The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina
Provincial Grand Lodge Chartered in 1737
First Lodge Chartered in 1735
By Rodney S. Swinson, PDDGM
The following article was edited from the 1994 Edition of Transactions published by The South Carolina Masonic Research Society.
Our Grand Lodge, as we have it today, came from the merger of two old Grand Lodges. As our Grand Master, Most Worshipful Brother Reid expressed it, A Y M + M M = A F M, Ancient York Mason plus Modern Mason equal Ancient Free Mason. The equation is simple. However, as we look back, we find that the solution was not a simple one.
In the early seventeen hundreds, Freemasonry had fallen into neglect in England. At this low ebb, a split developed and battle lines drawn between "Moderns" and the "Ancients." The Ancients charged the Moderns with "defection from the ancient landmarks." The Free and Accepted Masons of South Carolina had been a Provincial Grand Lodge under the Grand Lodge of England, the Moderns. In 1777, they became independent by resolution throwing off any provincial or subordinate character to the Grand Lodge of England.
The Athol Grand Lodge, or as it was sometimes called, the Grand Lodge of Ancient Masons, chartered lodges in Pennsylvania, which in turn, as a Grand Lodge, chartered lodges of Ancient York Masons in South Carolina. In 1787, five lodges chartered by other Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons, united in forming the South Carolina Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons. Beginning with only five lodges, four years later the York Grand Lodge had thirty-five lodges while the Free and Accepted Masons, after fifty-five years of existence had accomplished only one-third of that amount of work.
From this time two independent Grand Lodges existed within the state. Both bodies met regularly, granted warrants for new lodges and conducted the normal business. However, there was no fraternal communication or visiting between them. In 1791, both bodies applied for and received acts of incorporation dated December 20.
After the organization of the Ancient York Masons, discord and dissension grew between the rival Grand Lodges. It reached such a degree of bitterness that some of the more prominent members of the parties began to see the necessity of an agreement or union in order to preserve the integrity and usefulness of the fraternity. While some said that there was little difference in the work or discipline, most felt that this was not the case. Although it was in violation of their regulations the Moderns sometimes admitted Ancients to their meetings. No reciprocation on the part of the Ancients was allowed as they strenuously refused to admit Moderns. Their feelings were expressed in the following quote "Those Modern or new Masons, we know not, neither indeed can we, since he that cometh not in by the door agreeably to our ancient landmarks, but climbeth over the wall or some other way is a thief and a robber."
As early as 1807, steps were taken to inaugurate a union of the two Grand Lodges. Exertions were frequently made by individuals of both sides with propositions advanced and urged. This did not bring the intended results but it did open and prepare the way for a better mutual understanding.
The results so strongly desired seemed near achievement. On July 9, 1808, the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons appointed a committee "to meet any committee that might be appointed by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons for the purpose of inquiring into the eligibility of forming a union of the Two Grand Lodges and to report thereon at the next stated meeting." On the same evening the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons adopted a similar course and appointed a committee for the same purpose.
After several meetings on September 5, 1808, the joint committee adopted and recommended the Articles of Union of Free and Accented and York Masons.
The articles were presented to both Grand Lodges and solemnly adopted by each, the Ancient York Masons on September 24, 1808, and three days later by the Free and Accepted Masons.
The Articles of Union were printed and placed in the hands of the members. As soon as the Ancient York Masons had had an Opportunity of really examining the articles, many of them raised strong objections to the Seventh Article which allowed the Modern to visit the Ancient York Masons. This, they believed, violated their obligation and compromised their landmarks.
On December 17, 1808, the two Grand Lodges met in their respective chambers for the purpose of making the preliminary arrangements for a final union. At the meeting of the Ancient York Grand Lodge, Samuel Nobbs, Master of Lodge No. 31, under instructions of that Lodge and with the assistance of his wardens, made every effort to have the article repealed but without success. The Grand Master declared the motion for repeal out of order. Following this ruling of Order, the York Grand Lodge resolved to receive the committee of the Free and Accepted Grand Lodge in open lodge. Upon adoption of this motion the Master and Wardens of Lodge No. 31 governed by the same scruples which led them to move the repeal of the Seventh Article, retired from the lodge room.
