Prince Hall Masonry in Virginia
In the years anterior to the War of the Rebellion, which began is 1861, the institution of slavery flourished in our State, as it did in all States south of the Mason and Dixon’s line and as was the case with colored men in all these States, our people accepted readily and without raising any sort of question; the teachings and edicts of their masters, or other white men who were supposed to be learned in any particular are or calling. Hence, when white men announced Negroes could not be Masons because the Land-marks declare that “A candidate for Masonry be free born,” etc., our people very readily bowed in humble submission; and a number of those who were under the laws, as they existed then, were regarded as Free”, left their State, and going to Philadelphia, were initiated into the mysteries of the Craft. The best information obtainable on this subject warrants us in saying that this was the way in which the first masons in our state received the “Light.” The first Lodge in the State was Universal, at Alexander, which is still carried on our Register as No. 1. It was organized in 1845, February 5th, and numbered among its members in its earlier days such men as Rev. Robert H. Robinson and Alfred Hamilton, Peter Costin, and other equally noted old citizens of this old city.Rising Sun Lodge, of Norfolk, which still bears on our Register, the honorable designation of number 2, was the second Lodge in the State, and we have been informed that its pioneers, for the most part, like those of Universal Lodge, received their degrees in the city of “Brotherly Love.” This Lodge, however, did not receive its charter until early in the sixties of the present century, about 1865, and at the time, and for great while afterwards it membership comprised all the colored Masons in and around Norfolk.
Of the original members of this Lodge, we learn that all save Brother James W. Watts, have gone to their “Final Rest,” and to receive the reward of their labor; but their names will be readily recalled as the ancestors of some of our best citizens of this section of the State. Some of those to whom we refer with pride, are Brothers Edward and Caleb Williams, William Keeling, Robert Jordan, Robert V. Carney, and Anthony A. Portlock, all of whom, though dead, yet live, having left their foot prints for the edification and guidance of the posterity and the craft.
We are not certain as to whether Morning Star Lodge, No.3, or Eastern Light, No.4, was organized first; but we learn that natural rivalry, and the inclination of those who desire was to demonstrate who could best work, and possibly who could best agree, soon resulted in a friendly division of the membership of old Rising Sun, and other lodges were planted in this section.
The First Grand Lodge
Following in the natural train, the brethren of these lodges began to feel that they were not in the enjoyment of all their rights and privileges, as they were working under the authority from the National Grand Lodge, which body in turn was composed of State Grand Lodges. Possibly our brethren may have viewed it (The National Grand Lodge), as a foreign corporation, or have regarded the English Government prior to their adoption and promulgation of the Declaration of Independence. At any rate the Union Grand Lodge was organized in two meetings held December 28th, 1865, and on the 17th of February, 1866, though the preliminary meeting looking to the organization was held October 29th, 1865.
As has been stated, previously, the National Grand Lodge met with very violent opposition very early after it organization, and instead of it abating, it continued to grow. And especially might this have been expected, when it is known that the lodges under the National Grand Lodge held to the idea which the white Masons constantly threw into the teeth of all colored me, that no man born in slavery could be a Mason. While this position was being held to so tenaciously by the men who were able to acquire membership in these lodges, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln, and along with its results, the freeing of over five million colored people, the conditions in the whole country became changed and there sprung up in almost all the Southern States, a sentiment in favor of joining the Free Masons, which created or encouraged in great measure by preachers, teachers, and missionaries, who had come South to work among the freeman.
For the most part, these missionaries were Masons who had received their degrees in lodges that were under the jurisdiction of Grand Lodges that refused to recognize the National Grand Lodge, claiming that it was repugnant to the design of the organization to have any body or other organization higher than a Grand Lodge and that all State Grand Lodges, were independent in themselves. Another idea which they advocated and which met with favor in the South, was that, “There could not exist such a being as a human slave, in the sense that any one man had a natural right to possess another;” for as God has created of one blood all nations of men to dwell upon the face of the Earth.” And thereby hath made all brothers, it was repugnant to His justice and loving nature to tolerate or countenance such an institution.
