Masonic Objects in the Mount Vernon Collection
Explore a variety of fascinating objects related to George Washington and Freemasony in our interactive museum collection.
As Freemasonry's most celebrated brother, George Washington was invited to numerous Masonic lodges in the new republic.
By mid-18th century, Freemasonry had developed into a philosophical system. Civic-minded men of education, wealth, and position were attracted to a society in which moral and social virtues were emphasized.
George Washington’s own fraternal career began in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he entered Lodge No. 4 and was raised to Master Mason at age 21. For the youthful George Washington, making his way in the world without benefit of a father's patronage, membership in the Masonic brotherhood was a natural progression.
Little is known of his early Masonic life, however, as he is virtually silent on the subject and early lodge records are missing. Yet Washington must have attended occasional meetings and enjoyed the fellowship of his brothers.
Social life was an integral part of the Masonic fraternity. Lodge meetings were often held in local taverns where amenities were readily available. Lodges with permanent quarters, or those at a distance from public houses, provided their own food, drink, and accompanying tablewares. The inventory of an early Massachusetts lodge includes tumblers, wine glasses, and a ladle among the accouterments of Masonic ritual. Ceramics and glassware decorated with Masonic symbols survive in lodges, museums, and private collections.
Masonic tumblers, called "firing glasses," are characterized by a thick base or foot, like the one shown here, to prevent breakage as they were struck against the table following each lodge toast. The reverberating sound echoed like musket fire, hence the name "firing glasses"
Sometime between 1785 and 1788, Alexandria Lodge No. 39 obtained a supply of decanters and glasses engraved with its name and the Masonic compass and rule. Surviving examples are much prized for their rarity and connection with No. 39, the first Masonic lodge organized in Alexandria, Virginia. Originally warranted by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1785, it applied five years later for a warrant from the Grand Lodge of Virginia, and became Alexandria Lodge No. 22 with General George Washington as the Charter Master.
William Payne (1725-1813), an acquaintance for more than 40 years, was also a member of Lodge No. 22. Payne later served as a pallbearer at George Washington's funeral in 1799. The Masonic regalia Payne wore on that somber occasion included the cream-colored silk apron that is now the centerpiece of Mount Vernon's Masonic collections. Payne's hand painted apron dates from the late 18th century and contains nearly thirty motifs, which may have been added at different times, symbolizing Freemasonry's philosophy.
Aprons are considered the single most important piece of ceremonial regalia that Masons wear. They symbolize the connection to their medieval roots when stonemasons wore utilitarian aprons often made from sheep hide. The evolution of Masonic aprons is a fascinating story. Many are beautiful works of art reflecting needlework styles and fashions of their day. One of the aprons owned by George Washington is now in the collection of the Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22.
In 1795, John Jones of Dublin, Ireland, the proprietor of The Sentimental and Masonic Magazine, sent Washington this set of five volumes with a letter requesting permission to dedicate a sixth volume to Washington and to include an elegant portrait of "his Excellency."
The magazine is illustrated with engravings and covers a range of subject matter of interest to Masons, including political opinions, editorial cartoons, songs, fiction in serial form, and book reviews.View this object
Callahan, Charles H. Washington the Man and the Mason. Washington. D.C.: Gibson Bros. Press, published by the Washington Masonic National Memorial Association, 1915; Francoo Barbara. "Decorated Masonic Aprons in America 1790-18.50". In Bespangled Painted 6, Embroidered...Lexington, MA: Museum Of Our National Heritage, 1980; Franco, Barbara. Masonic Symbols in American Decorative Arts. Lexington, MA: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1976; Hamilton, John D. Material Culture of the American Freemasons. Lexington, MA: Museum of Our National Heritage, 1994.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial was built in the 1920s by the more than two million American Freemasons who wished to “express in durability and beauty the undying esteem of the Freemasons of the United States for him in whose memory it shall stand throughout the coming years.”GWMEMORIAL.ORG