The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons were then introduced, the union having been duly ratified, the United Grand Lodge proceeded to the election of officers. The newly elected officers were installed on December 31, 1808 and the newly united Grand Lodge began its legal Masonic Existence with the commencement of the year 1809.
No sooner had the union been completed, then St. John's Lodge No. 31, held a meeting condemning the Ancient York Masons who entered the union and then began the steps necessary for the revival of the Old Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons. Accordingly, on January 7, 1809, a letter was addressed to the Lodges formerly under the jurisdiction of the Ancient York Grand Lodge. The letter expressed in detail their position against the action of the York Grand Lodge in the union and asked that the other lodges unite with them in their effort, quote, "to hold our integrity as Ancient York Masons." Favorable replies were received and a number of lodges joined under the leadership of St. John's Lodge No. 31.
In a move against the seceding lodges the new Grand Lodge adopted a resolution by which such members of the subordinate lodges as should refuse to take or affirm to the oath of secrecy when required to do so the Worshipful Master, were to be prohibited from visiting or sitting any lodge under its jurisdiction until they should have taken the same. To test the resolution a committee from St. John's Lodge No. 31 Lodge No. 8, an Ancient York Lodge which had submitted to the Grand Lodge. On demanding admission but refusing to take the test oath, they were not permitted to enter. On reporting this back to the lodge, St. John’s Lodge No. 31 passed a resolution that they would not acknowledge the Grand Lodge of South Carolina nor admit any of its members that have taken the oath of secrecy for Moderns.
As a final act, the Grand Lodge of South Carolina passed stringent resolutions declaring every warrant or constitution for holding a lodge for making Free Masons in this state, not issued by them was null and void and that all persons raised by these lodges were clandestine Masons. A part of that resolution was as follows, "That the lodge in this city, calling itself St. John’s Lodge No. 31, Ancient York Masons, acting under a warrant of constitution which is null and void, be, and the same is hereby, declared to be a clandestine lodge and the members thereof be expelled from the true craft."
The decree of expulsion by the South Carolina Grand Lodge placed the rebelling Masons in a position where they were compelled to either surrender their warrants, acknowledge themselves clandestine, organize a new or revive the old Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons. They determined to adopt the last course.
Accordingly, at the invitation of St. John’s Lodge No. 31, sixteen lodges met in Columbia on May 1, 1809, to reconvene and perpetuate the Grand Lodge of South Carolina Ancient York Masons.
Thus, after only four months, discord was lifting its head and two Grand Lodges were again dividing the Masonic jurisdiction in South Carolina. The Grand Lodge of South Carolina consisted of all the lodges of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons and the few York Lodges that agreed to the union. The Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons consisted of all the York Lodges that did not submit to the new Grand Lodge.
Apart from the Seventh Article of union which caused the greatest breach in the joining of the Grand Lodges, the recommendation of the first articles were not complete at this time. As by the petition of the new Grand Lodge the Senate passed an act repealing the acts of incorporation of the two Grand Lodges and in lieu thereof incorporating the new single Grand Lodge. The House of Representatives did not act on the measure due to the strong resistance of several York Masons who were then members of the House. Even without the act of incorporation, the Grand Lodge was organized and began its attempt at complete Masonic Jurisdiction within the state.
In the revival of the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons, strength was added with the rulings of the Honorable Henry DeSaussure, Judge of the Court of Equity for South Carolina. As a result of a case to recover monies thought due the Grand Lodge of South Carolina, Judge DeSaussure ruled against them saying that the subordinate lodges were not given sufficient notice on such an important question nor did they have proper representation. He also ruled that action of the officers and members of the York Grand Lodge in joining with the Free and Accepted Masons was only an act of resignation and that the objecting lodges were within their rights to re-establish the grand lodge in all legal rights of the incorporation.
Article 1 of the union of the Grand Lodges was completed on December 20, 1814 when the new Grand Lodge of South Carolina was granted a charter of incorporation. The act was granted over the strong objections of the legislators who were members of the rival Ancient York Grand Lodge.
