The origins of Freemasonry are shrouded in mystery. It is believed to have been created over time, between the first recorded gentleman to join an Edinburgh stonemason lodge in 1599 and the publication of The Constitutions of the Freemasons by the Scottish Presbyterian minister James Anderson in 1721.
The first Masons were heavily influenced by the legends, images, and customs of medieval stonemasons.The first recorded evidence of the initiation of an English speculative bricklayer was Elias Ashmole's initiation into a Warrington lodge in 1646. In 1730, a Masonic Lodge was established in Philadelphia, and future revolutionary leader Benjamin Franklin was one of its founding members. This marked the beginning of Freemasonry's spread throughout the United States. George Washington, a young farmer from Virginia, became a Master Mason at Lodge No.
in 1752. He was 21 years old and would soon command his first military operation as commander of Virginia's colonial militia. The practice of Freemasonry evolved from the guilds of stonemasons and cathedral-builders of the Middle Ages. With the decline of cathedral construction, some lodges of operational masons began to accept honorary members to reinforce their dwindling numbers. From some of these lodges, modern, symbolic or speculative Masonry developed, which adopted the rites and ornaments of ancient religious orders and chivalric brotherhoods. Nationally organized Freemasonry began in 1717 with the founding of the Grand Lodge in England. That same year, a second Grand Lodge was founded in Ireland.
As unaffiliated lodges increasingly perceived the feeling of belonging to a larger organization, they generally found that the practice of the Ancients was more like their own, although lodges were known to shift their loyalty from the Ancients to the Moderns. It is believed that up to twenty-one signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons. The modern French tradition, founded in the 19th century and known as commisonry or Le Droit Humain, admits both women and men. Oliver Cromwell appears as the founder of Freemasonry in an anonymous anti-Masonic work from 1745, commonly attributed to Abbot Larudan.