A Second Grand Lodge
With these conditions present, Rev. M. F. Sluby, a minister in the A. M. E. Church, was sent to Alexander to organize a church and to found a school for the freeman,. Being a Mason and zealous advocate of the organization, and finding Universal Lodge there under the National compact, he did not hesitate to talk the advantages of Masonry; at the same time that he ridiculed the National compact. The result was the organization of Lincoln Lodge in 1865, which procured a warrant from the Independent Grand Lodge of Maryland, which Grand Lodge styled its members F. and A. Ancient York Masons.
During the next year, through the instrumentally of Rev. Brother J. B. Trust, a Methodist minister of the C. M. E. Church, and who was stationed at the Union Street Church in Petersburg, a club of 72 men was organized for the purpose of being made Masons.
Brother Trusty had previously received the degrees and being a member of a lodge in Philadelphia, which was under the Grand Lodge in that State, styling itself the Ancient York Grand Lodge, took charge of the application and forwarded it to his Lodge, which in due time on the 16th of August, 1866, had a committee come to Petersburg and initiate, pass and raise the members of this club.
After being made they divided themselves into three lodges of 24 members each. These lodges took the name J. B. Trusty, Virginia and Abraham, which only Abram No. 10 exists today.
On the fourteenth day of October, 1867 the three Petersburg lodges mentioned above, having procured Charters from the Grand Lodge in Pennsylvania, met in Convention in their city, and after the proper formalities, proceeded to organize the Grand Lodge of F. and A. Ancient York Masons.
All the officers from Petersburg: Brother James H. Jones being Grand Master; Brother Douglas Johnson. Deputy Grand Master; and Brother William Green, Grand Secretary. At the quarterly session on June 23rd, 1868, Lincoln Lodge was represented for the first time but Brother Hannibal S. King.
Thus from time to time, the two Grand Lodges kept their organizations intact. But as the membership increased, as the members of the two side commingled in social and friendly ways in their respective communities, the desire for a union manifested itself, and the matter was talked over by prominent members both Grand Lodges; and as a result a conference of the two Grand Lodges was held in St. Luke’s Hall on Franklin street in Richmond, on the 9th day of December, 1873.
This body was presided over by Brother R. D. Recldey, of a Alexandria, of the Union Grand Lodge, while Brother James H. Jones, of Petersburg, of the Ancient York Grand Lodge, acted as Secretary; as Brother James E. Fuller was Assistant Secretary, and Rev. H. Marshall was Chaplain.
This conference adopted a basis of union, the resolution, being offered by Rev. Marshall, and amended by Brother Thomas Gladman of Lynchburg as follows:
WHEREAS, We the members of the Masonic Conference Committee of the Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons of the State of Virginia, and Union Grand Lodge of the State of Virginia, assembled in St. Luke’s Hall, Franklin Street, Va., on the 9th day of December, 1873, the following plan for the consolidation of the above named Grand Lodges, was agreed to by the Conference. Having done all we can to effect union buy series of resolutions, amendments and substitutes, and having failed in all attempts in the direction, therefore be it.
Resolved, That we, the Ancient York Masons of the State of Virginia, earnestly ask the Union Grand Lodge of the State of Virginia, now in session in the city of Richmond; when its session adjourns it will meet with the Grand Lodge Ancient York Masons of Virginia at our next regular Annual Grand Communication in June, 1874, and that the business of our Grand Lodge pertaining to its regular course will cease and our earnest attention will be given to effecting a union of both Grand bodies by the election of a Grand Maser for the State of Virginia. Both Grand Masters shall be in the chair meanwhile, and then and there shall surrender their gavels to the Grand Master-elect. By doing so, there will be no sacrifice of principles on either side, and each Grand Lodge shall cease to issue charters from this date.
