On August 15, 1790 President George Washington started a two day voyage from New York City, around Long Island, to Newport, Rhode Island. His journey was in part to congratulate the Rhode Island citizens for becoming the thirteenth State on May 29. Among the passengers accompanying the President were Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, New York Governor George Clinton, Supreme Court Justice James Blair, Congressman Nicholas Gilman from New Hampshire and Rhode Island Senator Theodore Foster (all of these men but Jefferson were brother freemasons).
Upon landing in Newport, Pres. Washington was welcomed by political, military, religious and civic delegations. Best known among these delegations were members of Yeshuat Israel, Newport’s first Jewish congregation, which was led by Moses Seixas (1744 – 1809). To answer their welcome, Washington’s response to their welcome became one of the great statements of American religious liberty. To read more about the correspondence from both parties, please check the link at the end.
Moses Seixas was also the presiding Master of Newport’s King David’s Lodge. On behalf of his lodge he delivered to Brother Washington a written masonic address:
We the Master, Wardens, and Brethren, of King Davids Lodge, in Newport, Rhode Island with Joyful hearts embrace this Opportunity, to greet you as a Brother and to hail you welcome to Rhode Island. We exult in the thought that as Masonry has always been patronised by the wise, the good, and the great; so hath it stood and ever will stand as its fixtures are on the immutable pillars of faith, hope, and Charity.
With unspeakable pleasure we Gratulate you as filling the Presidential Chair with the applause of a numerous and enlightened people, whilst, at the same time, we felicitate ourselves in the honour done the Brotherhood by your many exemplary Virtues and emanations of Goodness proceeding from a heart worthy of possessing the Antient Mysteries of our craft; being persuaded that the wisdom and Grace with which heaven has endowed you, will ever square all your thoughts, words, and actions by the eternal Laws of honour, equity, and truth, so as to promote the advancement of all good works; your own happiness, and that of mankind.
Permit us then Illustrious Brother cordially to Salute you with Three times Three and to add your fervent supplications that the Sovereign Architect of the Universe may always encompass you with his holy protection
The original address is among the Washington Papers in the Library of Congress and can be found in the link below.
Moses Seixas was among thirteen Jewish members of the Lodge and would later serve as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1802 until his death in 1809.
King David’s Lodge was chartered in 1778 by the Grand Lodge of New York. Moses Michael Hays (1739–1805) served as its first Master. An important banker in Boston, Hays was one of the first, if not the first, American to receive the degrees of what would become known as the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. He served as the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts between 1788 and 1792.
Two months after Washington’s visit, King David’s Lodge merged into St. John’s Lodge on October 19. St. John’s Lodge helped form the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1791 and continues to work in Newport to this very day.
Pressed by many important matters it would not be until August 22nd that Pres. Washington would reply to the brothers of King David’s Lodge.