Freemasonry, with its commitment to interdenominational and international fellowship, originated in the British Isles. The secret society emerged from the medieval guilds of stonemasons in Britain and Europe that set standards, protected workers’ rights and provided other benefits.
Though only Scottish and English associations can be connected to the modern Masonic fraternity, similar craft guilds and companies existed across Europe, playing an important role in the construction of abbeys, cathedrals and castles.
Masons’ tools such as the level, square and compass served to underline the fraternity’s values: equality, honesty, spirituality. Freemasonry spread like wildfire throughout Europe and America during the eighteenth century.
Hawai‘i was first visited by Freemasons as early as the early-1790s, with the visit of George Vancouver. In addition other lesser known Freemasons (mariners, merchants and professionals) visited the Islands.
Oddly enough, it was a French mariner who introduced this British cultural export into Hawai‘i at a time when the Union Jack flew over the kingdom’s capital.
On April 8, 1843, during the reign of King Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli,) Freemasonry was formally established in Hawai‘i by Joseph Marie Le Tellier, Captain of the French whaling barque “Ajax” when he warranted Lodge Le Progres de l’Oceanie No. 124, of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of the Supreme Council of France.
This was the first Masonic Lodge to be instituted in the Sandwich Islands (as Hawai‘i was referenced at that time) and is quite likely the first Lodge to be founded in the Pacific and West of the Rocky Mountains.
With it, Freemasonry became firmly established in the Sandwich Islands. In Honolulu, the original lodge members were European and American mariners, shopkeepers and farmers.
Membership in Masonic lodges has always served to facilitate business contacts, as well as social ones. By the late-1840s there were about thirty-five merchants and storekeepers in Honolulu, of whom about one third were Masons. Similar ratios existed for the other 150 skilled “mechanics” and professionals in town.
Hawaiian Royalty soon looked to membership. The association between Freemasonry and the Hawaiian Monarchy started with Prince Lot when he was raised in Hawaiian Lodge in 1853, and became the first Native Hawaiian to become a Freemason (he later became Kamehameha V.)
Prince Lot was followed into the fraternity by his younger brother Prince Alexander Liholiho, who later became Kamehameha IV, and was the Master of Lodge le Progres de l’Oceanie in 1859, 1861 and 1862.
In June 1853, Foreign Minister Robert Crichton Wyllie sent the lodge a request from King Kamehameha III that the reigning monarch be initiated “into our ancient and benevolent order.” Apparently, the lodge did not take the opportunity to enroll King Kamehameha III.
In July 1860, the ground breaking for Queen’s Hospital included a traditional Masonic cornerstone laying ceremony attended by thousands and presided over by the young monarch.
Later, in 1879, King Kalākaua (one of the most active members of the Craft in the Island Kingdom,) conducted a grand Masonic ceremony at the site of the new ‘Iolani Palace, using Masonic silver working tools specially crafted for the occasion.
Other public buildings dedicated under Masonic rites were Ali‘iolani Hale (now home to Hawai‘i’s Supreme Court) and Lunalilo Home.
Other notable Masons of that time included John Dominis (husband of Queen Lili’uokalani,) Archibald Cleghorn (Governor of O‘ahu,) Prince William Pitt Leleiohoku (younger brother of King Kalākaua) and Prince David Kawananakoa.
During the first decades of Masonic activity in the Islands, Americans constituted 40 percent to 50 percent of all members, and Scots, Irish and English together constituted another 30 percent.
Native Hawaiians, on the other hand, comprised no more than 5 to 10 percent of the fraternity, but because they were frequently royalty or important governmental officials, they were highly conspicuous.
In 1852, Hawaiian Lodge was chartered by the Grand Lodge of California and all Hawaiʻi lodges became part of that grand lodge from 1902 until 1989, when the Grand Lodge of Hawaiʻi was established.
After 137 years to the month (when the Hawaiian Lodge was chartered,) May 5, 1852 – May 20, 1989, of being a part of the California Jurisdiction, Hawai‘i established its own regular Grand Lodge.
On May 20, 1989, the twelve Masonic Lodges of Hawaiʻi instituted The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Hawai‘i.
The Grand Lodge of Hawai‘i is the smallest and youngest of American jurisdictions, consisting of eleven constituent lodges and about 1,700 members. Over the years, its members have included three kings, four governors and six chief justices of the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court.