The foregoing statement was published as an appendix to the minutes of the Ancient York Grand Lodge for 1874, and was signed by the following brethren, who represented that body in the Conference, viz: Rev. Henry Marshall, Z. A. Langley, John R. Smith, D. J. Butts, John H. Harris, Matthew B. Thomas, Lewis H. Carter, Joseph Coleman, George H. Dabney, James H. Jones, Manson Logwood, Thomas Hill and Joseph Cox.
The statement is also made in the appendix, that the other (Union) Grand Lodge failed to meet as agreed to by its conferees.
With affairs in this condition it might have appeared that the union of the craft was indefinitely or even permanently postponed; but such was not the case. The brethren were really earnest and they succeeded in arranging for a joint meeting of the two Grand Lodges in Petersburg, on the 15th day of December, 1875.
The Union Grand Lodge
This meeting was held under the plan provided by the conference of 1873, and after an all night session in the Harrison Street Baptist Church, their labors culminated in the organization of the M. W. United Grand Lodge, by a union of the Union (National Compact) Grand Lodge with seventeen subordinate lodges and the Ancient York Grand Lodge with eighteen subordinates. The electives officers who were chosen by the now United Grand Lodge were; R. W. John W. Toney, Richmond, Deputy Grand Master; R. W. Thomas G. Gladman, Lynchburg, Senior Warden; R. W. Edward L. Stokes, Petersburg, Junior Warden; R. W. R. A. Perkins, Lynchburg, Grand Secretary; R. W. James Stewart, Richmond, Grand Treasurer, and R. W. James Stewart, Charlottesville, Grand Lecturer. In honor of this event a grand street parade took place and at night a public address was delivered in the Harrison Street Baptist Church, by Rev. W. B. Derrick, of Richmond; and later their wives and lady friends of the Petersburg Masons tendered the Grand Lodge a banquet.
Of the thirty-five lodges of which the Grand Lodge was composed at this time, four of them have ceased to work. They are St. John’s, No. 5, at Portsmouth; Warren, No. 14, at Richmond; Orient, No. 22, at Alexandria, and Prince Hall, No. 29 at Lynchburg. But in their stead, there have been constant additions to our membership, until the Warrant issued to Hiram Abiff Lodge in the year 1900, bore number 90.
Of the original officers, all, down to the Junior Grand Warden, have served as Grand Master; Brother R. A. Perkins has gone to join the Grand Lodge above, and Brother James Stewart, though living, dead to the craft. The others are still active and honored craftsman in their several communities.
Thus we have traced the history of Masonry in Virginia in a brief way, and feel that we have shown, First, that Prince Hall and his associates had an honorable and legal organization, which, with pride, could trace it ancestry to the Grand Lodge of England, which was the mother of Masonry in this country, for both the white and colored Masons. Second, that the two Grand Lodges of this State were the fruits of the organization planted by Prince Hall, himself, in Pennsylvania, and of that planted by Pennsylvania into Maryland. Third, that the organization of the present Grand Lodge in the State having been effected in the usual and regular way, accepted by all recognized Masonic authorities, we bid out brethren point to their Mother Grand Lodge as a parent worthy of their pride and praise.
*The Virginia Text Book
Grand Historian Robert G. Davis
FROM LYNCHBURG TO RICHMOND
Chapter 1, Article IV, Section 1, Page 3, of the Constitution of the MWPHGL of Virginia, states, “the city of Richmond shall be deemed and held as the Grand East of the jurisdiction, however all Masonic documents of an official character are to be dated from the office of the Right Worshipful Grand Secretary”.
For many years the office of the Grand Secretary was located in Lynchburg, at 810 Fifth Street. Serving the Grand Lodge as Grand Secretaries during this period was Brother C. V. Wilson, Brother J. Wilson Jeffress and Brother Charles H. Harris. In 1984, following the death of Right Worshipful Grand Secretary, J. Wilson Jeffress, Brother Charles H. Harris who was in line to serve as Right Worshipful Junior Grand Deacon, resigned to be elected as Right Worshipful Grand Secretary, Mrs. Clarice Banks served as Office Manager for a number of years.
