Prince Hall -1748-1807
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.
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.
the fall of
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
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.
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