250 Years of Freemasonry in Fredericksburg

The year 2002 celebrated the 250th anniversary of the foundation of "George Washington's Mother Lodge." According to the authors of The History of Freemasonry in Virginia, "Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 stands out as one of the brightest Lodges in the early history of Freemasonry in Virginia." Since 1752 it has maintained a continuous Masonic presence in Fredericksburg. Many of the town's prominent citizens have been members, and many of its prominent buildings have Masonic cornerstones.

1. What Freemasonry Is -- And Is Not
2. The Lodge at Fredericksburg, 1752
3. The Scottish Charter of 1758
4. The Virginia Charter of 1787
5. Brother George Washington
6. Some Washington Relics with Fredericksburg Connections
7. Brother Washington's Brethren

1. What Freemasonry Is -- And Is Not

Freemasonry is the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world.

No one knows with certainty how or when the Masonic fraternity was formed. A widely accepted theory among Masonic scholars is that it arose from the stonemasons' guilds of the Middle Ages. Some of the language and symbols used in the fraternity's rituals do seem to come from that era. The oldest document that makes reference to the fraternity is the "Regius Poem" printed in 1390, which was a copy of an earlier work.

Modern Freemasonry was born in 1717, when four lodges in London formed the Grand Lodge of England. And it swiftly crossed the Atlantic to North America. By 1736 there were lodges up and down the East Coast, from Boston to Savannah. The oldest lodge in Virginia, Norfolk Lodge No. 1, dates to at least 1741.

Freemasonry is not a secret society, contrary to popular mythology. Freemasons make no secret of their membership in the fraternity. Lodge addresses and telephone numbers are a matter of public record. Many Lodges now offer information about themselves and their activities to the public via the internet. But lodge meetings, like the meetings of many other social and professional organizations, are private occasions open only to members.

Freemasonry is not a religion, it has no theology and does not teach any route to salvation. Belief in a monotheistic Supreme Being is an essential requirement for membership, however, and Freemasonry encourages its members to be active in the practice of their individual faiths. Freemasonry is not a political organization, it has no political agenda, and the discussion of politics is not permitted at lodge meetings.

From its earliest days Freemasonry has been involved in charitable activities. Masonic organizations in North America currently contribute well over two million dollars every day to charities throughout North America.

Further Reading

Baigent, Michael. Holy Blood, Holy Grail. New York: Dell, 1983. 
This well-known 1983 book sensationally claimed to expose links between Freemasonry, the Medieval Cathar heretics, and the secret descendants of Jesus Christ! Still wonderful fun to read, but not taken seriously either by Masons or historians.

Ridley, Jasper Godwin. The Freemasons: A History of the World's Most Powerful Secret Society. New York: Arcade, 2001
A brand new and quite excellent general history of the fraternity. The focus is on the English roots of Freemasonry, rather than its American experience.

Sites Worth Seeing

Virginia Masonic Charities

Who Are The Masons?

2. The Lodge at Fredericksburg, 1752

The oldest surviving evidence of the presence of the fraternity in Fredericksburg dates to September 1, 1752. This evidence consists of a "record book, a list of members and ledger," bound together, still in the possession of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, in which the proceedings of the lodge and its financial operations were kept for several years. On the first page of the ledger is this entry: "Ledger for Fredericksburg Lodge, commencing September, A.D. 1752, A.M. 5752, ending in December, A.D. 1764, A.M. 5764." The first entry in the record of proceedings is a "list of members' names, 1st September, 5752." No reference is made to any former record book, or any previous existence of the Lodge.

Thirteen brothers were present at that September 1, 1752, meeting. The name of the presiding Worshipful Master is blotted in the record, and illegible. The others were: Andrew Beatty, Senior Warden; Gavin Rogers, Junior Warden; Daniel Campbell, Secretary and Treasurer; John Neilson, Robert Duncanson, William McWilliams; John Sutherland; John Richards; Robert Halkerson, Ralph M. Farlane, Willock MacKay; Walter Stewart; and James Duncanson.

The location of that first meeting is not known. In its formative years the Lodge really had no home of its own. Beginning in 1756 it met at the tavern operated by a brother of the Lodge, Charles Julian, which stood on the northeast corner of Amelia and Caroline streets. Contrary to local legend, there is no evidence that it ever met at what is today known as the Rising Sun Tavern. In 1762 it moved its meetings to what was then the most imposing public building in town, the Market House, located on the southwest corner of William and Caroline streets. There it remained for many decades. (Neither Julian's Tavern nor the Market House survives.)

It is not certain by what authority the Lodge at Fredericksburg was organized and the question may never be settled. Various theories have been offered over the years, and each has had its eloquent advocates. But efforts to link it to some ambulatory British military lodge, or the so-called Antients Grand Lodge in London, have never borne fruit.

