Freemasonry in South Carolina dates to 1735, when Lord Weymouth, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England, issued a warrant establishing the office of Provincial Grand Master in the colony of South Carolina. The first Provincial Grand Master was John Hammerton, the receiver general of quitrents in the colony. In 1736 he organized the first Masonic lodge in the colony, Solomon’s Lodge number one of Charleston, which became the mother lodge of Freemasonry in South Carolina. Freemasonry continued to spread, eventually covering all areas of the state. By 2003 there were 315 chartered lodges and 47,913 Freemasons under the authority of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Freemasons of South Carolina, which is the descendant of the old Provincial Grand Lodge.
Freemasonry in the state went through a period of disunity after the Revolutionary War. In 1787 a second Grand Lodge was formed in South Carolina, the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons, which established many lodges, especially in the backcountry. The original Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, also known as the Moderns, was not strong enough at this point in time to do much about it. The Moderns had large numbers of Loyalists, and several lodges ceased to exist after many of their members were exiled or chose to leave the colony after the Revolutionary War. The two Grand Lodges argued over jurisdiction until 1817, when they merged to form the Grand Lodge of Ancient Freemasons of South Carolina.
The York and Scottish Rites of Freemasonry have been well received in South Carolina and have deep roots in the state. The origins of the York Rite in South Carolina are not clear, but there is evidence that it existed at the time of the Revolutionary War. The Scottish Rite also dates to the same period, but the Supreme Council of the thirty-third degree (established in Charleston in 1801) is considered the mother council of the world by Scottish Rite Freemasons.
South Carolina’s Freemasons have achieved distinction in a variety of fields. Henry Laurens was an active Mason in the colonial period, as was Henry Middleton. Francis Marion and William Richardson Davie both served with distinction in the Revolution. William Gilmore Simms achieved fame as a writer, as did Albert Gallatin Mackey. Prominent Masons of the nineteenth century also included governors John Lyde Wilson, David Johnson, and John Drayton. The twentieth century saw Masons such as Strom Thurmond and James F. Byrnes serve their state and country with distinction.
Cornwell, Ross, and Samuel M. Willis. A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina: The Years 1860–1919. Charleston: Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina, 1979.
Mackey, Albert G. The History of Freemasonry in South Carolina, 1736–1860, from Its Origin in the Year to the Present Time. 1861. Reprint, West Columbia, S.C.: Wentworth, 1998.