Esoteric secrets, Scottish Freemasonry and the building of the American dreamThe Scotsman
Apr. 20, 2006
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Pictured: The minutes from Aitchison's Haven - which could be the oldest recorded stonemason lodge in the world.
DAN BROWN'S next book The Solomon Key is said to speculate on the role and influence of Freemasonry. In much the same way that The Da Vinci Code has its climax in Rosslyn Chapel, it may well be that the best-selling author's latest work will also find its roots in Scotland.
For if Brown's new novel is looking at alleged Masonic conspiracy in the US, then there is a strong and vocal body of Masonic historians who believe that the whole of American Freemasonry is essentially Scottish.
Robert Cooper, museum and library curator of the Grand Lodge in Edinburgh, is convinced that there is a strong connection between the two countries.
"There is no doubt that there was some influence on America by the Scottish Freemasons," says Cooper. "The connection between it and the building of America might be nearer the truth than you think."
Any study of Freemasonry needs first to look at where it all began. Although the first organised meeting took place in England in 1717, many Scottish Masons maintain that it actually began here even earlier.
Cooper believes he holds the oldest lodge records in the world and that these prove Scotland was the birthplace of Masonry. The minutes from Aitchison's Haven – a small harbour in East Lothian – date from 9 January 1599. This was a stonemason's lodge, as all lodges would have been then. Lists of rituals from another stonemason lodge written 100 years later demonstrate that although slightly different, they were essentially the same as today's rites.
At some point non-stonemasons were attracted to what went on in lodges. They wanted to know what secrets these mostly illiterate and uneducated men discussed behind closed doors. Over time non-stonemasons were instructed into the lodge, becoming known as Freemasons.
According to Cooper the first English lodge effectively stole the ideas and rituals from Scottish stonemasons and that Freemasonry as we know it today is based on early Scottish stonemason traditions.
"There is a lot of evidence to support that," says Cooper. "The early rituals even use Scottish words. The chap who wrote the [England Grand Lodge] rules was from Aberdeen and his father had been a grand master there."
Image: Cooper with the minutes of the Lodge of Journeymen Masons No8 - showing scored off names indicating a move to America.
If this is true then it is easy to see where an argument might be made that all Freemasonry is inherently Scottish. But as Cooper explains the influence of Scottish Freemasonry in building the American dream is even stronger.
"We do know that the first Freemason in the North American continent was a Scot, John Skene, who travelled to America in around 1680. We also know that the second Freemason was a stonemason from a lodge in Melrose. So right from an early age Scots Freemasonry and stonemasonry was in America."
Masonic lodges soon began to crop up across America with Scottish lodges particularly prominent on the East Coast. In Virginia, George Washington was initiated into the Fredericksburg lodge in 1752.
The oldest was the Lodge of St Andrew in Boston. Paul Revere, who in 1775 made his famous midnight ride from Boston to Lexington to warn that the British had begun their invasion, was a member there.
This Boston lodge was based in the Green Dragon Tavern – remembered by some as the "headquarters" of the American Revolution. On the day of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Revere and another Masonic brother, Joseph Warren - one of Washington's generals - met in the Green Tavern with other Masons. The meeting was quickly adjourned as so few members were present. Cryptically the minutes for the meeting read:
"Consignees of tea took up the Brethren's time."
Subsequently Warren was listed among the most-wanted by the English attorney general. Warren was sought in connection with the "treason" perpetuated by the tea party revolutionaries who opposed a new government tax scheme that included the blocking of non-British ships to port.
Throughout the period of the American War of Independence it was usual for Scottish lodges to be hotbeds of revolution whilst, understandably, English lodges tended to be loyalist. Cooper is sympathetic to the idea that not only were the Scottish lodges instrumental in many of the acts of revolution, but their ideal and beliefs may have been integral in shaping the future of America.
"Some people say that one of the major impulses for democracy almost certainly comes from Freemasonry. At that time [during the War of Independence] the systems of government in the UK consisted of elementary democracy, dominated by the monarchy. There were no entirely democratic countries in the world. So the argument goes that America looked at Scottish Freemasonry, which was very democratic. That's why people claim the USA is a Masonic country."
Not only that, but seven Masons are known to have been present at the drawing up of the Declaration of Independence. Even more excitingly Scottish stonemasons are said to have been integral in constructingly the most iconic building in the whole of America.
Once the Americans had won the war, they decided to build a new capital city. Cooper takes up the story of how Scots became involved:
"They were told that the best stonemasons were in Scotland, so they wrote to the Lodge of Journeymen Masons No8 in about 1707 asking the members of this stonemason lodge whether they wanted to emigrate to the US and help build Washington."
The minutes of this Edinburgh lodge, which is still in existence, show the names scored out indicating a move to America. Once there the stonemasons built a presidential home for Washington himself.
Image: Although the present White House has been substantially remodelled, it is said that the original was built by Scottish Masons. Picture: Teddy Yoshida
During the American-British conflict of 1812-1814, Royal forces reached Washington and set fire to the new city, but this magnificently built stone building survived intact. All that was destroyed was the roof - although the walls were damaged by soot and smoke. The story goes that to remedy this the building was whitewashed.
So, yes, one could argue that not only did Scottish Freemasons influence the thinking behind the America dream and help win the War of Independence, they built the White House too. How long before the change from the Stars and Stripes to the Saltire in recognition?