During the administration of GM Robert E. Harris (1980-1982) a number of oddities began to appear in the operations of the Grand Lodge. Bank accounts that were unknown appeared, duplicate checks were discovered and the employed office assistant continued her unresponsive attitude that was detrimental to the Grand Lodge. The constitution declared Richmond as the Grand East, yet the Grand Secretary’s office had never been there. The Grand Master talked privately with several Past Grand Masters and learned that they too had experienced the unresponsiveness of the office help. But even after the complaints to the Grand Secretary, no change was observed. The Grand Master decided that if other Grand Masters were to succeed and the Grand Lodge grow, the best move seemed to be move the Grand Secretary’s office to Richmond and declare a Grand East. This concept was discussed at a heated session of the Board of Directors. The Grand Master put the concept before that body where it was accepted unanimously.
In September, 1982, Robert G. Davis, became Grand Master. Perhaps no greater problem confronted this new administration than the decision of moving the Grand Lodge Office from Lynchburg to Richmond. The Board of Directors and the Grand Master met on many occasions. The Board of Directors were: M. W. Grand Master, Robert G. Davis; R. W. Deputy Grand Master, Pittman C. Rock; R. W. Grand Treasurer, D. J. Mack; R. W. Grand Secretary, Charles H. Harris; Past Grand Master, J. Henry Evans, Jr., Past Grand Master, Thomas E. Minor, Past Grand Master, Roswell A. Taylor, Sr., Past Grand Master, James V. Washington, and Past Grand Master, Robert E. Harris. A final conference call was made in mid-December to determine the proper course based on the vote in Norfolk to move the Grand Secretary’s office. The Board of Directors did not want to cast the Grand Lodge into ruin, when no funds had been appropriated for the move. The vote but telephone was a tie four to four. The Grand Master Robert G. Davis cast the untying vote, that we would move the Grand Secretary’s office to Richmond. A $50,000.00 Certificate of Deposit had to be cashed to defray the expenses during this period.
After careful study and sound advice, the move was made in January, to establish our New Grand Lodge Offices t 112 E. Clay Street, in Richmond, Virginia. On March 6th, 1983, after only one month, an Open House was held to show off our new home. The Open house was well attended by over 200 guests from all over the State, and the new staff gave our visitors an informative tour and explained the many functions of the Grand Lodge Office.
At 112 E. Clay Street, we were tenants. Grand Master Robert G. Davis in his Annual Address, at the John Marshall Hotel, on September 18th, 1984, made the following Recommendation:
Our present Grand Lodge Office is located at 112 E. Clay Street, in Richmond in the Virginia Mutual Insurance Building. As tenants, we are paying nearly $7,000.00 a year in rent. As Grand master, I firmly believe that we as a Grand Lodge need to investigate the possibility of securing property for our Grand Lodge Committee be appointed to investigate the ways and means to secure such Property, and make a report at the next Grand Lodge session. I, further Recommend that Past Grand Master Landon H. White be appointed as Chairman of this committee with other members to named by the Incoming Grand Master.
FROM 112 E. CLAY STREET TO 906 N. THOMPSON STREET
On March 27th, 1989, theM. W. Grand Master A. G. Williams, exercised the option to purchase the property at 906 N. Thompson Street, Richmond, Virginia, for a total price of $263,500.00. The Board of Directors were given full authority by the One Hundred Thirteenth Annual Communication of the General membership to do every act reasonable, necessary and proper to bring about the purchase of a Grand Lodge Office Building.
The Most Worshipful Grand Master and Right Worshipful Grand Treasurer were empowered and directed to sign a note after other considerations were paid in the sum of $215,000.00 at 11% interest per annum for a period, not to exceed 5 years. Each lodge in the jurisdiction was asked to have each member contribute $5.00 per member for a period of 5 years to liquidate this indebtness.