Where Did Masonry Come From?
The Grand Lodge of Texas
Where did Masonry come from? To a great
extent, much that is said and written about Freemasonry necessarily
represents the personal opinion or thinking of an individual or a group
of individuals. In this fact lies one of the great strengths of our
Fraternity. As you progress and learn about Freemasonry, you will find
that while the truths and principles of the Order are positive and fixed
in character, much of their interpretation is left to you, the
individual. It is this factor which affords you the opportunity for a
lifetime of research and study.
One of the most interesting and romantic
parts of Freemasonry is its history. You may have heard or read that
Freemasonry is one of the world's oldest organizations. Where did it
come from? How did it originate? Here again, conjecture and
interpretation play their part. We can but give you the generally
accepted views of many Masonic scholars.
In general, the history may be divided into
two distinct eras or parts. The first refers to the era which came
before recorded or written history. The second refers to the era which
runs back from the present day approximately 800 years and covers that
period of which there is a definite record.
There are those who believe that Freemasonry
originated with the very beginning of civilization, indeed with the
start of intelligent thinking man. However, there is no absolute basis
for such a belief. We do know that as time and experience proved certain
truths, these truths were taken and carried to the thinking people of
the various tribes. We do know, also, that in several of the ancient
civilizations there existed certain mystic societies; that these mystic
societies had a Lodge form, with Lodge officers, all similar in
character and all teaching moral living. Thus it might rightfully be
supposed that the ideals and teachings of our Order have come to us from
the learning and wisdom of the dim past.
While we refer to ourselves as "Freemasons,"
the accepted term for hundreds of years was simply "Masons." Defined,
Mason means "Builder." Starting some 800 years ago, and lasting nearly
400 years, was the era during which were built in western Europe the
hundreds of great Gothic cathedrals. Many of these immense structures
still stand as a memorial of the past and as an inspiration to the
people of today.
To us, it is almost incomprehensible that
these magnificent cathedrals were built completely by hand, with only
the simplest of tools. The credit goes to the Builders or Masons of that
era. It was their ingenuity, imagination, resourcefulness and industry
which produced these monuments.
To accomplish what they did, these Masons
banded themselves together in workmans' Guilds. Each of the Guilds
formed a Lodge, with regular Lodge officers and each with three levels
of membership. The first, or lowest form of members, were apprentices or
bearers of burdens. The second form were craftsmen or fellows, the
skilled workmen on the Temples. The third and highest form were the
masters, constituting those who were the overseers and superintendents
on the building. Also, certain states of proficiency were required
before a man could pass from one degree to the next. Furthermore, they
all taught and required of their membership certain attributes of moral
conduct. It was these Guild Lodges that actually gave birth to modern
Masonic Lodges and to present-day Freemasonry.
We refer to these Guild Masons as
"Operative" Masons, because they actually operated as and performed as
working masons in the building of the cathedrals. However, during the
sixteenth century there began the decline of the Gothic building and
with it a decline in the strength of the Guild Lodges. For two hundred
years these Lodges struggled and fought for their very existence. During
this struggle some of the Lodges, to preserve themselves, began taking
in other members -- that is, men of high moral character, but not
necessarily followers of the builders' trade. These non-operative
members were referred to as "Accepted" Masons and later as "Speculative"
Masons. Eventually the Guild Lodges came to be known as "Speculative
Lodges." This was particularly true in the British Isles, where a
considerable number of men in all walks of life were admitted to
membership in the Lodges of Freemasons.
The start of the eighteenth century saw the
birth of modem architecture and with it the complete fade-out of Gothic
building. It appeared that Freemasonry was doomed when, in 1717, four
Lodges in London met together and probably for no other reason than to
strengthen and preserve themselves, decided to form a Grand Lodge. In
1723 they adopted a constitution to govern themselves. Their success led
to the establishment of other Grand Lodges in similar fashion. In 1725
some of the Lodges in Ireland formed a Grand Lodge for that island, and
a similar body was instituted in Scotland in 1736. Moreover, the
original Grand Lodge of England did not remain without rivals in its own
at one time in the eighteenth century there existed in England three
Grand Lodges in addition to the one organized in 1717. Two of these died
out without influencing the history of Masonry in general, but the third
had a great part in the spread and popularizing of Masonry throughout
the world. It styled itself the "Ancient" Grand Lodge, while the
original body was known as the "Modern" Grand Lodge. The two were long
and vigorous rivals, but they finally united in 1813 into the present
Grand Lodge of England. Thus, from one of these two Grand bodies in
England, or from that of Ireland or Scotland, are descended directly or
otherwise all other Grand Lodges in the world today.
It was inevitable that Freemasonry should
follow the colonists to America and play a most important part in the
establishment of the thirteen colonies. Freemasonry was formally
recognized for the first time in America with the appointment by the
Grand Lodge of England of a Provincial Grand Master in Massachusetts in
1733. American Masons worked under foreign jurisdiction until 1781, when
the first Grand Lodge was established in the State of New York.
One of the most enthralling and romantic
portions of all Masonic history lies in the story of the part played by
Freemasons in the formation of our country. We will never know just how
great a part Freemasonry actually did play; but without exaggeration, we
can say that Freemasonry and Masonic thinking contributed most
significantly to the founding of this great democracy.
