Most of us remember that the first Grand Lodge in the world, the Premier Grand Lodge, is the Grand Lodge of England, now The United Grand Lodge of England, formed in 1717. Many of us remember that the second Grand Lodge in the world was the Irish Grand Lodge formed in 1725. I used to think this quite strange as one hears much more about how pervasive Freemasonry is in Scotland and not so much about Irish Masonry. But one must remember that it was common in these early years for Catholics to be Masons. The first Papal Bull written to condemn Freemasonry wasn’t published until 1738.
But that’s neither here or there. The $64 thousand dollar question (gosh bringing that phrase up to modern times it must be the million dollar question by now) is, what is the 3rd oldest Grand Lodge in the world? That depends on whom you are listening to. One thing for sure is that it is an American Grand Lodge.
Both Pennsylvania and Massachusetts claim that they are the 3rd oldest Grand Lodge in the world. Now it is obvious both can’t be right. Yet that hasn’t stopped a hotly contested argument that has been simmering for more than a century.
We know from records that are on file from the 1720s that both states had Masonic Lodges that met prior to any Grand Lodges being formed. And we also know that the Grand Lodge of England appointed two men to form Provincial Grand Lodges in “The Colonies”. It is on record that Daniel Coxe was deputized in 1730 for Pennsylvania and Henry Price was deputized in 1733 for Massachusetts.
Now best I can tell from the dispute is that Massachusetts claims that since Coxe did nothing and Price right away formed a Grand Lodge that it is entitled to the claim of 3rd oldest Grand Lodge. But Pennsylvania claims that the mere act of deputizing is sufficient evidence that a Grand Lodge was granted to Pennsylvania first. Massachusetts has always seemed to have a leg up in the dispute because of a letter written by Grand Master of Pennsylvania Benjamin Franklin in 1734 to Massachusetts Grand Master Henry Price requesting that a charter be approved for his Grand Lodge under the authority of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
“However, it does not appear that Daniel Coxe ever organized a Provincial Grand Lodge, nor to have erected any lodges, nor ever exercised his authority in any way as Provincial Grand Master prior to his death on 25 April 1739. In fact, his death which was reported in the Pennsylvania Gazette by Benjamin Franklin, a member of the Tun Tavern Lodge in Philadelphia, does not even mention that Coxe was a Freemason, indicating that Franklin and the other members of the Craft in Philadelphia were unaware of his affiliation.”
Now further supporting the Massachusetts position is a recently discovered document in the archives of the Samuel Crocker Lawrence Grand Lodge library. It shows a Warrant for the Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in the year 1764. But this whole situation is clouded by the quarrel between the Antients and the Moderns.
In Massachusetts the Antients and the Moderns went on fighting it out until 1792 when they merged, the Moderns winning out on most of the disputed positions. One of the stipulations to the merger was that there would be no numbers on any Massachusetts Lodges, thus neither an Antient Lodge nor a Modern Lodge could be #1.
In Pennsylvania the Antient/Modern split took on a different tack. The Moderns were the first Grand Lodge with the unknown date of charter the basis for this dispute. In 1757 the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania (Moderns) chartered Lodge #4. Lodge #4, however, insisted on practicing the Antient ways. Six months later their warrant had been recalled because of their actions. Lodge #4 then petitioned the Antient Grand Lodge in England for a charter to form a Provincial Grand Lodge for Pennsylvania. The Antient Warrant was issued in 1758 but lost in transit in 1761, reissued in 1763 and lost again and finally issued for the last time in 1764, which was retained.
Meanwhile the Modern Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania folded in the early 1760s. So the Grand Lodge that exists today is a descendent from the Antient Provincial Grand Lodge of 1764. And the document uncovered in the Massachusetts archive is that 1764 Warrant. Hopefully this settles the argument. But I doubt it.