The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina has had a somewhat colorful past. It began as a Provincial Grand Lodge until it declared its independence from the Grand Lodge of England and during this period, eight years were lost to history. Next, we had two rival Grand Lodges with the second of the two, embarrassingly chartering more lodges than its predecessor. Then there was a merging of the two that was not achieved and finally, a compromise and reconciliation of the two Grand Lodges to form what we now have today. Over the course of this paper, I will attempt to briefly describe some of the early history of our Grand Lodge with historical facts coming from A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina by Albert G. Mackey, M.D., Past Grand Secretary; An Ahiman Rezon 1st and 2nd Editions by Reverend Frederick Dalcho, M.D., Past Grand Chaplain; The Free-Masons Vocal Assistant, and Register of the Lodges of Masons in South Carolina and Georgia by J.J. Negrin; and a dissertation by Henry F. Collins, Past Grand Master, Past Grand Secretary.
The settlement of Charles Town, as it was once called, was founded in 1670. It is difficult to comprehend there were no official or regular Masonic meetings held there for sixty-six years until 1736 when the following article appeared in the Charleston weekly newspaper the South Carolina Gazette dated Friday, October 29th. “Last night a Lodge of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, was held, for the first time, at Mr. Charles Shepheard’s, in Broad Street, when John Hammerton, Esq., Secretary and Receiver General for this Province, was unanimously chosen Master, who was pleased to appoint Mr. Thomas Denne, Senior Warden, Mr. Tho. Harbin, Junior Warden, and Mr. James Gordon, Secretary.” By what has just been quoted, one can conclude that a number of Masons were indeed living in Charleston prior to this news article and most probably were meeting unofficially as Masons without a charter or warrant of constitution, while waiting for the proper official documents.
Lord Weymouth was Grand Master of England in 1735. Mackey states, “I find the number 45 is marked as having been warranted in 1735, under the name of Solomon’s Lodge, Charleston, South Carolina.” The number 45 is the number found on the list of lodges under the Grand Jurisdiction of England. In a list dated February 1768 Mackey found the following information to say, “74. Solomon’s Lodge, Charles Town, South Carolina; First and Third Thursday, 1735. 75. Savannah, at Savannah in the Province of Georgia, 1735.” Why the Warrant for Solomon’s in Charleston, granted in 1735 but the lodge not organized until October 1736 is a mystery that may never be solved.
In 1736, John Hammerton, Esq. was Provincial Grand Master appointed for the Province of South Carolina by Earl of Loudoun who was the new Grand Master in England. The colony now had one lodge, Solomon’s, with Hammerton as its Worshipful Master and a Provincial Grand Master with Hammerton serving in that capacity. The name of the Grand Lodge appears several times in the Gazette as “The Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons.”
John Hammerton was a man of talent and of considerable civil distinction in the colony. In 1732, he became the Receiver General of His Majesty’s Quit Rents and in 1734 was the Secretary of the colony. He is recorded in 1738 as having received the appointment of Register and Secretary of South Carolina for life. These appointments were of great honor and trust and are evidence of the high esteem he was held by the mother country of England.
Charles Shepheard was a wine maker, seller and a tavern keeper. The tavern was located at the northeast corner of Broad and Church Streets. It was long used as a public hall in Charleston. Town meetings were convened there. In 1745, the Court of Sessions was held in Shepheard’s Tavern and sometimes it was used for religious purposes.
There is a space of time during the Provincial period that has been lost. Mackey states, “We learn from the records of the Grand Lodge of England, that in 1741 a law was unanimously adopted, forbidding any brother to print, or cause to be printed, the proceedings of any Lodge, or any part thereof, or the names of the persons present at such Lodge, lest by the direction of the Grand Master or his Deputy; and this law was to be enforced by the several Masonic penalties.” He further states, “…from the year 1743 to 1750, both inclusive, there is not the slightest notice of a Masonic celebration to be found…” It appears these years will remain lost to the history of Freemasonry in South Carolina.
