• D.C. Freemason

The Curious Case of John Mason, Jr.

In the Fall of 1841, John Mason, Jr., a prominent lawyer and statesman, returned to the District of Columbia after serving on the first diplomatic ligation to Mexico. Upon his return, he reapplied for membership in his Masonic Lodge, Potomac Lodge No.5, which he had previously been a member and initiated sixteen years earlier. What happens next still perplexes Masonic historians: two months after his return, Mason was elected Grand Master of the District of Columbia. He never held office in a masonic lodge prior to his election and no clues can be found as to the rationale behind the decision.

In the official History of D.C. Freemasonry, Kenyon Harper writes “[Mason’s] active membership in his lodge was remarkably brief and his selection to preside over the Grand Lodge can only be attributed to some special conditions, hidden by the lapse of years, but among which it may be surmised his prominence and the unsettled period were powerful factors.” 

Here we have some historical proof that indeed, Mason was a prominent figure in the District. His grandfather, George Mason, was a famous officer in the Revolutionary War. He served in the Continental Congress in 1777 and drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776. The family's estate sat on Mason's Island, now Theodore Roosevelt Island, and was considered a social center of early D.C. The King of France, Louis Phillipe I, lodged at the Mason's estate during one of his trips to the United States. Mason’s uncle was the first Governor of Michigan and his brother, James M. Mason, served as the Senator of Virginia between 1846 to 1861. He joined Confederate States of America and served as commissioner to the UK and France during the Trent Affair.

Mason Jr. gained public notoriety during his term in Mexico during the Acordola Revolution. The event made headlines across the country:

Vermont Gazette. Bennington, Vermont. May 28 1833

But the best place to understand who he was as a Freemason would have possibly been written somewhere his Lodge’s minutes. Unfortunately, in 1963, a fire destroyed the Masonic Hall in Georgetown, and with it, any direct clues to the mystery of Mason’s lighting fast rise to Grand Master. Add to that the rarity of original source material from the time, and we find ourselves in a difficult position when trying to find out why Most Worshipful Brother Mason ascended to the Grand Oriental East so quickly. However, hopefully, as more resources move online, future historians will have a better picture of Mason and what is surely his remarkable life story.

John Mason, Jr.'s letter of appointment as a diplomat of the United States to Mexico, signed by the Secretary of State and future president, John Quincy Adams, 1823. Photo: UNC Chapel Hill, Wilson Special Collection