The current best thinking is that the Lodge was simply self-congregating, formed by men who had been made Masons earlier and elsewhere -- Scotland, most likely. There was in Fredericksburg in the 1750s a notable Scottish mercantile presence; many of those early Lodge members bore Scottish surnames; and it was to Scotland -- not England -- that the Lodge later turned for a proper charter.

3. The Scottish Charter of 1758

On April 4, 1757, the Lodge appropriated seven pounds to obtain a Charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland; and Past Master Daniel Campbell presented the petition in Edinburgh. Finally, on July 21, 1758, the Grand Lodge of Scotland issued a formal Charter for "The Lodge at Fredericksburgh." The charter officers were: Col. John Thornton, Worshipful Master; John Neilson, Senior Warden; Robert Halkerson, Junior Warden; James Straughan, Treasurer; and Robert Armistead, Secretary.

The Scottish Charter acknowledged that the members of the Lodge at Fredericksburg wanted to be constituted as a "Regular Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons" and it was "constituted, erected and appointed with the … Brethren aforesaid and their Successors … a Just, true and regular Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons."

The Scottish Charter itself is still in existence and in the possession of the Lodge. It is engrossed on the very best quality parchment. Twenty-four inches wide by twenty-five inches long, it is richly ornamented with various Masonic figures and emblems.

4. The Virginia Charter of 1787

In 1777-78 the Lodge at Fredericksburg joined with several other lodges to create the Grand Lodge of Virginia, the first independent Grand Lodge of Freemasonry established in America. Brother George Washington of the Lodge at Fredericksburg was asked to serve as its first Grand Master but, preoccupied as he was with defeating the British army, he declined the honor.

Eventually, in 1786, the Grand Lodge assigned numeric designators to its various subordinate lodges, and the Lodge at Fredericksburg was designated Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4. See: The History of the Grand Lodge of Virginia.

New charters were thereafter issued to the already existing lodges.

Fredericksburg's Virginia Charter bears the date of January 30, 1787: "Whereas, it hath been duly presented that in the Town of Fredericksburg, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, there reside a number of Brethren of the Society of Free Masons who have heretofore met and Associated agreeable to the Laws and Constitutions of Masonry by the name and Designation of the Fredericksburg Lodge…, Know ye that We, Edmund Randolph, Esq., Governor of the Commonwealth aforesaid and Grand Master of the Ancient and honorable Society of Free Masons within the same, by and with the consent of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, do hereby constitute and appoint the Worshipful Brethren Benjamin Day, Robert Patton, and Robert Brooke, together with all such other Brethren as may be associated with them, to be a just, true and lawful Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons by the name, title and Designation of the Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4…. And the Brethren aforesaid by accepting hereof acknowledge and recognize the Grand Master and Grand Lodge of Virginia as their superior…."

Incidentally, Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 has given more Grand Masters to the Grand Lodge of Virginia than any other lodge -- eight, to date. These eight include: Judge James Mercer (GM 1784-86), Gov. Robert Brooke (GM 1795-97), Major Benjamin Day (GM 1797-1800), Hon. Oscar M. Crutchfield (GM 1841) Judge Beverley R. Wellford, Jr. (1877-79), Captain S. J. Quinn (GM 1907-08), Philip K. Bauman (GM 1914-15) and Edward H. Cann (GM 1958-59).

Like the Scottish Charter of 1758, the Virginia Charter of 1787 still survives. Written on very thin parchment, pasted on coarse linen, it is twenty-one and one-half inches wide by twenty-six inches long. It is remarkably well preserved, considering the materials of which it is made. It is in the possession of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, in Richmond.

Books Worth Reading

Brown, William Mosely. Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, A.F. & A.M., George Washington's Mother Lodge: A Bicentennial History. Fredericksburg: Colonial, 1958.
Virginiana Vertical Files
This 1958 piece was authored by a Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, and an honorary member of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4. A William Mosely Brown Room at the Lodge houses his memorabilia.

Heaton, Ronald E., and James R. Case. The Lodge at Fredericksburg: A Digest of Its Early Records. Norristown, Pa.: R. E. Heaton, 1975.
Without a doubt the most detailed and scholarly study of the Lodge's earliest records.

Jett, Dora Chinn. Minor Sketches of Major Folk and Where They Sleep. Richmond: Old Dominion, 1928.
VR 975.5366 JE
The single best source available on the men and women who lie buried in Fredericksburg's Old Masonic Cemetery.

Quinn, Sylvanus J. Historical Sketch: Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, A.F. & A.M. Richmond: J. W. Ferguson & Son, 1890.
Virginiana Vertical Files
S. J. Quinn served as Worshipful Master of Fredericksburg No. 4 -- and probably knew more about its history than any other man -- and as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Virginia. A magnificent oil portrait of him hangs in the front parlor of the Lodge.

