In the Middle Ages, the term “freemason” was awarded to highly skilled stonemasons who were hired as free agents to build castles and cathedrals in England and Scotland. Because of the inherent danger of their work, stonemasons formed local organizations, called lodges, to take care of sick and injured members as well as the widows and orphans of those who were killed on the job. Eventually, men who were not skilled stonemasons wanted to join the group for the many advantages it offered. These men were known as accepted masons rather than working masons. This is how the group began to shift from a craft guild to a fraternity.
The first Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons was established in 1717 in London. In 1718, English Freemasonry spread to France and Spain, and after 1729, to India, Italy, Poland, and Sweden. Freemasonry spread to other parts of Europe and eventually made its way to the American colonies. In 1733, the first American lodge was established in Boston, under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England. The United States now has grand lodges in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The Grand Lodge of Virginia was established on October 30, 1778. There were nine (9) chartered Lodges known to have been invited to participate in the organization of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M., of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
How long these Lodges have been functioning has not been definitely established. They had been chartered by the Grand Lodges of Scotland, England and Ireland. That Masonry almost certainly was operating in Virginia prior to the establishment of any chartered Lodge seems very probable, though documentary proof is wanting. In this English colony, it is very probable that there were some Lodges operating under the law of “immemorial custom,” in which case a charter was not deemed necessary, or if desired, required long periods of time to clear through the Grand Lodge channels of the Mother country.
The nine Lodges and their locations were Norfolk, at Norfolk; Port Royal in Caroline County; Blandford at Petersburg; Fredericksburg at Fredericksburg; Saint Tammany at Hampton; Williamsburg at Williamsburg; Botetourt at Gloucester Courthouse; Cabin Point in Prince George County, and Yorktown at Yorktown.
Three other Lodges were located in Colonial Virginia but apparently took no part in the organization of the Grand Lodge. These were Tappahannock Hobb’s Hole at Tappahannock; Winchester Hiram at Winchester; and Falmouth Kilwinning at Falmouth. Responding to a proposition from Williamsburg Lodge suggesting that the officers of the said Lodges, or their deputies, meet in Williamsburg, for the purpose of choosing a Grand Master for the State of Virginia, delegates from Norfolk, Port Royal, Blandford, and Cabin Point met in Williamsburg on May 6, 1777. Matthew Phripp, of Norfolk, was elected President of the meeting, and James Kemp, of Port Royal, Secretary.
It was the unanimous opinion of the convention that a Grand Master ought to be chosen to preside over the Craft in Virginia. A committee was appointed to prepare a statement giving the reasons for such action. This committee reported on May 13, 1777. The report of the committee cited the fact that the then chartered Lodges had been established under five distinct and separate authorities, viz: The Grand Masters of England, Scotland, Ireland, Pennsylvania and America (the last at second hand); that little benefit could be derived from a Grand Master appointed by foreign authority; that recourse to a “Grand Lodge beyond the sea” was almost impossible, hence a Grand Lodge at home was a matter of necessity; that the Mother Grand Lodges claimed the right to elect their officers distinct and separate from any foreign power whatever, and that therefore they were privileged to claim the same right—a right that Masons in all time had enjoyed.
The contents of the report were sent to each chartered Lodge in the State, with a request that delegates be sent to a convention to be held in Williamsburg, June 23, 1777, at 10:00 o’clock A.M., for the purpose of electing a Grand Master.
Pursuant to adjournment, delegates from five Lodges, viz: Blandford, Port Royal, Fredericksburg, Williamsburg, and Cabin Point, met at Williamsburg on June 23, 1777. It was unanimously agreed that the election of Grand Master was essential “to the prosperity and dignity of Masonry.”
It was suggested that the several chartered Lodges contact their respective Grand Masters in the Mother country and solicit the appointment of some worthy Mason resident within the State of Virginia as Grand Master thereof, and that the authority of the several Grand Lodges of England, Scotland, and Ireland, be thus united in one and the same person. It was further recommended that His Excellency, General George Washington, was a proper person to fill the office of Grand Master. However, if the individual Lodges should prefer some other person, they were to notify Williamsburg Lodge. If no selections had been made by June 1, 1778, a convention, to be called by the Master of Williamsburg Lodge, should proceed to elect a Grand Master.
Right Worshipful James Mercer, President of the Convention, called the convention as hereinafter provided, for the 13th day of October, 1778. The meeting was held agreeably to the call. Blandford, Williamsburg, Botetourt and Cabin Point sent delegates. Robert Andrews of Williamsburg Lodge, was named Master of the Convention. After its organization, the convention proceeded to the election of a Grand Master. Right Worshipful Warner Lewis, Past Master of Botetourt Lodge, was named, but declined to accept. Right Worshipful John Blair, Jr., Past Master of Williamsburg Lodge, was then unanimously elected the first Grand Master of Masons in the Commonwealth of Virginia, was pleaded to accept the office. Thus was created, “according to prescription and usage, as adopted in London, in 1717, by and through the Representative System, as practiced on that occasion and adopted by constitutional provisions as binding for all time—the first Grand Lodge was thus constituted in America (Quote is from John Dove).”
The installation of Grand Lodge Officers occurred on October 30, 1778, at which time there was a good attendance of Brethren from the several Subordinate Lodges. After his installation, Most Worshipful Brother Blair was pleased to appoint the following Grand Officers: Right Worshipful Rev. Robert Andrews, Deputy Grand Master; Dr. James Taylor, Senior Grand Warden; James M. Fontaine, Junior Grand Warden; Dr. John Minson Galt, Grand Treasurer; Duncan Rose, Grand Secretary; the Rev. James Madison, Grand Chaplain; Matthew Anderson, Grand Sword Bearer, and William Urie, Grand Tiler. So began the glorious history of Masonry in Virginia.