Freemasonry is the oldest fraternal organization for men in the world. The basic organizational unit of the fraternity is the Lodge. We believe the term comes from the Lodges (shelters) constructed at the building sites of cathedrals and castles during the Middle Ages. Masons worked and lived in these shelters.
No one knows with certainty how or when the Masonic Fraternity was formed. One widely accepted theory among Masonic scholars is that it arose from the stonemasons’ guilds during the Middle Ages. The language and symbols used in the fraternity’s ritual come from this era. The oldest document that makes reference to Masons is the Regius Poem in a copy dated about 1390, which was a copy of an earlier work. In 1717, four Lodges in London formed the first Grand Lodge of England, and records from that point on are more complete.
Within thirty years, the fraternity had spread throughout Europe and the American Colonies. Freemasonry became very popular in colonial America. George Washington was a Mason; Paul Revere served as the head of the fraternity of Massachusetts, as did Joseph Warren. Other well known Masons involved with the founding of America included Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Ethan Allen, Marquis de Lafayette, Baron Fredrick von Stuben, Nathaniel Greene, Henry Knox, and John Paul Jones. Another Mason, Chief Justice John Marshall, shaped the Supreme Court into its present form.
Over the centuries, Freemasonry has developed into a worldwide fraternity emphasizing personal study, self-improvement, and social betterment via individual involvement and philanthropy. During the late 1700’s it was one of the organizations most responsible for spreading the ideals of the Enlightenment: the dignity of man and the liberty of the individual, the fight of each person to worship as they choose the formation of democratic governments, and the importance of public education. Masons supported the first public schools in both Europe and America.
Freemasons support more ways to help people than any other private organization. In the beginning–the 1700’s and early 1800’s, Masonic charity was largely limited to members, their widows and their orphans. Homes for the Aged and Orphanages were established all over America. But Masonic charity soon reached far beyond that fraternity, and now the great majority of the $525 million dollars given in America each year goes to those with no connection to Masonry.
Today in North America, the Masonic Fraternity continues this tradition by giving over $2 million each day to causes that range from operating children’s hospitals, providing treatment for childhood language disorders, treating eye diseases, funding medical research, contributing to local community service, and providing care to Masons and their families at Masonic Homes.
Perhaps the best known Masonic charity are the Shiners