Rutyna, Richard A., and Peter C. Stewart. The History of Freemasonry in Virginia. Lanham, Md.: University Press, 1998.
A splendid, modern, and very objective history of the fraternity in Virginia. Written by non-Masons.

J. Walker, Travis. A History of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, A.F. & A.M., 1752-2002. Fredericksburg, Va.: Sheridan Books, 2002.
Written by a former Worshipful Master of Lodge No. 4, and loaded with information found nowhere else.

5. Brother George Washington

Local Freemasons are proud to claim "The Father of His Country" as one of their own.

George Washington was initiated into Freemasonry in the Lodge at Fredericksburg on November 4, 1752. He was passed to the second degree on March 3, 1753; and raised to the third degree on August 4, 1753. He was (somewhat unusually) only twenty years of age when he was initiated. The Bible used in those ceremonies remains in the possession of the Lodge, together with several other Washington relics.

Alas, Brother Washington then promptly left Fredericksburg to fight in the French & Indian War, after which he relocated to Northern Virginia. For these reasons he never attended more than just a few of the meetings of his "Mother Lodge," and he never held any of her offices. But he remained a member in loyal good standing of Fredericksburg No. 4 until his death.

His Masonic career, though neglected by some historians, was actually quite significant. For a chronology see http://www.gwmemorial.org/Chronology.htm.

Some highlights…. In 1778 he was deemed worthy to serve as the first Grand Master of the new Grand Lodge of Virginia -- but was not available. On April 29, 1788, he was appointed the Worshipful Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22 (which is today named Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22), and was serving (at least nominally) in that office when he was inaugurated President of the United States.

At his inauguration as President of the United States on April 30, 1789, the oath of office was administered by the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York. The Bible used on that occasion was, and still is, owned by St. Johns Lodge No. 1, New York, NY, and has been used in many other presidential inaugurations. See: http://stjohns1.org/portal/gwib. (George Washington was the first of fifteen members of the fraternity to serve as President. See: http://mastermason.com/wilmettepark/pres.html.) And when Washington laid the cornerstone of the United States Capitol building with Masonic rites on September 19, 1793, he was acting as Grand Master pro tem of the Grand Lodge of Maryland. See: http://www.bessel.org/capcorn.htm and http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/cox_corr/h_caps/capitol_cornerstone.htm.

In 1790 he wrote: "Being persuaded that a just application of the principles upon 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"

The great man's funeral was conducted on December 18, 1799, at Mount Vernon, with full Masonic rites. All but one of the pallbearers were Freemasons. See: "The Last Illness and Death of President, General and Masonic Brother George Washington," and "The Funeral." Unfortunately, circumstances did not permit Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 to assist on that occasion.

The Fredericksburg Virginia Herald newspaper reported George Washington's death in its December 31, 1799 issue.

Books Worth Reading

Brown, William Moseley. George Washington, Freemason. Richmond: Garrett & Massie, 1952.
Probably the definitive work on the subject. Written by a Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, and an honorary member of Fredericksburg No. 4.

Callahan, Charles H. Washington: The Man and the Mason. Washington, DC: Press of Gibson Brothers, c1913. 
Published under the auspices of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association.

6. Some Washington Relics with Fredericksburg Connections

The collection of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 include several surviving relics of Washington, including the Gilbert Stuart portrait; the minute books recording his initiation, passing and raising; the Bible upon which he took his Masonic obligations; and a lock of his hair. They may be viewed, by appointment, at the Lodge building; call 540-373-5885.

The Gilbert Stuart Portrait
Washington first sat for Gilbert Stuart in 1795, in Philadelphia. Ultimately Stuart painted 104 likenesses of the first president. When this particular portrait was painted, and when Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 first acquired it, are obscure -- but its authenticity is unquestioned, and it has probably graced No. 4 since Washington's own lifetime. The portrait's survival during the sack of the Lodge in 1862 was nothing short of miraculous.

Several other surviving relics, owned by other lodges, have noteworthy Fredericksburg connections:

The George Washington Trowel
The trowel used by George Washington in laying the cornerstone of the Unite States Capital building was made by Joseph Duffey, who was a silversmith of Alexandria, VA, but also a member of Fredericksburg Lodge No.4. It is today the property of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, Alexandria, VA

The George Washington Gavel
The gavel used by George Washington in laying the cornerstone of the United States Capitol building was also made by Joseph Duffey of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4. The gavel was later used by President James K. Polk to lay the cornerstone of the Smithsonian Institution building in 1847. It is today the property of Potomac Lodge No. 5, Washington, DC.

