On August 4, 1753, George Washington became a Master Mason, the highest rank in the Fraternity of Freemasonry, in his hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The twenty-one-year-old young man would soon hold his first military commission.
Derived from the practices and rituals of the medieval guild system, freemasonry gained popularity in the eighteenth century, particularly in Great Britain. British Masons organized the first North American Chapter in 1731. Masons aroused considerable suspicion in the early American republic with their mysterious rites and closely held secrets. These fears mushroomed in response to the suspicious death in 1826 of William Morgan, who was said to have been murdered on account of his threat to reveal the secrets of freemasonry.
For George Washington, joining the Masons was a rite of passage and an expression of civic responsibility. Members were required to express their belief in a Supreme Being and in the immortality of the soul. Masons also were expected to obey civil laws, hold a high moral standard, and practice acts of charity.
- To learn more about Masons and other similar organizations, search the Digital Collections for freemason, Know-nothings, or fraternities.
- Search on the keyword masonic in First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750-1820 to find items such as a Master Mason’s Apron from circa 1800-1825, and Masonic constitutions, or, Illustrations of Masonry.
- A history of the relationship of civic responsibility to religious belief is explored in the Library of Congress online exhibition Religion and the Founding of the American Republic.
- Read George Washington’s letters by browsing his letterbooks in the collection George Washington Papers. These letterbooks are part of a series held by the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. For additional documents, search on George Washington in:
- View more photographs of the haunts of Washington’s youth, including Ferry Farm where he spent most of his childhood.
- Search on freemason in the pictorial collections for images including other Masons, Masonic temples, and Masonic lodges.