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A.F. & A.M. OR F. & A.M.


From New England Craftsman, Vol. XIX, No. 1, October 1923, Page 28:

It is a matter not generally understood by the Craft why in some Grand Jurisdictions lodges are designated as Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, and in others as Free and Accepted Masons. These designations usually appear abbreviated as A. F. & A. M. and F. & A. M. In the United States twenty-five Grand Lodges use the style A. F. & A. M., and twenty-three that of F. & A. M. The fifteen British colonies are all A. F. & A. M. except New Brunswick. South Carolina stands alone in the matter of nomenclature, members of the fraternity in that state being styled Ancient Free Masons. Members of the craft owing allegiance to the Grand Lodge of I he Philippine Islands are known as Free and Accepted Masons.

All present day lodges bearing either of these titles are one common brotherhood. The reason that some have adopted one designation anil some the other is believed by the best authorities to be traceable to the great schism in 1738. Prior to that time the Grand Lodge of England was known as the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of England. The schismatic lodge was designated the Ancient York Masons and those belonging to the original lodge were called Moderns, in 1818 the United Grand Lodge of England was formed, thus consolidating the Ancients and the Moderns, and this is probably the time that the designation A. F. & A. M. was first used. The schism which divided Masonry in the mother country extended to the colonies, and the lodges claiming legitimacy were established under both authorities.


Which one? And Why?

The question has been asked, “What is the reason for and the significance of the initials A.F. & A.M. and F. & A.M., as they are associated with the names of Massachusetts Lodges?

The answer usually given is that these letters refer to the origin or parentage of the particular lodge, the former (AF & AM) being an abbreviation for “Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons,” and the latter, (F & A.M.) standing for Free and Accepted Masons.” You may recall that English Freemasonry, in the eighteenth century, had two principal branches, which were popularly referred to as the “Moderns” and the “Ancients.” In his work, Freemasonry through Six Centuries, Coil gives the following explanation of the differences.

The younger Grand Lodge was organized in 1751 and called itself Ancient, because it claimed to preserve old usages and customs allegedly abandoned or changed the by older Grand Lodge. Accordingly that branch of the Fraternity came to be referred to as Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, while the older body remained Free and Accepted Masons. Actually, however, just prior to the Union of 1813, both Grand Lodges officially included Ancient in their names, that of the older body being The Most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, and the younger being The Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons According to the Old Institutions. The Articles of Union, under which those two bodies consolidated in 1813, provided that the merged body should be The United Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of England.

As for the names of the earliest Grand Lodges in the United States, that is, those of the Thirteen Original States, there may have been some intent to use Ancient where lodges of that variety predominated and of omitting it where the opposite was true, but it certainly did not always result that way, and no such scheme can be traced at all into the nineteenth century.

Of the forty-nine Grand Lodges of the United States today, twenty-two are F. & A.M. and twenty-six are A.F. & A.M., South Carolina being A.F.M. or Ancient Free Masons.

In Massachusetts, our Grand Lodge uses the designation of A.F. & A.M., which is also used for individual lodges, except for four of them which use F. & A.M., namely, Dalhousie (Newton), Joseph Warren-Soley (Lincoln), Merrimack (Haverhill), St. Paul’s (Braintree) (now Delta), and Union (Nantucket). The other 345 Massachusetts Lodges use A.F. & A.M.

Mostly because these F. & A.M. lodges have claimed that they are using this appellation as a matter of tradition, a carryover from earlier days for an old lodge, they hold it to be a special mark of distinction. Partly out of curiosity, but also to verify the use of the “label” from old records, the writer examined the old files of Massachusetts Lodges in the Library, and was surprised to find that the most general practice before 1881 was to use F. & A.M. for both the Lodges and the Grand Lodge. The Grand Lodge showed on the title page of its printed proceedings up to and including 1880, “Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” and the same was shown in the first quarter Proceedings of 1881. However, starting with June, 1881, and ever since that, the title has been, “Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” This change on the part of the Grand Lodge seems to have brought about the change to A.F. & A.M. on the part of the Lodges, also, although it did not happen all at once. We have in our files a letter from the Secretary of Monitor Lodge dated 1901, and even then the letterhead used showed, Monitor Lodge, F. & A.M. Possibly they had already made the change on their notices, and were only using up a supply of old stationery.

The change from the designation “F. & A.M.” to “A.F. & A.M.” seems to be related also to the revisions in the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge that have occurred over the years. It was stated in our first Grand Constitutions, which were prepared by Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris in 1792. (1st Section, 3rd par.) “This Grand Lodge, organized as aforesaid, shall forever hereafter be known by the name of the Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” (italics are mine). The phrase which is underlined would, if abbreviated, give us the initials, “F. & A.M.”

New Constitutions were adopted in 1811, in which is stated: “The Style of this Grand Lodge shall be “The Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Society of 'Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.” (Chapter 1, Section 1).

In 1871, when the Grand Lodge was incorporated by an Act of the General Court under essentially the same name, the word “Society” was changed to read “Fraternity.” This same title was repeated in the 1825 edition of the Grand Constitutions. In 1833, after the new Masonic Temple was completed, (cor. Of Tremont Street and Temple Place), unexpected problems in financing arose on account of the hostile political situation in Massachusetts, so that the charter of incorporation was surrendered to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the building was sold to a private individual. By this act the Grand Lodge returned to its former status of a voluntary association, while retaining all the same rights, powers, privileges and immunities as it had formerly possessed under its ancient charter. At the same time, a Committee was appointed to recommend revision of its By-Laws. During the period from 1833 to 1843 this Committee did meet and work on the By-Laws, but they were not completed and/or accepted by the Grand Lodge until October 11, 1843. Even then, another 14 years passed before these By-Laws were published.

In these newly designed Grand Constitutions (Article 1, Section 1), it was specified that: “The style and title of the Grand Lodge shall be, “The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. (underlining is mine). However, these new Constitutions were not published until 1857. In 1859, March 1, a new Act of Incorporation was obtained from the General Court of Massachusetts.

About 1845, as political persecution of Freemasonry subsided, a revival developed in Massachusetts Masonry and many lodges that had been inactive or had surrendered their charters to the Grand Lodge sought to have them restored. Even though the new Grand Constitutions showed the change in title to Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, there were few cases where this nomenclature was used, and both the lodges and the Grand Lodge continued to use the old F. & A.M. designation. In 1881 (November 23rd), R.W. Bro. Tracy P. Cheever, Grand Secretary, deceased, and soon thereafter he was succeeded by R.W. Sereno D. Nickerson. The change in the use of initials by the Grand Lodge seem to coincide rather closely with the change in Grand Secretaries, and probably Brother Nickerson should receive the credit for the change to A.F. & A.M. at that time.

John M. Sherman
April 8, 1971

Thanks to our friend Cynthia Alcorn, Grand Lodge Librarian, for furnishing this information.