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1. A member of a certain class of skilled workers in stone, in the 14th and following centuries often mentioned in contradistinction to ‘rough masons’, ‘ligiers’, etc. They travelled from place to place, finding employment wherever important buildings were being erected, and had a system of secret signs and passwords by which a craftsman who had been admitted on giving evidence of competent skill could be recognized. In later use (16-18th c.) the term seems often to be used merely as a more complimentary synonym of ‘mason’, implying that the workman so designated belonged to a superior grade. Obs.

1376 in Conder Hole Craft 51 [A list of the city companies with the number of their representatives on the Council has: Free masons 2, Masons 4. But in the original handwriting the figure for the Masons is altered to 6, and the entry Free masons is expunged]. 1396 Charter Rich. II (Sloane 4595) in Masonic Mag. (1882) 341 Concessimus..archiepiscopo Cantuar. quod..viginti et quatuor lathomos vocatos ffre Maceons et viginti et quatuor lathomos vocatos ligiers..capere..possit. [1444 Act 23 Hen. VI, c. 12 Les gagez ascun frank mason ou maister Carpenter nexcede pas par le jour iiijd. ovesqe mangier & boier..un rough mason & mesne Carpenter..iiid. par le jour.] 1477 NORTON Ord. Alch. Proem. in Ashm. (1652) 7 Free Masons and Tanners. 1484 Churchw. Acc. Wigtoft, Linc. (Nichols 1797) 80 Paide to Will'm Whelpdale fremason for makyng of the crosse in ye chirchrth. 1495 Act 11 Hen. VII, c. 22 §1 A Freemason maister Carpenter Rough mason Brickleyer [etc.]. 1504 Bury Wills (Camden) 104 To John Dealtry, fremason, xs. 1526 Pilgr. Perf. (W. de W. 1531) 142 The free mason setteth his prentyse first longe tyme to lerne to hewe stones. 1548 Act 2 & 3 Edw. VI, c. 15 §3 No Person..shall..lett or disturbe any Fre mason, rough mason, carpenter, bricklayer. 1594 BLUNDEVIL Exerc. Cont. (ed. 7) A. iv, In free Masons craft, in Joyners craft. 1608 TOPSELL Serpents (1658) 650 Who seeth not that it were far better the master work-men, free masons, and carpenters, might be spared, then the true labouring husbandman? 1662 EVELYN Chalcogr. (1769) 90 Encountring the difficulties of the free~mason. 1720 Lond. Gaz. No. 5907/4 Anthony Ashley..Free Mason. 1723 Ibid. No. 6195/6 John Lane..Free-Mason.

2. A member of the fraternity called more fully, Free and Accepted Masons. Early in the 17th c., the societies of freemasons (in sense 1) began to admit honorary members, not connected with the building trades, but supposed to be eminent for architectural or antiquarian learning. These were called accepted masons, though the term free masons was often loosely applied to them; and they were admitted to a knowledge of the secret signs, and instructed in the legendary history of the craft, which had already begun to be developed. The distinction of being an ‘accepted mason’ became a fashionable object of ambition, and before the end of the 17th c. the object of the societies of freemasons seems to have been chiefly social and convivial. In 1717, under the guidance of the physicist J. T. Desaguliers, four of these societies or ‘lodges’ in London united to form a ‘grand lodge’ , with a new constitution and ritual, and a system of secret signs; the object of the society as reconstituted being mutual help and the promotion of brotherly feeling among its members. The London ‘grand lodge’ became the parent of other ‘lodges’ in Great Britain and abroad, and there are now powerful bodies of ‘freemasons’, more or less recognizing each other, in most countries of the world.

1646 ASHMOLE Mem. (1717) 15 Oct., [At] 4 Hor. 30 Minutes post merid., I was made a Free-Mason at Warrington in Lancashire, with Colonel Henry Mainwaring. 1686 PLOT Staffordsh. 316 Admitting Men into the Society of Free~masons, that in the moorelands of this County seems to be of greater request, than any where else. Ibid., A Fellow of the Society, whom they otherwise call an accepted mason. 1688 R. HOLME Armoury III. 393/2, I cannot but Honor..the Masons..the more as being a Member of that Society called Free-Masons. 1691 AUBREY Memorandums 18 May in Conder Hole Craft (1894) 4 This day is a great convention at St. Pauls church of the fraternity of the free [erased, and accepted written above] Masons; where Sir Christopher Wren is to be adopted a Brother. 1709 STEELE Tatler No. 26 3 They have their Signs and Tokens like Free-Masons. 1723 (title) The Constitutions of the Free-masons..for the Use of the Lodges. 1753 Scots Mag. Sept. 425/1 The society of free and accepted masons caused a..triumphal be erected. 1816 ‘QUIZ’ Grand Master VII. 174 ‘I'd turn a Turk, or MethodistChristian, Freemason, even Jew!’

3. attrib. (of or pertaining to freemasons), as freemason knock, secret, work.

1807-8 W. IRVING Salmag. (1824) 220, I distinguished his *free-mason knock at my door.


1785 BURKE Sp. Nabob of Arcot 33 The true *free-mason secret of the profession of soucaring.


a1490 BOTONER Itin. (Nasmith 1778) 268 De *fremason-work operata.


Hence Freemasonic a., of or pertaining to freemasons; Freemasonism (Stand. Dict.) = FREEMASONRY.

1831 Westm. Rev. XIV. 156 A free-masonic order who converse by signs, innuendos, and slang. 1859 THACKERAY Virgin. II. xxxviii. 317 That mysterious undefinable freemasonic signal, which passes between women, by which each knows that the other hates her. 1861 SALA Dutch Pict. vi. 85 There she is at her post, with a wonderful free~masonic understanding with the doctor.

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