William L. (William Leete) Stone.

Letters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams online

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England at the head of forty monks, instead of Freemasons.
The English historian, Henry, attributes the origin of
the Masons in England, to the difficulty experienced, in
oarly times, of obtaining enough men of skill, to build the


churches and monasteries of the middle ages; and that,
consequently, architects and builders were favored by the
Popes with indulgencies, to augment their numbers. In
support of this position he quotes an author, the name of
whom I have not been able to ascertain, stating that some
Greek refugees, with Frenchmen, Germans and Flemings^
formed a fraternity of architects, and, procuring papal bulls,
ranged from nation to nation, where churches were to be
built, encamped in huts by themselves, and framed regulv
tions for their own government, according with the pecu-
liar circumstances of their occupation, and the lives they
were leading. "Masonry was restored, and some other
*' arts connected with it, introduced into England," says
Henry, " towards the end of the seventh century, by two
" clergymen, who were great travellers, and had often visit-
" ed Rome, where they had gained a taste for the arts."*
This sentence, separated from the context, might be sup-
*posed to apply either to speculative or operative Masonry, as
the reader might choose to construe it. But the historian pro-
ceeds to inform his reader, that the two travelling ecclesias-
tics were, Wilfred, Bishop of York, afterwards of Hexham,
and Benedict Biscop, founder of the abbey of Weremouth.
Biscop, we are told, made no fewer than six journies to
Rome, collecting books, pictures, statues, and other curiosi-
ties ; — then crossing over into France, he collected a num-
ber of Masons, " and brought them over into England to
" build their churches and monasteries, of stone, as they did
** in Rome.^' In the same way, they sent over to France for
glass-makers, &c. The historian then proceeds to give a
gorgeous description of the magnificent church built by'
these Masons at Hexham, the ground lor which was given
by queen Etheldreda. A cotcmporary historian quoted by
Henry, describing the grandeur of this structure, conceives
that the plan of it must have been inspired by the spirit of

* Vol. 4, Lon. ed. of !7S3— Chnpt'^r on tho Arta.


God, such was the grandeur of the design, and the splendor
of its execution. But in all this, Dr. Henry makes no allu-
sion whatever to a regularly organized society, and evident-
ly intends to be understood as referring to operative builders
— stone masons — and nothing more. This construction is
rendered still more obvious, from the manner in vv^hich the
author speaks of the introduction of Masonry into Scotland.
In the year 710, he informs us, in the chapter already
quoted, that there was not so much as one church of stone
in the kingdom, or an artist in Scotland who could build
one. Naitan, king of the Picts, wrote to Ceolfred, abbot of
Weremouth, entreating him to send him over some masons,
to build a church of stone in his kingdom, in imitation of the
Romans, — promising to dedicate the edifice, when comple-
ted, to St. Peter. Bede, who was then living in the abbey
of Weremouth, states that " the reverend abbot Ceolfred
^' granted his pious request, and sent masons according to
" his desire." These, again, were operative masons ; but
Henry, nevertheless, was of the opinion, that the masons
thus introduced into England and Scotland, were descend-
ed from the Collegia Artificum of the Romans, and that the
masonic institution of his own times, was derived from those
travelling artizans.

Chambers's Encyclopsedia, (London edition of 1781,)
speaks of the institution as " a very ancient society, or body
^' of men, so called from some extraordinary knowledge of
•• masonry or building. They were very considerable for
•' numbers and character, consisting principally of persons
" of merit and consideration." It is, however, admitted by
Chambers, to be very doubtful when the order was introdu-
ced into England. *• Some," he says, " have traced the ori-
" gin of Masonry, in general, to the year 674, when the
^* manufacture of glass was introduced. It is certain that
^' after this time, many of the public buildings in England,
*' in the Gothic style^ were erected l)y men in companie-g.


^' who, it is said, called themselves free, because they were
^' at liberty to work in any part of the kingdom they might
" select." Others have derived the institution of Freema-
sons from a combination among the masons not to work
without an advance of wages, when they were summoned
from several counties, by writs of Edward III., directed
to the sheriffs, to assist in rebuilding and enlarging the cas-
tle, together with the church and chapel of St. George, at
Windsor : accordingly, it was said that the masons agreed
on signs, tokens, emblems, &c., by which they might know
one another, and to assist each other against being impress-
ed, and to avoid being compelled to work unless free, and
on THEIR OWN TERMS. The end, thus far, appeared lauda-
ble enough ; — tending only to promote social intercourse,
friendship, mutual assistance, and good fellowship.

