Born at Bridges Creek, Westmorland County, Virginia, February 22, 1732, of the present calendar, but February 11, 1731/2 of the birth record and on December 14, 1799, he died at Mount Vernon, Fairfax County, Virginia, about fifteen miles from Washington, District of Columbia. At sixteen he became surveyor on the estate of Lord Fairfax, then joined the army and later was on the staff of General Braddock.
Delegate to First and Second Continental Congresses. Unanimously chosen in 1775 as Commander-in-Chief of Colonial Army and his Yorktown campaign ended the war on October 19, 1781, with the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his British Army. Washington presided at the Federal Convention in Philadelphia, May, 1787, for the framing of the Constitution, and then was elected President, and in 1792 reelected, refusing a third term. He was recalled from his retirement in 1798 to again serve as Commander-in- Chief but the prospect of war with France did not w materialize.
The Oath of office as President of the United States was administered on April 30, 1789, New York City, to General Washington, by Brother Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of the State of New York, and who was also the Grand Master of Free and Accepted Masons.
The name of Washington occupies a prominent place in Masonic biography, not perhaps so much because of any services he has done to the Institution either as a worker or a writer, but because the fact of his connection with the Craft is a source of pride to every American Freemason, at least, who can thus call the "Father of his Country" a Brother. There is also another reason. While the friends of the Institution have felt that the adhesion to it of a man so eminent for virtue was a proof of its moral and religious character, the opponents of Freemasonry, being forced to admit the conclusion, have sought to deny the premises, and, even if compelled to admit the fact of Washington's initiation, have persistently asserted that he never took any interest in it, disapproved of its spirit, and at an early period of his life abandoned it. The truth of history requires that these misstatements should be met by a brief recital of his Masonic career.
Washington was initiated, in 1752, in the Lodge at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the records of that Lodge, still in existence, present the following entries on the subject. The first entry is thus: "Nov. 4th. 1752. This evening Mr. George Washington was initiated as an entered Apprentice", receipt of the entrance fee, amounting to £2 3s., was acknowledged, F.C. and M.M. March :3 and August 4, 1753.
On March 3 in the following year, "Mr. George Washington" is recorded as having been passed a Fellow Craft; and on August 4, same year, 1753, the record of the transactions of the evening states that "Mr. George Washington," and others whose names are mentioned, have been raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason.
Curiously enough each of the days when Washington attended Lodge was Saturday, the dates already mentioned falling on that day, and he was last in the Lodge at Fredericksburg on Saturday, January 4, 1755. Brother Franklin Stearns, Past Master of Fredericksburg Lodge, says that Washington paid his fees November 6, 1752 and that no further fees appearing in this connection he has arrived at the conclusion that £2 3s was paid for all three Degrees.
For five years after his initiation, he was engaged in active military service, and it is not likely that during that period his attendance on the communications of the Lodge could have been frequent. Some English writers have asserted that he was made a Freemason during the old French War, in a military Lodge attached to the 46th Regiment. The Bible on which he is said to have been obligated claimed to be still in existence, although the Lodge was many years ago dissolved, at Halifax, Nova Scotia. The records of the Lodge are, or were, extant, and furnish the evidence that Washington was there, and perhaps received some Masonic Degree. It is equally clear that he was first initiated in Fredericksburg Lodge, for the record is still in possession of the Lodge.
Three methods have been adopted to reconcile this apparent discrepancy. Brother Hayden, in his work on Washington and his Masonic Compeers (page 31), suggests that an obligation had been administered to him as a test-oath when visiting the Lodge, or that the Lodge, deeming the authority under which he had been made insufficient, had required him to be healed and re-obligated. Neither of these attempts to solve the difficulty appears to have any plausibility. Brother C. W. Moore, of Massachusetts in the Freemasons Monthly Magazine (volume xi, page 261), suggests that, as it was then the custom to confer the Mark Degree as a side Degree in Masters' Lodges, and as it has been proved that Washington was in possession of that Degree, he may have received it in Lodge No. 227, attached to the 46th Regiment.