By 1756 there were six lodges in South Carolina under the Provincial Grand Lodge, viz.: Solomon’s at Charleston; Prince George’s at Georgetown; Port Royal at Beaufort; St. George’s at Dorchester; Union to later become Union Kilwinning at Charleston with the last of the six being referred to as The Master’s Lodge of Charleston. These were “Modern” lodges receiving their authority from the Grand Lodge of England.
In 1777 after the colonies declared independence, the Provincial Grand Lodge declared itself independent of the Grand Lodge of England calling itself the Independent Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of South Carolina and elected the Honourable Barnard Elliott as its first Grand Master. Prior to that time, no less than nine brethren served as Grand Master for the Provincial Grand Lodge.
Ten years later, another Grand Lodge appeared in South Carolina proclaiming: “TO ALL WHOM IT MAY CONCERN. The Grand Lodge of the State of South Carolina, Ancient York-Masons, established at Charleston the 24th day of March, in the year of our Lord 1787, and of Masonry 5787, according to the old Constitutions, revived by Prince Edwin, at York, in the Kingdom of England, in the year of our lord 926, and of Masonry 4926, (incorporated by an Act of the Legislature of the said State, passed the 20th day of December, 1791, by the style and title of the ‘Grand Lodge of the State of South-Carolina, Ancient York-Masons, and its Masonick jurisdiction;’) invested with full and sole power and authority over all the Ancient Craft, and the Supreme Court of Appeal in all Masonick cases arising under its Jurisdiction, agreeably to ancient form and usage…” and it continues on in its declaration.
The first Grand Master of the Ancient York Masons was the Honourable William Drayton serving from 1787 to 1789. Drayton was born in St. Augustine, Florida in 1776. He became a member of the House of Representatives in South Carolina, served as Lieutenant Colonel in the War of 1812 and eventually became President of the Bank of the United States in 1840 and 1841.
The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania that was Ancient York chartered three of the Ancient York lodges and the other two derived their charters from the York Grand Lodge of England. The battle royal was now on between the “Ancients” and the “Moderns.” For the next thirty years, these two Grand Lodges existed in South Carolina and the rivalry between the two was fierce and bitter with neither one admitting to the legitimacy and regularity of the other. The Ancient York Masons by 1807 had chartered fifty-six lodges which are two thirds more than their rival forerunner. They were scattered across South Carolina as well as chartering one in Charlotte, North Carolina; New Orleans, Louisiana; Greensborough, Greene County Georgia; St. Augustine and Pensacola, Florida. The Independent Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons chartered three lodges outside of the state also all of which were on the island of Cuba with two in the city of Havana and the other at St. Jago de Cuba.
It was in 1807 that the first An Ahiman Rezon in South Carolina was published. It contained such items as a code to govern the lodges under the Ancient York Mason’s jurisdiction, prayers, charges and assorted ceremonies. Reverend Brother Frederick Dalcho, M.D., who was destined to become the first Grand Chaplain of a new Grand Lodge, was the originator of this groundbreaking work. Over the years, this work has been greatly expanded but is still today, what governs the brethren of South Carolina.
President and Brother George Washington made his tour of the southern states in 1791. While visiting South Carolina he also visited with the brethren of the state. First, stopping in the small town of George Town located on the inlet of Winyah Bay on April 30, he visited his Masonic brethren of Prince George’s Lodge № 16. This is the only record of Washington ever visiting any lodge of “Moderns.” At about 2:00 p.m., a committee of Masonic brethren received Brother Washington. Part of their address to him says, “Permit us the brethren of Prince George’s Lodge № 16 to have our share in the general happiness in welcoming you to George Town, and the pleasure of reflecting that we behold in you the liberator of our country, the distributor of its equal laws, and a Brother of our most ancient and most honorable Order.”
Washington left on Sunday, May 1, to arrive in Charleston on Monday and was met by the governor and both senators. While in Charleston he also met with his old friend and comrade-in-arms the Grand Master of Ancient York Masons of South Carolina, Brigadier General Mordecai Gist. No doubt, this had to be a heart-warming time for both men for it was Gist who brought forth the name of Brother George Washington for the high honor of General Grand Master of the United States in 1780.The two had also fought together in the War for Independence. Gist was originally from Baltimore, Maryland but settled in South Carolina after the war. His burial was at St. Michael’s Protestant Episcopal Church in Charleston.
