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


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Is the Official Date of Our Founding Wrong?

The joint Conference on the history of Freemasonry held by Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 and Queens’ College at the University of Cambridge in England concluded Sunday. The Conference was dedicated especially to the 300th anniversary of the founding of the first Grand Lodge of England in 1717.

Mark Tabbert reports that a paper was presented by Drs. Andrew Prescott and Susan Mitchell Sommers that, in his words, "conclusively proved that the Grand Lodge of England was NOT founded in 1717, but in 1721."

The researchers have apparently discovered detailed minutes pertaining to the creation of the Grand Lodge of of London and Westminster (precursor to the Grand Lodge of England, and finally the UGLE) in 1721 at the back of one of London's Lodge of Antiquity No. 2's minute books. The minutes of that gathering describe a large and well organized event. 

The Lodge of Antiquity is the descendant of the lodge that met at the Goose and Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul's churchyard, and one of the four original founding lodges that formed the Grand Lodge.

In addition, the minutes apparently state that the founding Grand Master of the premier Grand Lodge of England was actually John Montagu, the 2nd Duke of Montagu, and not Antony Sayer, as was stated in Rev. Anderson's 1738 Constitutions. Montagu has long been known as the first member of the nobility to serve as Grand Master, in 1721. But this paper upsets a rather substantial applecart of accepted Masonic history.

These newly discovered documents reportedly eliminate Sayer, George Payne, and John Theophilus Desaguliers from the lineup of first successive grand masters, along with moving the official founding date of speculative Freemasonry forward by four years.  

There has always been very little written record of that early period, aside from Anderson's account. So this discovery is of major importance. 

At the very least, UGLE may have to move their big banquet next year forward by four years...

There were some 160 delegates and guests in attendance at the Conference from around the world. The papers presented will be published next year, and members of the Q.C. Correspondence Circle will be able to purchase the book from Lewis Masonic at a substantial discount.

UPDATE 9/15/16:

Prof. Prescott presented sort of a prequel to this paper earlier this year in Ontario -  Searching For the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716? 

Some of my takeaways from  the Sankey Lecture: Apple Tree Tavern was established in 1728, not 1716. It just wasn't there. So, the first meeting described by Anderson in 1716 simply could not have happened then or in that way. But there's LOTS to digest, including the lives of men mentioned by Anderson in 1738. Prescott doesn't say Anderson simply "made it up," but that he was charged by the GL to piece together a founding story from the records available in 1738.

It's a fascinating presentation. It's about an hour long.

But then I went and looked at Pine's engraved lists of lodges. Pine's list of lodges as early as 1725 lists 8 active lodges (with two already notably missing numerically). By 1729, there are 12. While the dates and people and places probably were reverse-engineered by Anderson in 1738, there were nonetheless 8 years after Anderson's claim of GL's formal founding at least 8 active lodges working. SOMETHING was happening to spread them. And George Payne obviously held SOME kind of position of importance at the time of Anderson's first edition in 1723, because Payne was said to have drafted the regulations in the book.

So THIS first paper presents obviously way more questions than it answers. Once the more recent paper given last weekend can be read and considered with this earlier lecture, it will be interesting to see the whole picture it presents.

UPDATE 9/9/2017

The collected papers from the Conference are available in a 700+ page hardback edition as of Summer 2017 HERE:  REFLECTIONS ON 300 YEARS OF FREEMASONRY
Price is £22.50 (approximately US$ 29.73 plus shipping)

The complete list of papers is as follows:

• Illustrations of Masonry

Yasha Beresiner: 300 Years of Masonic Caricatures

Martin Cherry: Illustrations of Masonry: the frontispieces of the Books of Constitutions, 1723 to 1819

Richard Burch-Smith: Early Freemasonry in the British Colony of Demerary Essequibo 1813-1835

Michael Allan: Freemasonry in Mauritius

• Freemasonry in the Colonies

Diane Clements: Masonic Yearbooks and the development of Provincial Identity

Aubrey Newman: The Evolution of the Province and the Provincial Grand Lodge in English Freemasonry

Gerald Reilly: The Urbanisation of Harwich 1832-1914: The Role of Freemasons in Particular.

