In 1733 the Grand Lodge of England appointed Randolph Tooke (1704-1765), a City merchant, to be Provincial Grand Master of South America. The appointment was mainly honorific. Tooke, a member of Lodge No. 19 at the Queen’s Arms in Newgate Street in London, represented the South Sea Company in Buenos Aires and conducted business with Latin America, but there is no evidence that he constituted any Masonic Lodges.
Freemasonry developed in Latin America half-century later and spread across the continent in the nineteenth century. It was carried by European military and naval forces as well as merchants, principally the French and British (English and Scottish), and the Dutch and Irish. Latin American freemasonry was also influenced by the United States, not least with respect to the Scottish Rite.
But one of the key factors in the spread of Freemasonry was the pro-independence movement within Latin America, which set Masonic Enlightenment ideas against the constraints of colonial absolutism. In several countries, including Argentina, the inter-connection was plain. Hall-Johnson in ‘A Century of English Freemasonry in Argentina’, AQC 65 (1952), noted that
Spanish Governments have never doubted the Masonic character of the Lautaro [Lodge]. In the Boletin Oficial del Estado, 1 March 1940, are these words: ‘en la pérdida del Imperio Colonial español … se descubre siempre la acción … de la masoneria’ [in the loss of the Spanish Colonial Empire, one always finds Masonry at work]
In 1850, two years before [Juan Manuel de] Rosas went into exile and Wellington died, [José Francisco de ] San Martin died in exile in France [and on the centenary of his death] the whole of 1950 was devoted to his honour. Every newspaper and printed paper in Argentina had to carry the legend, ‘Año del Libertador General San Martin’; even our English Lodge summonses. The extent, variety and multiplicity of the honours, celebrations and printed laudations are almost impossible to describe and they lasted a whole year. In Masonry, all the Argentine Lodges were ordered to convene especial Lodges in honour of ‘El Gran Iniciado’ [the Great Initiate] and a San Martin medal was struck by the Argentine Grand Lodge.
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