A significant number of the signers of the
Declaration of Independence as well as the drafters of the Constitution
were members of our Fraternity, many of them most active in the affairs
of their Lodges. George Washington was a staunch Freemason, and it is
said that before the close of the Revolution he placed no one but
Freemasons in posts of importance. He was the first of thirteen Masonic
Presidents and the only one to serve as Worshipful Master of a Lodge and
President at one and the same time. The others after Washington are
Jackson, Polk, Buchanan, Johnson, Garfield, McKinley, Theodore
Roosevelt, Taft, Harding, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and Ford -- of whom
Jackson and Truman served also as Grand Masters.
In the struggle for Independence such
well-known patriots as Paul Revere, Joseph Warren, Benjamin Franklin,
Alexander Hamilton, John Hancock, as well as Lafayette, Von Steuben and
many others, were members of the Craft. No doubt Freemasonry was
responsible for and shaped much of their thinking and opinions.
Volumes have been written about the
participation of Freemasons in the Revolution and the founding of
America. Time will not permit us to say more except that it was an
episode in history of which we can all be most proud.
Ever since that period Masonry has grown and
flourished, following closely the growth and expansion of the United
States. Freemasonry came to Texas as part of that expansion.
There were many Masons among the early
settlers in Texas, with membership in Lodges all over the world. The
first attempt to organize a Lodge in Texas was destined to failure. On
February 11, 1828, Stephen Fuller Austin, the beloved "Father of Texas,"
an active Mason and a member of St. Louis Lodge No. 3 in the territory
of Missouri under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania,
met with six other Masons, Hosea H. League, Ira Ingram, Eli Mitchell,
Joseph M. White, G. B. Hall, and Thomas M. Duke, and signed an
application for a Masonic Charter addressed to the Yorkino Grand Lodge
of Mexico. The Charter, if ever granted, was lost, probably due to the
existing uncertain transportation and travel conditions. In this same
year, however, Masonry was outlawed in Texas by the Mexican government,
and Masonic activity went underground for several years.
The next attempt to organize Masonry in
Texas met with success. In March, 1835, six men met in a little grove of
wild peach or laurel back of the town of Brazoria and concluded to
petition the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for a dispensation to form and
open a Lodge of Masons. The officers named in the petition were Dr.
Anson Jones, Master; Asa Brigham, Senior Warden; and J. P. Caldwell,
Junior Warden. They were joined in signing the petition by John A.
Wharton, James A. E. Phelps and Alexander Russell. Later the signature
of W. D. C. Hall was added. The petition requested that the Lodge be
named "Holland Lodge" in honor of the then Grand Master of Louisiana, J.
H. Holland. The petition was forwarded to New Orleans by messenger, was
granted, and on December 27, 1835, the first meeting of Holland Lodge
No. 36, U. D. was opened at Brazoria in the second story of the old
Court House. By this time open hostilities had broken out between the
settlers and Mexico. The last meeting of the Lodge was held in February,
1836, and it is worthy of note that the immortal Fannin acted as Senior
Deacon at this meeting. Brazoria was abandoned in March and General
Urrea of the Mexican army destroyed the records, jewels and books of the
Brother John M. Allen, an illustrious Texan,
was in New Orleans recruiting soldiers for the Texas army. The Grand
Secretary of Louisiana handed him the Charter for Holland Lodge No, 36
for delivery to Brother Anson Jones. The delivery was accomplished on
the prairie between Groce's and San Jacinto, and Dr. Jones placed it in
his saddle bags and carried it through the battle of San Jacinto. In
October, 1837, the Lodge was reopened in Houston.
There were then in existence two other
Lodges in Texas chartered by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana-Milam No. 40
at Nacogdoches and McFarland No. 41 at San Augustine. At the invitation
of Holland Lodge No. 36, delegates of the three Lodges met at Houston in
the Senate Chamber of the Capitol of the Republic at 3:00 o'clock p.m.
on December 20th, 1837. Brother Sam Houston presided and Brother Anson
Jones acted as Secretary. At this meeting was organized the Grand Lodge
of the Republic of Texas with Brother Anson Jones as the first Grand
From these three Lodges, Holland No. 1,
Milam No. 2, and McFarland No. 3, we have grown to approximately 908
Lodges and 124,000 members. As early as 1848, the Grand Lodge of the
Republic provided for an Education and Charity Fund of ten percent of
its revenues, and appointed a superintendent of education. Many early
schools were established by Masonic Lodges, and actually met in Masonic
Lodge buildings. We must never forget that it is now generally
recognized that our great Texas free public school system was first
conceived and established by the Masons and Masonic Lodges of Texas.
Nor must we forget that our precious Masonic
heritage was established by our Masonic forebears under great
difficulties and hardships. By their heroism and sacrifice they threw
off a semi-barbarious tyranny, and established here a government of
freedom and brotherhood. Like the tolling of a giant bell comes the
names of Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Anson Jones, Allen, Fannin,
Milam, Travis, Rusk and many other Masons far too numerous to mention
here. Our debt to them can never be paid.
SOURCE: FREEMASONRY IN TEXAS - The Grand
Lodge of Texas
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