In the Middle Ages, the terms "mason" and "freemason" were used interchangeably.
They were stonemasons who built castles and cathedrals in England and Scotland. Because of the inherent danger of their work, many 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 masons also used the lodges as places to meet, receive their pay, plan their work, train new apprentices, and socialize.
In 1717, the first Grand Lodge was established in London. Within the next two decades, English Freemasonry spread throughout Europe and eventually made its way to the American colonies. The first lodge organized on American soil appeared in Philadelphia around 1730. By 1733 a Provincial Grand Lodge was organized in Boston. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and other founding fathers were among the first Masons in America. Of the 39 men who signed the U.S. Constitution, 13 were Masons.
From the Middle Ages to California Gold
During the Gold Rush of 1849, thousands of settlers came to California in search of fortune. Those who were Masons brought their rich traditions with them, soon establishing some of California's first Masonic lodges 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.
Today, the Grand Lodge of California boasts more than 65,000 members and 340 lodges located throughout the state, making it one of the largest Grand Lodges in the world.