Masonry: Ancient Traditions
Though its heritage in antiquity is unmistakable, modern speculative Freemasonry was founded more recently upon the structure, ceremonies, and symbolism of the lodges of operative or working freemen stonemasons, who built the magnificent Medieval Gothic structures throughout much of Europe and England.
Dated in 1390 A.D., the Regius Poem details the charter of a lodge operating in the 900s A.D. "Masonry" then meant architecture and encompassed most of the arts and sciences. Because lodges held knowledge as competitive secrets, only trusted, capable companions were instructed in the craft-and then only by degrees, orally and through symbols, because of widespread illiteracy.
In the late Renaissance, lodges of freemasons began to accept as speculative masons those educated men who were attracted by the elegance of masonic traditions for philosophic expression. In time they were passed into the inner circles.
Thus, the framers of speculative Freemasonary began to describe a code of conduct through the symbolic nature of architecture and the stonemason's craft. Signalling modern speculative Freemasonary, the first Grand Lodge was chartered in 1717. Constituent Symbolic Lodges were soon established throughout the world.
The first Lodge in the Colonies was chartered in Boston in 1733 and the first Lodge in Rhode Island at Newport in 1749.