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St. Johns' And York Masons

In England, Scotland, and Ireland at the beginning of the first Grand Lodge in 1717 there was an unknown but comparatively large number of Lodges and Masons called generally St. Johns'. St. Johns' Lodges prwor to 1717 may have been Lodges without any copy of the Old Charges, were therefore seli-constituted as the meaning of that term would have obtained in that time; also, there were a number of Masons not in any Lodge, and apparently in some instances "one Mason Snot in any Lodge] would make another.

" After the new Grand Lodge system was established a number of the St. Johns' Lodges (one may believe a larger number than existing records account for) continued to work (and not as Operative Lodges) but never joined the Grand Lodge. Yet during the first half of the Eighteenth Century these were accepted as genuine Lodges, and their members often Visited regular (on the Roll of Grand Lodge) Lodges. The Rev. George Oliver had a muddled theory that Free masonry had been revived and reformed by St. John the Evangelist and for that reason he called Craft Masonry "St. John's Masonry." Owing to the large circulation of his books in America this term came into general use (it is obsolete now); Oliver's St. John~s Masons had no connection in thought or theory with the St. Johns' Masons familiar to Eighteenth Century Lodges.

One of the many proofs of the numerousness of St. Johns' Masons is given by the records of Old Dundee Lodge, No. 18 (probably older than Grand Lodge). On page 168 of his history of that Lodge Arthur Heiron writes: "In olden days there were certain Lodges who were never regularly constituted, [by Grand Lodge] but merely recognized St. John as their leader. They were looked upon as 'Unattaehed' or 'Independent Lodges,' but their members w ere allowed to visit the regular [on Grand Lodge Rolls] Lodges on terms of equality, signing themselves as 'St. Johns' Men'; paying generally an extra fee.

'Old Dundee' received many such Brethren as visitors, and from 1748 to 177O at least 162 [six per year] signed our Minute Book ...."

When the Antient Grand Lodge was formed in 1751 it described itself as founded according to the Aneient Institutions of York. Its members often called themselves, and were called by others, York Masons. When the Antient Provineial Grand Lodge of Canada was formed in 1792 at Montreal (and Canadian Masonry influenced New England and New York Masonry in many ways) it became known AS the York Body and its members called themselves York Masons. The many Antient chartered Lodges which were warranted during or prior to the Revolution in the Colonies also called themselves York Masons. The term "York" was therefore introduced into America by Canadian and British Lodges and Brethren, and hence did not originate here. In his introduction to Memorials of the Mason Union, William James Hughan animadverts on the American use of "York," which he took to be an American-made myth. (This Introduction, famous in 1874, is now obsolete.)

Elsewhere he accuses American Masons of "boasting" of being "York Masons." Bro. Hughan was in his own generation second to none as a cautious, aeeurate, historical scholar, but he had the misfortune to be in some degree in error, and oftentimes w holly in error, in his statements of fact about American Masonry. His attribution of the York myth and boasting to us is one of his mistakes. We ereated no myth about York, for as said above the term came straight from Britain and Canada; we never boasted about it. Today the word "Yorl;" has lost any meaning it was ever supposed to have, and when used, if ever it still is used, functions as a mere label to distinguish the Craft and Chapter Rites from Templarism and the Scottish Rite.

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