There seems to be no record of Brother Washington being received by the “Moderns” of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in Charleston as in Georgetown. This seemingly glaring impropriety was probably due to the fact that Washington had been made a Mason in Virginia and was Ancient York Mason. Therefore, they did not and felt could not accept their President as a Mason. On May 9, Washington waved good-by and left the Holy City of Charleston to be on his way to Savannah, Georgia.
There had been efforts to unite the two Grand Lodges in South Carolina but it was not until 1808 that a significant effort was made. It was not to be, however, and within a year the division was wider than ever. At first, all was well. By July of that year, committees were appointed by both Grand Lodges to conduct interviews of the other. In September “Articles of Union” were drawn by a joint committee and adopted and readied for proposal to the Grand Lodges. The two Grand Lodges on October 24, destined they believed to be united, together laid the cornerstone of a factory to be built in Charleston. It was December 17 when a closer study of the Articles was made by the Worshipful Master of St. John’s Lodge № 31 of Charleston, Ancient York Masons and he then stood his ground to say what he thought was wrong with the “Articles of Union.” It was not long before all that had been accomplished in 1808 had been swept away and other lodges followed the lead of St. John’s.
It was not until 1817 when the union was accomplished and held. A committee was appointed from each Grand Lodge to visit the other and make a study of the modes of recognition, clothing, instruction, degree work, etc. The shocking joint report of these committees stated “there exists no difference.” This can be explained by the fact that in 1808, around the time of the first attempt of the union, the ritual of the York Grand Lodge had been adopted by the Free &amp;amp; Accepted Masons. For almost a decade they, unknowingly, had both been using the same ritual.
On December 26, 1817 both Grand Lodges alerted the other they were open and ready to conduct business. Their Grand Masters having been elected, it had been previously decided that the names of the two Grand Masters, Thomas Wright Bacot of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of South Carolina and General John Geddes of the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons of South Carolina, their last Grand Master, would be written on separate pieces of paper, put into a hat and the one drawn would become Grand Master of the united Grand Lodge. The remaining officers would then be elected from the other body. The name drawn was Thomas W. Bacot the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina and as agreed upon the other stations were filled by the brethren of the Ancient York Masons. For historic purposes, the Grand Officers are listed exactly as recorded by Albert G. Mackey.
Thomas W. Bacot, Most Worshipful Grand Master;
Hon. David Johnson, R.W. Deputy Grand Master;
John S. Cogdell, V.W. Senior Grand Warden;
Eliab Kingman, V.W. Junior Grand Warden;
Rev. Frederick Dalcho, M.D., Most Rev. Grand Chaplain;
John Langton, Grand Treasurer;
John H. Mitchell, Grand Secretary;
Isaac M. Wilson, M.D., Corresponding Grand Secretary;
Bacot was to serve the new Grand Lodge as Grand Master from 1817 to 1820 and upon his death in 1834, “Grand Lodge was ordered to be clothed in mourning for six months.” All throughout Mackey’s History, Bacot is always spoken of with respect, brotherly love and affection.
The Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons was then closed and its officers and members assembled with the Grand Lodge of South Carolina. Once in joint session, the following was announced by Most Worshipful Brother Bacot: “I do now solemnly declare and pronounce, in the name of the Grand Architect of the Universe, and this Most Worshipful Grand Lodge assembled in joint meeting, in virtue of the 6th article of the Convention, just ratified by the late two Grand Lodges, that the union of the 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 Freemasons of South Carolina’ is now ready to proceed to ballot for its officers.” Once this was accomplished the Grand Master declared the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina closed in ample form.
Since that momentous day, the Grand Lodge of South Carolina has ever been intact and its members have all knelt at one altar. During the next weeks and months, the holdouts on both sides eventually turned over their old charters and became a part of this new united Grand Lodge. South Carolina is to this day the only Grand Lodge styled as Ancient Free Masons. It was through the unselfishness and Herculean efforts of many brethren, over a long space of time that brought us to where we are this very day.
So mote it be.