Saturday, November 29, 2014

Freemasonry and the Lewis and Clark Expedition: The Type of Men who Joined Freemasonry in the Past

It is often asked and inquired as to the type of men who joined Freemasonry in the past. What is considered "Modern Freemasonry" started in 1717 when four lodges in London created the first Grand Lodge of England.

Prior to 1717 the grand cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen who were members of guilds and today are known as operative masons. These men were not among the social or political elite and they were not part of the upper class or aristocracy of society. They were simple men who were skilled in a certain trade craft. It is believed they held closed meetings where only members of their craft or guilds were allowed. The upper classes of society took notice of this. There is a theory this caused envy among the upper class and aristocracy causing the creation of speculative masons or what is referred to as Freemasonry. Another theory is Freemasonry was started from the former stone mason or operative mason guilds and because a man did not have be to be a member of the operative mason guilds they were allowed to join.

Up until 1717 things were a bit chaotic in Freemasonry. One lodge would not recognize other lodges, there were differences in ritual, etc. On June 24, 1717 the Premier Grand Lodge of England is formed when four lodges met and agreed on a single Grand Lodge jurisdiction in England. Other lodges soon joined and the Grand Lodge of Eng,and grew.

As England expanded its empire Freemasonry came to the American colonies. In the colonies it was the upper class who were members of their local lodges. These men were the artisans, business owners, lawyers, doctors, political leaders, the social elite and military officers. Mark A. Tabbert's American Freemasons; Three Centuries of Community Building explains the members of modern freemasonry at the time only allowed certain men into the fraternity and would prevent the lower class of society from joining. They had the belief they were better at and more capable of making decisions for their communities and by being part of Freemasonry 

In 1751 Laurence Dermott formed a new masonic grand lodge called the "Ancients". Though newer this labeled the first grand lodge " Moderns". The "Ancient" lodges attracted less-affluent and less educated men. These men sought to climb the social ladder of society. The "Ancient" lodges broadened their relief efforts as they accepted greater variety of men. They also became a pathway to extend business contacts,  confirm honor and integrity, improve the the manners and knowledge of their membership. This furthered the aspirations of these men to become well respected gentlemen in society.

There were two other ways the Ancient Grand Lodge challenged the Moderns. They willingly granted charters to any organized group of Masons who petitioned. This created a large number of lodges across the British Empire. By 1780 warrants had been issued to form lodgers in India, North and  South America. The Ancients also innovated the rituals and symbols. The Moderns on conferred three degrees. The Ancients added and additional degree, the Royal Arch, to their ritual. This rivalry would continue into the 1800's.

It could be said the Ancient Grand Lodge welcomed men of lower class and helped bring them up to the same level as the members of the Moderns. The Moderns became known as Free and Accepted Masons, or F. & A. M. also called a three letter lodge and the Ancients became known as A. F. & A. M, known as a four letter lodge.

The "Ancients" and "Moderns" carried their rivalry into and through out the American Revolution. Even though the two were rivals there were men who belonged to both.

September 3. 1783 the American Revolution ended with the colonists attaining their freedom from England, forming the United States of America. The provincial grand lodges that were present in the former American Colonies under the Grand Lodge of England were closed and each one became its own individual or state grand lodge jurisdiction.

Lieutenant Meriwether Lewis became a Mason in the Door To Virtue Lodge No. 44 in Albemarle, Virginia on December 31, 1797. Door to Virtue Lodge was a four letter or "Ancient" lodge.

Captain Meriwether Lewis helped lead the Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1803 to 1806.

There is no conclusive proof found in any of the known records or journals other men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition were members of Freemasonry before the expedition began, whether a lodge of "Moderns" or a lodge of "Ancients". One plausible theory is it is possible, especially because Meriwether Lewis was a member of an "Ancient" lodge. He likely had an open mind about men of lower class and rank being members of a masonic lodge. There is proof of just one other member of the expedition becoming a Freemason after the expedition, Captain William Clark, more information on William Clark joining the masonic fraternity will be in a future article.

Previous articles:
Freemasonry and the Lewis and Clark Expedition: Introduction
Freemasonry and the Lewis and Clark Expedition: Thank You
Freemasonry and the Lewis and Clark Expedition: Information Sources