One who has been initiated into the mysteries of the Fraternity of Freemasonry. Freemasons are so called to distinguish them from the Operative or Stone-Masons, who constituted an inferior class of workmen, and out of whom they sprang (see Stonemasons and Traveling Freemasons). The meaning of the epithet free, as applied to Mason, is given under the word Free. In the old lectures of the eighteenth century a Freemason was described as being "a freeman, born of a freewoman, brother to a king, fellow to a prince, or companion to a beggar, if a Mason," and by this was meant to indicate the universality of the Brotherhood.
The word Freemason was until recently divided into two words, sometimes with and sometimes without a hyphen; and we find in all the old books and manuscripts Free Mason or Free-Mason. But this usage has generally been abandoned by writers, and Freemason is usually spelled as one word. The old Constitutions constantly used the word Mason. E et the word was employed at a very early period in the parish registers of England, and by some writers. Thus, in the register of the parish of Astbury we find these items:
1685. Smallwood, Jos., fils Jos. Henshaw, Freemason bapt 3 die Nov. 1697. Jos. fil Jos. Henshaw, Freemason, buried 7 April.
But the most singular passage is one found in Cawdray's Treasurie of Similies, published in 1609, and which he copied from Bishop Coverdale's translation of Werdmuller's A Spiritual and most Precious Perle, which was published in 1550. It is as follows: As the freemason heweth-the hard stones . . . even so God the Heavenly Free-Mason buildeth a Christian church.
But, in fact, the word was used at a much earlier period, and occurs, Steinbrenner says in his Origin and Early History of Masonry (page 110), for the first time in a statute passed in 1350, in the twenty-fifth year of Edward I, where the wages of a Master Freemason are fixed at 4 pence, and of other Masons at 3 pence. The original French text of the statute is "Mestre de franche-peer." "Here," says Steinbrenner, "the word Freemason evidently signifies a free- stone mason--one who works in free-stone, the French franche-peer, meaning franche- pierre, as distinguished from the rough masons who merely built walls of rough, unhown stone." This latter sort of workmen was that class called by the Scotch Masons cowans whom the Freemasons were forbidden to work with, whence we get the modern use of that word.
Ten years after, in 1360, we have a statute of Edward III, in which it is ordained that "every Mason shall finish his work, be it of free-stone or of rough-stone," where the French text of the statute is file franche-pere ou de grosse-pere." Thus it seems evident that the word free- mason was originally used in contradistinction to rough-rruson. The old Constituitions sometimes call these latter masons rough layers.
Doctor Murray's New English Dictionary has the following information under Freemason: The precise import with which the adjective was originally used in this designation has been much disputed Three views have been propounded.
1. The suggestion that free mason stands for free stone mason would appear unworthy of attention, but for the curious fact that the earliest known instances of any similar appellation are mestre mason de France peer, master mason of free stone. Act 25, Edward III, st. II, e. 3, A.D. 1350, and sculptores lapidum liberorum "carvers of free stones," alleged to occur in a document of 1217, Finders History of freemasonry (51), citing Wyatt Papworth; the coincidence, however, seems to be merely accidental. 2. The view most generally held is that free masons were those who were free of the masons' gild. Against this explanation many forcible objections have been brought by Mr. G. W. Speth, who suggests:
3. That the itinerant masons were called free because they claimed exemption from the control of the local gilds of the towns in which they temporarily settled.
4. Perhaps the best hypothesis is that the term refers to the mediaeval practice of emancipating skilled artisans, in order that they might be able to travel and render their services wherever any great building was in process of construction.
And then the following meanings are given:
1. A member of a certain class of skilled workers in stone, in the fourteenth and following centuries often mentioned in contradistinction to rough masons, ligiers, etc. They traveled from place to place, finding employment wherever important buildings were being erected, and had a system of secret signs and passwords by which a craftsman who had been admitted on giving evidence of competent skill could be recognized. In later use, sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, the term seems often to be used merely as a more complimentary synonym of mason, implying that the workman so designated belonged to a superior grade.
The earliest instance quoted of the word in this sense is in a list of the London City Companies of 1376.
2. A member of the Fraternity, called more fully Free and Accepted Masons. Early in the seventeenth century, the Societies of Freemasons, in sense 1, began to admit honorary members, not connected with the building trades, but supposed to be eminent for architectural w or antiquarian learning. These were caned Accepted Masons, though the term Free Masons was often loosely applied to them; and they were admitted to a knowledge of the secret signs, and instructed in the legendary history of the Craft, which had already begun to be developed. The distinction of being an Accepted Mason became a fashionable object of ambition, and before the end of the seventeenth century, the object of the Societies of Freemasons seems to have been chiefly social and convivial. In 1717, under the guidance of the physicist J. T. Desaguliers, four of these Societies or Lodges in London united to form a Grand Lodge, with a new constitution and ritual, and a system of secret signs, the object of the Society as reconstituted being mutual help and the promotion of brotherly feeling among its members.
Brother E. L. Hawkins observes that the earliest instance quoted of the word in this sense is in Ashmole's Diary under date of 1646 (see Ashmole).
Gould in his Concise History has this to say upon the subject:
Two curious coincidences have been connected with the above year, 1375.
The first, that the earliest copy of the manuscript constitutions, Remus Manuscript, refers to the customs of that period;
the second, that the formation p of a wonderful society, occasioned by a combination of masons undertaking not to work without an advance of wages, when summoned from several counties by writs of Edward III, to rebuild and enlarge Windsor Castle, under the direction of William of Wykeham, has been plated at the same date. It is said also that these masons agreed on certain signs and tokens by which they might know one another, and render mutual assistance against impressment- and further agreed not to work unless free and on their own terms. Hence they called themselves Free-Masons. A child's book, Dives Pragmaticus, printed in the year 1563, and reproduced in 1910 by the owner, the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England, contains a list of occupations and line 97 is Al Free masons, Brike layers and dawbers of walled.
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