President Washington Receives a Welcome Address from King David’s Lodge, 1790

September 06, 2023

President Washington Receives a Welcome Address from King David’s Lodge, 1790

A year after Washington’s inauguration, the citizens of Rhode Island at last ratified the U.S. Constitution. On May 29, 1790, it became the thirteenth state. Washington had consciously avoided it when he toured the New England states in the fall of 1789, but now, as the last of the former colonies to join the union, he determined to visit it as soon as possible.

In the summer of 1790, when not occupied by his presidential duties, he went fishing with Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and others. He also found time to tour Long Island and visit the sites of his defeat at the Battle for New York of 1776. Washington caught pneumonia but was fully recovered when Congress recessed on August 12.

On August 15, Washington, along with Secretary Jefferson, Governor George Clinton of New York, and others, boarded a packet ship bound for Newport. His longest sea voyage since his visit to Barbados in 1751, the ship tacked well south of Long Island before coming into port. Arriving on the seventeenth, Washington was welcomed with parades, speeches, presents, and every form of courtesy. A similar reception welcomed him in Providence. He enjoyed the chance to visit private homes, to partake in the punch and sweets offered him, and to congratulate the new citizens of the United States.

His visit is best known for his reply to Newport’s Jewish community. The oldest congregation in America, its Touro Synagogue was built in 1759. In response to the welcoming address sent him by the synagogue’s president, Moses Seixas (1743–1809), Washington wrote his most famous and sincere statement on religious tolerance:

. . . the Government of the United States . . . gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. . . . May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

Less known is another address Seixas gave Washington. It was from King David’s Lodge, of which Seixas was Master.

Drafting the address is reported in the Lodge’s minutes: “At a Lodge, called by request of several Brethren on Tuesday evening, August 7, 5790, an Entered Apprentice Lodge being opened in due form proceeded to business, when it was proposed to address the President of the United States. The R.W. Master [Moses Seixas], Henry Sherburne, and the Secretary [William Littlefield] were appointed a committee for that purpose, after which the Lodge closed.”

President Washington’s response to the Touro congregation reveals his vision of free people being free to worship as they see fit. Brother Washington’s reply revealed a deep understanding of Freemasonry’s purpose. He also articulated his place within the Craft—as both a patron and sincere brother:

Being persuaded that a just application of the principles, on which the masonic fraternity is founded, must be promotive of private virtue and public prosperity, I shall always be happy to advance the interests of the society, and to be considered by them as a deserving brother.

The next day, Washington and his entourage sailed back to New York City. Upon arriving on August 21, he set himself to the task of transferring the executive branch to the government’s new capitol in Philadelphia. Other than his honorary membership in Holland Lodge № 2 and inauguration on April 30, 1789, there is no evidence Washington participated in any Masonic event during his twenty months in town.

King David’s Lodge was created in 1780 when Moses Michael Hays arrived in town with a charter issued by the Provincial Grand Lodge of New York. He gathered remaining members of the defunct St. John’s lodge and activated his charter as King David’s on June 7. While technically not legally empowered to do so, the lodge was recognized and continued to meet for over ten years. Hays moved to Boston, where he joined a Massachusetts lodge and within a year was elected its Master. He went on to serve as Grand Master of the Massachusetts Grand Lodge (Ancients) between 1788–1791.

During the War for Independence, when the brethren of King David’s Lodge heard Washington was due to visit Newport, they discussed drafting a Masonic address to him. The Lodge’s minute books on February 7, 1781, report that no address would be prepared because “on inquiry General Washington was not to be a Grand Master of North America; as they suppose, nor even Master of any particular lodge.” They concluded it would be insulting to the general’s high rank to address him as a Master Mason.

In preparation to form a grand lodge of Rhode Island, the brothers of King David merged into the newly reconstituted St. John’s Lodge. In this way, the Newport Freemasons would have equal precedence with the brothers of St. John’s Lodge in Providence. Constituted on June 27, 1791, the Grand Lodge for the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations has two lodges named St. John that are both numbered “one.”


To George Washington the President of the United States of America

We the Master, Wardens, and Brethren, of King Davids Lodge, in Newport, Rhode Island with Joyful hearts embrace this Oppertunity, 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 our fervent supplications that the Sovereign Architect of the universe may always encompass you with his holy protection.

Moses Seixas, Master
Henry Sherburne


King David’s Lodge № 1, Newport, Rhode Island, to George Washington, August 17, 1790
Library of Congress, Washington Papers
Series 4, General Correspondence, 1697–1799, MSS 44693: Reel 099
Fair copy, The Library of the Boston Athenaeum, Massachusetts
Washington Collection, MSS .L791, Folder 6


To the Masons of King David’s Lodge, Newport, Rhode Island
[Newport, R.I., August 18, 1790]

I receive the welcome which you give me to Rhode-Island with pleasure, and I acknowledge my obligations for the flattering expressions of regard, contained in your address, with grateful sincerity.

Being persuaded that a just application of the principles, on which the masonic fraternity is founded, must be promotive of private virtue and public prosperity, I shall always be happy to advance the interests of the society, and to be considered by them as a deserving brother.

My best wishes, Gentlemen, are offered for your individual happiness.

Go: Washington


George Washington to King David’s Lodge, Newport, Rhode Island, August 18, 1790
The Library of the Boston Athenaeum, Massachusetts, Washington Collection, Mss .L791, Folder 6
Fair copy, Library of Congress

Mark A. Tabbert is the Director of Archives & Exhibits of The George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association.