Do you think Freemasonry started in 1717? Think again.

Do you think Freemasonry started in 1717? Think again.

There’s been a roiling controversy in Freemasonry for almost a year but unless you’re a Masonic scholar, you may not know about it.

It has to do with the year in which modern Freemasonry, “the revival,” began. Traditionally, that watershed year has been 1717 and the formation of the first Grand Lodge in London. That would mean this year is the 300th anniversary of Freemasonry in the modern era.

Now comes Dr. Susan Mitchell Sommers, professor of history at Saint Vincent College and General Editor of the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism, and Dr. Andrew Prescott (pictured above), FSA, FRHistS, Professor of Digital Humanities, AHRC Theme Leader Fellow for Digital Transformations, University of Glasgow, to tell us that isn’t the right date. We are, Sommers and Prescott tell us, about four years off, that the actual date is 1721.

Prescott dropped that little tidbit during the Tercentenary Conference Celebrating 300 Years of Freemasonry this past September at Cambridge University. He was the last key-note speaker of that conference. Obviously, I wasn’t there but I’ve heard Dr. Prescott caused quite a stir when he effectively blew away the whole purpose of that conference. Oh, to have been a mouse under the podium in that moment.

Sommers gave a version of the paper during the World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History in Paris this past May.

Prescott’s talk at the Tercentenary Conference are similar to those given during the Dr. Charles A. Sankey Lecture Series in Masonic Studies the previous June. In his talk then, Searching for the Apple Tree: What Happened in 1716?, Prescott said the difficulty with the date lays in the account by James Anderson, author and editor of the Constitutions of the Free-Masons.

Anderson claimed that in 1716 four Masonic lodges from London met together at the Apple Tree Tavern in Charles Street, close to the centre of Covent Garden, and agreed to revive the annual feast. The following year, says Anderson, on 24 June 1717, those lodge met again at the Goose and Gridiron and there elected a grand master.

“The traditional and accepted story of the foundation of the grand lodge comes entirely from Anderson,” Dr. Prescott said during his Sankey lecture. “It appears for the first time in the second edition of the Book of Constitutions, published in 1738, 20 years after the event it describes and shortly before Anderson’s death.”

Anderson didn’t mention this story in his 1723 edition and no other publication mentions the event at all, despite the fascination the popular press had for Freemasonry, Dr. Prescott said. “It comes out of the blue in 1738,” Prescott said.

Not everything that Anderson wrote about was undocumented, exactly, Sommers said during her talk in Paris. “We can trace some of the sources Anderson used to write his history and they are all problematic,” he said.

Anderson did his best, she said. “Unfortunately, he also takes liberties when writing his history,” she said.

Which leads to one inevitable conclusion. “Without corroborating evidence, we must discard the canonical story,” Sommers said.

Sommers and Prescott then give, at length, their reasons why 1717 isn’t the correct date and that 1721 more likely is. One detail he points out is the 1721 Initiation of William Stukeley in London, at a tavern called “The Salutation”, which Stukeley later said had been the first initiation in the city in many years and that it had been complicated by the difficulty in finding enough Freemasons in the work the ceremony. “The claim that it had been difficult to find members to attend this lodge to initiate Stuckeley is very surprising if Grand Lodge had been founded four years previously in a tavern that is only two or three minutes walk from The Salutation,” Dr. Prescott observed.

Anyone who wants to read the Sommers-Prescott paper will find it in the newly release QCC publication “Reflections on 300 Years of Freemasonry” newly published by Lewis Masonic.

Dr. Prescott’s observations has Masonic scholars, the world over, all a flutter but most Freemasons are blissfully unaware.

The good news is that, if Sommers and Prescott are right, then we have four more years to plan a celebration of the real 300th Anniversary.

 

August in Athens: Summer International Masonic Workshop in Greece

August in Athens: Summer International Masonic Workshop in Greece

If the traveling Craftsman with an eye toward making an advancement in Masonic Knowledge was spoiled for choice with multiple conferences this past spring, another is coming in August.

