History of Prince Hall Masonry
FROM THE BEGINNING: OUR DEBT TO PRINCE HALL FATHER OF PRINCE HALL MASONRY IN VIRGINIA
Prince Hall is recognized as the Father of Black Masonry in the United States. Historically, he made it possible for negroes to be recognized and enjoy all the privileges of free and accepted masonry.
On March 6th, 1775, in a lodge of Freemasons at Castle William, Boston Harbor, (later called Fort Independence) Prince Hall and fourteen others were initiated by the Master of Lodge No. 441, a traveling Military Lodge of Irish Registry attached to the 38th Foot (Regiment) under the command of General Gage. The Master of Lodge No. 441 was Sergeant John B. Batt.
From an address by John V. DeGrasse to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, on June 30th, 1858:
“One year later (1776) according to a statement which I have in his (Hall’s) own handwriting, in the company with Thomas Sanderson, Boston Smith and others, he organized and opened, under a dispensation granted by this British Traveling Lodge, and the first Lodge of Masons composed of Colored Men in America.
Sources differ as to the work performed by African Lodge, from the time of its formation until the receipt of its Warrant in 1787. One source states that work began immediately and up to forty-one degrees were conferred.
In a letter written by Prince Hall to the Grand Lodge of England on March 2nd, 1784, applying for a Warrant, there is no mention of work having been performed. It stated, only, that they had a “permit to walk on St. John’s Day and to bury our dead”.
A “Warrant of Constitution” was issued for African Lodge No. 459, by the Grand Lodge of England; signed and sealed on September 29th, 1784 under the authority of His Royal Highness, Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, Grand Master, by R. Holt, Deputy Grand Master and attested by Williams White, Grand Secretary.
After several delays for various reasons, the Warrant was delivered to Prince Hall on April 29th, 1787 by Captain James Scott, a seafaring man of London. It was said that this captain was a brother-in-law of John Hancock, one of the signers of our Declaration of Independence. In addition to the Warrant, Captain Scott delivered a bound copy of the Book of Constitution as a gift from the Grand Secretary, William White.
African Lodge, No. 459, was organized under its Warrant on May 6th, 1878, with Prince Hall as Worshipful Master; Boston Smith, Senior Warden; and Thomas Sanderson, Junior Warden.
On May 17th, 1787, Prince Hall acknowledged the receipt of the Warrant and thanked the Grand Secretary for the gift of the Book of Constitution. He advised that he would be sending a copy of their By-Laws and a roster of the members.
The records of the Grand Lodge of England show that African Lodge, No. 459 made contributions to its charity fund in 1789, 1792, 1793, and 1797. Apparently, the English law left it to the Lodges themselves to determine what sums the “circumstances of the Lodge” justified them to contribute to the Grand Charity.
In 1792, the Grand Lodge of England re-numbered its Lodges. African Lodge was advanced to No. 370, however, all the records since that time appear to use No. 459. It is highly possible that African Lodge, No. 459, never knew of the change in its number.
African Lodge, No. 459, remained on the English Registry until 1813, when at the Union of the Grand Lodges of the “Ancient” and “Moderns” into the present United Grand Lodge of England, it and all the other Lodges in America on the English Registry were erased. P. G. M. Charles Griswold, in the Proceedings of the G. L. of Minnesota in such a comprehensive form, it deserves being quoted in its entirety:
“In making said erasures, the Grand Lodge of England evidently recognized the fact that her American children, African Lodge among the rest, were of age and well able to take care of themselves. At that time, they all had their own Grand Lodges in this country, and, in their formation, virtually served their connection with the parent Grand Lodge. The action of the Grand Lodge of England was simply recognition of this fact. Prince Hall Grand Lodge proper was formed in 1808, five years before the said erasure took place. When the attention of Bro. Harvey, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of England, was first called to this matter, he gave it his personal opinion in a letter to Bro. G. W. Moore, that said African Lodge, as a result of it erasure, had become irregular; but when, upon further examination, he found that all American Lodges upon English Grand Lodge register were erased at the same time, he evidently saw his mistake, and, in a letter later, recalled his first opinion. In the Masonic News of Canada, January last, Bro. Jacob Norton says: In conversation with Bro. Harvey about the two letters sent by him to Bro. Moore, Bro. Harvey told me personally, that upon reflection, he really could not distinguish the difference between the legality of illegality of the Massachusetts Grand Lodge, or the Prince Hall Grand Lodge”.
In 1792, the present Grand Lodge of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was formed by the union of St. John’s Grand Lodge (Modern) and Massachusetts Grand Lodge (Ancient). At this union, the last named body voted “that this Grand Lodge be dissolved”. The reason: the only two Lodges in Massachusetts which possessed charters emanating directly from the Mother Country took no part in organizing. This new body, St. Andrew’s, the oldest of the “Ancient” Lodges warranted by the Grand Lodge of Scotland and African Lodge, No 459, the only Lodge that ever existed in Massachusetts which possessed the Warrant of the Grand Master of the “Moderns’, or the “Mother Grand Lodge of the World”. St. Andrew’s Lodge was pressured for years to become a member of the new Grand Lodge but refused to do so until 1809. African Lodge No. 459, was never invited to become a part of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.
