As you may be aware, the history of Freemasons includes elements that are actual, and others that are “traditional.” The actual history is mainly found after the emergence of Freemasons’ lodges from secrecy on 24 June 1717 in London.
Before that time little was known for certain but many colorful stories were told about how Freemasons must have included most of the important men in history — even Adam in the Garden of Eden. These are called “traditional” history to distinguish them from actual history. Yet they are still an important part of Freemasons’ heritage, and sometimes they contain stories that tell life lessons. The lessons are true, even if the stories are somewhat imagined.
Our goal here is to bring together more of the actual history of Freemasonry — even reaching back before 1717 — so that the practices, rituals, symbols and principles of Freemasonry can be better known and used today.
The same rules of critical analysis which are pursued in the separation of what is true from what is false in the history of a nation should be applied to the determination of the character of all statements in Masonic history. This course, however, has, unhappily, not been generally pursued. Many of its legends are unquestionably founded, as I shall endeavor hereafter to show, on a historical basis; but quite as many, if not more, are made up out of a mixture of truth and fiction, the distinctive boundaries of which it is difficult to define; while a still greater number are altogether mythical, with no appreciable element of truth in their composition. And yet, for nearly two centuries, all of these three classes of Masonic legendary lore have been accepted by the great body of the Fraternity, without any discrimination, as faithful narratives of undoubted truthfulness.
–Albert Gallatin Mackey
The History of Freemasonry