Fort, Geo. Franklin
George Franklin Fort was born in Atlantic County, New Jersey, in a Methodist parsonage, November 20, 1843. When he was eight years of age his uncle, also named Geo. F. Fort, was Governor of New Jersey (from 1851 to 1854); and John Franklin Fort, of the same family, was Governor from 190S1911. Fort had a range of learning such as no other American scholar then possessed.
There had been learned men before him in Ameriea but they had been specialists; Kiropp Lake, Henry Charles Lea, George Park Baker, Roseoe Pound and other scholars of the same encyclopedic sweep came afterwards. His family reported that he had seventeen languages in addition to his own; learned Europe by traveling over it and by studying its history in the places where the history had occurred; he attended Heidelberg University, studied law, returned home and was admitted to the bar in 1866, and began to practice.
But it was for history, archeology, and antiquarianism, not law, that he had a passion, especially the history of the Middle Ages, which at that time was not the well-explored familiar period of history it is now. He wrote and published treatise after treatise on Medieval subjects; this outpouring by one of the most brilliant and learned men went unnoticed in America because Americans knew almost nothing about the Middle Ages, and felt no need to take an interest in them. The one exception to this national apathy was the Masonic Fraternity, which had spent some four or five centuries of its existence in Medieval times, and in origin, form, and tradition was more Medieval than modern. Had not publishers permitted Fort's books to go out of print he would by this time be a name almost as well known as Mackey, and far better known than Findel whom he surpassed at every point.
Fort was made a Mason in Camden Lodge, No. 15, Camden, New Jersey. Charles S. Peiree, the father of Pragmatism, the philosophy which William James was to make the American philosophy, lived only a short distance away; it would be interesting to know if Peirce was a Mason, because he also was one of the band of men of encyclopedic scholarship whom America has so wholly neglected. In 1870 Fort demitted to help form a new Lodge, Trimble No. 117, at Camden, and was Master the following year. Also he was member of Cyrene Commandery, No. 7; Van Hook Council, No. 8; Excelsior Consistory, Camden; Honorary Member of York No. 236, York, England, and Representative of the United Grand Lodge of England near the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. He published many Masonic treatises, brochures, and books on Operative Architects, Builders Marks, Etc. But it was into his great Early History and Antiquities of Freemasonry that he poured his knowledge of the earlier periods of the Craft. As against Oliver, who had an uncritical mind, and was a reader of books but not a trained scholar, and who could not tell the difference between a fable and a fact, and whose books preceded his, Fort insisted on exact learning and upon not going farther than records and proofs and sound reasons could carry him. As against Gould, Hughan, Lane, etc., who were to follow him, he refused to cut the history of the Craft down to written documents, and saw, as neither Gould nor Hughan ever was able to see, that any history of Freemasonry must be a history of the whole of it, including its philosophy, ritual, symbols, along with Lodge records and Lodge officers; must take in Freemasonry now as well as Freemasonry in the Eighteenth Century, must not omit the two centuries of Freemasonry in America from the scope of it, as Hughan did, and must not set the High Grades to one side as if they had no place in Masonic history.
The only easily available source of information about the biography of Fort is in two articles published in The Builder: "George Franklin Fort, Masonic Historians by his brother, John Henry Fort; June, 1918, page 171. "The Masonic Writings of George Franklin Fort, " by Oliver Day Street, author of 5ymbolis7n of the Three Degrees; July, 1918; page 210.
The Early History and Antiquities of Freemasonry, by Geo. F. Fort; Fortescue & Co.; Philadelphia; 1878. This edition contains a weighty treatise by J. F. Garrison on "A Contribution to the History of the Lost Word."
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