Freemasonry’s journey to the New World and the Empire State

No one knows exactly when the first Mason stepped foot on the shores of the new world, but Freemasonry’s journey in the British colonies of North America began sometime in the 1730s. During this early time of building a new country in a land that promised prosperity but often delivered a difficult living, Freemasonry was a welcome luxury for the men risking everything. The sanctuary provided by the Lodge to these Brothers must have been nothing less than God sent. There is an unmeasurable benefit to a man who can bring his troubles before a Lodge and receive help and in turn offer help to others in their time of need.

By the late 1730s, the colonies were close to being well-established and early tensions were already being felt between Britain and the early political, constitutional, and legal systems established in the colonies. Most Lodges in The Colonies operated under the provincial jurisdictions of the Grand Lodges of England, Scotland, or Ireland. During this early time from around 1700 – 1783 of establishing Freemasonry in the colonies, Provincial Grand Masters were appointed by the Premier Grand Lodge of England. As tensions grew between Britain and the colonies if there were any tensions between the Grand Lodge of England and the newly Chartering Provincial Grand Lodges in the colonies, they remained relatively subdued.

Sir John Johnson

Sir John Johnson Provincial Grand Master (1771-1776) and Loyalist to Britain avoiding arrest in 1776 fled to Canada taking with him the Warrant for the Moderns Lodges of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York and leaving them without a Provincial Grand Master. To add complication to treason the Ancient Grand Lodge of England (The Ancients) organized their own Provincial Grand Lodge of New York. For a time, Lodges in New York were operating under one of two Grand Lodges. A Warrant dated September 5, 1781, issued by the “Athol Charter” or Ancients Grand Lodge of England officially formed the Grand Lodge of New York. This unified Lodges in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Shortly after, under the leadership of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston on December 15, 1782, the Grand Lodge of New York officially organized as the second Grand Lodge in the United States of America.
Serving as Grand Master for the next 17 years (1784 – 1801), Most Worshipful Livingston laid the groundwork for Freemasonry in New York State. Most notably because the Provincial Grand Lodge Warranted by “The Ancients” which fled with Sir John Johnson to Canada, and Brother Livingston being the Master of a Lodge under the Jurisdiction of “The Moderns”, Brother Livingston united the two branches of English Freemasonry in New York State years before they united in Britain. In addition, he administered the oath of Presidential Office to President and Brother George Washington using the Bible from St. John’s Lodge #1, Ancient York Masons the oldest Lodge chartered by the Grand Lodge of New York, Warranted in 1757. The Lodge still owns this Bible and uses it to swear in each New York Grand Master. Using this same Bible at the inauguration of Presidents Warren G. Harding (1921), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953), Jimmy Carter (1977), and George H. W. Bush (2001).
Image: The St. John’s Lodge No. 1 Bible

The George Washington Inaugural Bible still travels around the country at important events like the inauguration of the President, the Governor of New York State, and the Mayor of New York City. On occasion it travels to other states for display to the general public and also makes an appearance or two in the media. To learn more about the history of the Bible, click here.

Image: Warren G. Harding’s inauguration, March 4, 1921
Image: Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Inauguration, January 20, 1953
Image: Jimmy Carter’s Inauguration, January 20, 1977
Image: George H. W. Bush Inauguration, January 20, 1989

The years following the Revolutionary War, began an era of building that would become the United States of America as we understand it today. Shortly after those early years as an independent nation, on June 6, 1787, the Grand Lodge of New York declared itself independent from the Grand Lodge of England.

Written by:
W:. Todd M. Paterek
Worshipful Master Of Blazing Star Lodge #694 F&AM
East Aurora, NY