WHAT IS FREEMASONRY
A Brief History of Freemasonry
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 during the Middle Ages. The language and symbols used in the fraternity's rituals come from this era. In 1717, four lodges in London formed the first Grand Lodge of England, and records from that point on are more complete.
Within thirty years, the fraternity had spread throughout Europe and the American Colonies. Freemasonry became very popular in colonial America. George Washington was a Mason, Benjamin Franklin served as the head of the fraternity in Pennsylvania, as did Paul Revere and Joseph Warren in Massachusetts.
Pictured: George Washington in full Masonic regalia as he lays the cornerstone of the US Capitol (Ron Cogswell)
Other well-known Masons involved with the founding of America included John Hancock, John Sullivan, Lafayette, Baron Fredrick von Stuben, Nathanael Greene, and John Paul Jones. Another Mason, Chief Justice John Marshall, shaped the Supreme Court into its present form.
Pictured: The George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, VA.
Over the centuries, Freemasonry has developed into a worldwide fraternity emphasizing personal study, self-improvement, and social betterment via individual involvement and philanthropy. During the late 1700s, it was one of the organizations most responsible for spreading the ideals of the Enlightenment: the dignity of man and the liberty of the individual, the right of all persons to worship as they choose, the formation of democratic governments, and the importance of public education. Masons supported the first public schools in both Europe and America.
During the 1800s and early 1900s, Freemasonry grew dramatically. At that time, the government had provided no social "safety net". The Masonic tradition of founding orphanages, homes for widows, and homes for the aged provided the only security many people knew.
Today in North America, the Masonic Fraternity continues this tradition by giving almost $1.5 million each day to causes that range from operating children's hospitals, providing treatment for childhood language disorders, treating eye diseases, funding medical research, contributing to local community service, and providing care to Masons and their families at Masonic Homes.
The four million Masons worldwide continue to help men and women face the problems of the 21st century by building bridges of brotherhood and instilling in the hearts of men ideals for a better tomorrow.
A Brief History of Freemasonry in Florida
Origins and Introduction:
The tradition of Freemasonry, which harks back to medieval stonemason guilds of Europe, found its way to American shores as part of the broader wave of European migration and colonization. Within this context, Florida, with its rich tapestry of history involving Native American tribes, Spanish settlers, and later American pioneers, provides a unique backdrop for the development of the Masonic brotherhood.
The seeds of Freemasonry in Florida were likely sown in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. With the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, which ceded Florida from Spain to the United States in 1821, came a flow of American settlers, among whom were Masons. These pioneers played a role in initiating Masonic traditions in the newly-acquired territory.
Pictured: William Lehnolf Marshall at Jackson Lodge F. & A. M. № 1 - Tallahassee, Florida.
The Birth of the Grand Lodge:
By the 1830s, several individual lodges operated in Florida. Recognizing the need for a centralized governing body, representatives from these lodges convened. In 1830, their collective efforts led to the formation of the Grand Lodge of Florida. St. Johns Lodge No. 1 in Jacksonville, one of the original lodges in this collective, still operates today, attesting to the enduring legacy of Masonry in the state.
Challenges: The Civil War Era:
The mid-19th century, marked by the tumult of the American Civil War, was a challenging period for Freemasonry in Florida. As the state joined the Confederacy, many lodges saw disruptions. Yet, heartening stories emerged, showcasing the strength of Masonic bonds. Masons, irrespective of their loyalties to the Union or the Confederacy, were known to extend courtesies and aid to their "brothers" on the opposing side.
The 20th Century: Expansion and Philanthropy:
The dawn of the 20th century brought a renewed energy to Freemasonry in Florida. As the state experienced significant development, so too did the Masonic community. New lodges sprouted across Florida, particularly during the post-World War II era when the state witnessed a boom in its population. Freemasons in Florida, aligned with the broader Masonic principles of charity, were instrumental in supporting educational, health, and welfare initiatives. The establishment of Masonic homes and scholarships underscored their commitment to societal betterment.
The late 20th and early 21st centuries presented both challenges and opportunities for Freemasonry in Florida. While some lodges grappled with declining memberships, echoing a global trend, others saw a renewed interest from younger generations seeking camaraderie and purpose. Today, Florida’s Masonic lodges, while maintaining their rich traditions, also engage with contemporary issues, ensuring their relevance in modern society.
"The Masonic Grand Lodge of Florida: Its History and Development." Grand Lodge of Florida.
Coil, Henry Wilson. "Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia." Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Company, 1961.
Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Florida, Various Years.
"Freemasonry in America." Encyclopedia of Freemasonry by Albert G. Mackey and Edward L. Hawkins.
DeHoff, Robert. "A Short History of Freemasonry." DeHoff Publications, 1993.