Brother C. C. Hunt, Grand Secretary of Iowa, has prepared an article dealing with the probable initiation of Washington into Royal Arch Masonry. The first mention in the Minutes of a Lodge to the Royal Arch Degree being actually worked is the reference in the records of Fredericksburg Lodge for December 22, 1753. In that Virginian Lodge on August 4, 1753, George Washington was raised a Master Mason, the Royal Arch Degree being worked four months and eighteen days previously. When he was initiated Washington was twenty years old; six feet three inches tall; a Major and Adjutant-General for the Colony. By the time he had taken the Master Mason's Degree he had been appointed a Colonel. He was Commander of the Northern Military District of Virginia at the outbreak of the French and Indian War, in May, 1754. Brother Cyrus Field Willard points out that an examination of this record would indicate that this wealthy young man must have gone on and taken his Royal Arch Degree as others did who were initiated in the Lodge with him and appear later as officers of the Royal Arch.
Naturally Washington would follow this example so far as receiving the Degree was concerned in order that he might be fully prepared for his military career, many Brethren having done exactly the same thing for a like purpose, as one may readily eat to mind in thinking over the initiation in the days of War. Brother Willard has made a study of the precedence of the various Brethren upon the records of the Lodge, which precedence does not seem to be determined altogether by the dates when they were given the three first Degrees of the Lodge, and he says that it is hard to determine what occasioned this precedence if it were not membership in the Royal Arch. He explains the fact that the Secretary does not mention the conferring of the Royal Arch Degree upon Washington as this probably took place before Secretary Woodrow had himself received that Degree.
However, the Worshipful Master of the Lodge at Fredericksburg said in a speech of welcome to Lafayette on November 28, 1824 "Our records assure us that on the 4th day of November, A. L. 5752, the light of Masonry here first burst upon his (Washington's) sight, and that within the pale of this Lodge he subsequently sought and obtained further illumination" (see pages 33-34 Historical Sketch of Fredericksburg Lodge by Brother S. J. Quinn, Past Master, 1890). Of course this may refer simply to the further illumination of the Second and Third Degrees. A more significant reference is the one stressed by Brother Hunt. He calls particular attention to the presentation by General Lafayette in August, 1784, forty years previous to the occasion of the above address of welcome to Brother Lafayette on his second visit to the United States. Brother Hunt is especially impressed with the Masonic Apron presented by General Lafayette to Brother Washington, a gift embroidered in colored silks by Madame La Fayette with the emblems of the Holy Royal Arch.
On the flap of the apron are the letters H.T.W.S.S.T.
K.S. arranged in the form of a circle familiar to Chapter Freemasons. Within the circle is a beehive seemingly indicating the Mark selected by the wearer. As this apron was made especially for Brother Washington it is pointed out by Brother Hunt that it is not likely that General Lafayette would have had this emblem placed on the apron had the facts been otherwise, and that certainly the beehive as an emblem of industry was a proper mark for Washington to select. We must also remember that at this time the Royal Arch Degree was conferred in Masters Lodges and under a Lodge Warrant.
There is ample evidence that during the Revolutionary War, while he was Commander-in-Chief of the American armies, he was a frequent attendant on the meetings of military Lodges. Years ago, Captain Hugh Maloy, a revolutionary veteran, then residing in Ohio, declared that on one of these occasions he was initiated in Washington's marquee, the chief himself presiding at the ceremony.
Brother Scott, a Past Grand Master of Virginia, asserted that Washington was in frequent attendance on the Communications of the Brethren. The proposition made to elect him a Grand Master of the United States, as will be hereafter seen, affords a strong presumption that his name as a Freemason was familiar to the Craft. In 1777, the Convention of Virginia Lodges recommended Washington as the most proper person to be elected Grand Master of the Independent Grand Lodge of that Commonwealth. Brother Dove has given in his Text-Book the complete records of the Convention; and there is therefore no doubt that the nomination was made. It was, however, declined by Washington. Soon after the beginning of the Revolution, a disposition was manifested among American Freemasons to dissever their connection, as subordinates, with the Masonic authorities of the mother country, and in several of the newly erected States the Provincial Grand Lodges assumed an independent character.
