Some years ago, John J. Robinson, a non Mason and historical researcher went to England to study the origins of the Peasant's rebellion in 1381, when the peasants arose spontaneously throughout England and were particularly bent on destroying the Order of Knight Hospitalors.
His book, "Born in Blood," concerns his discoveries of the origins of our craft in that study. In almost the same year two non Masonic writers, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, working on documentaries wrote "Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" & "The Temple and the Lodge", reaching the same conclusion. Again at almost the same time a non Mason, David Stevenson, a Reader in Scottish History at the University of Aberdeen wrote "The first Freemasons, Scotland's early lodges" and "Members, and Origins of Freemasonry, Scotland's Century 1590-1710", a case for Scotland's contribution to organized Freemasonry.
Stevenson based his belief in the guild Loges of operative Masons during the Middle Ages while the others traced their belief to the Knights Templars who fled to England and Scotland during the early 1300's as Knights Templars were proscribed throughout the Christian world.
Many Masons have differing views about our origins, but certainly by mid 1600 Masons were meeting in lodges composed of purely speculative Masons. Elias Ashmole is our first proof of such meetings. Such lodges were called "from time immemorial" lodges because of their format. Four such lodges meeting in England on St. John's day in 1716, decided to merge and create a Grand Lodge. On St. John's Day, June 24, 1717 at the Goose & Gridiron tavern in the shadow of St. Pauls just one year after their original proposal at the Apple Tree Tavern, four lodges, Goose & Gridiron Ale-house in St. Paul's Churchyard, Crown Ale-House near Drury Street, Apple-Tree Tavern in Charles Street, Convent Garden and Rummer & Grapes Tavern in Channel-Row, Westminster formed the first Grand Lodge in London and named Anthony Sayer, Gentlemen, as its first Grand Master.
Of the four, the one at the Rummer and Grapes Tavern seems to have been predominately speculative and largely composed of men of social rank and professional eminence. Men like Dr. John Desaugliers, educator, preacher, scientific investigator and the 3rd Grand Master, the Rev. James Anderson author of "Constitutions of 1723 & 1738".
They adopted the arms of the London Company of Masons and eight years later had grown to 64 Lodges. Jurisdiction was claimed only over a 10 mile radius from the center of London. The Grand Lodge became a center for a union of speculative Freemasonry. They generally limited their membership to royalty, nobility and gentlemen with high social standing and were called "the Moderns" as they had changed the old ritual.
At the same time in 1717 there were many lodges who had met "from time immemorial", and who continued in existence independently. Certain Irish weavers under the Grand Lodge of Ireland, were turned away by the Mother Lodge in London in 1750. The rejects said we are Masons who have met "from time immemorial" and they started a new Grand Lodge of their own in England. It was organized in London in 1751 and became known as the Antient Grand Lodge. There was much bitterness between the two as well as class separation.
In 1751 this rival lodge for the Most Antient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons choose as their arms the four living creatures which figure in the vision of Ezekiel, Man (St. Matthew), Lion (St. Mark), Ox (St. Luke), and Eagle (St. John). Referring to themselves as Antients because they kept old practices.
The Antients book "Ahiman Rezon" first published in 1756 by Laurence Dermott suggests that they are the original speculative masons and the Moderns are just stone cutters. Ahiman & Rezon are two Hebrew words meaning Faithful Brother & Secretary. Masonry in Ireland, Scotland, the Continent, and the US is generally considered to have evolved from the Antient Grand Lodge.
In 1813 the bitterness between them was finally reconciled and they formed the United Grand Lodge of England. More than 100 of Antient, Modern and Scots lodges were in the US and many more were created under provincial Grand Masters. Antients became more vigorous and larger than the Mother Lodges. Much of the explosive growth was due to military lodges during the period 1760 through 1800.
In James Boorstin's book, "The Americans; the Colonial Experience." he credits the common language and belief in government of those early colonials in establishing our present American Way of Life. Steven C. Bullock in his recent book "Revolutionary Brotherhood, Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order 1730-1840", posits that Freemasons were responsible for the social changes that formed our government and way of life. The start of Freemasonry in the American Colonies in the early 1700's began the story of our Masonic progress to date.