The true re-establishment of Masonry in England, says
Dr. Rees, " is dated from king Athelstan ; and there is still
*' existing an ancient lodge in York, tracing its origin to that
" period. After the decease of Athelstan, the Masons were
" dispersed, and remained so, until 960, when they were col-
" lectcd under the reign of Edgar, by St. Dunstan." " It
" again declined until /the reign of Edward the Confessor,
" when they were summoned to the building of Westminster
"Abbey, in 1041." From this period its history is traced
with great particularity, by Dr. Rees, down to the acces-
sion of George I. — The narrative gives a rapid view of the
vicissitudes of good and ill fortune which attended the pro-
gress of the institution during that period, together with the
names of the whole line of Grand Masters, and distinguished
patrons, both in church and state, according to the testimo-
ny of Preston — which is as doubtful as the greatest skeptic
could desire.

'llio author of the Age of Reason, wrote a tract in con-
nexion with the third part of that infamous work, upon the
oriofin of Freemasonrv. But notwithstandincr his usual sa-


gacity, he also has suffered himself to be deceived as to its
antiquity. A full disclosure of the secrets of Masonry was
published by Samuel Pritchard, in 1 730, who made oath to
the truth of his work, before the lord mayor of London. As
Masonry was then constituted, Pritchard's disclosures were
as full and complete as those afterwards made under the ti-
tle of " Jachin and Boaz," or the later revelations of Mor-
gan. There was then but one obligation for the three de-
grees, and that was much shorter than either of those at pre-
sent in use.* Paine takes the revelations of Pritchard for his
guide, and endeavors to prove that the institution was deriv-
ed from the religion of the Druids, who, he says, were wor-
shippers of the sun. He also supposes that both Masonry
and the Druidical religion came from the fire worshippers,
in the east. His argument, in regard to the Druidical char-
acter of Freemasonry, is founded chiefly upon the fact, that
the sun is a masonic emblem ; that frequent references are
made to the sun in the rites and ceremonies of the lodge ;
that masonic edifices, are always erected " due east and
-^^ west ;" and that the words of the formularies — " as the
" sun rises in the east, to open and adorn the day, so does
*' the Worshipful Master stand in the east to open and adorn
" the lodge," &c., convey the same allusion. But there is
neither history nor tradition, to support the hypothesis of
Paine. His premises, therefore, being false, his conclusions
are equally so ; and if, as he asserts, there be really a coin-
cidence between the ceremonies of the lodges, and the rites
of the Druids, the masons must have adopted them, as they
are alledged to have accommodated to the same object the
emblems and insignia of the Rosicrucians, which were the
tools and aprons of the handicraft masons. Other writers,
however, have mentioned the Druids as having practised
rites and mysteries, corresponding, in some respects, with

'^ Yidc Appendix C.



those of the Masons. But these ceremonies were beheverl
to have been derived from the Pythagoreans. There wa^
a similarity between the fraternities of the Druids and the
Pythagoreans, according to Henry and others, as well in
their forms and mysteries, as in their religious and philoso-
phical opinions. But this fact does not help to sustain the
hypothesis of Paine.

The Encyclopsedia Britannica has given a condensed,
but a still better history of the society, than that of Rees,
although it is very evident that, for the most part, both have
drawn their information from the same identical sources.-
And the article " Masonry," in the 8th volume of the Ency-
clopa3dia Americana, a valuable w^ork now^ in the course of
publication on the basis of the German Conversations Lexi-
con, contains a more compact, and, on the whole, I am in-
clined to think, a better account than either of the works to
which I have yet referred. Disregarding, as it ought, the
idle traditions connecting the society with the Greek or
Egyptian mysteries, or claiming its descent from the Diony-
sian architects, or the Pythagorean society ; denying, also,
and wdth equal justness, that it sprung from the Templars,
the Jesuits, or the Rosicrucians, or even from the common
corporation of masons, the last mentioned w^ork entertains
the opinion in common with Henry, that speculative Mason-
ry, as I have just mentioned, was derived irom the Collegia
Artificum of the Romans, or societies of architects and ar-
tificers, who sprang from the Collegia, and w^erc transplant-
ed over tlie various countries of western Europe, in the
train of their legions. There was no tow^n, how^ever small,
and no province, however distant, visited by the Roman
arms, where some of the Collegia did not exist, until the
downfall of the empire. Many of their members w-ere, of
course, transplanted to Britain, but driven thence by the Scots
and Picts, as I have already noted. Nevertheless, they still
continued to flourish in other Europcnn countries, wliencc


