Freemasonry Q & A: Why are Masons so concerned about minutes?

This can probably be traced back to William Schaw of Scotland, the “King’s Master of Works and Warden-General” or also “Chief Master of Masons.” On December 28, 1598, Schaw issued rules for governing the craft of freemasonry which are now known as the “Schaw Statutes.” One of the statutes gives clear rules about keeping records.

Item: That no master shall receive any apprentice without signifying the same to the wardens of the lodge where he lives, to the end that the said apprentice’s name and the day of his reception may be orderly entered in the books.

Here is clear evidence that Scottish lodges were instructed in 1598 by the Chief Master of Masons to enter new members in “the books.” The earliest extant minutes of any lodge are those of Aitchison’s Haven Lodge of January 9, 1598, a few months before Schaw formally issued his rules.

The IX day of Januerie the Zeir of God upon ye quihilk day Robert Widderspone was maid fellow of Craft … he chois George Aytone Johne Pedded to be his intenders and instructouris and also ye said Robert hes payit his xx sh. And his gluffis to everie Maister as efferis

From this simple minute of the meeting we can see one custom that has carried forth to today: newly advanced brothers have intenders and instructors to teach them Masonry. In 1598 Robert Widderspone chose George Aytone and Johne Pedded rather than have them assigned by the master as would be done now, but what is important here is that the newly advanced brother had senior members assigned to help him advance.

Without Schaw’s guidance the lodges may not have kept records (for who really enjoys hearing and approving minutes), and without the records we wouldn’t be able to trace back our earliest customs.