"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

New Evidence: Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant

Okay, I owe an apology. In Freemasons For Dummies in a debunking of the myth that the "Masons" designed evil symbolism into the street map of Washington, D.C., I said that out of the men primarily involved in the design—George Washington, Pierre Charles L'Enfant, and Andrew Ellicott—only Washington was Freemason.

In Solomon's Builders, I pointed out that author David Ovason claimed in his 1999 book, The Secret Architecture of Our Nation's Capitol (aka The Secret Zodiacs of Washington, D.C.: Was the City of Stars Planned By Masons?) that both L'Enfant and Ellicott were Masons. In the case of Ellicott, he admits it was a hunch. But with L'Enfant, Ovason said his claim was based on an "unpublished manuscript," with no further citation.

Comes now Brother Pierre F. de Ravel d'Esclapon in the March/April 2011 Scottish Rite Journal, and his article, "The Masonic Career of Major Pierre Charles L'Enfant." Brother Pierre has gone into the original minute books of New York's venerable Holland Lodge No. 8 and discovered what appear to be four notations concerning L'Enfant.

L'Enfant was in New York City working on the renovations of Federal Hall between 1788 and Washington's inauguration in April 1789. In the hand-written minutes of Holland Lodge on April 3rd 5789 (A.L.), a "Major Francis L'Enfant" is listed as being proposed for membership. As the photos in the article attest, the first name was written as "Francis" and then crossed through. The hand-written manuscript is important, because the printed version of the minutes incorrectly listed the name as "Enfant, T.L."

Subsequent references show L'Enfant was elected on April 17th, and initiated on June 5th as an Apprentice. Nothing has changed in Masonry—immediately after being initiated, L'Enfant was jabbed with an officer's pike onto a committee, to redesign the ventilation of the lodge room. And as often happens with new members you thrust onto a committee, there is no record that L'Enfant ever came back again. It is well documented that he was ill-tempered and didn't play well with others, so there's no real way to know if he simply had no interest in continuing, or that the members of the lodge chose not to recommend him for advancement to the next degrees. Or that he just got steamed at being asked to do volunteer renovation work.

For non-Masons reading this, what this means is that L'Enfant was initiated into a lodge, but was never made a full member, which requires the Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees. Likewise, in lists of Masonic U.S. presidents, Lyndon Johnson is generally not considered to be a Mason, as he was initiated in a Texas lodge as an Entered Apprentice, but never took the other two degrees required for full membership.

Regardless, my personal thanks to Brother Pierre F. de Ravel d'Esclapon for his detective work. As for those who will now trumpet this new evidence as stronger proof of the Masonic influence in the streets of the Federal City, please designate a driver. Do carry on and try not to hurt yourselves as you celebrate.

(Painting by artist Bryan Leister, based on a silhouette of L'Enfant and a pastel of the Major's father. It currently hangs in the District of Columbia Historical Society in Washington, DC.)


  1. I always find it funny how many people don't realize you can find the same symbols in many other, less famous city layouts. I'm going to wait for the cries of "But... but...." on this!

  2. Thanks for sharing this from the Scottish Rite Journal. Your readers can read the full article at www.scottishrite.org.

    I had a Rodney Daingerfield moment at the meeting of Patmos Lodge No. 70 held on February 22. I gave a program on George Washington and mentioned that L'Enfant had been a Mason.

    During the Q&A one of our very new Masons (a month or so) said, "Are you sure that's right about L'Enfant? Chris Hodapp says he wasn't a Mason."

    I explained that I had just published the article confirming L'Enfant's membership, to which ire responded, "But Chris says he wasn't a Mason."

    Sigh. I can't get no respect - even in my own Lodge!


  3. Brent, a prophet is not without honor save in his own country. We don't give Hodapp the time of day in Indiana. :)

  4. I'm tellin ya, no respect at all. When I was a kid, I went missing. My folks put my picture on a bottle of Scotch...

  5. Brother Hodapp, there is no need to apologize, as no EA can ever be considered a full-fledged Freemason, especially if he never returned his work and advanced. It would be the same with any trade union, who accepted a new worker, and that worker, quit, just as soon as he saw that he would have to work. He was never passed, nor was he raised, and made a brother Freemason. One does not have the right to be called a Master Mason, nor a Freemason, until they are raised, and they return their work. The same applies to any a Fellowcraft or Entered Apprentice, and neither can be called a Mason, as that is below their pay grade. They are working their way up to becoming a Mason.


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