they Were subsequently invited to England, by Alfred and
Aihelstan, to assist in building their castles, abbeys and
convents, and on repairing thither, received letters of protec-
tion from the Pope and the King, extending to them certain
privileges, as I have already mentioned, upon other authori-
ties. " They then united, under v^^ritten constitutions, foun-
"ded upon the ancient constitutions of the Roman and
" Greek colleges, and the provisions of the civil law. Their
" religious tenets, being often objects of suspicion to the or-
" thodox catholics, and often diflering amongst themselves,
" were not allowed to obtrude in their meetings, and were
" of course kept secret. Secrecy, moreover, was the char-
" acter of all the corporations of the middle ages, and down
" to the most recent times, the corporations of mechanics
" on the European continent, had what they called ' secrets
" of the craft,' — certain words, or, sometimes, absurd cere-
" monies, by which they pretended to know each other. To
" this it must be added, that the corporations of architects
" in the middle ages, were descended from the times of an-
^* tiquity, so that their societies had received, in the times
" when the Romans adored all gods, and listened to all phi-
" losophical systems, impressions derived from the Greek
" philosophical schools, particularly the stoic, united v/ith
" some fragments of the Egyptian mysteries, and subse-
" quently modified by notions acquired in the early times of
*' Christianity, particularly from the Gnostics, which led to
" certain doctrines and sacred ceremonies, clothed, accord-
" ing to the spirit of the time, in symbols, and constituting
" their esoteric mxysteries." In time, these masons, or ar-
chitects, thus assembled in England, formed schools of the
fine arts, to which many respectable artists, native and for-
eign, resorted for initiation. Such was their character so
late as when Inigo Jones presided over the order as Grand



I do not pretend, sir, nor do I wish to prove, by any of
these gleanings from the books, that Freemasonry, in the
manner and form of its organization during the last centu-
ry, had an existence as a charitable and social institution, ir-
respective of any particular labor in the advancement of the
arts ; but that the society had a very ancient being,in England,
in some form, I think cannot be doubted. All the circumstan-
ces and incidents stated of its early history, may not be true.
Doubtless they are not : but still, there are facts and evi-
dences enough, which cannot be questioned, to sustain this
position. St. Alban is said to have been a great friend to
the masons, and to have obtained a charter for them to hold
general councils, or assembly s, as they were called. The
wages of the operatives were at that time — about A. D.
300 — a penny a day, the workmen being found. These
circumstances are said to be mentioned in a manuscript
written in the time of James II only that this latter ac-
count makes the wages of the masons to have been 3s. 6d.
per diem, and that of the bearers of burdens 3d. per diem.
In regard to the particular agency of St. Alban, in procuring
a masonic charter, however, I confess myself rather incre-
dulous. But I am inclined to believe that a lodge was insti-
tuted in Yorkshire, about the year 916 of the christian era.
The tradition is, that the lodge was instituted at Audley,
near York, by a <;harter from Athelstan, under the patron-
age of the king's brother Edwin, whose seat was at Audley.
Certain it is, that there is a very ancient lodge at York, and
for a long succession of years the meetings were held therc^
and the lodge is believed to have been continued in regular
succession at that place, down even to the present day,
where the original charter, written in Anglo Saxon, is yet
preserved. The employment of the members of this lodge^
in its early career, was the building of monasteries, abbey»
and churches.


