The Worshipful Company of Masons of the City of London-a flourishing Gild at the Present day-possesses as its earliest document now existing an account book headed:1620.
The Account of James Gilder Mr William Warde & John Abraham wardens of the Company of freemasons within the City of London beginning the first day of Julie 1619 And ending the day of Julie 1620 of all receipts & payments for & to the use the same company as followeth, viz. From the entries in this book it appears that besides the ordinary Freemen and Liverymen of this Company there were other members who are termed in the books the Accepted Masons and that they belonged to a Body known as the Accepcon or Acception, which was an Inner Fraternity of Speculative Freemasons.
Thus in the year 1620 the following entry is found:
"They charge themselves also with Money Received of the Persons hereafter named for they're gratuities at they're acceptance into the Lyvery viz" (here follow six names). Among the accounts for the next year (1621) there is an entry showing sums received from several persons, of whom two are mentioned in the entry of 1620, "Att the making masons," and as all these mentioned were already members of the Company something further must be meant by this.
In 1631 the following entry of the Clerk's expenses occurs, " Pel in going abroad at a meeting at the hall about the Masons that were to be accepted vi- vid," that is, Paid in going about and at a meeting at the hall about the Masons that were to be accepted. vi, -vi-.
Now the Company never accepted its members; they were always admitted to the freedom either by apprenticeship, patrimony, or redemption. Thus the above entries suggest that persons who were neither connected with the trade nor otherwise qualified were required, before being eligible for election on the livery of the Company, to become Accepted Masons, that is, to join the Lodge of Speculative Masonry that was held for that purpose in the Company's Hall. Thus in the accounts for 1650, payments are entered as made by several persons ''for coming on the Liuerie & admission upon Acceptance of Masonry," and it is entered that Mr. Andrew Marvin, the present Warden, and another paid 20 shillings each "for coming on the Accepcon," while two others are entered as paying 40 shillings each "for the like," and as the names of the last two cannot be found among the members of the Masons Company it would seem as if it was possible for strangers to join "the Accepcon" on paying double fees.
Unfortunately no books connected with this Acception, or Lodge, as it may be called, have been preserved. But there are references to it in several places in the account books which show that the payments made by newly accepted Freemasons were paid into the funds of the Company, that some or all of this amount was spent on a banquet and the attendant expenses. Any further sum required was paid out of the ordinary funds of the Company, proving that the Company had entire control of the Lodge and its funds. Further evidence of the existence of this Symbolical Lodge within the Masons Company is given by the following entry in an inventory of the Company's property made in 1665.
"Item. The names of the Accepted Masons in a faire inclosed frame with lock and key."' In an inventory of the Company's property for 1676 is found:
"Item. One book of the Constitutions of the Accepted Masons." No doubt this was a copy of one of the Old Charges.
"A faire large table of the Accepted Masons."
Proof positive of its existence is derived from an entry in the diary of Elias Ashmole-the famous antiquary-who writes:
"March 10th. 1682. About 5 p.m. I received a summons to appear at a Lodge to be held next day at Masons Hall London.
"March 1lth. Accordingly I went and about noon were admitted into the. Fellowship of Free Masons:
Sir William Wilson Knight, Capt. Rich Borthwick, Mr Will Woodman, Mr Wm Grey, Mr Samuell Taylor, and Mr William Wise."
In the edition of Ashmole's diary published in 1774 the above paragraph was changed into "I went, and about noon was admitted, by Sir William Wilson &c.," an error which has misled many Masonic historians (see Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, volume xi, page 6).
"I was the Senior Fellow among them (it being 35 years since I was admitted)."
Ashmole then mentions the names of nine others who were present and concludes: "We all dinned at the half Moone Taverne in Cheapeside, at a noble dinner prepared at the charge of the New-Accepted Masons."
All present were members of the Masons Company except Ashmole himself, Sir W. Wilson and Capt. Borthwick, and this entry proves conclusively that side by side with the Masons Company there existed another organization to which non-members of the Company were admitted and the members of which were known as Accepted Masons.
