Who are the Freemasons?
The origins of Freemasonry have been lost to time. The belief is that it arose from ancient stonemasons’ guilds that were formed by the builders of the cathedrals and castles of the Middle Ages. During this period, “freemason” referred to highly skilled stonemasons who were hired as free agents to build the beautiful stone buildings still seen today throughout Europe. The term “free” indicated that they were free to travel unrestricted throughout Europe to work their trade.
Many stonemasons formed local organizations, called guilds, to take care of sick and injured members and the widows and orphans of members. They also used these guilds as meeting places to receive pay, plan work, train new members and socialize. Passwords and special handshakes were used to prove the identity of members and to protect the trade secrets of the craft.
As time moved on and the demand for skilled builders decreased, stonemasons’ guilds began to accept local men of good character into their brotherhood, and these labor guilds evolved into a fraternity. The purpose of the fraternity was the same as the guilds—to offer friendship, a place to associate with like-minded men, brotherly support and assistance to widows and orphans.
Freemasons in England united in 1717 to formally organize as a fraternal group. They established a governing body and called it the Grand Lodge of England. Organized Freemasonry rapidly spread throughout the world. The first American Grand Lodge was established in Boston in 1733.
Freemasonry’s Long History in Rhode Island
Thomas Oxnard, Provincial Grand Master of New England and Grand Master of Massachusetts, granted the petition for the constitution of St. John’s Lodge of Newport on December 27, 1749, the first in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
The successful petition of St John’s Lodge of Newport inspired the petition of an additional lodge, St. John’s of Providence. That Charter was granted on January 17, 1757.
Rhode Island Freemasons actively participated in the Revolutionary War including the destruction of the British revenue sloop “Liberty” at Newport, the burning of the British revenue schooner “Gaspee” in Narragansett Bay, the pursuit and grounding of a tender of the British frigate “Rose” onto Conanicut Island, and the capture of British General Richard Prescott by Col. William Barton, a member of St. Johns Lodge Providence.
After the Revolutionary War, committees from the two lodges proposed the creation of a Grand Lodge in Rhode Island. On Monday June 27, 1791 brethren representing the two lodges met at the State House in Newport and organized a Grand Lodge in accordance with the plan that had been approved.
Today, there are 24 lodges in Rhode Island located throughout the state. A 25th lodge, Colligivm Luminosvm, is a research lodge and meets at various locations throughout the state.