Attempts were made during the rebellion in tlie i-eign of
Henry V., to inculpate the Masons as the authors of it, but
"without success. After Gloucester's execution, the king
himself became a member of the order, and is said to have
paid great attention to it. He perused and sanctioned its
constitutions, and many of the nobles followed his example
in favoring the society. In 1425, during the reign of Hen-
ry VI., an act wa^ passed against the meetings of the chap-
ters and congregations of Masons, in consequence of an al-
ledged interference with the business and wages of laborers.
The society was at that time organized under Henry Chich-
ley. Archbishop of Canterbury, who was tlie Grand Mas-
ter. The act was supposed to have been procured hy the
illiterate clergy, who were hostile to the secrecy observed
by the society — believing that they had an indefeasible
right to be made acquainted with all secrets, by virtue of
auricular confession ; and the Masons would not confess.
The Archbishop, however, had sufficient influence to pre-
vent the execution of the law. But the Roman catholics
have uniformly been the most bitter opponents of the insti-
tution in Europe, since its revival in England, and propaga-
tion from thence to the continent, about one hundred years
ago. It was speedily proscribed in France, the Netherlands,
Italy, Spain and Portugal ; and in our own day, the decrees
t)f the latter powers against it, have often been echoed in
thunders from the Vatican — probably because it infringes
upon the privileges which they wish to enjoy themselves.
Auricular confession is sacred. No menace nor power can
extort from the priest a secret so sacredly and uiviolably
reposed. The catholic priest, if a true catholic, will have
his throat cut across, and his tongue plucked out by the
roots, before he will reveal the secrets of the confessional
But when a rival despository of secrets is created, it is quitf
me autre chose. It must be put down: it is heretical

108 lETTER IX.

Elizabeth undertook to suppress the order altogether ;
but was diverted from her purpose. James I. patronized
the lodge of Scotland, and settled a revenue of £4 Scots,
to be paid by every Master Mason to a Grand Master, to
be a man nobly born, or a clergyman, his appointment to be
approved by the crown.

The earliest historical mention of Freemasonry, as a so-
cial society, corresponding, in several respects, with the in-
stitution of the present day, is contained in Plofs Natural
History of Staffordshire. Dr. Plot was a learned philoso- '
pher, and an antiquary. He was a member of the Royal
Society ; historiographer to the king, and also, at one time,
librarian and keeper of the Ashmolean Library and Museum,
at Oxford. His account is so curious and instructing with-
al, and so important, as being, in fact, the earliest classical
record of the existence of the society in this form, that I
make no apology for transcribing the whole passage : —
" They have a custom in Staffordshire, of admitting men
" into the society of Freemasons, that in the moorelands of'
" this country seems to be of greater request than any where
" else, though I find the custom spread, more or less, all over
" the nation ; for here I found persons of the most eminent
" quality, that did not disdain to be of this fellowship ; nor,
" indeed need they, were it of that antiquity and honor that
" is pretended, in a large parchment volume they have
" amongst them, containing the history and rules of the craft
'f of Masonry, which is there deduced not only from sacred
" writ, but profane story ; particularly that it was brought
" into England by >S'^. Amphihal, and first communicated to
^^ St. AJhan, &g. Into which society, when any are admit-
" ted, they call a meeting, (or lodge, as they term it in some
" places,) which must consist at least of five or six of' the
" ancients of the order, whom the candidates present with
" gloves, and so likewise to their wives, and entertain with


*■* a collation, accordipig to the custom of the place. This
" ended, they proceed to the admission of them, which chief-
'• ly consists in the communication of certain secret signs,
** whereby they are known to one another all over the na-
" tion, by which means they have maintenance whitherever
" they travel ; for if any man appear, though altogether un-
" known, that can show any of these signs t(i a felloio of the
" society, whom they otherwise call an accepted Mason., he
" is obliged presently to come to him, from what company
" or place soever he be in ; nay, though from the top of a
" steeple, what hazard or inconvenience soever he run, to
" know his pleasure and assist him ; viz. if he want work, he
" is bound to find him some ; or, if he cannot do that, to give
" him money, or otherwise support him till work can be
" had, which is one of their articles ; and it is another, that
" they advise the masters they work for, according to the
" best of their skill, acquainting them with the goodness or
" badness of their materials ; and if they be any way out in
" the contrivance of the buildings, modestly to rectify them
" in it, that Masonry be not dishonored ; and many such like
" that are commonly known. But some others they have,
" (to which they are sworn after their fashion,) that none
" know but themselves, which I have reason to suspect, are
" much worse than these, perhaps as bad as this History of
•' the Craft itself ; than which there is notliing I ever met
*' with, more false or incoherent."

