On this day in 1753, 21-year-old Virginian George Washington is declared a Master Mason in a Masonic ritual performed by his fellow Freemasons during a secret ceremony in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Washington, who belonged to Alexandria Lodge No. 22, had been initiated into the Masons at age 20 on November 4, 1752. The following year, on March 3, 1753, he passed as a "Fellow Craft." Five months later, Washington was raised to the rank of Master Mason.
According to the Library of Congress, the secret society of Freemasons emerged from the medieval English guild system and was brought to America in the early 1700s. For many young men, becoming a Freemason constituted a rite of passage to adulthood and "civic responsibility." Members of Masonic lodges were required to profess belief in a supreme being, as well as in the soul's immortality, and were expected to promote, in Washington's words, "private virtue and public prosperity" and advocate for religious tolerance. Fellow Masons referred to each other as "Brother."
According to published eyewitness reports, "Brother Washington" performed Masonic rites at the laying of the U.S. Capitol's cornerstone on September 18, 1793. Wearing an apron embroidered with Masonic symbols, Washington led a ceremony laced with the society's rituals. The apron, along with the trowel and tools used to set the Capitol's cornerstone in place, is currently housed at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia.
In 1923, the national organization of Freemasons purchased the former Revolutionary War site of Shooter's Hill in Alexandria, Virginia, in order to build a monument to their most esteemed Brother Washington. Assisting in the groundbreaking ceremonies were President Calvin Coolidge and former President William H. Taft, both Masons. Harry Truman, a former Grand Master Mason for Missouri, dedicated a statue of Washington at the memorial in 1950.
Other Freemason presidents include James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Harding, Franklin Roosevelt and Gerald Ford.