Review of Freemasonry

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by W.Bro. Francis Vicente PM
Brotherhood Lodge #126, Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, USA

This paper  presents an overview of the early history of Freemasonry in Pennsylvania based on published material (See Bibliography).

Let me begin by drawing an image of Philadelphia in the early 1700's.

In 1700 the population of Philadelphia 1,i  was about 4200 and grew to 8500 inhabitants by 1730. According to then Governor Gordon the city contained about one thousand houses up from about 700 in 1700. The Province of Pennsylvania, on the other hand were 65,000. An influx of German, Irish, Welsh and Scots in the late 1720's of about 6200 souls helped to increase the population. The City itself extended from the Docks in the east to not much further than 4th Street in the west and South Street in the south to Race Street in the North. Roughly a mile square.

In 1703 the King of England commissioned John Moore as collector of the Port of Philadelphia.

A letter by John Moore, a Mason, indicates that Masons were meeting as early as1715.1,ii


Hannah Penn 1,iii appointed Sir William Keith Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania. He served from 1717 to 1726 and he was a Mason. Major Patrick Gordon who served as Governor from 1726 until his death in 1736 succeeded him, he too was a Mason.

Since some of these events occurred concurrent with or before the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717, what governed the Masonic behavior in Pennsylvania between the dates of 1715 and 1730?

It appears that 1,iv “the formation of a Lodge in the pre-Grand Lodge period must have been a very simple, elementary, and informal affair, probably arising from the habitual meeting of brethren at some eatery they favored.” Clearly they used those occasions to initiate new members and conduct business. They no doubt used the “Old Charges” as their governing law.

 Such meetings were held in accordance with the “Old Charges,” which according to William James Hughan,1,v who researched the matter,  were employed by Masons of some two to five centuries ago. They were read to the Apprentices and together with some esoteric information constituted the initiation into the fraternity.

Henry S. Borneman 1,vi in an address commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Grand Lodge of Pa (1931) cites 14 manuscripts (MSS) as the “cherished possession of the older Lodges and which formed the backbone of Ancient Masonry up to the end of the eighteenth century.”

One of these documents of the “Old Charges”, now known as the “Carmick Manuscript”1,vii dated 1727, is said to have been “The Constitutions of St. John’s Lodge” and is in the possession of the Grand Lodge of Pa. It is thought that it was the governing document for the St. John’s Lodge of Philadelphia, although this can not be conclusively proven.


Let us look at the involvement of Benjamin Franklin in Masonry since his publishing presents one of the earliest surviving records of early Freemasonry in the British colonies.

Franklin who had traveled to London in 1724-26 had become interested in Freemasonry. In his Pennsylvania Gazette no.108 (Dec 5th to 8th 1730) he wrote: 2,i  “As there are several Lodges of Free-Masons erected in this Province, and People have lately been much amus’d with Conjectures concerning them; we think the following account of Freemasonry from London, will not be unacceptable to our Readers....”  This followed with an article from London describing the Fraternity in England, which includes the famous phrase:

            “Their Grand Secret is That they have no Secret at all.”1,viii

 Whether this article caused it or not, Franklin became a Mason shortly after.1,ix Franklin at the time became 25 years of age (being born Jan 17, 1706) which made him eligible under the “Anderson Constitutions” of 1723.  He was entered in 1731.

Now we come to Col. Daniel Coxe. Coxe had arrived in New York with Lord Cornbury on May 3, 1702.1,x He came by his title of Colonel when he was appointed Commander of military forces in West New Jersey.  He adopted the Province of New Jersey as his home.  Coxe had strong ties with the Sovereigns of England, which he never hesitated to use.

The Duke of Norfolk then Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England issued him the Deputation as Provincial Grand Master for the Provinces of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania on June 5, 1730. This was valid for two years “from the Feast of St. John the Baptist next following,” namely, June 24, 1730.2,ii

The deputation he received as Provincial Grand Master was broad and unequaled.  Further it is shown 1,xi that Coxe was present in New Jersey both before and after the date of the deputation but with sufficient absence to have been in England on the date the deputation was given him, even allowing for sailing ship times. However, no written record exists today of his having done anything on his return with that deputation.

This has led to some controversy.       


As early as June 24, 1731 William Allen was Grand Master3,i as written in the account books of St. John’s Lodge of Philadelphia a.k.a. “Liber B,” which is the ledger for that lodge. It is in the possession of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and dates from June 24, 1731. Past dues entries3,ii indicate it was in operation from at least the end of 1730, which agrees with Franklin’s Gazette article of December 1730.

