Freemasons: History and symbols of Freemasonry
By Hal Siemer (QuestMagazine.com)

Freemasonry is a spiritual and fraternal society that uses an initiatory system of degrees to explore ethical and philosophical issues. Membership is limited to men but there are Masonic related organizations that are open to both males and females. It views itself not as a secret society but as a society with secrets. The Masonic Order has roots from antiquity. Members of the Order are joined together by shared ideals of both a moral and metaphysical nature and by a common belief in a Supreme Being (the Great Architect of the Universe).
Masonic symbols
Freemasonry often calls itself "a beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols." Masonic symbols come from various cultures and different periods of history. They often have several mystic meanings to the Freemasons. The square and compass is the most widely used and best known of the Masonic symbols. Another symbol that is well known, but not because of Masonry, is the skull and crossbones. The skull and crossbones symbol was used by the ancient Christians on their burial sites in the catacombs. It was also used by the Medieval Knights Templar. In Freemasonry it is symbolic of mortality and rebirth.
Knights Templar and Freemasons
Some historians and authors have tried to draw a link from Freemasonry and its many branches to the Knights Templar, with some Masonic groups claiming a direct descent from them. Author John J. Robinson makes a case for the Templar / Freemason connection in his book Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry.
Founding Fathers and Freemasonry
Freemasonry played a major role in the founding of the United States, with many Founding Fathers being Freemasons, including such notables as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The cornerstone to the U.S. Capitol was laid by Washington in a Masonic ceremony.