Photo courtesy of The Digital Cultures Project: A University of California Multi-Campus Research Group
With all of the controversy surrounding the Freemasons in Europe, it was no surprise that they would want to seek out friendlier shores. In the 1700s, the Freemasons came to America with other colonists and set up lodges in Boston and Philadelphia (although they remained under the control of an English Provincial Grand Master). In 1731, Benjamin Franklin joined the Philadelphia lodge, and he became its Master three years later. George Washington was initiated as a Freemason in 1752.
As the fledgling nation was preparing to throw off the shackles of British rule, the Freemasons were reportedly stirring the fire of revolt. A story exists that Freemasons were among the dozens of men who, dressed as Native Americans, boarded three British ships in Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773 and dumped hundreds of crates of tea into the water, setting off the American Revolution. Whether Freemasons actually were involved in the Boston Tea Party is a matter of some speculation, but there is no doubt that they were among the signers of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
After the Revolution, the American Freemason lodges broke from their British forebears and reorganized under state Grand Lodges. Although these lodges were never centralized under any formal authority, they recognized each other as mutual fraternities. Two different forms of Masonry came to exist in America—the Scottish Rite (following English traditions), and the York Rite (following French traditions).
At the turn of the 20th century, the Freemasons were 860,000 members strong. By the 1930s, there were more than two million Masons in the United States, and their numbers continued to grow.