This article was taken from the Leadership Development Course (1995 Revision) originally published by the Grand Lodge of NY Committee on Leadership Services, authored by Allan M. Bryant.
Freemasonry is the oldest and largest fraternity in the world. There are 6 million members worldwide, just under 3 million in the U.S.. It has symbolic and mythic origin at the building of King Solomon’s Temple. Historical roots of the Craft are unknown. Henry W. Coil, in his “Freemasonry Through Six Centuries”, states that there are over 24 theories relating to the origin of Freemasonry. These theories range from the beginning of time to the Middle Ages when operative masons began accepting what we would refer to today as honorary members.
The oldest document associated with Freemasonry is the “Regius Poem” or Hallwell Manuscript. It was written about 1390 and is said to have been copied from an older document. The Regius poem outlines the first “convention” of the Craft held in York in 926 A.D. under the leadership of Prince Edwin. The Regius Poem is followed by The Cooke Manuscript of circa 1410 and a host of younger documents known as The Old Charges.
A significant change in the Craft occurred when four (4) existing Lodges in London formed the Grand Lodge of England on June 24, 1717. The Grand Lodge of England chartered many Military or Traveling Lodges. These Military lodges served with regiments in The American Colonies and helped bring Freemasonry to this continent. It followed that Provincial Grand Lodges were formed in the Colonies. Military, Traveling, and Provincial Lodges all existed during the same period. One of the first Provincial Lodges formed in the Colonies was St. Johns Lodge in Boston July 30, 1733. The charter for this Lodge was issued by Lord Viscount Montague, Grand Master of England.