Old encyclopedia from Mayville

Freemason, a member of an ancient secret order or fraternity now designated as “Free and Accepted Masons.” The order is of such ancient origin that even the derivation of its name is in doubt. By a majority of the authorities it is held that the word “free” is to be taken in the sense of one who is free of the masons’ guild. But the most reasonable theory is that the name owes its origin to the practice of the ancient masons of giving the passed apprentice his freedom as he was sent forth to seek employment on some great and worthy structure in process of erection to complete his mechanical education.

It was early in the 17th century that the word was first used in the sense in which it is now universally understood. At that time the ancient guilds of practical masons began to admit as a mark of especial esteem certain worthy persons whom it was intended to honor, not regular members of the guild through apprenticeship and occupation. To these was given the appellation “accepted.” They were afterward given the title of “freemasons ‘ also, inasmuch as they were admitted to a full membership in the guild and were duly acquainted with all its secrets.

In the year 1717 J. T. Desaguliers, a man of scientific knowledge and attainments, brought a number of scattered “lodges” or guilds of London under a single jurisdiction called the “Grand Lodge,” and it is to this ancient and august body that all the regular lodges of the ancient craft today trace their origin. The first Provincial Grand Lodge in America was established at Boston in 1733 by Henry Price, who, in 1734 was made Grand Master over all of North America.

The order has attained a remarkable growth throughout the world, and especially in the United States and Canada, the returns of the grand lodges of these two countries showing a membership (1932) of 3,149,872.

Freethinker, a name often assumed by those who, disbelieving in revelation, feel themselves free to adopt any opinion in religious or other matters which may result from their own independent thinking. The name was specially claimed by those who in the 17th and 18th centuries took the anti-Christian side in the deistic controversy.

A Beacon of Masonic Light

True Secrets of Freemasonry


Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Were Early Freemasons Deists?


Deism: a movement or system of thought advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe.

A brother recently claimed, to support his activities in the now 5 day old "Grand Orient of the United States of America" in that modern "Freemasonry has lost track of its origins". Expanding on that, he went on to claim that Masonic Lodges should have a blank book representing the volume of Sacred Law because the "majority of early Freemasons were Deists".

He used Benjamin Franklin, PGM Pennsylvania, Paul Revere, John Hancock and Voltaire as exemplars to support his conclusions. Its not possible at this time to determine the number of men who were Freemasons worldwide in the late 1700's. However, it does not seem unreasonable, given the number of Lodges in the world to put that number in the hundreds of thousands. Even if the numbers were only 100,000, four exemplars is hardly representative of... even a single lodge.

Moreover, research indicates that while Benjamin Franklin did, in fact, have deist leanings, he was a (infrequently) practicing Episcopalian(1), Paul Revere was a Congregationalist(2), John Hancock was Congregationalist(3), and on his deathbed, Voltaire declared himself a Catholic(4). Research shows the claim to be without foundation, though intellectual honesty requires the notation that SOME masons, were, in fact, deists.

As a means of getting a larger sampling, I used the known 9 masons who signed the Declaration of Independence, the six men who Signed the Articles of Confederation, and the 13 men who signed the U.S. Constitution (there is some overlap in these lists) to see what the religions were of these men.(5)


Signers of the Declaration of Independence

William Ellery, RI Congregationalist
Benjamin Franklin, PA Episcopalian (Deist)
John Hancock, MA Congregationalist
Joseph Hewes, NC Quaker/Episcopalian
William Hooper, NC Episcopalian
Robert Treat Paine, MA Congregationalist/Episcopalian
Richard Stockton, NJ Presbyterian
George Walton, GA Episcopalian
William Whipple, NH Congregationalist

Signers of the Articles of Confederation

Daniel Carroll Catholic
Henry Laurens Huguenot
John Harvie Protestant
Cornelius Harnett Episcopalian(Deist)
Jonathan Bayard Smith Protestant
John Dickison Quaker/Episcopalian
John Hancock, MA Congregationalist
Daniel Roberdeau Protestant

Signers of the Constitution

George Washington Episcopalian
Gunning Bedford Jr. Presbyterian
Benjamin Franklin, PA Episcopalian (Deist)
John Blair Presbyterian/Episcopalian
David Brearley Episcopalian
Rufus King Episcopalian/Congregationalist
John Dickinson Quaker/Episcopalian
Jacob Broom Lutheran
Daniel Carroll Catholic
Jonathan Dayton Presbyterian/Episcopalian
Nicholas Gilman Congregationalist
James McHenry Presbyterian

As can be seen from the list, only two men were identified as Deists, and most documents I have been able to find regarding the religion of the early colonies indicate there were VERY few deists. That written, I wish to refer back to my blog entry A Peculiar System of Morality, Taught by Allegory to note that the Peculiar System of Morality taught by masonry is most likely the FREEDOM to choose one's religious affiliation.

