Freemasonry has had its fair share of famous brothers since its inception in the early eighteenth century. But perhaps the standout figure in the fraternity’s history is the first President of the United States, George Washington.
George Washington joined the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia, at the tender age of twenty, in 1752. By modern standards, twenty is an incredibly young age to join the Masons, as many brothers start their Masonic journey later in their lives.
But Washington was a pioneer in more ways than one. During the War for Independence, he attended various Masonic celebrations and ceremonies in different states. He was also influential in the formation of Masonic lodges that were started by army regiments.
At his inauguration in 1791, Washington took his oath on a Bible at St John’s lodge in New York; such was his allegiance to Freemasonry. Moreover, during his two terms as President of the United States, he toured the country visiting Masonic lodges and interacting with brothers, most noticeably in the Carolinas.
Most famously, President Washington presided over the cornerstone-laying ceremony at the US Capitol building in 1793, a proud moment in Masonic history. This event has also been the catalyst for many conspiracy theorists who believe that such an event is evidence that the Masons control the US government.
After his presidency, Washington became charter Master of Alexandria Lodge 22, where he famously sat for a portrait in Masonic regalia. Such was Washington’s commitment to Freemasonry; he was actually buried with Masonic honors.
Washington’s early life
George Washington was born in Westmoreland, Virginia, and grew up within a thriving planting community. Washington’s grandfather originally immigrated to America from England and accumulated 5000 acres of land, which helped support his family.
Washington wasn’t formally educated as a young boy but was home-schooled and received additional lessons from a local church officer. Despite not attending school, Washington managed to learn various subjects, including mathematics, geography, and Latin, and showed signs of his educational prowess from a young age.
Washington grew up in a time when the American Colonies were under the control of the British. The local British governor of Washington’s home area noticed his potential and appointed him to an adjutant to help him manage the territory.
The governor, Robert Dinwiddie, sent Washington with a small force to take on the French encroaching on British lands. Although Washington was defeated in his first encounter, his tenacity stood out to the British, and he was subsequently handed further assignments on behalf of the British. By the time of his 23rd birthday, Washington was made Commander of all Virginia troops.
The start of Washington’s Masonic journey
As has been mentioned, Washington became a Mason at the young age of twenty. Records show that the first recorded meeting at the Fredericksburg lodge where Washington would become a member was on September 1st, 1752.
Washington was initiated as an Entered Apprentice (first degree Mason) at the lodge in a ceremony on November 4th of the same year. He paid 2 pounds and 3 shillings to become a member of the lodge.
What is clear from these records is that Washington was among the early members of the Fredericksburg Lodge, which is one of the reasons why he held such regard for Freemasonry throughout his career as a politician.
By modern-day standards, Washington’s journey through the degrees of Freemasonry was relatively quick. On March 3rd, 1753, he entered the degree of Fellowcraft Mason, a feat that often takes Masons several years.
Moreover, he only remained in the second degree for a matter of months, as he passed into the third degree of Master Mason on August 4th of the same year. So within a year of joining the lodge, George Washington had already passed to the degree of Master Mason.
The significance of Freemasonry in Washington’s life
A large number of brothers in the Masonic lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia, later served within the Continental Army, which was also known as the Virginia Militia. Notable names in American history that attended the lodge alongside Washington include Hugh Mercer, George Weedon, and Thomas Posey.
Washington was fiercely loyal to his lodge in Fredericksburg throughout his life, which was renamed as Fredericksburg Lodge No 4 after creating the Grand Lodge of Virginia in 1778. Washington would be proud to know that it’s one of the oldest lodges in the world, and it continues to meet today.
Although he became a Mason in 1752, it wasn’t until later in his life that Washington really began attending Masonic ceremonies frequently. From 1778, it is recorded that he attended many Masonic functions across the United States.
For example, on June 24th, 1779, Washington attended the American Union Lodge’s celebration of the Feast of St. John the Baptist. This meeting was significant, as it allowed Washington to meet with many of the officers and enlisted men within the Connecticut regiments.
There is also a record of Washington visiting King Solomon’s Lodge in Poughkeepsie, New York, in December of 1783. Throughout the war, Washington traveled throughout the states meeting Masons and sharing stories.
Once the war had ended, Washington accepted his friends’ invitation to attend a banquet at Alexandria Lodge No 39 in June of 1784. After the ceremony, Washington was elected as an honorary member of the lodge.
In 1788, Washington agreed to be the charter Master of the lodge when it transferred its allegiance from the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania to the Grand Lodge of Virginia. During his time at this lodge, Washington was painted in full Masonic regalia, and after his death, the lodge changed its name to Alexandria-Washington lodge no 22.
President Washington and the Masonic Lodge
When tensions finally broke out into conflict between the British Crown and the Americans of the colonies, Washington was chosen to be the Commander-in-Chief of all Colonial forces.
After a long and brutal conflict, the American Colonies, under Washington’s command, defeated the British and won their independence. He retired to the fields of Mount Vernon after years of long battle and service to his people.
Yet, he was called up for service one more time and was elected as the 1st President of the United States by unanimous decision. As President, Washington tried to ensure peace and built the nation’s capital.
After Washington was inaugurated as President in 1789, there is a significant record of his dealings and correspondence with many Masonic local lodges and state grand lodges; such was his enthusiasm and passion for Freemasonry.
He often exchanged letters with lodges across the country, and in his 1790 and 1791 tours of the southern states, he met delegations of Freemasons during his visit to Rhode Island.
Washington’s most significant act as a Mason occurred whilst he was President of the US. On September 18th, 1793, he presided at the Masonic ceremonial laying of the United States Capitol cornerstone.
To this day, the laying of the cornerstone of the US Capitol is a moment of historical significance and is celebrated by Freemasons. Indeed, in the late twentieth century, a search was conducted to see if the stone could be identified, but it wasn’t located.
When Washington was laid to rest in 1799, brothers of Alexandria Lodge performed Masonic rites. After his wife’s death, the lodge acquired valuable Masonic items, including a Masonic apron sent from France in 1793. These items formed the early pieces of the Masonic museum opened in his memory.
Washington’s Masonic legacy
In 1910 the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association was formed in recognition of the former President’s contribution to the formation and expansion of Freemasonry in America.
In 1932 the Association dedicated its Masonic Memorial to Washington in Alexandria, Virginia. To this day, the Association still meets in the same building and displays many of the Masonic artifacts accumulated by Washington throughout his life.
The Alexandria-Washington Lodge No 22 is open to the public seven days a week to allow citizens and tourists alike to view the many exhibitions of Washington’s life and learn more about his life as a Freemason.
Conclusion: is George Washington the most famous Mason?
While there have been many prominent Masons throughout history, perhaps none have been as significant as George Washington. As the first President of the United States and the founder of the nation’s capital, Washington is arguably the most influential American of all time.
The fact that he was a Mason is essential, as it helped shape his ideals as a man and as a leader. He wrote eloquently about his commitment to Freemasonry, and his attendance at several Masonic ceremonies throughout his life indicates the high regard with which he held his Masonic responsibilities.