally became free. Probably at one time or another Masons were called Freemasons for any of these reasons or for all of them. The consensus leans to the theory that the Freemason was such because of his skill, knowledge and abilities that set him free of those conditions, laws, rules and customs that circumscribed masons of lesser abilities in the Cathedral-Building Age.

What are the “Old Charges”?

The first book of Freemasonry, printed in 1723, is known as Anderson’s Constitutions. In it appear six “Old Charges” which are a statement of the old laws of operative Freemasonry concerning a Mason and his conduct. These six Old Charges are titled: Of God and Religion; Of the Civil Magistrate Supreme and Subordinate; Of Lodges; Of Masters, Wardens, Fellows and Apprentices; Of the Management of the Craft in Working; Of Behaviour. The last, sixth Old Charge is concerned with behavior: “in the Lodge while constituted; after lodge is over and the brethren not gone; when brethren meet without Strangers, but not in a Lodge; in presence of Strangers not Masons; at Home and in the Neighborhood; towards a strange brother.”

Many “Books of the Law” — constitutions, codes, etc. — of grand lodges print these Old Charges. They can also be found in Mackey’s Encyclopedia and in the Little Masonic Library.

The Masonic Service Association of North America