Inaugural Bible

A visiting Lecturer recently spoke on “George
Washington’s Presidential Inaugural Bible,” stating
that it was Masonic – belonging to St. John’s
Freemasonic Lodge in New York. Is this not proof that
George Washington was a Freemason?

This is not George Washington’s Bible. Shortly before General George Washington’s arrival at Federal Hall in New York City on Inauguration Day, April 30, 1789, members of Congress discovered that no Bible was on hand for the inaugural ceremony. They searched through the building in consternation, and without success.

New York State Chancellor, Robert R. Livingston (a close friend of Washington) was visibly concerned, until the Marshall of the Inaugural Parade, Joseph Morton, stated he could find one. Morton went to his Masonic Lodge a few blocks away, where he secured the Masonic Lodge’s bible, and brought it to Federal Hall.

While Secretary Otis of the Senate held the Bible upon a red velvet cushion, Chancellor Livingston administered the oath of office to Washington, whose left hand rested upon the opening – Genesis 49-50 – having been opened at random due to haste; his right hand upraised. When the oath was completed, Washington added the phrase, “I swear, so help me God!” and bending down, kissed the open page.

While Chancellor Livingston proclaimed Washington President, Joseph Morton stepped forward, folding down the corner of the opened page, to preserve a record of the opening Washington had saluted, and returned it to his Lodge.

Not long after this historic event, members of St. John’s Lodge, No. 1 inserted a page into the Bible to commemorate the important part it played in the installation of President Washington. This page follows the frontispiece and precedes the engraved title. Written in the style of an engraver, is the following text, headed by an engraving of Washington after the Vaughan portrait by Gilbert Stuart:

“On This Sacred Volume
On the 30th day of April A.M. 5789
In the City of New York
administered to
George Washington
THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The Oath
To support the Constitution of the United States.”

George Washington’s personal, three-volume, hand-autographed Bible is housed in the Rare Book Collection, Library of Congress. Additionally, the Mount Vernon Archives contain: The Washington family Bible (wherein is recorded the birth of George Washington); The Book of Common Prayer (bearing Martha Washington’s signature); A concordance to the Holy Scriptures, 1760; Martha Washington’s personal family Bible (containing the Lewis family genealogy), autographed by her.

In possession of Pohick Episcopal Church, Washington’s parish Church, is another of George Washington’s personal Bibles. The inside cover has the following inscription by George Washington Parke Custis, his adopted grandson, who presented it to the Church:

Presented to Truro Parish for the use of Pohick Church, July 11, 1802. With the request that should said church cease to be appropriated to Divine worship, which God forbid, and for the honor of Christianity, it is hoped will never take place. In such case I desire that the vestry will preserve this Bible as a testimony of regard from the subscriber after a residence of 19 years in the Parish. — George Washington Parke Custis.

Washington purchased a large, leather-bound Bible and Psalter, for use by Pohick Church, his parish Church. It also contains the Book of Common Prayer. At the end of the Book of Malachi, this inscription is found:

“This Bible was used in Pohick Church, Fairfax County, Virginia, when in that ancient temple which is yet in use, ‘the father of this country’ worshipped the God of his fathers.”

To learn more, click here. (Founders’ book)

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