No one knows for sure just how old Freemasonry is because its actual origins have been lost in antiquity. Most scholars believe that Freemasonry arose from the ancient guilds of stonemasons who built the majestic castles and cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Although we cannot be absolutely certain about when Masonry originated, there are ancient documents that outline the history and rituals of Freemasonry. These manuscripts are often referred to as the Old Charges or Constitutions. The earliest of which is known as the Halliwell Manuscript, or Regius Poem, and is dated to the late 14th Century.
Despite this inability, historians know that there is a direct lineage of Freemasonry that can be traced back to London in 1717. At that time, the first formal Masonic ‘organization’ was created when four independent Lodges joined together thereby forming the Grand Lodge of England. Grand Lodges were subsequently formed in Scotland and Ireland; thereafter spreading across Europe, the Americas, and eventually throughout the world. A Mason can travel to almost any country in the world and find a Masonic Lodge, where he will be welcomed as a “Brother” among its members.
In America, Masonry spread throughout the colonies and by 1731 when Benjamin Franklin joined there were already several Lodges in existence. The Grand Lodge of New York was formed on December 15, 1782 under a Provincial Grand Warrant from the Grand Lodge of England. New York declared its independence from English oversight on June 6, 1787, thus assuming the name “Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York”. The Grand Lodge governs all Masonic activity within the state.
In America today, Masonic Lodges are found in almost every large community throughout North America. In large cities, there may be several Lodges operating. There is no singular, national ‘Grand Lodge of America’; rather, each state operates its own Grand Lodge independently.
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