The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina has a colorful past. It began as a Provincial Grand Lodge of England until it declared its independence in 1777. In 1783 a second grand lodge of Ancient York Masons was created, also in Charleston. The merging of the two was not achieved and finally, a compromise and reconciliation of the two Grand Lodges to form what we now have today.
The settlement of Charles Town, as it was once called, was founded in 1670 and the first report of a Masonic meeting was in 1736. The following appeared in the Charleston 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.”
It seems that a number of Masons were indeed living in Charleston prior to this news article and were meeting unofficially as Masons without a charter. But the next year they were chartered as Lodge № 45 by the Grand Lodge of England.
Also in 1736, the Grand Master of England, Lord Loudoun appointed John Hammerton, Esq. Provincial Grand Master for the Province of South Carolina. 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.”
There is a space of time during the Provincial period that has been lost. The Masonic historian Albert Mackey wrote, “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.” 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.
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 Ahiman Rezon in South Carolina was published. Written and complied by Dr. Frederick Dalacho, it contained such items as a code to govern the lodges under the Ancient York Mason’s jurisdiction, prayers, charges and assorted ceremonies. Over the years, this work has been greatly expanded but is still today, what governs the brethren of South Carolina.
Although there were attempts by worthy brothers to unite the two Grand Lodges, especially in 1808, it was not until 1817 that the union was accomplished. 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 is because in in 1808, around the time of the first attempt of the union, the Free & Accepted Masons adopted the rituals of the Ancient York Grand Lodge. For almost a decade, unknowingly, they had both used the same ritual.
On December 26, 1817 both Grand Lodges elected their own 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. Both names were written on slips of paper and placed in a hat. Thomas Wright Bacot name was drawn and he became Grand Master of the united Grand Lodge. The remaining officers were elected by the Ancient York Grand Lodge brothers. The Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons was then forever 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.
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.
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.