Of course, to the established religion, the most vile accusation they could make is that Freemasons were evil and devil worshipers, and the second worst is that we were all deists, since the essence of Deism is the denial of a personal caring g-d. Freemasonry is a system of morality, not a religion, and its lessons are acceptable to men of all faiths, Christian, Hebrew, Muslim, Buddhist, and yes, Deist.

May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.


(1) http://www.adherents.com/people/pf/Benjamin_Franklin.html
(2) http://www.paul-revere-heritage.com/landmarks.html
(3) http://www.adherents.com/people/ph/John_Hancock.html
(4) http://www.adherents.com/people/pv/Voltaire.html
(5) http://www.adherents.com/people



There you go. In the end believe what you want. I could really care less at this point. I am pretty sure this is my last post on this blog.

Have a good life.

Brad (BC 2006)
December 2, 2007 12:13 PM
Masonic Traveler said...
I wonder though what the conception of the divine was then, rather than how we conceive it today. With the evangelical movement, I think our idea of GOD has changed, away from a colder more removed idea the GOD head to the more personal, daily influenced one.

Also, I wonder if the deistic tendancies or "divine providence" was a reaction to the previous Puritan ideals of the country.

I don't know if I agree that the 2nd most foul accusation of a Freemason is to be callde a deist. Really, what's wrong with that? I think if the established religion needs to adjudge us on that way, that they need to look to their own VSL as to what happens to those who make judgements.
December 2, 2007 12:16 PM
Theron Dunn said...
Br. Cofield;

I did not "just disagree with you", I offered proof of my posiition. You have done nothing but offer your opinion about what you THOUGHT Br. Washington's religion was...

This is a discussion. I offer an opinion and offer supporting citations to support my argument. Now, you have offered an opinion, now please offer citations to support YOUR opinion, or it is JUST an opinion offered in a vacuum.

I thought enough of your opinion to go and research it... as I recalled, he was an Episcopalian, and a very devout Christian at that, offering his prayers for g-d's support. That is not the action of a deist, by definition of what a deist IS.

Pray give ME the courtesy of offering support for your opinion instead of just making blanket statements. And quit, for the sake of g-d, just tossing up your hands when you are shown to be wrong and cowboy up and admit you made a mistake.

Masonic Traveler: Good points. I think I meant the second most foul accusation to a Christian fundamentalist is that someone is a deist.

Sorry about that.
December 2, 2007 3:37 PM
Anonymous said...
To the questions
" Were Early Freemasons Deists? " maybe the answer is that they were Theists, Deists, Pantheist and Libertines.
It is easy to find men in all those categories.

December 3, 2007 2:59 AM
Errol said...
I would like to see Br. Cofields sources. On a visit I just had to Mt. Vernon, and what I have read, suggests that not only was Washington an Episcopalian, but was called upon by an Episcopalian late in his life. I would also like to see the source between Franklin and Washington. Again, I don't think this is factual. Washington was not an active Freemason, having visited lodges less than a dozen times in his entire life. I have seen nothing to say that Franklin and Washington were more than fellow politicians. I'd like to see the sources from both. The first quote from Brad was cut and pasted from somewhere on the web. I'd like to see the entire thing in context.
December 3, 2007 4:47 AM
RickB said...
It appears as if Brad quoted this website for his post:


December 3, 2007 3:04 PM
Anonymous said...
I am not a Mason but I think I would like to become one if possible. I have a question though. Can a Deist become a Mason? I was raised a Christian but I have started believing more like a Deist. This keeps me from trying to become a Mason as I know that you have to believe in a Creator/God that watches over us. As a deist I am not sure I can truthfully say that. Sorry if this is the wrong place to ask this question but I would really like some guidance.
December 3, 2007 7:21 PM
Theron Dunn said...
Freemasonry does not ask your religion, only that you can state that you have a faith in god, however you define him for yourself, that you are a man, freeborn, of good moral character, and under the tongue of good report.

If you are seriously interested in the craft, pick up the white pages in your area and look under freemason, or, use Yahoo Yellow pages. Enter your city, and then enter Masonic.

There is a lodge in darn near every good sized city in the United States and Canada. If you need help, please contact me at theron(at)therondunn.com
This website is the personal site of a Master Mason. The opinions offered on these pages are solely my own, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any Masonic body or jurisdiction. Opinions expressed herein while referencing any Masonic laws, rules or edicts from any jurisdiction are solely my interpretation, based on my understanding, and are not authoritative for or on behalf of any Masonic body or jurisdiction.