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As we reflect upon the past history of our Fraternity, we must pay close attentions to our “Traditions”, as they are what sets Masonry apart from all other fraternities. If we take a closer look at our Traditions, we will discover that another word for traditions is “Historically”. Our craft has a truly ancient history, as we extend back to the time of King Solomon during the building of the Temple and many distinguished characters of that time.

As we ponder on the History of our fraternity, let’s look at the time when Masonry came to America and some of the more “distinguished characters” that have had some sort of influence upon a great many people, the majority of which were non-masons. The first of these should be no other than our 1st President, George Washington. While the majority of the world only knows him to be our 1st President, a General in the Continental Army, and a Statesman, we know him as another person, “A Brother of our Great Fraternity”.

His picture is proudly displayed at every Lodge that I have ever visited and we have heard of several references to his accomplishments, but what else do we know of his Masonic History? Perhaps the following information will answer some of those questions.  

George Washington was born At “Wakefield” in Westmoreland County, Virginia on February 22, 1732. In 1735, his parents moved to Mount Vernon (although in those days it was called Little Hunting Creek). This mansion was burned down (presumably by accident) in 1739 and the present one was erected in its place for Lawrence Washington, George’s brother, from who George later inherited it.

Brother George Washington received his degree work at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, located at Fredericksburg, Virginia and is often called “Washington’s Mother Lodge”.  He received his First Degree on November 4, 1752, his Second Degree on March 3, 1753, and he was raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason on August 4, 1753. It must be noted that many other distinguished men have been members of Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, including the Revolutionary Generals Hugh Mercer, George Weedon, and William Woodford.

Brother Washington’s Apron is said to have been presented to him by the French General Lafayette in August of 1784. It is also said that this apron was made and embroidered by Madame Lafayette in France, and is in the possession of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.

            Washington and the Bible of St. John’s Lodge

Washington reached New York on April 23, 1789 and on the 30th was inaugurated President of the United States. On this occasion, General Morgan Lewis was Marshal of the day. His aide, General Jacob Morton, Master of St. John’s, the oldest lodge in the city, brought the Bible from the altar of his lodge along with its scarlet velvety cushion, and upon that sacred volume, Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of the State of New York and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York, administered to Washington the oath of office as President of the United States.

After taken the oath, Washington reverently bent and kissed the book, and Chancellor Livingston who solemnly said “Long live George Washington, President of the United States”, broke the suspense of the moment The many witnesses to the taking of the oath, then joined in repeated acclamations “Long live George Washington.”

The page of the Bible on which Washington had devoutly pressed his lips was then folded, returned to St. John’s Lodge and placed again on its altar. A few years later, it was borne in solemn procession by the Masonic brethren of New York who met to pay funeral honors to Washington’s memory. This Bible is still in possession of St. John’s Lodge.

P.S. – Brother George Washington was the Master of his Lodge at the time of his Presidential Inauguration—This fact has seldom been noted.

            Brother Washington’s Masonic history is indeed lengthy, however we will recap some of the events that should be reflected upon as “Traditional” and therefore should be associated with this evening.

Dec. 28, 1778    Marched in procession in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the Masonic celebration in Honor of St. John the Evangelist.

Dec. 27, 1779    Celebrated with American Union (Military) Lodge, the festival of St. John the Evangelist, at Morristown, New Jersey.

October 1781    said to have visited with General Lafayette, Lodge No. 9 at Yorktown, Virginia after the surrender of Cornwallis there.

Dec. 27, 1782    Solomon’s Lodge No. 1 in New York, records: “Visitors: Br. George Washington, Comdr. In Chief “ Celebrated with them on this day, the festival of St. John the Evangelist.

Sept. 18, 1793   Acting as Grand Master, laid the corner stone of the United States Capitol, at Washington, D.C.

Brother Washington was buried (Masonically) at Mount Vernon on December 18, 1799 by Alexandria Lodge No. 22.

Perhaps we should reflect upon some other great Masons that have also had an influence upon a great number of people, as well as upon this Nation and the very structure of our present day society.

The following Presidents were Masons:

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James A. Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Warren G. Harding, Franklin D.  Roosevelt, Harry F. Truman, Gerald Ford,

There were many Secretaries of State who were also Masons:

John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Randolph, John Marshall, James Madison, Henry Clay, Edward Livingston, Louis McLane, James Buchanan, Lewis Cass, William M. Evarts, Philander C. Know, William J. Bryan, Bainbridge Colby, and Frank B. Kellogg.

(31) Out of 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons:  (55.3%)

Samuel Adams, Josiah Bartlett, William Ellery, Benjamin Franklin, Elbridge Gerry, Lyman Hall, John Hancock, Joseph Hewes, William Hooper, Sam Huntington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Francis Lewis, Philip Livingston, Thomas McKean, Robert Morris, Thos. Nelson Jr., Robert Treat Paine, John Penn, George Read, Benjamin Rush, Roger Sherman, Richard Stockton, George Taylor, Matt Thornton, George Walton, William Whipple, John Witherspoon, Oliver Wolcott, and George Wythe.

(23) Out of 39 Signers of the U.S. Constitution were Masons:  (58.9%)

Abraham Baldwin, Gunning Bedford Jr., John Blair, William Blount, David Brearley, Jacob Broom, Daniel Carroll, Jonathan Dayton, John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, Nicholas Gilman, Alexander Hamilton, Rufus King, John Langdon, James McHenry, James Madison, Robert Morris, William Paterson, Charles Pinckney, George Read, John Rutledge, Roger Sherman, George Washington,

As an Entered Apprentice, we are taught,  “ that as justice, in a great measure, constitutes the real good man”, and then perhaps we should look at the number of Supreme Court Justices who were Masons.

(33) Out of 83 Supreme Court Justices, from 1789 until 1940, that was Masons (39.7%)

John Jay, John Rutledge, William Cushing, John Blair, James Iredell, William Paterson, Oliver Ellsworth, John Marshall, Brock Livingston, Thomas Todd, Joseph Story, Robert Trimble, John McLean, Henry Baldwin, John Catron, Samuel Nelson, Noah H. Swayne, David Davis, Stephen J. Field, John M. Harlan, William B. Woods, Stanley Matthews, Samuel Blatchford, William H. Moody, Willis Van Devanter, Joseph R. Lamar, Mahlon Pitney, John H. Clarke, William H. Taft, Huge L. Black, Stanley F. Reed, and William O. Douglas.

As we ponder upon the many changes that are being advocated in our Fraternity, I often wonder if enough thought is spent on our “Traditions” as they are the only constant that seems to be unwavering. We, here at Whitney Lodge, put a great deal of care in preserving our local “Traditions”, as they have been passed along to us by our many Past Masters. I truly believe that keeping our “Traditions” has strengthened our membership, and tonight, as we participate in our annual Feast of St. John, we should be reminded that this “Tradition” has been carried forward from the time of our forefathers and beyond. In closing, I trust that you will keep a place reserved for your “Traditions” as they are truly valuable and should not be overlooked. Thank you.

                                                                        Sincerely & Fraternally,

                                                                        Jerry D. Zearbaugh, PM 2000

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