George Washington was definitely not the first President of the United States. He was the first President of the United States under the Constitution we follow today. There were fourteen Presidents, before Washington, who receive so little attention that most people cannot name even one.
Of the fourteen Presidents, elected for one year terms, five were Masons. Our Fraternity has the distinct honor of providing two “first” Presidents. Not only was George Washington a Mason but Peyton Randolph, the first President of the Continental Congress, was also a member of the Craft. The other four Masonic Presidents were Henry Laurens, Richard Henry Lee, Arthur St Clair and John Hancock.
The greatest of these early Presidents was Brother John Hancock. He was held in such high esteem by the leaders of the colonies that he was elected President three times. It was under his Presidency that the war effort against Britain was initiated in earnest and Washington appointed to direct it. And it was John Hancock, as President of Congress, who boldly and alone affixed his signature to the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It was another month before the others began to sign it. Brother John Hancock – an unknown President, but remembered and honored today!
Brother Peyton Randolph (1721-1775) was elected the first President of the Continental Congress in September, 1774. He served as master of the Lodge at Williamsburg, 1773, and was the last Provincial Grand Master of Virginia.
Brother John Hancock (1737-1793) was elected President in May of 1775, re-elected the following year and served to October of 1777. Hancock was a leading Boston merchant, a Major General in the Massachusetts militia and the first Governor of Massachusetts. The British General Gage said of him and Samuel Adams: “Their offenses are of too flagitious a nature to admit of any other consideration than that of condign punishment” He was made a Mason in Merchants Lodge No. 277, Quebec, in 1762 and affiliated with St. Andrew’s Lodge of Boston that same year.
Brother Henry Laurens (1724-1792) served as President from November of 1777 to December of 1778. He was a South Carolina merchant. On a diplomatic mission to Holland he was captured by the British and confined in the Tower of London from October, 1780 to December, 1781. He was exchanged for Lord Cornwallis. He is thought to be the first person in America to be cremated at death. He was a member of Solomon’s Lodge No.1, Charleston, S.C., and Grand Steward of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina in 1754.
Brother Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794) was President from November of 1784 to October of 1785. He was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and later United States Senator from that State. He was the author of the “Resolution for Independence” in the Continental Congress, June 1776: “These United Colonies, are and of right ought to be, free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be totally dissolved.” He might have been the author of the Declaration of Independence but, in his illness, Thomas Jefferson was asked to write it. He lived at Nailers, just across the Rappahannock River about eight miles from Hobb’s Hole (later Tappahannock) where there was a lodge for a _ number of years, and it is thought that he probably received his degrees there. A. P. Anderson in Virginia Masons Who Served in the Revolution states that he later became a member of Hiram Lodge No. 59, Westmoreland Co., Va. d. June 19, 1794.
Brother Arthur St. Clair (1784-1818) served as President from February of 1787 to November of 1787. He was a Major General in the Revolutionary War. Previously, as a lieutenant under General Wolfe in the battle on the “Plains of Abraham” at Quebec he seized the colors from a fallen soldier and bore it until victory had been won by the British. He was the first Governor of the Northwest Territory, 1787. His original lodge is not known but it may have been an English military lodge. He signed a request in 1791 for a charter for Lodge Nova Caesarea Harmony No.2 of Cincinnati and is recorded as visiting this lodge many times.