Even though the union of 1808 was short lived, it can be said that good came of it. Of the committee to instruct and direct the lodges in a uniform system of work and initiation, three of them including the chairman, a Past Grand Master, were all of the Ancient York Masons. This insured the adoption of the Ancient York Mode of Work. Also Anderson's "Constitutions" which had been the authoritative code of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons was abandoned and the new Grand Lodge made use of Daicho's "Ahiman Rezon". This was in many portions a compilation from the Dermott Ahiman Rezon which was the book of Constitutions used by the Ancient York Masons. These two acts by the Grand Lodge of South Carolina made any future effort of a union an easier task for both Grand Lodges were now using the same mode of work and under the same system of Masonic jurisprudence and discipline.
In 1816, efforts were renewed for a restoration of harmony and reestablishment of the union. There was no Grand Lodge of Modems. It was true that two Grand Lodges were in existence but for reasons as stated above, they could be considered as having emanated from the old York Masons. In this, one of the major stumbling blocks barring a new union was removed. All Masons in South Carolina were now working from the same trestle board, all were governed by the same Book of Constitutions.
Again, each of the Grand Lodges appointed a committee and the two committees were charged "to meet together in free and brotherly conference on the subject of a union so mutually desirable." We are told that each member brought to the deliberations, a true Masonic spirit, and a reciprocal desire to bring about an event so pleasing to the heart of all good Masons".
The committee found no difficulty to be reconciled with regards to work. Encouragement was received in securing the union from the inequity in the two bodies. At the time of union the York Grand Lodge numbered thirty-five lodges, while the South Carolina Grand Lodge numbered only fifteen. It was as the larger and stronger rival receiving the advances for reconciliation of a weaker opponent. The deliberations of the committee terminated January 11, 1817, in a joint report of articles of union to be used as the basis of all subsequent proceedings. The report recommended to their respective Grand Lodges, the adoption of the following convention as a basis and plan for a perfect union of the Grand Lodges into one Grand Lodge to be called, ‘The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina’ to be forever deemed, held and taken as the true and only lawful Grand Lodge of Free Masons in South Carolina, and to obtain the true and supreme Masonic authority thereof.
As the 4th Article Provided, the Grand Lodges were called into special communication on the evening of May 30, 1817. Following the requirements as outlined in the article, the joint committee reported quote, "That from the reciprocal examinations by several committees already had in Grand Lodge, it doth appear that their exists no difference in the mode of entering, passing and raising, instructing, obligating and clothing brothers, in the respective Grand Lodges.
Following the agreeing report, the question was put in each Grand Lodge and they unanimously accepted and confirmed the articles of union in both bodies.
The subordinate lodges were given notice of the proceedings and the joint committee reported that under the jurisdiction of the Ancient York Grand Lodge, twenty-five of the thirty-five lodges had ratified the articles. Also, it was reported that fourteen of the fifteen under the South Carolina Grand Lodge had ratified the articles.
Upon notice of the ratification the Grand Lodge assembled in joint communication December 26, 1817, with Thomas W. Bacot presiding as Grand Master, whereupon he made the following declaration in a loud voice:
"I do now solemnly declare and pronounce in the name of the Grand Architect of the Universe, and the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge assembled in joint meeting in virtue of the 6th Article of the Convention, just ratified by the two late Grand Lodges, that the union of said Grand Lodges to wit: ‘The Grand Lodge of South Carolina Ancient York Masons’ and ‘The Grand Lodge of South Carolina’, is complete and that the new ‘Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina’ is now ready to proceed to ballot for its officers."
Following the declaration, the Grand Lodge, thus united, elected officers with Thomas W. Bacot as Most Worshipful Grand Master.
The next day was the Festival of St. John the Evangelist, and as viewed by Brother Mackey, "must have been a day celebrated with peculiar emotions of pleasure for it was the first time since 1787 that a single altar had been built in the state for the common oblation of an undivided craft."
On this day, December 27, 1817, the Grand Lodge assembled with representatives of twenty-six subordinate lodges for the installation of officers, whereupon, Most Worshipful Brother Thomas W. Bacot was installed as the first Grand Master of the New Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina. Following a religious service conducted by Dr. Dalcho, the Grand Chaplain, Most Worshipful Brother Bacot addressed the craft calling forth the unusual events which constitute such a great part of the history of our great fraternity.
The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina was then closed in ample form.
Copyright © 2002 by South Carolina Masonic Research Society.