John Cooper III: Freemasonry and Nation-Building on the Pacific Coast: The California Experience

Aimee E. Newell: British Freemasonry Comes to the New World: The First Ten Years of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts

Mark Tabbert George Washington, General Grand Master of Freemasons in the United States of America...or not?

• Other Degrees in Freemasonry

John Acaster: The Royal Arch before the Union and its particular adoption among the Moderns

John Belton: My Brother - Just One More Degree?

Richard Gan: The Full Spectrum of Freemasonry

• Freemasonry in the USA

Richard Berman: The Social Origins of Freemasonry in the Deep South
Brian W Price: Prince Hall Masonry

Hilary Stelling : English Transfer-Printed Presentation Pitchers in New England Lodges

The Sun is Always at its Meridian

Kent Henderson: The Origins of Australian Freemasonry

Mike Kearsley: Masonry in New Zealand

Kenneth Marcus: A Brotherhood of Constitutions - South and Southern Africa 1811 - 2017

Tony Baker: Freemasonry in the Encyclopedia Britannica

Robert Cooper :The impact of the formation of the Grand Lodge of England on Freemasonry in Scotland

Barry Hoffbrand: Portrait of the first Noble Grand Masterimages of John, second Duke of Montagu

• Masonry in Asia, China, and India

Anthony Atkinson: 250 Years of Freemasonry in Asia

Lisa Hellman: The first lodge in China: an international hub in 18th century Canton
Roeinton Khambatta Close Encounters of Different Kinds

• Masonry in Italy, Russia and Turkey

Maxine Gilhuys and Lucio Artini: Tuscany at the beginning of the XVIII Century: the English Lodge in Florence

Antony Lentin: A masonic utopia in the Russia of Catherine the Great

Emanuela Locci: The first English Lodge in the Ottoman Empire. The Oriental Lodge No. 687

• Dukes and Kings

Paul Calderwood: Royal Connection in the Twentieth Century

John Wade: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Rulers of the Craft

Andreas C. Rizopoulos: Focusing on less known aspects of the life of Augustus Duke of Sussex

• Anti-Masonry and Italy

David J Peck: 1940's - Hitler, the greatest threat to English Freemasonry

Fabio Venzi: Freemasonry and the Catholic Church

Demetrio Xoccato: Friendship and prejudice: the relations between the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Orient of Italy

• Red Aprons, Mathematics and War

Jonathan Dowson: Jerusalem Lodge No 197 ( f.1731)

Steven Smith: The early Eighteenth-century Masonic connections of Mathematical Instrumentmaker Jonathan Sisson (1692-1749)

Michael Beacham: Military visitors to Guernsey

Dr Brent Morris: The Impact of English Freemasonry on America and vice versa

Andreas Onnefors: The Freemasons' Magazine 1793-1798

Róbert Péter: Freemasonry in the eighteenth-century British press: unmapped sources and novel research methods

Susan Snell: The art of discovering Masonic history: how to find gems among the archives at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Jan Snoek: Preston's Harodim Lectures and the UGLE Craft Rituals

Susan Sommers and Andrew Prescott: James Anderson: a Child of His Times

Yoshio Washizu: English Freemasonry - A Product of Club Movement?

Professor Andrew Prescott: in association with Professor Susan Sommers Searching for the Apple Tree


  1. Thanks Chris! Wow, bet only a few saw this coming. This is fascinating and (if true) would mean English Freemasonry started out as a Royal Institution. But the question remains; was Rev. Anderson aware of this history and decided not to include it in the 1723 Constitutions for some reason? Why? And who could grant him the permission to do so? Looking forward to the Q.C. book.

