The 300! Freemasonry passes three centuries

As many Freemasons around the world know, the UGLE will be celebrating it’s 300th anniversary this year. According to Masonic documents and contemporaries who were there, on June 24th 1717, four London Lodges got together at the Goose and Gridiron Ale House and formed the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster, aka The Premier Grand Lodge. Of course almost a century later to become the United Grand Lodge of England.

Convention calls it the Premier Grand Lodge of England to distinguish it from the Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons according to the Old Constitutions, more usually referred to as the Ancient Grand Lodge of England, and the Grand Lodge of All England Meeting at York. It existed until 1813 when it united with the Ancient Grand Lodge of England to create the United Grand Lodge of England. It was the first Masonic Grand Lodge to be created. All rather confusing isn’t it? So the Modern Grand Lodge was formed before the Ancient Grand Lodge.

If you are a student of history as I am, the legends and facts surrounding this historic event are fascinating. As are the facts we can discern that led up to it. Maybe some of you have wondered why some Lodge’s in different jurisdiction have different acronyms after their Lodge name, e.g. Anylodge #365 F. & A. M. in some places, it’s Anylodge #365 A. F. & A. M. with several other variants as well?

Well this can be attributed to which of the two Grand Lodge’s mentioned above were more prevalent (numerous) in a particular state around the time and just after the American Revolution. In New York it was the Moderns, in other states it was the Ancients. Once the dust settled on which Grand Lodge to align with and the 13 original states began constituting their own Grand Lodges, free and independent from their British counterparts, the confusion continued until 1814.

Of the four lodges that had previously met together in 1716 at the Apple-Tree Tavern, “and having put into the Chair the oldest Master Mason (now the Master of a Lodge), they constituted themselves a Grand Lodge pro Tempore in due form.” It was at that meeting in 1716 that they resolved to hold the Annual Assembly and Feast and then choose a Grand Master from among themselves, which they did the following year.

All four lodges were simply named after the public houses where they were accustomed to meet, at the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul’s Church-yard (Lodge now called Lodge of Antiquity No. 2); the Crown Ale-house in Parker’s Lane off Drury Lane; the Apple-Tree Tavern in Charles Street, Covent Garden (Lodge now called Lodge of Fortitude and Old Cumberland No. 12); and the Rummer and Grapes Tavern in Channel Row, Westminster (Lodge now called Royal Somerset House and Inverness Lodge No. IV). While the three London lodges were mainly operative lodges, the Rummer and Grapes, by the Palace of Westminster, appears to have been primarily a lodge of accepted and speculative gentlemen masons.

As with organizations at the time some written rules and a history were needed and soon the General Regulations of a Free Mason, which were recited at the second installation of the Grand Master in 1720, were just the ticket. Very little is known of the period from 1717 to 1721, due to lack of minutes and written material, but sometime during this period the Revd. Dr. James Anderson was either commissioned or took it upon himself to write The Constitutions of the Free-Masons containing the History, Charges, Regulations, & of that most Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity: For use of the Lodges.

According to Anderson, he was commissioned to digest the old “Gothic Constitutions” of Freemasonry. The book was submitted for approval to Grand Lodge, and published by order of the Grand Master in 1723. For the first time, all of Freemasonry, except for the ritual, was available in a printed book. Anderson received no remuneration from the pocket editions which started to appear in the 1730s, which may have inspired the revised edition of 1738. To see a PDF copy of the transcribed Anderson’s Constitutions head over to the Document Library.

 

Some items of note in Anderson’s Constitutions of a Free Mason are:

  • Along with the instructions on how to properly form a new lodge and instructions on the duties of Grand Officers, the Charges of a Free Mason are allegedly digested from the Old Charges, also in the document library. Worth a quick read starting on page 26 of the PDF.
  • The Book of Constitutions was also a songbook with recommended selections for The Master and others. As we all know from the FC lecture,  music played and should play an important role in the Lodge. 

One reason for this post is not to bring historical facts and information but to prepare for some more light, favorable this time, on Freemasonry itself. The UGLE is planning a tricentennial of Freemasonry this year and Masons from all over the globe will be attending the festivities. Our Own Grand Lodge of New York is planning and arranging a trip for anyone who wishes to go to Scotland and London for the party. Please click here to learn more about this trip. 

 I would anticipate an influx of petitions and men inquiring about Freemasonry over the next year as attention from the media about the happenings of the UGLE are more frequent in news feeds and cycles. So maybe it’s time to get together at your Lodge’s and look into sprucing up the outside and hosting additional brother bring a friend nights, etc. 

As it is it’s not just the UGLE’s 300th anniversary, it’s the 300th birthday for all of Freemasonry as we know it today. Like our own nation’s origins, these learned men of conviction formed something quite unique and special. 

If you consider the language of the day and carefully read the Anderson’ s Constitutions of 1738 and later and compare it to the US Constitution, it appears that the Framers relied heavily on this book for the formation of a new government. In fact some sentences look almost to be lifted right from Anderson’s Constitutions and copied into the US Constitution. This is of little wonder when you consider that:

  1. There were no existing examples of this kind of government, the closest thing being the Freemasons.
  2. MWB Benjamin Franklin, was one of those Framers and had published Anderson’s Constitutions for the first time in the Colonies himself in 1734 (1723 edition)