On this day in 1753, George Washington became a Master Mason, the highest rank in Freemasonry. His promotion occurred at the Masonic lodge in his hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia. He was 21 at the time, awaiting his first military commission.
Derived from practices and rituals in the medieval guild system, freemasonry gained popularity in the 18th century, especially in Britain. British Masons organized their first North American chapter in 1731 in Pennsylvania. Members are required to express their belief in a supreme being and in the immortality of the soul. Masons are also expected to obey civil laws, hold to high moral standards and contribute to charities.
For Washington, joining the Masons served a rite of passage and a reflection of his dedication to civic responsibility.
After the American Revolution, some Masons floated the notion of organizing a “Grand Lodge of the United States,” with Washington becoming its first grand master. But the idea never gained traction. Soon, independent grand lodges formed themselves within each state.
Because of their mysterious rites and closely held secrets, Masons aroused suspicion in the young republic that Washington led.
After Washington’s death in 1799, the renamed Alexandria-Washington Lodge became the repository of many of his artifacts. The lodge rooms, however, proved inadequate for the display and storage of the former president’s memorabilia. A fire in the lodge in 1871 destroyed many of the items.
In 1922, ground was broken in Alexandria, Virginia, for a masonic memorial to Washington. The 36-acre site was chosen because it followed a tradition to locate masonic temples on hilltops. It was situated on land that Thomas Jefferson once proposed as the ideal site for the nation’s capital.
Work on the nine-story George Washington Masonic National Memorial was completed in 1970. It is open to the public.