Ben Franklin has long stood as one of the patriarchs of American Freemasonry. As one of the most prominent Founding Fathers, today Franklin is known for little more than the face on the $100 dollar bill. Yet, the history of the man behind such an honor is rich with industriousness, inventiveness and political genius such that he is perhaps one of a few who could be considered a modern day Renaissance man, both in and out of the fraternity.
Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 in Boston, MA (as calculated by the new style – Gregorian calendar dating). His intelligence and wisdom helped him excel as an author, scientist, philosopher, statesman, and postmaster. As well known as Ben Franklin is as a Founding Father of the United States, he is also known as an illustrious Freemason.
No one can be sure of exactly when Benjamin Franklin was initiated into St. Johns’ Lodge, but it was some time during the year 1730 or 31, most likely during the February meeting of St. John’s Lodge in Philadelphia. Before his initiation into the Freemason brotherhood, Benjamin Franklin made some lighthearted jokes about fraternity in his publication, the Pennsylvania Gazette. One source says that his joking was to:
“advertise” himself to St. John’s Lodge so that when he applied he would not be regarded as a stranger.
After being initiated, however, Franklin’s writing in the Gazette changed because of his Masonic influences. Thereafter he published many positive and affirming stories in the Gazette about the craft. These publications have become the core for understanding the history of Freemasons in the United States, especially in Pennsylvania.
Franklin was in no way a simple and ordinary member of the Masonic lodge. He was appointed as the Junior Grand Warden of the Provincial Grand Lodge in Pennsylvania in the year 1732 and as the Grand Master on June 24, 1734.* In 1734, he also printed the first Masonic book in the United States. His Mason Book was the publication of Anderson’s Constitutions. Franklin was quickly elected as secretary of St. Johns’ Lodge, and he held the position from 1735 until 1738. Franklin continued to be an active member of the fraternity, and he continued to be elected and appointed for many positions. In March of 1752, Benjamin Franklins was put onto a committee for the first Masonic building in the United States. The lodge was to be in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Benjamin Franklin was not only involved in Freemasonry in the United States; he also traveled abroad to take part in meetings and lodges which came about in his diplomatic missions to Europe. In November of 1760 he was entered upon the Minutes as the Provincial Grand Master during the Grand Lodge of England’s meeting in Crown & Anchor, London, a position he was elected into in June of 1760. In April of 1778 he was in Paris to assist with the initiation of Voltaire into the Lodge of Nine Sisters. He continued to be affiliated with the Lodge of Nine Sisters for years through the funeral services for Voltaire and as master of the Lodge for two years. Voltaire had such affection for Franklin that it was written:
The aged Voltaire who in the last year of his life came in triumph to Paris grappled Franklin to himself as with hooks of steel. He placed his withered hands in benediction on the head of Franklin’s grandson as if to confer the philosophy and inspiration of the epoch on the third generation. The two great thinkers were taken together to the theater and at the close of the play were called upon the stage while the excited thousands cried out “Solon and Socrates.”
From: Cyclopædia of Universal History: The modern world. 2 pt By John Clark Ridpath
Benjamin Franklin passed away on April 17, 1790. He will always be remembered by the citizens of the United States as an intelligent Founding Father and scientist. For Freemasons, however, he is so much more.
Count Mirabeau’s eulogy, suggested at the French National Assembly, was perhaps most fitting for Franklin, saying:
Would it not become us, gentlemen, to join in this religious act, to bear a part in this homage, rendered, in the face of the world, both to the rights of man and to the philosopher who has most contributed to extend their sway over the whole earth? Antiquity would have raised altars to this mighty genius, who, to the advantage of mankind, compassing in his mind the heavens and the earth, was able to restrain alike thunderbolts and tyrants. Europe, enlightened and free, owes at lest a token of remembrance and regret to one of the greatest men who have ever been engaged in the service of philosophy and liberty. I propose that it be decreed that the National Assembly, during three days shall wear mourning for Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin’s Masonic career spanned a period of 60 years achieving, in his day, one of the highest Masonic accords, that of an Illustrious Brother. Given Franklin’s prolific career, in and out of Freemasonry, here below is a blended time line of his secular and Masonic life.
January 17, 1706 (New style dating) Born, Boston.
April 2, 1722 The first letter of “Silence Dogood” published.
November 5, 1724 Franklin sails to London to procure type and printing supplies.
July 21, 1725 Franklin leaves London for Philadelphia.
Fall, 1727 Franklin founds the Junto club.
October 2, 1729 Franklin became the owner, publisher, and editor of the weekly newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.
February 1730-1 Initiated in St. John’s Lodge, Philadelphia
June 10,1731 Franklin publishes his “Apology for Printers,” a defense of the freedom of the press.
June 1732 Drafts a set of By-law’s for St. John’s Lodge
June 24, 1732 Elected Junior Grand Warden.
December 28, 1732 Franklin published the first edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack under the pseudonym “Richard Saunders”
June 24, 1734 Elected Grand Master of Pennsylvania.
August, 1734 Prints his Mason Book a reprint of Anderson’s Constitutions, the first Masonic book printed in America.
