Freemasonry has its historic origins among the early lodges of stonemasons and architects that, utilizing the style of Gothic architecture, built the cathedrals of Middle Ages. They were called “Freemasons” because they were free men and not serfs, their lodges were free from taxation, and they worked in freestone, a type of quarry stone.
During the 17th century, lodges in Scotland began “accepting” members who were not operative stonemasons. The acceptance of these gentlemen Freemasons gave rise to the name “Free and Accepted Masons.” In their ceremonies of passing from one degree to another they inculcated a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by the symbols and tools of their craft. During the 18th century, lodges formed grand lodges to govern the craft. No longer operative as of old, Masonic lodges continued without interruption to observe the customs and traditions of the fraternity for the “benefit of mankind.”
The early American colonial lodges were chartered by the grand lodges of Europe. Many of the founders of the United States and their allies were Freemasons: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Paul Revere, John Paul Jones, the Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben and others. Washington was the Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22 when he consecrated the cornerstone (or “foundation stone”) of the United States Capitol in 1793.