The African Grand Lodge of North America was formed on June 24th, 1791, when a General Assembly of Colored Masons was convened at Mason’s Hall, in the Golden Fleece, Water Street, Boston, with the following officers:
Prince Hall, Grand Master
Cyrus Forbes, Senior Warden
George Middleton, Junior Warden
Peter Best, Grand Treasurer
Prince Taylor, Grand Secretary
It was set up as a Provincial Grand Lodge under the Warrant of the Grand Lodge of England. It is said that the only copy of the Warrant was destroyed in a fire in Philadelphia along with numerous other records of the Philadelphia African Lodge. Available references are silent as to whether this warrant was ever issued.
Whether Prince Hall was actually a Provincial Grand Master, or not, he was addressed as “Right Worshipful Brother” by William White, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of England (Modern) in a letter dated August 20th, 1792. Which letter requests Prince Hall to investigate and report on the status of a list of Lodges established by that Grand Lodge in the Colonies of New England. The application of the term “Right Worshipful” differed between the two Grand Lodges of England prior to 1813. The “Ancients applied that form of address to the Masters of subordinate lodges”. The “Modern” Grand Lodge, that warranted African Lodge, No. 459, reserved the use of the salutation “Right Worshipful” for Provincial Grand Masters, District Deputy Grand Masters and its own Grand Officers.
On page 13 of the “Negro Masonry in the United States”, by H. Van Buren Voorhis, is an illustration of the cover of a pamphlet, owned by the Grand Lodge of New York, of a “Charge” delivered to African Lodge on June 25th 1792, showing it to be “By the Right Worshipful Prince Hall”.
The Provincial Grand Masters commissioned to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Henry Price, Joseph Warren, John Rowe, etc., were all addressed as “Right Worshipful”.
About six months after the death of Prince Hall, a Delegate Convention of Negro Masons was held in Boston, July 24th 1808, with representatives of Lodges at Boston, Philadelphia and Province present. The Deputy Grand Master, Nero Price was elected Grand Master and the name of the Grand Lodge was changed to “Prince Hall Grand Lodge” in honor of their First Master and Grand Master.
During Prince Hall’s tenure as Grand Master, he had warranted two Lodges:
African Lodge, No. 459, at Philadelphia on June 24th 1797
Hiram Lodge, No.3, at Providence, Rhode Island, date unknown
From 1808 to 1813 the Prince Hall Grand Lodge warranted four more Lodges: Union Lodge, No.2 at Philadelphia
Phoenix Lodge, No.6 at Philadelphia
Boyer Lodge, No.1 at New York
No Lodge appears with the number 4
Who was Prince Hall? The version of his biography that is most often quoted and accepted is as follows:
“Hall was born September 12th, 1748 at Bridgetown, Barbados, British West Indies. His father, Thomas Prince Hall, was an Englishman and his mother of French descent. He was apprenticed as a leather worker- came to the United States in 1765 at the age 17- applied himself industriously at common labor during the day and studied privately at night. Upon reaching the age of 27, he had acquired the fundamentals of an education. Saving his earnings, he had accumulated sufficient funds to buy a piece of property. He joined the Methodist Church in which he passes as an eloquent preacher. His first church was located in Cambridge, Mass.
Who, then, was Prince Hall? No one seems to know. What little information there is about him is sketchy. The few items relative to Prince Hall’s personal background that have proved reliable are the records of his marriages, the Boston Assessor’s tax rolls, and a few petitions and depositions that became public records in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
A historian, John M. Sherman published an article, in 1963, containing a copy of an old notarial record of 1770 which reads:
“This may certify it may concern that Prince Hall has lived with us 21 (date unclear maybe 25) years and has served us well upon all occasions for which reason we naturally give him freedom and he is no longer Rechoned a slave but has always accounted as a freeman by us as he has served us faithfully upon that account we have given him his freedom as witness our hands this ninth day of April 1770.
X Elizabeth Hall’s Mark
Sarah Ritchery was the first wife of Prince Hall. This wife died in 1769, and was buried in the Copp’s Burial Ground, Boston. Engraved on her headstone is:
“HERE LIES YE Body of Sarah Ritchery Wife of Prince Hall died Feb. the 26th 1769 aged 24 years”.
Prince Hall married again in 1770 and the notice read:
“Prince Hall of Boston and Flora (Gibbs) of Glouchester married by the Rev. Samuel Chandler, August 22nd, 1770”.
