In the Middle Ages, the term “Freemason” was awarded to highly skilled
stonemasons who were hired as free agents to build castles and cathedrals
in England and Scotland. Because of the inherent danger of their work,
stonemasons formed local organizations, called lodges, to take care of sick
and injured members as well as the widows and orphans of those who
were killed on the job.
The first Grand Lodge was established in 1717 in London. In 1718, English
Freemasonry spread to France and Spain, and after 1729, to India, Italy,
Poland, and Sweden. Freemasonry spread to other parts of Europe and
eventually made its way to the American colonies. In 1733, the first
American lodge was established in Boston, under the authority of the
Grand Lodge of England. Of the 39 men who signed the U.S. Constitution,
13 were Masons.
Freemasonry has been an integral part of California for more than 150
years. During the Gold Rush of 1849, thousands of settlers came to
California in search of fortune. Many of these men had been Masons back
East and brought with them the tradition of Freemasonry. Not surprisingly,
some of California’s first Masonic Lodges were established in the mining
towns of the Gold Country. In 1850 – the same year that California
became a state – the Grand Lodge of California was established in
Sacramento. Within 10 years, the number of Masonic Lodges had grown
from 11 to 130, while membership soared from 258 to more than 5,000.
Over the years, the Masons have played a key role in shaping the history of
California. To date, 19 California governors have been Masons, and at
least four California Masons have been elected to the U.S. Senate. Today,
the Grand Lodge of California has over 75,000 members and about 350
Lodges located throughout the state, making it one of the largest Grand
Lodges in the world.
Throughout their 150-year history, the California Masons have remained
steadfast in their commitment to helping others and serving the community.
They have volunteered hundreds of thousands of hours and donated
millions of dollars to support a wide range of charitable programs. Among
the fraternity’s first charitable activities was helping victims of the great
cholera outbreak in Sacramento in 1850. Three Lodges, with a combined
membership of 69 men, raised more than $32,000 to help build and
maintain a hospital at Sutter’s Fort.