1734-5 The State house (Independence Hall) built during Franklin’s administration. According to old Masonic and family traditions, the corner-stone was laid by him and the brethren of St. John’s Lodge.
1735 Franklin elected to serve as Secretary to St. John’s Lodge. Continues to 1738.
October 151736 Franklin appointed clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly.
December 7, 1736 Franklin organized the Union Fire Company of Philadelphia.
April 13, 1738 Franklin in a letter to his Mother, says: “Freemasons have no principles or practices that are inconsistent with religion and good manners.”
May 14, 1743 Franklin published his A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge Among the British Plantations in America, the founding document of the American Philosophical Society.
May 25, 1743 Visits St. John’s Lodge, Boston.
November 24, 1747 Franklin and others organized a volunteer militia – the Associators – for the defense of Pennsylvania
June 10, 1749 Appointed Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania by Thomas Oxnard of Boston. Franklin promptly stepped down in 1750 when Lord Byron, Grand Master of England, acting directly, deputized William Allen, Provincial Grand Master for Pennsylvania.
August 29,1749 Tun Tavern Lodge petitions P. G. M. Franklin for a Dispensation.
November 14, 1749 Franklin and others organized the Academy of Philadelphia
March 13, 1750 Deposed as Provincial Grand Master and immediately appointed Deputy Grand Master by William Allen.
May 9, 1751 Franklin elected a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly (reelected annually until 1764)
March 12, 1752 Appointed on Committee for building the Freemason’s Lodge in Philadelphia.
June, 1752 Franklin, who has not yet heard of the French success, experiments with flying a kite in a thunderstorm, and also proves that lightning is electrical in nature. He describes this experiment in the October 19 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette.
October 25, 1752 Visits Tun Tavern Lodge, Philadelphia.
August 10, 1753 Franklin appointed joint Deputy Postmaster General of North America.
May 9, 1754 Disturbed by increasing French pressure along the western frontier, Franklin designed and printed a cartoon of snake cut into sections, over the heading “Join or Die,” in the Pennsylvania Gazette (often credited as America’s first political cartoon).
June through July, 1754 Franklin attends the Albany Congress as a representative from Pennsylvania proposing a union of the colonies in defense against the French.
October 11, 1754 Present at the Quarterly Communication held in Concert Hall, Boston.
June 24, 1755 Takes a prominent part in the Grand Anniversary and Dedication of Freemason’s Lodge in Philadelphia, the first Masonic building in America. Serves as Deputy Grand Master of Pennsylvania until 1760.
March 21, 1756 Franklin meets George Washington while on post office business.
July 26, 1757 Franklin arrives in London, July 26, 1757, Franklin returns to Philadelphia on Nov. 1st.
November 17, 1760 Present at Grand Lodge of England held at Crown & Anchor London. Entered upon the Minutes as Provincial Grand Master.
September 9, 1762 King George III commissioned William Franklin the royal Governor of New Jersey. Franklin returns to Philadelphia on Nov. 1st.
1762 Addressed as Grand Master of Pennsylvania.
May 6, 1775 Franklin elected a delegate to the Second Continental Congress.
June 1, 1776 Continental Congress appointed Franklin to the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence.
1776 Affiliates with Masonic Lodges in France.
1777 Elected Member of Loge des IX Soeurs (Nine Sisters or Muses.)
February 27, 1777 Franklin moved to Paris suburb of Passy, where he remained during French mission.
February 7, 1778 Assists at the initiation of Voltaire in the Lodge of the Nine Sisters. (You can see Franklin’s Masonic apron he wore in Paris from the Musée de la Franc-maçonnerie)
November 28,1778 Officiates at the “Lodge of Sorrow “or Masonic funeral services of Voltaire.
1782 – Elected Venerable (W. M.) of Loge des IX Soeurs Grand Orient de Paris.
July 7, 1782 Member R.’ L.’ – De Saint Jean De Jerusalem (Ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem).
April 24, 1785 Elected Venerable d’honneur of R.’ L.’ De Saint Jean De Jerusalem (Ordre de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem)
1785 – Honorary Member Loge des Bone Amis (Good Friends) Rouen, France.
December 27, 1786: In the dedication of a sermon delivered at the request of the R. W. Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, by Rev. Joseph Pilmore in St. Paul’s Church, Philadelphia, Franklin is referred to as “An illustrious Brother whose distinguished merit among Masons entitles him to their highest veneration.”
April 23, 1787 Franklin elected President of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.
February 12, 1789 Franklin composed, signed, and submitted the first petition against slavery to appear before the U.S. Congress.
April 17,1790 Benjamin Franklin passed to the Grand Lodge beyond.
April 19, 1906 Masonic Services at his grave in Christ Church yard, Philadelphia by the R. W. Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, the occasion being the celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the Birth of Brother Benjamin Franklin.
* – See the comment from Pete Normand with an informative note on the history of Pennsylvania Freemasonry.
Masonic history composed from:
The Masonic Chronology of Benjamin Franklin, compiled by Julius F. Sachse, 1906.
Secular history composed from:
Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary – Timeline