Prince Hall -1748-1807

Founder of Black Masonry and Advocate of Negro Freedom

Prince Hall,our Patron, is recognized as the Father of Black Masonry,. in the United States. He made it possible for persons of African descent  to  be recognized and enjoy all privileges of Free and Accepted Masonry,known today as Prince Hall Freemasonry.

It is unfortunate that the story of Prince Hall's life has never been written except in the most condensed form, had  he been connected with any other race, except that of  Afro-American, history would have fearlessly told the story and confronted all honest criticisms with the truth.

"The fact that no documentary evidence has been found in the Department of Archives in Barbados in confirmation of the date of birth,parentage and place of birth of Prince Hall,it must be noted that the recording of births  was not compulsory  in Barbados  until 1891,when  legislation was enacted, and so without doubt many births before 1891,were unrecorded .  

 It is to be further noted that at the 79th. Conference of Grand Masters of Prince Hall Masons,it was resolved that until otherwise proven the Conference would recognize the date of birth of Prince Hall as September 12,1748".1 

  Documents in Massachusetts showing that slaveowner William Hall freed a man named Prince Hall on April 9, 1765 cannot be conclusively linked to any one individual as there exists record of no less than 21 males named Prince Hall,living in Boston at that time. Our Patron

"Prince Hall was  born in Bridgetown, Barbados,  British West Indies,at about September 12,1748. He was free born.His father, Thomas Prince Hall, was an Englishman and his mother a free coloured woman of French extraction." 2 

At the age of twelve years  Prince Hall was placed as an apprentice to a leather worker, although he made rapid progress at his trade,his  greatest desire  was to visit America.When he communicated his wish to his parents, they gave him no encouragement.

 Prince Hall would always visit the harbour hoping to find a vessel bound for America.Finally one morning in February 1765 young  Prince Hall found a vessel in port which was bound for America,he approached the Captain and offered to work his way for the passage.After some hesitation,the Captain was convinced that the  young Prince Hall meant what he said,and agreed to take him.

Prince Hall  arrived  at Boston, Massachusetts in March 1765.When he stepped off the vessel onto the shores of New England, he was seventeen years of age.He was in a strange land without friends or education, but  determined to fight his own way.

Eight years later he had acquired real estate and was qualified to vote. Religiously inclined, he later became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church with a charge in Cambridge.He was married to  Sarah Ritchery and shortly after their marriage she died at the age of twenty-four years.

He worked as a leather dresser and later as a labourer by day and studying at night,he not only educated himself but  became  a leader in the movement,which led to erosion of slavery in the north.  As a freeman he preached  the cause of unity among all his people,slave  and free alike.

  To demonstrate that belief he repeatedly took the lead in preparing and signing petitions denouncing the slave trade and the institutions of slavery.Thus,when three free blacks were seized and transported to St. Bartholomew to be sold as slaves,Hallís signature was the first  amongst twenty-one black freemen who petitioned the Governor John Hancock,to obtain their release.Hancock, who knew Hall and had paid him nine pounds and eight shillings for leather services,appealed to the French Consul and the men were set free.

It is believed that he was one of the six black men of Massachusetts named Prince Hall listed in military records of the Revolution, and he may well have fought at Bunker Hill. A bill he sent to a Colonel Crafts indicates that he crafted five leather drumheads for the Boston Regiment of Artillery in April, 1777.

With the coming of the Revolution,Prince Hall and other black volunteers saw action  in the early battles.When George Washington arrived in Cambridge to take command of the troops,he found scores of blacks amongst them.He allowed them to serve,but they were not accepted as regular members of the Continental Army.Hall led a delegation to the general in protest and Washington thereupon agreed to allow them to join,and so informed the congress.

 In the year of 1775, Prince Hall,then twenty-seven years of age, received the light of Masonry and was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason in Lodge No. 441, Irish Constitution, attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot, British Army Garrisoned at Castle William (now Fort Independence) Boston Harbour.Thus, becoming the first man of African decent to be initiated into the Order in the American Colonies.The Master of the Lodge was Sergeant John Batt. 

Thus black Freemasonry began,when on March 6th of the same year, fourteen other free black men were initiated into Lodge No. 441,  the newly made masons were: Cyrus Johnson, Bueston Slinger, Prince Rees, John Canton, Peter Freeman, Benjamin Tiler, Duff Ruform, Thomas Santerson, Prince Rayden, Cato Speain, Boston Smith, Peter Best, Forten Howard and Richard Titley.They are reported to have paid fifteen guineas to receive the three degrees.The men Batt initiated into what became African Lodge were evidently free men.