This work was written about the year 1666. Thomas
Ashmole, for whom the author. Dr. Plot, was sometime
librarian, was likewise a philosopher, an antiquary, and a
man of great learning. He was admitted to the freedom oi
the Masons' corporation, in London, in 1646. He w^as the
last of the Rosicrucians, and was given much to the study
of alchemy and astrology. Ever employed in advancing
the cause of science and learning, his labors were indefati-
gable in procuring collections of medals, manuscripts, and


rare and valuable works, particularly upon those sciences i»
the study of which he took so much delight. The Freema-
sons have ever been anxious to claim him as one of the
craft ; and he speaks himself, in his private diary, under date
of March 10, 1682, of receiving a summons to attend a
lodge, the next day, at Masons' Hall. Under date of March
11, he gives aa account of attending the lodge, and notes
down the names of new members " admitted into the fel-
" lowship of the lodge." He also mentions " a noble dinner,"
of which he partook, " prepared at the charge of the new
*' accepted Masons." The fact that Ashmole was a Rosicru-
cian — the last of the number, as it is said — may, perhaps, be
taken as an evidence that there was possibly some re-
semblance between the ceremonies of the Masons, and those
of the order of the ro§y cross. As the masonic society was
undergoing changes at the period of Ashmole's membership,
his attachment to the mysteries of his favorite order, then
extinguished, may have induced him to incorporate some of
their rites and ceremonies with those of the Masons.

During the greater part of the reign of Anne, the society
declined, although it was revived, or rather received a new
impulse, in 1705. It was at about that time determined that
the privileges of the order should not be confined to opera-
tive masons, but that persons of all trades and professions
might be admitted to a participation with its mysteries.
This innovation, in the reign of Queen Anne, is much to be
regretted. It is known and admitted that of the arts, only
one has declined, and that is architecture. Recent edifices
may be more gorgeous and costly, but in taste and gran-
deur, the moderns are unquestionably far behind the archi-
tects of even the Gothic ages. This may have been owing
to the encouragement formerly bestowed upon them. When
a particular pursuit is greatly rewarded, either by wealth
or fame, it is with almost entire certainty advanced to ex-
cellence. In feudal times, — when the little learning extant


Was confined to the cells of the monks — when few could
read and fewer write — when crosses, seals, and armorial
bearings were substituted for the sign-manual, it cannot be
surprising that the architects^ then the most popular, envied,
and " rewarded," of operatives, should have endeavored to
secure to themselves and their order a monopoly, by avail-
ing themselves of those modes of secrecy and appropriation
which corresponded with the spirit of the times.

The general assembly of the Grand Lodge of York, had
continued to meet as usual, even while the society was not
prosperous. In the year last mentioned, there was a large
convocation at York, under the direction of Sir John Tem-
pest, and many persons of worth and character were initia-
ted. Previously to this date, another Grand Lodge had
sprung up. That of York was called the " Grand Lodge
" of England." Its rival, in contradistinction, arrogated to
itself the title of " Grand Lodge of all England." They
were on amicable terms at this time ; but difficulties at
length arose which produced a breach that has never been

There was also a quarrel, of long standing, between the
York Masons and those of Scotland, arising from their re-
Spective claims to priority of antiquity. Even yet the dif-
ferences between them are not healed in all parts of the
world, as we have recently seen in the difficulties encounter-
ed by our late accomplished minister to Mexico, — Mr. Poin-
sett. Wherever Scots Masonry has been planted, its mem*
bers affect to despise the English, and will not listen to the?
prior claims of the latter. But in Scotland, as in England,
the early history of speculative^ is confounded with opera-
tive Masonry. Their earliest date is 710," at which period*
as I have already cited from Dr. Henry, their king sent
over to England for masons to build stone churches. They
claim their actual descent, as corporate or organized bodies
from the lodge of Kilwinnins:. Their trade was or^ranized bv

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 10 of 49)