Today, the Capitol Visitors Center Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers when President George Washington led the cornerstone ceremony 222 years ago.
American Architect and Architecture of May 1893 included one newspaper’s description of the events in Washington with the capitol’s first cornerstone.
This was done with considerable ceremony, as described in the ” History of the Alexandria Washington Lodge of Masons,” from which I take the following quotation :
“The next important event of this kind was the laying of the corner stone of the United States Capitol, at the City of Washington, on the eighteenth day of September, 1793.
“The Masonic ceremonies were conducted by His Excellency, General Washington, President of the United States, a Past Master of this Lodge, which was present and holding the post of honor.
“Dr. Dick, elected Worshipful Master in 1789, still in office, invited Washington to act as Master on this occasion, in accordance with his own wishes and those of the public.
“The stone was deposited in the south east corner of the building, instead of the northeast, as is now the custom.
“The inscription on the plate stated that Alexandria Lodge, No. 22, of Virginia, was present and participated in the ceremonies.
“The apron and sash worn by Washington on this occasion were the handiwork of Mrs. General La Fayette, and are now the property of this Lodge.”
The following account of the ceremonies was published in the newspapers of that day:
“On Wednesday, one of the grandest Masonic processions took place, for the purpose of laying the corner-stone of the Capitol of the United States, which, perhaps, was ever exhibited on the like important occasion.
“About ten o’clock Lodge No. 9 was visited by that congregation so graceful to the craft. Lodge No. 22, of Virginia, with all their officers and regalia.
“And directly afterward appeared on the southern bank of the Grand River Potomack one of the finest companies of volunteer artillery that has been lately seen, parading to receive the President of the United States, who shortly came in sight with his suite, to whom the artillery paid their military honors.
“His Excellency and suite crossed the Potomack, and was received in Maryland by the officers and brethren of No. 22, Virginia, and No. 9, Maryland, whom the President headed, preceded by a band of music.
“The rear brought up by the Alexandria Volunteer Artillery, with grand solemnity of march, proceeded to the President’s Square, in the City of Washington, where they were met and saluted by No. 15, of the City of Washington, in all their elegant badges and clothing, headed by Bro. Joseph Clarke, R. W. Grand Master, pro tem., and conducted to a large lodge, prepared for the purpose of their reception.
“After a short space of time, by the vigilance of Bro. Clotworthy Stephenson, Grand Marshal, pro tem., the brotherhood and other bodies were disposed in a second order of procession, which took place amid a brilliant crowd of spectators of both sexes, according to the following arrangement, viz.:
“The Surveying Department of the City of Washington. “Mayor and-Gorporation of Georgetown. “Virginia Artillery. “Commissioners of the City of Washington, and their attendants. “Stone-cutters, mechanics. ” The Sword-bearers. ” Masons of the First Degree. “Bible, etc., on grand cushions. ” Deacons, with staffs of office. “Masons of the Second Degree. “Stewards, with wands. ” Masons of the Third Degree. “Wardens, with truncheons. “Secretaries, with tools of office. ” Past Masters, with their regalia. ” Treasurers, with their jewels. ” Band of music. “Lodge No. 22, of Virginia, disposed in their own order. “Corn, wine and oil. “Grand Master, pro tem., Brother George Washington, and Worshipful Master of No. 22, of Virginia. ” Grand Sword-bearer.
“The procession marched two abreast, in the greatest solemn dignity, with music playing, drums beating, colors flying and spectators rejoicing, from the President’s Square to the Capitol, in the City of Washington, where the Grand Master ordered a halt, and directed each file in the procession to incline two steps, one to the right and one to the left, and face each other, which formed a hollow, oblong square through which the Grand Sword-bearer led the van, followed by the Grand Master, pro tem., on the left, the President of the United States in the centre, and the Worshipful Master of No. 22, Virginia, on the right.
“All the other orders that composed the procession advanced in the reverse of their order of march from the President’s Square to the southeast corner of the Capitol, and the artillery filed off to a destined ground to display their manceuvers and discharge their cannon.
“The President of the United States, the Grand Master, pro tem., and the Worshipful Master of No. 22, taking their stand to the east of a large stone, and all the craft forming a circle westward, stood a short time in solemn order.
“The artillery discharged a volley. The Grand Marshal delivered the Commissioners a large silver plate with an inscription thereon, which the Commissioners ordered to be read, and was as follows:
“‘This southeast corner-stone of the Capitol of the United States of America, in the City of Washington, was laid on the eighteenth day of September, 1793, In the thirteenth year of American Independence, in the first year of the second term of the presidency of George Washington, whose virtues in the civil administration of his country have been as conspicuous and beneficial as his military valor and prudence have been useful in establishing her liberties, and in the year of Masonry, 5793 by the President of the United States, in concert with the Grand Lodge of Maryland, several lodges under its jurisdiction, and Lodge No. 22, from Alexandria, Va., Thomas Johnson, David Steuart and Daniel Carroll, Commissioners; Joseph Clark, R. W. Grand Master, pro tem.; Joseph Hoban and Stephen Hallite, architects; Collin Williamson, master mason.’
“The artillery discharged a volley. The plate was then delivered to the President, who, attended by the Grand Master, pro tem., and three Most Worshipful Masters, descended to the cavazion trench and deposited the plate and laid it on the corner-stone of the Capitol of the United States of America, on which were deposited corn, wine and oil, when the whole congregation joined in reverential prayer, which was succeeded by Masonic chanting honors and a volley from the artillery.
” The President of the United States and his attendant brethren ascended from the cavazion to the east of the corner-stone and there the Grand Master, pro tem., elevated on a triple rostrum, delivered an oration fitting the occasion, which was received with brotherly love and commendation. At intervals during the delivery of the oration several volleys were discharged by the artillery. The ceremony ended in prayer. Masonic chanting honors, and a fifteen-volley from the artillery.
“The whole company retired to an extensive booth, where an ox of 500 pounds’ weight was barbecued, of which the company generally partook, with every abundance of other recreation. The festival concluded with fifteen successive volleys from the artillery, whose military discipline and manceuvers merit every commendation. Before dark the whole company departed with joyful hopes of the production of their labor.”
The Capitol Visitors Center Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows against an artistic view of the cornerstone ceremony.