In South Carolina, we style ourselves as Ancient Free Masons, or A.F.M. Our Grand Lodge is the only known and recognized Grand Jurisdiction that uses this title. The other Grand Lodges are usually some variation of Free and Accepted Masons (F. & A.M.) or Ancient Free and Accepted Masons (A.F. & A.M.). To get to the origins of A.F.M, we must first look at some earlier events that occurred in England.
For a time, there were at least four Grand Lodges operating in England. Two of them, however, emerged as the most influential when it came to the spread of Freemasonry to the American Colonies. The Athol Grand Lodge, or Grand Lodge of Ancient Masons, had formed in England several decades after the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, which dates to 1717. The Grand Lodge of England and the Athol Grand Lodge were rivals and the the Athols described the Grand Lodge of England as “Modern Masons.” This was meant to be somewhat of a derogatory term, in that the Athols felt themselves to be “Ancients” and, therefore, more in line with the old traditions, rituals, and teachings of Freemasonry. Eventually, in 1813, these two Grand Lodges united to form the current United Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of England, but not before the rivalry had spread to the American Colonies and, thus, to the new United States of America and, of course, to South Carolina.
There was a time when there was a Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons (F. & A.M.) in South Carolina. This was the original Provincial Grand Lodge of South Carolina, as established under the authority of the Grand Lodge of England and dated back, according to several Masonic historians, to 1737.
Just like in England, however, there was for many years, another Grand Lodge operating in South Carolina. The Athol Grand Lodge had chartered Lodges in Pennsylvania, which in turn, as a Grand Lodge, had chartered Lodges in South Carolina. In 1787, five of these type Lodges came together and formed the South Carolina Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons, or A.Y.M. Within four short years, these original five A.Y.M. Lodges had multiplied to thirty-five Lodges. Remarkably, the rival Grand Lodge only claimed about a third of that number of Lodges, even though it had been in existence since 1737.
The rivalry between the A.Y.M. Grand Lodge and, what was becoming known more and more as the “Modern Mason”, or M.M. Grand Lodge became very bitter as the years went by. An A.Y.M. quote of unknown origin describes the feelings in those days: “Those Modern or new Masons, we know not, neither indeed can we, since he that cometh not in the door agreeably to our ancient landmarks, but climbeth over the wall or some other way is a thief and a robber.”
Many influential Masons in both Grand Lodges recognized that the division was harmful to Freemasonry in South Carolina and, as early as 1807, steps were taken to resolve the problem. In 1809, after several negotiations and meetings between the two Grand Lodges, a new united Grand Lodge was born.
The union quickly fell apart, however, when many of the former A.Y.M. Lodges, under the leadership of then St. John’s Lodge No. 31, seceded from the new Grand Lodge of South Carolina. Less than a year after the formation of the united Grand Lodge, sixteen of the A.Y.M. Lodges had reformed the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons.
Interestingly, the new unified Grand Lodge could no longer be described as M.M., or “Modern”. Enough of the A.Y.M. Lodges had remained with it and influenced it to the point that it appeared to be more in line with the Ancient York Masons than the former Free and Accepted Masons (F. & A.M.), or “Modern”, Grand Lodge of SC. In fact, they discarded Anderson’s “Constitutions”, as their code, in favor of the “Ahiman Rezon”, as used by the Ancient York Masons. For all intents and purposes, there were now two “Ancient” Grand Lodges working is South Carolina.
By 1816, efforts were again underway to unify the two Grand Lodges. By this time, the South Carolina Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons had again grown to include thirty-five Lodges while the Grand Lodge of South Carolina only counted fifteen. In 1817, committees from both Grand Lodges adopted a plan that called for union of the two into “The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina”, which is when A.F.M. first appears.
On December 26, 1817, the Grand Lodge of South Carolina and the South Carolina Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons ceased to exist and the new Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina became the only true and lawful Masonic authority in the State.
Many of the other state Grand Lodges, especially those existing in those states that had been colonies, went through similar splits and re-unions as South Carolina. The adoption of the names (F. & A.M., A.F. & A.M.) often reflects which Grand Lodge (“Ancient” or “Modern”) was the most influential at the time.