A few years afterwards the earliest definite recognition in print of a registered lodge in Pennsylvania is to be found in ‘The Pocket Companion for Freemasons, published with the approbation of the Grand Lodge of Ireland in Dublin in 1734. The famous entry ‘116 & Hoop in Water Street in Philadelphia, 1st Monday,’ occurs in the appended list of the Warranted Lodges in the Kingdom of Ireland, Great Britain, Spain, Germany, East and West Indies.”1,xii Crawley wrote to Julius F. Sachese  (curator of the Grand Lodge of Pa Library), a letter residing today in the Library of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania the following which is abstracted:1,xiii

“The original Grand Lodge in Pennsylvania was formed by immemorial right, just as the Grand Lodge of England was formed, by the cohesion of subordinate Lodges, similarly formed by immemorial right; not otherwise. Your latter day usages have begotten an instinctive rather than a logical assumption that there ought to have been a Warrant, that is, a Charter. To my mind, your Grand Lodge, formed by ancient, indefeasible right, stands on far other ground than if it had been formed by a dubious warrant, that is, permission from any outside power that had itself been formed in the higher way.”


Thus the Grand Lodge if constituted by Coxe is a Daughter of the Grand Lodge of England or if derived from the “old Charges” it is a sister.

The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania recognizes Coxe as its first Grand Master.

The other nine Grand Masters of Pa “Moderns” are:2,iii

            William Allen 1731-1732,

             Humphrey Murray 1733,

             Benjamin Franklin 1734,

            James Hamilton 1735,

            Thomas Hopkinson 1736,

            William Plumsted, 1737,

            Joseph Shippen 1738-1740,

            Philip Syng 1741,

            William Allen 1747-1765 Provincial Grand Master


Four Lodges were established under this Grand Lodge.

            St. John’s or “First” Lodge3,iv

            Second Lodge of the “Moderns” -Philadelphia Lodge #2.3,v

            The Third or Tun Tavern Lodge of “Moderns”3,vi

            The Fourth Lodge of the “Moderns” This was the last warrant granted by Provincial `Grand Master Allen in June 24, 1757. 3,vii


On July 1751 a group of Masons of the Grand Lodge of England, unhappy with its policies, broke away and in 1753 established a new Grand Lodge of England “Ancients” also called Atholl Masons. 4i

This Fourth Lodge of Pennsylvania operated in the “Ancient” way.3,viii  When the Grand Lodge found out, it suspended their warrant. The Lodge no. 4 on January 3, 1758 petitioned the Grand Lodge of England “Ancients” requesting a warrant from them. They received the warrant in January 1759, dated June 7, 1758. In the interim they had continued working in the “Ancient” way.

This severed their connection with the “Moderns” Grand Lodge and the three other subordinate Lodges.

This Lodge became the nucleus from which the present Grand Lodge and its hundreds of subordinates gradually evolved. This Lodge (old #4) became for a time the Grand Lodge. After a successful effort they obtained a warrant for a Provincial Grand Warrant (July 15, 1761) - vacated its claim as no. 1 and accepted no.2.  It is still operating today.  Number 1 became the Grand Lodge of Pa “Ancients”.

For a time both Grand Lodges continued to operate in Pennsylvania, although the “Ancients” was the most active.

Note that on September 3, 1783 a definite Treaty of Peace had been signed at Paris between Great Britain and the United States with Bro. Benjamin Franklin one of the American Commissioners and ratified by the Executive Council of Pennsylvania on January 14, 1784.3,ix

On September 25, 1786 the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania “Ancients” and its subordinates declared their independence of the Mother Grand Lodge of England “Ancients.” 3,x

Because it proceeded to issue warrants in other states, it assumed the title “Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging.”3,xi

Over time the Grand Lodge “Moderns” withered away and disappeared.

The “Articles of Confederation” of 1777, having proved worthless, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 met in Philadelphia resulting in our present system of government.  Thirteen of the thirty-nine signers were Freemasons.

It wasn’t until 1813 that the two Grand Lodges of England reconciled their differences and became the “United Grand Lodge of England”.4ii





1.      Borneman, Henry S. “Early Freemasonry in Pennsylvania”, 1931 Kessinger Publishing’s

i   pg 39-43

ii  pg. 15

iii pg 49-50

iv pg  39

v   pg  16

vi  pg   21

vii pg  17-19

viii pg 45

ix   pg  47

x    pg  60

xi   pg 70-76

xii  pg  96

xiii pg  97  


2.      Huss, Wayne A. “The MASTER BUILDERS  A History of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania Vol. 1”, 1986 The Winchell Co.           

 i  pg 17

ii  pg 18

iii pg 28


3. Sachese, Julius F. “Old Masonic Lodges of Pennsylvania: Moderns and Ancients 1730 to 1800 Part 1", 1912 Kessinger Publishing’s

            i  pg 26  

ii pg 26

Iiii pg 28

            iv pg 23

            v  pg  59

            vi  pg  80

            vii pg  90

            viii pg 110-113

            ix   pg 120

            x    pg 126        


4.      Newton, Joseph Fort “The Builders” 1921 The Torch Press

i  pg  216

ii  pg 221


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