7. Brother Washington's Brethren

It would be hard to overestimate the importance of Lodge No. 4 to the history of Fredericksburg.

The list of early members reads like a "Who's Who": Revolutionary War heroes Hugh Mercer, George Weedon, Gustavus Brown Wallace, William Woodford and Thomas Posey; Fielding Lewis of "Kenmore"; Virginia Governor Robert Brooke of "Smithfield"; most of the early Mayors of Fredericksburg, including Charles Mortimer, William McWilliams, James Somerville and Benjamin Day; Bazil Gordon; the Rev. Mr. James Marye of St. George's Church; James Mercer of "Marlborough"; Mann Page, Sr., of "Rosewell" and "Mannsfield", and Mann Page, Jr. The list could go on and on….

The Lodge established what may be America's oldest Masonic Cemetery in 1784, and maintains it to this day (with the help of the adjacent James Monroe Museum). In this hallowed ground lies -- amid Revolutionary War generals, diplomats and millionaires -- Mrs. Christiana Campbell, mistress of the famous Christiana Campbell Tavern in Williamsburg.

Since about 1815 the Lodge has met in its own building, located at 803 Princess Anne Street. In this building the Lodge hosted a grand reception for the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824, and made the Marquis an honorary member.

The Lodge long played a vital and highly visible role in community affairs. On January 21, 1829, with much pomp and circumstance, it laid the cornerstone of the (now vanished) Rappahannock Canal Basin. On May 7, 1833, it welcomed President -- and Masonic Brother -- Andrew Jackson to assist it in laying the cornerstone of the original Mary Washington Monument. And in 1848 it was represented at the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument in Washington, DC.

Union troops thoroughly ransacked the Lodge building during the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. They carried off much of its property as loot -- but not, fortunately, the Gilbert Stuart portrait of Washington. Various stolen items, together with explanations or apologies, trickled back from blue-coated veterans for years afterwards.

The Lodge has kept a much lower profile in modern times, perhaps too low. For example: when the Fredericksburg "Wall of Fame" was created in 2001, there was much press coverage, including published profiles of the eight honorees. But nowhere in all that coverage was it noted that fully four of the eight honorees had been active members of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4. (They were: Captain S. J. Quinn; Judge Alvin Thomas Embry, Sr.; City Manager Levin James Houston, Jr.; and Dr. Frank C. Pratt. Edward M. Cann was added to the "Wall of Fame" in 2002.)

And it is not widely realized that many prominent local structures possess Masonic cornerstones: the Fredericksburg Baptist Church on Princess Anne Street, the Confederate Cemetery Monument, Shiloh Old-Site Baptist Church, the Mary Washington Monument, the 5th Corps Monument in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, the old Lafayette Elementary School (now the headquarters building of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library), Fairview Baptist Church, the old Mary Washington Hospital buildings on Fauquier Street (now Mary Washington Square condominiums) and on Fall Hill Avenue (now the Chamber of Commerce Building), Grace Memorial Church, and several buildings on the grounds of Mary Washington College.

But its low profile is misleading. Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 still flourishes here, after 250 years. Not only that, there are a number of other lodges functioning in the Central Rappahannock region. By tradition none of these lodges actively solicits for new members, but any of them would welcome contacts from interested parties.

Fredericksburg Lodge No 4, A.F. & A.M.
803 Princess Anne Street
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Telephone: 540-373-5885
Meets 2nd Fridays, 7:30 P.M.
Official Web site: masoniclodge4.org

Edward H. Cann Daylight Lodge No. 1752, A.F. & A.M.
803 Princess Anne Street
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
Meets 4th Wednesdays (exc. Dec., 3rd Wed.), 11:00 A.M.
Official Web site: masonpost.com/va/edwardhcanndaylight1752/

Frank P. Moncure Lodge No. 279, A.F. & A.M.
201 Courthouse Road
Stafford, VA
Meets 4th Thursdays (exc. Nov. & Dec., 2nd Thurs.), 7:30 P.M.
Official Web site: www.mason2b1ask1.com

Kilwinning-Crosse Lodge No. 2-237, A.F. & A.M.
102 Chase Street
Bowling Green, VA
Meets 2nd Mondays (exc. Nov., 1st Mon.), 7:30 P.M.
Official Web Site: carolinemasons.org

Hudson-Morris Lodge No. 80, A.F. & A.M.
10431 Hudson Road
King George, VA
Meets 2nd Tuesdays, 7:30 P.M.
Official Web site: masonpost.com/va/hudsonmorris80/

Finally, the Grand Lodge of Virginia has its own official web site:
http://www.grandlodgeofvirginia.org/ as does the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, VA: http://www.gwmemorial.org/