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


Monday, February 21, 2022

Book Review: 'A Deserving Brother: George Washington and Freemasonry' by Mark Tabbert

by Christopher Hodapp

When the George Washington National Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia was first proposed in 1910, it was designed as a magnificent monument to America’s most famous Mason, along with being a safe and secure repository for priceless Masonic objects owned by Virginia’s Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22 that were associated with Brother George. The lodge possessed an original, contemporary portrait of Washington showing him dressed in Masonic regalia. And they had a collection of irreplaceable items which had originally been owned by Washington or utilized by him for the cornerstone ceremony for the U.S. Capitol building in 1798. 

But a fire at the lodge in the late 1800s resulted in the loss of several their priceless objects. So the Memorial was proposed as a national Masonic project that would be supported by all regular, recognized grand lodges in the U.S. in order to more safely house and display these almost sacred items for the public and for Masons alike. Today, the Memorial houses one of the largest collections of Washington-associated memorabilia outside of his estate, Mount Vernon and the Smithsonian Museum.

Many years ago, Mark Tabbert told me of an ongoing project he was working on. He has been the head of collections at the Memorial for many years, and the physical resources at the Memorial are preserved for future historians and Masons. Like the fairytales of Parson Weems’ chop-down-the-cherry-tree “biography” of the general, president and founding father, Masonic tall tales about Washington began propagating with great abandon after his death, and continue through today. 

Despite the endless (and frequently bogus) claims some Masons have made over the years about Worshipful Brother George and his enthusiasm for the fraternity, the truth is that Washington really only provably attended a handful of lodge meetings in person throughout his entire lifetime. Tabbert has always insisted that it is vital to honestly understand the role Freemasonry legitimately played in Washington’s life (and conversely, the role he played for the fraternity) instead of just breezily and blindly accepting legends that were told, retold and embellished by well-intentioned brethren over the last two and a half centuries. 

For instance, although Washington was named as the Master of Alexandria Lodge when it was chartered, he never actually sat in that position, or even as a sideliner in that lodge, and the famous drawings and paintings of him dressed in a jewel and apron as the Worshipful Master and presiding over a meeting were simply artistic flights of fancy on the part of painters and sculptors, and nothing more.

The result of Mark’s ongoing labors over the last decade is an ambitious new book being released this week by the University of Virginia Press: A Deserving Brother: George Washington and Freemasonry. In it, Tabbert has researched quite literally every single reference, claim, rumor, letter, declaration, newspaper article or offhanded remark that ever connected George Washington to the Masonic fraternity. Every known bit of physical evidence associated with Washington and his Masonic membership is presented in the book in chronological order, while explaining, debunking or ignoring the unsubstantiated claims. Tabbert’s intention has been to correct the historical record and create the standard reference work for future researchers on the trail of Washington and the influence Freemasonry may or may not have had on his life and his character.

Freemasonry during America’s formative years was instrumental in reinforcing the notion of a non-secular, “civic religion” that was so vital to the creation and success of this new constitutional, democratic republic. Washington’s membership in the fraternity was influential in both directions. In practical terms, Masonry demonstrated mutual cooperation, respect, religious toleration, and social egalitarianism that informed Washington’s understanding of democracy. And his membership in the fraternity gave Freemasonry a status that few other organizations could achieve at the time. His Masonic membership and support drew more and more merchants, community and business leaders, and men of all political and religious persuasions to join its ranks.

A Deserving Brother straddles the line between being an historical narrative and an itemized, encyclopedic catalogue. An extensive introductory chapter by Washington historian Edward G. Lengel gives a general chronological sketch of George’s life and where it coincided with the Masonic fraternity. But the main body of the work is its meticulously researched catalogue. The book is divided into several major periods of Washington’s life: as a British subject; General and Commander in Chief; private citizen; President of the United States; and his retirement and death. Each chapter is introduced by a general outline of the time period covered. Following that, descriptions of each reference include photos, dates, locations, circumstances, and in the case of letters and other documents, transcriptions of the text itself. In an effort to be as complete as possible, Mark has included correspondence whenever someone would send Washington a note, a Masonic book or other gift related in any way to the fraternity. And to aid future researchers, each item’s provenance and current location today are provided.

Notably, Tabbert has been careful to include verified details of several important, oft-cited milestones concerning Washington and the Masons, including his first inauguration in New York City and the circumstances involving the famous St. John’s Lodge Bible upon which he took the oath of office; the Masonic cornerstone ceremony of the U.S. Capitol in 1793 and the surviving working tools and related objects used at that event; and details of Washington’s Masonic funeral service in December 1799. An epilogue goes on to cite references about Washington used both by Masons and anti-Masons in the 1800s, as well as celebrations held by Masons in 1899 on the 100th anniversary of his death, and in 1902 for the 150th anniversary of his raising as a Master Mason. The major books written about Washington’s Masonic experiences and involvement are described, as well as the formation of what would become the George Washington National Masonic Memorial Association. 

The Memorial itself was officially dedicated in 1932, some 22 years after it was first proposed, and Tabbert provides a synopsis of its mission and exhibits then and now, as well as an explanation of the changes that have occurred there since its opening.

In short, Mark Tabbert’s A Deserving Brother is without question the most extensive, detailed and truthful accounting of Washington and his Freemasonry as he lived it. As an historical research tool it is invaluable, and will unquestionably be the most important reference work on George Washington and the fraternity available for decades to come.

This book is being distributed by Macoy Publishing under a special partnership with the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association. Priced at $34.95 for the 304-page hardback edition, CLICK HERE TO ORDER.


  1. Just ordered with great anticipation. A new book about Washington's very early years as a brother with some startling recent discoveries is at https://westphaliapress.org/2021/09/20/brought-to-light/

  2. Here is the opening of my review that will appear in the Scottish Rite Journal.

    One word review: Wow!
    Two word review: Buy it!!
    Three word review: Buy it now!!!


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