The idea of a Grand Master of the whole of the United States had also become popular. On February 7, 1780, a Convention of delegates from the military Lodges in the Army was held at Morristown, in New Jersey, when an address to the Grand Masters in the various States was adopted, recommending the establishment. of "One Grand Lodge in America, " and the election of a Grand Master. This address was sent to the Grand Lodges of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia; and although the name of Washington is not mentioned in it, those Grand Lodges were notified that he was the first choice of the Brethren who had framed it.
While the proceedings were in progress, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania had taken action on the same subject. On January 13, 1780, it had held a session, and it was unanimously declared that it was for the benefit of Freemasonry that "a Grand Master of Masons throughout the United States" should be nominated; whereupon, with equal unanimity, General Washington was elected to the office. It was then ordered that the Minutes of the election be transmitted to the different Grand Lodges in the United States, and their concurrence therein be requested. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, doubting the expediency of electing a General Grand Master declined to come to any determination on the question and so the subject was dropped.
This will correct the error into which many foreign Grand Lodges and Masonic writers have fallen, of supposing that Washington was ever a Grand Master of the United States. The error was strengthened by a medal contained in Merzdorf's Medals of the Fraternity of Freemasons, which the editor states was struck by the Lodges of Pennsylvania. This statement is, however, liable to great doubt. The date of the medal is 1797. On the obverse is a likeness of Washington, with the device, "Washington, President, 1797." On the reverse is a tracing-board and the device, "Amor, Lelonor, et Justitia, or Love, Honor and Justice. G. W., G. G. M."
French and German Masonic historians have been deceived by this medal, and refer to it as their authority for asserting that Washington was a Grand Master. Leaning and Thory, for instance, place the date of his election to that office in the year in which the medal was struck. More recent European writers, however, directed by the researches of the American authorities, discovered and corrected the mistake.
We next hear of Washington's official connection in the year 1788. Lodge No. 39, at Alexandria, which had hitherto been working under the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, in 1788 transferred its allegiance to Virginia. On May 29 in that year the Lodge adopted the following resolution: "The Lodge proceeded to the appointment of Master and Deputy Master to be recommended to the Grand Lodge of Virginia, when George Washington, Esq., was unanimously chosen Master; Robert McCrea, Deputy Master; Wm. Hunter, Jr., Serliur Warden; John Are, Junior Warden. It was also ordered that a committee should wait on general Washington, "and inquire of him whether it will be agreeable to him to be named in the Charter." What was the result of that interview, we do not positively know. But it is to be presumed that the reply of Washington was a favorable one, for the application for the Charter contained his name, which would hardly have been inserted if it had been repugnant to his wishes. And the Charter or Warrant under which the Lodge is still working is granted to Washington as Master.
The appointing clause is in the following words:
"Know ye that we, Edmund Randolph, Esquire, Governor of the Commonwealth aforesaid, and Grand Master of the Most Ancient and Honorable Society of Freemasons within the same, by and with the consent of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, do hereby constitute and appoint our illustrious and well beloved Brother, George Washington, Esquire, late General and Commander-in-Chief of the forces of the United States of America, and our worthy Brethren Robert McCrea, William Hunter, Jr., and John Allison, Esqs., together with all such other Brethren as may be admitted to associate with them, to be a 'first, true, and regular Lodge of Freemasons, by the name, title, and designation of the Alexandria Lodge, No. 22."'
In 1805, the Lodge, which continued in existence, was permitted by the Grand Lodge to change its name to that of "Alexandria Washington," in honor of its first Master.
The evidence, then, is clear that Washington was the Master of a Lodge. Whether he ever assumed the duties of the office, and, if he assumed, how he discharged them, we know only from the testimony of Timothy Bigelow, who, in a Eulogy delivered before the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, two months after Washington's death; eleven years after his appointment as Master, made the following statement:
"The information received from our Brethren who had the happiness to be members of the Lodge over which he presided for many years, and of which he died the Master, furnishes abundant proof of his Persevering zeal for the prosperity of the Institution Constant and punctual in his attendance, scrupulous in his observance of the regulations of the Lodge, and Solicitous, at all times, to communicate light and instruction, he discharged the duties of the Chair with uncommon dignity and intelligence in all the mysteries of our art. "
There is also a very strong presumption that Washington accepted and discharged the duties of the Chair to the satisfaction of the Lodge. At the first election held after the Charter had been issued, he was elected, or we should rather say reelected, Master. The record of the Lodge, under the date of December 20, 1788, is as follows: "His Excellency, General Washington, unanimously elected Master; Robert McCrea, Senior Warden; Wm. Hunter, Jr., Junior Warden; Wm. Hodgson, Treasurer; Joseph Greenway, Secretary; Doctor Frederick Spanbergen, Senior Deacon; George Richards, Junior Deacon."