 When the British Army left Boston in 1776, this Lodge No 441, granted Prince Hall and his brethren authority to meet as African Lodge #1 (Under Dispensation), to go in procession on St. John's Day, and as a Lodge to bury their dead; but they could not confer degrees nor perform any other Masonic "work". 

For nine years these brethren, together with others who had received their degrees elsewhere, assembled and enjoyed their limited privileges as Masons. Thirty-three masons were listed on the rolls of African Lodge #1 on January 14th, 1779.  

Prince Hall and the members of his lodge having petitioned  the English Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for its approval.This was denied them by the white brethren in Massachusetts. Finally on March 2, 1784, Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England, through a  Worshipful Master of a subordinate Lodge in London (William Moody of Brotherly Love Lodge No. 55) for a warrant or charter.

It was granted on September 29, 1784 and delivered to Prince Hall personally  in Boston on April 29, 1787 by Captain James Scott, brother-in-law of John Hancock and master of the Neptune.Captain Scott having made his way to the office of the Grand Secretary of Modern Masons,Sir William White, located on Green Street,London to received the Warrant. He  having paid  the fees  of  five pounds, fifteen shillings, and six pence received the warrant. Under its authority African Lodge No. 459 was organized one week later, May 6, 1787,at the Golden Fleece on Water Street in Boston,Massachusetts.

The Warrant to African Lodge No. 459 of Boston is the most significant and highly prized document known to the Prince Hall Mason Fraternity. Through it our legitimacy is traced, and on it more than any other factor, our case rests.

Prince Hall was appointed a Provincial Grand Master in 1791 by His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. The question of extending Masonry arose when Absalom Jones of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania appeared in Boston. He was an ordained Episcopal priest and a mason who was interested in establishing a masonic lodge in Philadelphia. 

Under the authority of the charter of African Lodge #459, Prince Hall established African Lodge #459 of Philadelphia on March 22, 1797 and Hiram Lodge #3 in Providence, Rhode Island on June 25, 1797.  

African Lodge of Boston became the "Mother  Lodge" of the Prince Hall Family.  It was typical for new lodges to be established in this manner in those days.  The African Grand Lodge was not organized until 1808 when representatives of African Lodge #459 of Boston, African Lodge #459 of Philadelphia and Hiram Lodge # 3 of Providence met in New York City. 

Prince Hall, one of Boston's most prominent citizens during the revolutionary period, was the founder of the African Lodge,  the world's first lodge of black Freemasonry and the first society in American history devoted to social, political, and economic improvement.

Hall was active in the affairs of Boston's black community, using his position as "Worshipful Master" of the black Masons to speak out against slavery and the denial of black rights. For years, he protested the lack of schools for black children and finally established one in his own home.

In his last published speech, his charge to the African Lodge at West Cambridge,Massachusetts on June 24, 1797, Hall spoke of mob violence against blacks: "Patience, I say; for were we not possessed of a great measure of it, we could not bear up under the daily insults we meet with in the streets of Boston, much more on public days of recreation. How, at such times, are we shamefully abused, and that to such a degree, that we may truly be said to carry our lives in our hands, and the arrows of death are flying about our heads. ..................My brethren,let us not be cast down under these and many other abuses we  at present are laboring under, - for the darkest hour is just before the break of day.."3

 In the fall of 1807,Prince Hall, while on one of his daily errands  of carrying relief to some poor widow or orphan, or whispering some words of comfort in the ears of some sick brother,caught a cold which rapidly developed into pneumonia from which he never recovered.He died on the morning of December 7, 1807, after  four weeks of illness.

He was succeeded by
Nero Prince as Master. When Nero Prince sailed to Russia in 1808, George Middleton succeeded him. After Middleton, Petrert Lew, Samuel H. Moody and then, John T. Hilton became Grand Master. Hilton recommended a Declaration of Independence from the English Grand Lodge.

As a memorial to Prince Hall for his devotion to black Freemasonry, African Grand Lodge #1 by an act of the General Assembly of the Craft  changed its name to Prince Hall Grand Lodge.The name  "Prince Hall Grand Lodge"  has since been adopted by  Grand Lodges of the Prince Hall Masonic Order.

Prince Hall is buried in Copps Hill Cemetery in Boston,where an imposing monument of Vermont granite is erected.Today pilgrims of our great order can be seen winding their way to  the final resting place of this great Mason,Soldier and Statesman.

In 1869 a fire destroyed Massachusetts' Grand Lodge headquarters and a number of its priceless records. The charter in its metal tube was in the Grand Lodge chest. The tube saved the charter from the flames, but the intense heat charred the paper. 