This announcement did not mention race or occupation of Prince Hall. Nothing is known of this wife, when or where she died or was buried. Hall married for a third time to Zilpoy Johnson on June 28th, 1804. This wife outlived Prince Hall who died in 1807. He may have been buried in Copp’s Burial Ground next to his first wife.
On the Reverse of Sarah’s gravestone is carved:
“Here lives ye body
First Grand Master of
The Colored Grand Lodge of
Masons in Mass. Died Dec. 7th, 1807
An extract from the Boston Gazette:
“Deaths on Friday morning, Mr. Prince Hall, age 72, Master of the African Lodge. Funeral this afternoon at 3 o’clock from him late dwelling house on Lendell’s Lane; which his friends and relatives are requested to attend without or more formal invitation.”
THE ORIGINAL WARRANT
This precious document is the Chief Corner-Stone upon which our fabric is built.
“To all and every our Worshipful and loving Brethren, we Thomas Howard,
Earl of Effingham, Lord Howard, & c., &c., &c., Acting Grand
(Seal) Master under the authority of his Royal Highness, Henry
Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, &c., &c., &c., Grand Master of the
Most Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, send greetings:
“Know YE That WE, at the humble petition of our right trusty and well beloved Brethren, Prince Hall, Boston Smith, Thomas Sanderson, and several other Brethren, residing in Boston, New England, in North America, do hereby constitute the said Brethren into a regular Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, under the title or denomination of African Lodge, to be open in Boston aforesaid. And so further, at their said petition, hereby appoint the said PRINCE HALL to be Master, BOSTON SMITH, Senior Warden, and THOMAS SANDERSON, Junior Warden, for the opening of the said Lodge, and for such further time only as shall be thought proper by the brethren thereof, it being out will that this appointment of the above officers shall be regulated agreeable to such by-laws- of said Lodge, as shall be consistent with the general laws of the society, contained in the Book of Constitution; and we hereby will require you, the said PRINCE HALL, to take especial care that all and every one of said Brethren are, or have been legally made Masons, and that they do observe, perform and keep all the rules and orders contained in the Book of Constitution; and further, that you do from time to time, cause to be entered in a book kept for that purpose, an account of your proceedings as a Lodge, together with such rules, orders and regulations as shall be made for the good government of the same; that in no wise you omit once every year. to send us, or our successors, Grand Master or to ROWLAND HOLT, Esq. our Deputy Grand Master, for the time being an account in writing of you said proceedings, and copies of all such rules, orders and regulations as shall be made as aforesaid, together with a list of the members of the Lodge and reasonably be expected toward the Grand Lodge Charity. Moreover, we hereby will and require you, said PRINCE HALL, as soon as conveniently may be, to send and account in writing of what may be done by virtue of these presents.
“Given at London, under our hands and seal of Masonry, this 29th day of September, A. L. 5784, A. D. 1784.
“By the GRAND MASTER’S command.
Witness: Wm. WHITE, G. S.
R. HOLT, D. G. M.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF GRANT OF CHARTER
BOSTON, September 22d, 1705
(The year in the date line is evidently intended for 1785)
May it please your Royal Highness to Permit us you Humble Brethren of the African Lodge to Return your Royal Highness the Wardens and the Brethren of the Grand Lodge under Royal Highness charge, our Humble Thanks for your goodness to us in Granting us a charter from your Venerable and Honorable Lodge. For which we Pray Almighty God ever to Bless and Preserve till time shall be no more; and from time to time Grant your Royal Highness and that noble Society that you may always mention that Blesses Spirit or our ever Blessed Grand Master Jesus Christ who though He styles Himself King of Kings and Lord of Lords; yet He is not ashamed to call the true members of His Fraternity His Beloved Brethren and such a condescending spirit as this your Royal Highness with the Grand Lodge has abundantly manifested in Honoring us, your own worthy members of the craft with a Charter, this your Beneverlence to us will not only be received by us with Love and grateud” (gratitude)” but will convence the Blind World true Masonry hath something in it Divine and Noble and Diffuses Universal love to all Mankind and now may it Please your Royal Highness; we shall always make it out study to Keep ouer selves within the bounds and limits of ouer Nobel Constitution and under your Wise Derection as ouer Parent Grand Lodge. We shall always cheerfully obay your Daretitions” (direction)” which you may from time be pleased to send us; I shall always enDeavoer to give thouse Lectteors as shall be most beneficial” (beneficial)” to there Light and Knowledge-&c. After whiching your Royal Highness and all your Elustres Familey all the Blessings of Prences hear below you may reign King and Priestin the world above. And may the Grand Lodge keep such a lodge here below that they keep a everlasting abode for ever more; is the earnest which and prayer of your Humble and obedient Servant and Brother.
On the 6th day of May 1787, African Lodge, No. 459, was organized at Boston, agreeably to the tenor and requirements of the foregoing charter.