    Well, provided the tri-centennial celebration is still held next year, brethren who are visiting at that time for the first time can stop by the Prince of Wales Pub for drink, good food, and socializing. The Covent Garden (Prince of Wales) Pub is located on the corner of Great Queen Street within walking distance of UGLE and is popular with male and female Masons. Join the Pub's email Club for a discount and birthday gift. WWW.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/Prince-of-wales-covent-garden/

    Tom- member Q.C. Correspondence Circle.

    1. I'm not sure what you mean by "Royal Institution." If you are referring to John, Duke of Montagu, the first Grand Master in this new version of history, then you are mistaken. He was not "royalty," but was a member of the nobility. Big difference. In any event, this is only important to those interested in the history of the Grand Lodge at London and Westminster. Many grand lodges, like my own, do not descend from that grand lodge, but only descend from the Ancients' grand lodge of 1751, or from the grand lodges of Scotland or Ireland. We often place too much importance on the happenings in London during the period 1717 to 1723.

  2. I find it quite surprising that William Preston himself, that's the infamous Master of the Lodge of Antiquity that convinced its membership to secede from Grand Lodge and found the breakaway Grand Lodge of All England South of the River Trent in 1779, didn't notice and publicise this information back then.

  3. Drs. Andrew Prescott and Susan Mitchell Sommers

    ​"conclusively proved that the Grand Lodge of England was NOT founded in 1717, but in 1721."

    Experts​ have been arguing about the date of creation (see Arch Bishop Usher), the date of the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai and the date of the birth of Christ for hundreds and thousands of years.
    ​Masonic historians ​have been arguing for centuries about the True Origins of the Craft without unanimous conclusion. There are at least 20 theories and combinations of them.

    The faithful among us say "so what" to those disputes. Whether it was 1717 or 1721 that the Premier Grand Lodge was inaugurated or whether Anthony Sayer or John Montegu was the first Grand Master should not detract from our celebrating our 300th in the "Traditional Year".
    Traditions count for a lot and we should delight in and celebrate to the fullest the long accepted Anderson story. This is not to discount the ​discoveries and ​concerns of the the forensic historians of QCC​, the Prestonian lecturers and other​ researchers ​ who certainly have their place in the Craft ​​in helping us to understand a more accurate scenario.
    In Toronto we have plans for an enthusiastic and meaningful large scale celebration in November ​2017
    Stephen Maizels

  4. "The minutes of that gathering describe a large and well organized event."
    Sounds as if the 1721 meeting could have been simply a formalizing of a workgroup begun 4 years earlier.

  5. Surprisingly, it has taken approximately one year for me to have been fully awakened to the significance of this gathering, and its conclusions!

    Some may say it matters not at all. And in many ways, I suppose it is true. But for those who are trying to get at the root of what exactly was in the mind of those who decided that a Grand Lodge was necessary.... this is a very important finding!

    Any developments from 1716 to 1721 suddenly loom relevant, when it is not the Grand Lodge that made them happen, but really the people on the scene from 1720 to 1721. And the famous trip of Desaguliers, in 1721, to the Scottish lodge in Edinburgh suddenly becomes of the Utmost Importance!!!

    From the Prescott & Sommers article:
    "Stukeley was one of the founders of the Society of Antiquaries and is celebrated for his archaeological investigations of Avebury and Stonehenge. He records in his diary that on 6 January 1721 'I was made Free Mason, at the Salutation Tav. Tavistock street with Mr. Collins, Capt. Rowe who made the famous diving engine [diving bell]."

    "... the most striking aspect of Stukeley's account of his initation is his later recollection in his Commplace Book [circa 1750] that 'I was the first person made a free mason in London for many years [which can only be presumed to be much longer than the four years since 1717!]. We had great difficulty to find members enough to perform the ceremony.

    Immediately upon that it [the Grand Lodge] took a run and ran itself out of breath, thro' the folly of the members."

    [Authors' Footnote: "... Stukeley's Commonplace Book is now in the Library of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society at Devizes."]

  6. Thanks again for the information, links, and insight on the Pine list. Since we've hit the date, has anything new come about? I assume we're waiting for the paper to be published to the correspondence circle still?


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