It was at this time that Grand Master S.T. Kendall crawled into the burning building and in peril of his life, saved the charter from complete destruction. Thus a Grand Master's devotion and heroism further consecrated this parchment to us, and added a further detail to its already interesting history. 

The original Charter No. 459 has long since been made secure between heavy plate glass and is kept in a fire-proof vault in a downtown Boston bank.It is the only original charter held by any American Masonic Society.

"Over the years there have been several white Freemasons who have wished Prince Hall Masonry well. They have assisted it insofar as their obligations would permit. John Dove, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, shortly after the close of the American Civil War gave Prince Hall Masons his text book. Much of it is still used to this day even though it has been revised and copyrighted by Prince Hall Masonry.

There are something like 40 Black organizations calling themselves Masonic that are illegitimate. These have no connection with Prince Hall Masonry, and the latter is constantly "at war'" with them".4  

Today, the Prince Hall fraternity has over 4,500 lodges worldwide, forming 45 independent jurisdictions with a membership of over 300,000 masons.

 Recently the United Grand Lodge of England,Grand Lodges of Scotland and  Ireland have established fraternal relations with a number of Prince Hall Grand Lodges.

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 1.  An article prepared by R.W (now M.W.) Bro Lionel Greenidge and published in our 250th.Commemorative Journal   

  2 This account, paraphrased from the  Grim Shaw book of 1903.  

     3  William C.Nell -"The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution" - (Boston:R.F. Wallcut,1855)

4 This account, was taken  from the  article by Allen E.Roberts,FPS  on  'Black Freemasonry'

Researched and Scripted by R.W.Brother Hermon Gaskin,Webmaster        

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Some Notable Prince Hall Masons
  1. Thurgood Marshall, Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court
  2. Alex Haley, author
  3. Booker T. Washington, educator/founder Tuskegee Institute
  4. Charles B. Rangel, U.S. Congressman New York
  5. Louis Stokes, U.S. Congressman Ohio
  6. William "Count" Basie, orchestra leader/composer
  7. Nathaniel "Nat King" Cole, American pianist and singer
  8. Jerry "The Ice Man" Butler -Renowned Singer
  9. Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, orchestra leader/composer
  10. Medger Wiley Evers, civil rights leader
  11. James Herbert "Eubie" Blake, composer/pianist
  12. Matthew Henson, explorer
  13. Paul Robeson,entertainer/scholar
  14. Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta
  15. Thomas Bradley, mayor of Los Angeles, California
  16. Sugar Ray Robinson, mid/light heavy boxing champion
  17. John H. Johnson, publisher EBONY and Jet magazines
  18. Carl B. Stokes, first Black elected mayor, Cleveland, OH
  19. Robert Sengstacke Abbott, founder/publisher CHICAGO DEFENDER
  20. Richard Allen, founder/first bishop AME Church
  21. Daniel "Chappie" James, general U.S. Air Force
  22. James Forten, abolitionist/manufacturer
  23. Timothy Thomas Fortune, journalist
  24. Richard D. Gidron, president, Dick Gidron Cadillac
  25. William C. Handy, composer
  26. Augustus F. Hawkins. U.S. Congressman California
  27. Lionel Hampton, orchestra leader/composer
  28. Benjamin L. Hooks, Former Executive Director NAACP
  29. Benjamin Mays, educator/former president Atlanta University
  30. Ralph H. Metcalfe, Olympic champion
  31. A. Phillip Randolph,founder/ first president,International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
  32. W.E.B. DuBois, educator/author/historian
  33. Lawrence Douglas Wilder -The First Black elected Governor in the U.S.A.(Virginia)
  34. Dale Hale Williams -first sugeon to perform open heart surgery
  35. Martin Luther King Sr.,Civil Rights Leader
  36. Rev. Al Sharpton - Civil Rights Advocate
  37. Joseph Jenkins Roberts - First  President of the Republic of Liberia
  38. Leon M'Ba - First President of Gabon
  39. Kwane Nkrumah,President of Ghana,West Africa
  40. Egbert Austin "Bert" Williams, actor/ comedian
  41. Don King  -Boxing  promoter
  42. Jack Johnson -First Black heavyweight boxing champion of US
  43. Harry A. Williamson, author/Masonic historian
  44. Rev. Jesse Jackson, Civil Rights leader
  45. Martin R.Delany - First Black to matriculate from Harvard Medical School/First Black Major in the U.S.army
  46. Benjamin Banneker,designed the nation's (USA) capital;inventor;astronomer
  47. Scottie Pippen, #33, Chicago Bulls / Forward
  48. Dr.Ernest Everett Just,biologist,a founder of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc

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