No one knows for certain how or when masonry was formed. The most accepted theory among Masonic scholars is that it came from the stonemasons’ guilds during the Middle Ages. The language and symbols used in the fraternity’s rituals come from this era. The oldest recorded document that references to Masons is the Regius Poem, printed around 1390, which was a copied of an earlier manuscript. In 1717, four lodges located in London formed the first Grand Lodge of England, and allowed for better records to be kept of proceedings moving forward.
Around 30 years or so, the fraternity had spread throughout Europe and the American Colonies. Freemasonry became popular with colonialist in America. George Washington our first president was a prominent mason, Benjamin Franklin served as the head of the fraternity in Philadelphia Pennsylvania, as did Paul Revere and Joseph Warren in Boston Massachusetts. 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.
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 $2 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.