The subordinate officers had undergone a change: McCrea, who had been named in the Petition as deputy Master, an officer not recognized in the United States, was made Senior Warden; Wm. Hunter, who had been nominated as Senior Warden, was made Junior Warden; and the original Junior Warden, John Allison, was dropped. But there was no change in the office of Master. Washington was again elected. The Lodge would scarcely have been so persistent without his consent; and if his consent was given, we know, from his character, that he would seek to discharge the duties of the office to his best abilities. This circumstance gives, if it be needed, strong confirmation to the statement of Brother Bigelow. Grand Secretary James M. Clift of Virginia says the records of the Lodge show that during his year as Worshipful Master he presided at several meetings.
But incidents like these are not all that are left to us to exhibit the attachment of Washington to Freemasonry. On repeated occasions he has announced, in his letters and addresses to various Masonic Bodies, his profound esteem for the character, and his just appreciation of the principles, of that Institution into which, at so early an age, he had been admitted. And during his long and laborious life, no opportunity was presented or which he did not avail himself to evince his esteem for the Institution.
Thus, in the year 1797, in reply to an affectionate address from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, he says: "My attachment to the Society of which we are members will dispose me always to contribute my best endeavors to promote the honor and prosperity of the Craft." Five years before this letter was written, he had, in a communication to the same Body, expressed his opinion of the Masonic Institution as one whose liberal principles are founded on the immutable laws of "truth and justice," and whose "grand object is to promote the happiness of the human race."
Answering an address from the Grand Lodge of South Carolina in 1791, he says: "I recognize with pleasure my relation to the Brethren of your Society," and "I shall be happy, on every occasion, to evince my regard for the Fraternity." And in the same letter he takes occasion to allude to the Masonic Institution as "an association whose principles lead to purity of morals, and are beneficial of action."
Writing to the officers and members of Saint David's Lodge at Newport, Rhode Island, in the same year, he uses this language: "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."
And lastly, for we will not further extend these citations, in a letter addressed in November, 1798, only thirteen months before his death, to the Grand Lodge of Maryland he has made this explicit declaration of his opinion of the Institution: "So far as I am acquainted with the doctrines and principles of Freemasonry, I conceive them to be founded in benevolence, and to be exercised only for the good of mankind. I cannot, therefore, upon this ground, withdraw my approbation from it."
So much has been said upon the Masonic career and opinions of Washington because American Freemasons love to dwell on the fact that the distinguished patriot, whose memory is so revered that his unostentatious grave on the banks of the Potomac has become the Mecca of America, was not only a Brother of the Craft, but was ever ready to express his good opinion of the Society. They feel that under the panoply of his great name they may defy the malignant charges of their adversaries. They know that no better reply can be given to such charges than to say, m the language of Clinton, "Washington would not have encouraged an Institution hostile to morality, religion, good order, and the public welfare."
Brother Charles U. Callahan, Past Grand Master of Virginia, has written a splendid story of Washington, The Man and the Mason, 1913, for the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association; Brother Sidney Hayden wrote Washington and his Masonic Compeers, 1866; Julius F. Sachse, for the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, dealt with the Masonic Correspondence of Washington, 1915, as found among the papers in the Library of Congress; Brothers C. C. Hunt and B. Shimek of the Research Committee, Grand Lodge of Iowa, compiled a useful and stimulating pamphlet, George Washington, the Man and the Mason, 1921, and there are numerous other references, Brother August Wolfsteig, Bibliography, 1913, listing nearly fifty of them.
- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry