Sunday, December 27, 2015

George Washington as an American Freemason

William Joseph Williams (1759-1823) George Washington, Mason, 1794

In July 1792, Washington had turned down a request for a sitting from American artist William Joseph Williams, telling Governor Henry Lee of Virginia: "I am so heartily tired of the attendance which, from one cause or another, I have bestowed on these kind of people, that it is now more than two years since I have resolved to sit no more for any of them; and have adhered to it; except in instances where it has been requested by public bodies, or for a particular purpose (not of the Painters) and could not, without offence, be refused. I have been led to make this resolution for another reason besides the irksomeness of sitting, and the time I loose by it, which is, that these productions have, in my estimation, been made use of as a sort of tax upon individuals, by being engraved, and that badly, and hawked, or advertised for Sale." Williams then offered to paint Washington's portrait for the Alexandria (Virginia) Masonic Lodge No. 22. Lodge officers wrote Washington in 1793 that it would be " a source of the most refined gratification the tracing out and contemplating the various ornaments of his character in the resemblance of his person." Williams's portrait shows Washington as a Virginia past master, with Masonic regalia and jewels. Williams's careful depiction includes a scar on Washington's left cheek, smallpox scars on his nose and cheeks, and a mole under his right ear.

George Washington joined the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia at the age of 20 in 1752. During the War for Independence, General Washington attended Masonic celebration and religious observances in several states. He also supported Masonic Lodges that formed within army regiments.  At his first inauguration in 1791, President Washington took his oath of office on a Bible from St. John's Lodge in New York. During his two terms, he visited Masons in North and South Carolina and presided over the cornerstone ceremony for the U.S. Capitol in 1793.  In retirement, Washington became charter Master of the newly chartered Alexandria Lodge No. 22, sat for a portrait in his Masonic regalia, and in death, was buried with Masonic honors.

A Timeline of George Washington's Masonic Activities

November 4, 1752 - Initiated as Entered Apprentice at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4, Fredericksburg, Virginia.


March 3, 1753 - Passed to the Degree of Fellow Craft at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4
August 4, 1753 - Raised a Master Masaon at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4.


December 28, 1778 - Marched in a Masonic procession in celebration of Saint John the Evangelist Day


June 24, 1779 - Celebrated Saint John the Baptist Day with American Union Military Lodge at West Point, New York
December 27, 1779 - Celebrated Saint John the Evangelist Day with American Union Military Lodge at Morristown, New Jersey


October - Reportedly visited Lodge No. 9 at Yorktown, VA with General Lafayette after defeat of British General Cornwallis


Brothers Watson and Cassoul of Nantes, France present Washington with exquisite silk Masonic apron, acknowledged by letter dated August 10
June 24, 1782 - St. John the Baptist celebration - Marked with American Union Military Lodge at West Point, New York.
December 27, 1782 - St. John the Evangelist Day - Celebrated with Solomon's Lodge No. 1, Poughkeepsie, New York.


June 24, 1784 - St. John the Baptist celebration - Marked with Alexandria Lodge, Alexandria, Virginia
June 24, 1784 - Made an honorary member of Alexandria Lodge No. 39 (Now Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22) Alexandria, Virginia
August 1784 - Presented a Masonic apron made by Madame de Lafayette to General and Bro. de Lafayette


February 12, 1785 - Walked in Masonic funeral procession for Bro. William Ramsay at Alexandria, Virginia


April 28, 1788 - Named Charter Worshipful Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22 when a new charter from the Grand Lodge of Virginia was issued. Unanimously re-elected Master December 20, 1788 for one year.


Elected honorary member of Holland Lodge No. 8, New York, NY
April 30- Inaugurated President of the United States using Bible from St. John's Lodge No. 1, New York

The George Washington Bible, which belongs to St. Johns Lodge in New York City, was first used on April 30, 1789, by the Grand Master of the Masons in New York, to administer the oath of office to George Washington. Other presidents who took their oath of office with this Bible are Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and George Bush.


April 15, 1791 - Welcomed by members of St. John's Lodge No. 2, New Bern, NC

May 1791 - Received the greetings of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina by General Mordecai Gist, Grand Master, Charleston, SC


September 18 Acting Grand Master - Laid the cornerstone for the United States Capitol, Washington, D.C. 


1794 William Williams painted Washington in Masonic regalia at the request of Alexandria Lodge 1797 March 28 Received a Masonic delegation from Alexandria Lodge.

Artist Hattie E. Burdette (1872-1955) depicts George Washington here donning full masonic regalia, including the apron, which bears a pyramid icon. His hat is adorned with a masonic compass, and he wears a sunburst around his neck. The apron also features the American flag crossed with another. A ''G'' hovers over his shoulder, rumored to symbolize God. The original was painted especially for the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission.


April 1, 1798 - Attended Alexandria Lodge No. 22 Proposed a toast at the banquet that followed


December 18, 1799 - Buried at Mount Vernon with Masonic rites as well as those of the church, conducted by Alexandria Lodge

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