The White House's Masonic Cornerstone
Between 1948 and 1952, the Truman administration conducted a major renovation of the White House. As construction crews began the process of refurbishing the Executive Mansion, a committee of researchers scoured libraries and institutions of higher learning to compile a history into the edifice's early construction.
The first and only known account of the cornerstone ceremony was subsequently discovered among the pages of the Charleston City Gazette, printed in South Carolina on November 15, 1792. The account followed an extract "from a gentleman in Philadelphia, to his friend in Charleston, dated October 20, 1792."
The cornerstone ceremony was conducted on Saturday, October 13, and organized by members of Lodge No. 9 of Georgetown, now Potomac Lodge No. 5. The Lodge and masons from around the District assembled at John Suter's Tavern, formally known as the Fountain Inn, which also served as the lodge's meeting hall. The participants formed a large procession and began their trek to the "President's House." The procession included Freemasons, the Commissioners of Washington City, and other notable citizens. It is likely that James Hoban, architect of the White House and Freemason, was also in attendance. Hoban attended Masonic meetings in Georgetown and joined a group of 10 petitioners for form their own Masonic Lodge in Washington city.
Peter Casanave, the head of Lodge No. 9, performed the cornerstone ceremony. Casanave, a successful merchant and entrepreneur, served as Georgetown's mayor in 1791. Participants placed a brass plate under the cornerstone with an inscription detailing the event. It included the names of President Washington, the three Washington Commissioners, Hoban, and Collen Williamson, who served as the stone mason on duty. Williamson was also a Freemason.
The ceremony concluded with an elegant dinner back at Suter's Tavern. The highlight of the event were the sixteen toasts offered to various individuals of note including the President of the Unite States, "the fair daughters of America," and the author of Common Sense, Thomas Paine.
The full extract of the cornerstone ceremony can be found here:
1. Sesquicentennial History of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, 1811-1961 R. Baker Harris, 1961.
2. City Gazette, Charleston. November 15, 1792.