The third Summer International Masonic Workshop, scheduled from the 23rd to the 27th of August in Athens, is being billed as “a unique opportunity for Freemasons around the world, as well as for anyone interested in Freemasonry, and their families to meet, get acquainted and discuss options and opinions on Freemasonry, while they enjoy a summer break next to an idyllic beach.”

The stated aim of the workshop is “to provide an overview of the most recent topics concerning the Masonic Fraternity, such as the role of Freemasonry in the 21st century, regularity, recognition and fraternal relations, Masonic research etc.”

Organizers are trying to make it very clear that the workshop is not affiliated to any masonic or academic body, is not in any way a tyled event and that there won’t be any associated tyled meetings. Those points are very important to some Freemasons.

The workshop in Greece follows similar conferences in May. There was the International Meeting of European Masonic Lodges in Toulon, the World Conference on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris and the United Grand Lodge of England’s Tercentenary gathering in Montego Bay, Jamaica. The four gatherings are making 2017 one of the most conference-dense in Masonic academic study.

The call for papers at the Greek conference ended May 31 and six guest speakers have been announced.


Susan Mitchell Sommers (Featured Image): Saint Vincent College Professor and General Editor of the Journal for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism who, with Andrew Prescott, recently released the so-called “paper heard round the world.” That paper challenges the 1717 Freemason genesis date, maintaining the actual date probably is about four years later. Her paper’s topic is “James Anderson and the Myth of 1717.”


David Harrison

David Harrison

David Harrison: Masonic historian and archaeologist based in the UK and the author ofeight books on the history of Freemasonry, his work has appeared in a variety and magazines. These include Philalethes Magazine, Freemasonry Today, MQ Magazine, The Square, Knight Templar Magazine, Heredom, and New Dawn Magazine. Harrison has also appeared in television and radio spots talking about Freemasonry. His paper’s topic will be “Byron, Freemasonry and the Carbonari.”

 


Remzi Sanver

Remzi Sanver

Remzi Sanver: A Freemason born in Istanbul, he is senior researcher at the French National Scientific Research Center (CNRS) whose best known research is about “Game Theory” and “Collective Decision Making Theory.” He also has been on the editorial board of various international scientific journals and the administrative board of scientific societies. His paper’s topic will be “Sufism at the Crossroad of Two Traditions: Thoughts on Initiation and Islam.”

 


Robert Bashford

Robert Bashford

Robert Bashford: Masonic Researcher and well-known in Masonic conferences since he presented his first paper in 1984, his work on behalf of Irish Lodge of Research No 200 I.C. was acknowledged in 2009 with the presentation of the Lodge of Research Jewel of Merit. His more recent appearances were at the International Meeting of European Masonic Lodges in May, Lodge Hope of Kurrachee and the Manchester Association of Masonic Research. His paper’s topic will be “The origins of the Grand Council of Knight Masons in the year 2553 of Knight Masonry.”

Philippa Faulks

Philippa Faulks


Philippa Faulks: Author, ghostwriter, editor and journalist, her first book, “Masonic Magician: the Life and Death of Count Cagliostro and his Egyptian Rite“, co-authored with Robert L. D. Cooper, included the first full English translation of, and commentary on, Cagliostro’s Egyptian Rite of Freemasonry. Her paper’s topic will be “Count Cagliostro’s Egyptian Right of Freemasonry product of a miracle worker or man of straw?”

 


Valdis Pirags

Valdis Pirags

Valdis Pirags: Freemason, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Latvia and the Head of the Clinic of Internal Medicine at the Pauls Stradiņš Clinical University Hospital in Riga. He is a recipient of the Karl Oberdisse Award and the Distinguished Research Award from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences. More recently, he has been working on epidemiology of diabetes mellitus in Latvia and creation of the Genome Database of the Latvian Population. His paper’s topic will be “Freemasonry as a Method of Attaining Enlightenment.”


Registration is required. Cost for the event ranges between 500 and 1,000 Euros, depending on the package selected. The costs includes accommodation in a four-star hotel on the Athenian coast.