The History of Freemasonry in Virginia

Article excerpt

The History of Freemasonry in Virginia. By Richard A. Rutyna and Peter C. Stewart. (Lanham, Md.; New York; and Oxford: University Press of America, c. 1998. Pp. xii, 561. $30.00, ISBN 0-7618-1130-3.)

This meticulous history of Virginia's Freemasonry from its beginnings in the eighteenth century into the 1990s indicates that individual Masons played a fundamental role in Virginia's important political moments and controversies, but--unsurprisingly--Masons never acted in unison. Richard Rutyna and Peter Stewart, both retired from Old Dominion University, find that there has never been any Masonic conspiracy to manipulate or control the outcome of events such as the ratification of the United States Constitution (when most Virginia Masons favored adoption). Although neither is a Freemason, the two historians enjoyed full access to the records of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, Ancient, Free, and Accepted Masons. The result of their research is the first comprehensive history of the fraternity since William Moseley Brown's Freemasonry in Virginia (1733-1936) (Richmond, 1936).

The authors focus on the contributions of individual Masons to Virginia's political, cultural, and economic life, and on the growth of the craft throughout the commonwealth. Rutyna and Stewart find that Masonic membership consistently wag strongest in towns and cities where business and professional people formed the bulk of the membership. For example, new lodges in the nineteenth century most often appeared at railroad towns. The book contains little discussion of the Masons' activities other than in ceremonial roles--such as the laying of cornerstones of public buildings--until the last chapter describes the philanthropic priorities of the Masonic lodges in the latter half of the twentieth century. …