It may here be mentioned that Ashmole has recorded in his diary that he was made a Freemason at Warrington in Lancashire on October 16, 1646. In that entry the word Accepted does not occur. No mention is made of the Accepted Masons in the accounts of the Masons Company after 1677, when 6, the balance remaining of the last Accepted Masons' money-was ordered to be laid out for a new banner. It would seem that from that time onward the Lodge kept separate accounts, for from the evidence of Ashmole's diary we know it was at work in 1682, but when and why it finally ceased no evidence is forthcoming to show.
However, it may fairly be assumed that this Masons Hall Lodge had ceased to exist before the Revival of Freemasonry in 1717, or else Anderson would not have said in the Constitutions of 1723 (page 82), "It is generally believed that the said Company, that is the London Company of Freemen Masons, is descended of the ancient Fraternity; and that in former Times no Man was made Free of that Company until he was installed in some Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, as a necessary Qualification. But that laudable Practice seems to have been long in Desuetude." This passage would indicate that he was aware of some tradition of such a Lodge as has been described attached to the Masons Company admitting persons in no way operatively connected with the Craft, who were called Accepted Masons to distinguish them from the Operative or Free Masons (see Conder's Hole Craft and Fellowship of Masonry and Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, volume ix).
Anderson in the 1738 Constitutions quotes from a copy of the old Constitutions some regulations which he says were made in 1663, and in which the phrases accepted a Free Mason and Acceptation occur several times. These regulations are found in what is known as the Grand Lodge Manuscript No. 2, which is supposed to have been written about the middle of the 17th century, so that Anderson's date in which he follows the Roberts Old Constitution printed in 1722 as to the year, though he changes the day from December 8th to December 27th, may quite possibly be correct. Brother Conder (Hole Craft and Fellowship of Masonry, page 11), calls special attention to these regulations on account of the singular resemblance that one of them bears to the rules that govern the Masons Company.
The extracts given above from the books of the Masons Company, the Ancient Regulations, if that date be accepted, and the quotation from Ashmole's diary, are the earliest known instances of the term Accepted Masons. Although the Inigo Jones Manuscript is headed "The Ancient Constitutions of the Free and Accepted Masons 1607," yet there is a consensus of opinion among experts that. such date is impossible and that the document is really to be referred to the end of the seventeenth century or even the beginning of the eighteenth.
The next instance of the use of the term is in 1686 when Doctor Plot in The Natural History of Staffordshire wrote with reference to the secret signs used by the Freemasons of his time "if any man appear, though altogether unknown, that can shew any of these signs to a Fellow of the Society, whom they otherwise call an Accepted Mason, he is obliged presently to come to him from what company or place soever he be in, nay, though from the top of steeple."
Further, in 1691, John Aubrey, author of The Natural History of Wiltshire, made a note in his manuscript: "This day (May 18, 1691) is a great convention at St. Paul's Church of the fraternity of the free Masons," in which he has erased the word free aud substituted accepted, which, however, he changed into adopted in his fair copy.
In the ''Orders to be observed by the Company and Fellowship of Freemasons att a Lodge held at Alnwick, Sept. 29, 1701, being the Gen Head Meeting Day," we find: "There shall not be apprentice after he have served seven years be admitted or accepted but upon the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel."
From that time onward the term Accepted Masons becomes common, usually in connection with Free. The term Free and Accepted Masons thus signifying both the Operative members who were free of their Gild and the Speculative members who had been accepted as outsiders. Thus the Roberts Print of 1722 is headed, "The Old Constitutions belonging to the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons." In the Constitutions of 1723 Anderson speaks (on page 48) of wearing "the Badges of a Free and Accepted Mason" and uses the phrase in Rule 27, though he does not use the phrase so frequently as in the 1738 edition in which "the Charges of a Free-Mason" become "the old Charges of the Free and Accepted Masons," the "General Regulations" become "The General Regulations of the Free and Accepted Mason," and Regulation No. 5: "No man can be made or admitted a Member" becomes "No man can be accepted a Member, " while the title of the book is The new book of Constitutions of the Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons instead of The Constitution of the Free-Masons as in the earlier edition.
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