(Member: Potomac Lodge No. 5)
(From the Archives highlights interesting stories of past D.C. Freemasons and other hidden historical gems found in archives of the Grand Lodge of D.C. - ed.)
In the Fall of 1841, John Mason, Jr., a prominent Georgetown lawyer and businessman, submitted a petition to re-affiliate with Potomac Lodge No. 5, his Mother Lodge. Mason had applied for and received the degrees sixteen years earlier, but was forced to quickly ask for leave, as he was headed to Mexico on a diplomatic mission of the State Department.
What happens next still perplexes Masonic historians: Mason was elected Grand Master of the District of Columbia. Yet, he never held masonic office and had only returned to Potomac two months prior. There are no explanations in our Grand Lodge history or proceedings, and no clues are found in Potomac Lodge’s minutes.
In the official history of D.C. Freemasonry, WB 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 was a famous officer in the Revolutionary War (none other than George Mason, himself), he served in the Continental Congress in 1777, and he drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776. His family’s estate on Mason’s Island (now known as Theodore Roosevelt Island) was considered a social center of early D.C. In fact, the King of France, Louis Phillipe I, lodged there on one of his trips to the United States. And as for the rest of his family, Mason’s uncle was the first Governor of Michigan and his brother, James M. Mason, was a Virginia Senator from 1846 to the Civil War and represented the Confederate States of America as commissioner to the UK and France during the Trent Affair. So, it’s easy to see that Mason was undoubtedly a prominent and important figure wherever he happened to be during his lifetime.
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.
 Mason’s official Letter of Appointment to his diplomatic post in Mexico. The letter was signed by President Monroe and attested by then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. It is part of UNC: Chapel Hill’s Wilson special collection.