An American Treasure: Prince Hall Affiliated Freemasons

Edited by PGM Sterling R. Taylor

     American patriot, biblical student, abolitionist, educator and craftsman, Prince Hall was the founder and first African American Master of an American Freemasons Lodge.  He was the first of a long line of revered black political and social organizers to have a lasting impact on American society and its’ history.’

     Prince Hall was bon on “September 14, 1735,” and lived until December 4, 1807.  Suprisingly, other supporting documentation or evidence of proof about the personal life of this remarkable man are sketchy.  Even Past Grand Master William H. Grimshaws’ account of Halls’ parentage, place of birth and other personal history has now been discounted as being more imaginary than factual.

It is probable that Prince Hall was reared somewhere within the British Empire and migrated to America.  His reference to “home” in a letter to the Countess of Huntington and his friendship with other British Nobility would suggest that he had strong roots among the English upper class.  Yet some Masonic historians disagree insisting that he was a slave, as evidenced by a manumission paper filed for a “Prince Hall” by slave owner William Hall on April 9, 1770, one month after the first shot of the American Revolution killed Michael Johnson (Crispus Attucks).

Fortunately, the Masonic credentials of Prince Hall and the regularity of the Black Masonic Lodges which affiliated themselves by his name are beyond dispute.  On March 6, 1775, over a year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Prince Hall and fourteen other free black men were made Master Masons in Army Lodge No. 441 by Worshipful Master John Batt working under the authority and Constitution of the Grand Lodge of Ireland.  When the British regiments left Boston on March 17, 1776, a permit (dispensation) was issued by Worshipful Master Batt authorizing Prince Hall and his brethren to meet as a lodge under restrictions.  Under this permit African Lodge No. 1 was formed on July 3, 1776.

Official acknowledgment of the legitimacy of African Lodge No. 1 was almost immediately made by John Rowe of Boston, a Caucasian Provincial Grand Master of North America, holding authority from the premier Grand Lodge of Freemasons, the Modern GRand Lodge of London and Westminster.  He too, issued a permit authorizing African Lodge No.1 to appear publicly in procession as a Masonic body for the purpose of celebrating the Feast of Saints’ John and to bury its dead.

For eleven years these brethren with other free black men, who had received their degrees in Europe and Great Britain, assembled together and enjoyed their limited privileges as segregated Masons, distressed that Prince Halls’ attempts to formally associate African Lodge No.1 with Caucasian (Provincial) Grand Lodges was frustrated by white bigotry and racism.  It was an ironic period in American History when the colonists embraced the doctrine of independence, liberty, and equality to justify the revolt against the English rule while promoting and condoning the economic and social exploitation of blacks debased by institutionalized slavery.

Finally, in March 1784, Prince Hall petitioned the Modern Grand Lodge of London and Westminster through Worshipful Master William Moody of Brotherly Love Lodge No. 55 (London, England) for a warrant of constitution.  The Charter was prepared and issued on September 1784, although it would be three years before African Lodge No. 1 actually received it.  A letter was sent by Worshipful Master Moody to Prince Hall on March 10, 1787, stating that the Charter was delivered to Captain Jame Scott, of the ship Neptune, a merchant ship owned by John Hancock.  John Hancock was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and President of the Continental Congress.  Several years after John Hancock died Captain James Scott married his widow.  The Charter, signed by the Deputy Grand Master Roland Holt and witnessed by Grand Secretary William White, reconstituted African Lodge No. 1 as African Lodge No. 459, (later renumbered to African Lodge No. 370), and thus began the parallel lines of Negro and Caucasian Fremasonry which exists in America to this very day.

Before 1815, exclusive territorial jursdiction was not an active and recognized doctrine of English Masonic Custom.  The African Lodge of Boston exercised its’ right to establish other lodges, making itself a mother lodge, its Master Prince Hall having the authority to issue warrants on the same basis as Masters of Lodges in Europe and Great Britain.

African lodges were constituted in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and New York.  On June 24, 1791, the African Grand Lodge of North America was organized in Boston with Prince Hall as Grandmaster.  This was one year before the organization of the United Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (Caucasian).  In 1827, thirty-five years after the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had done so,  African Grand Lodge of Boston declared itself independent of the United Grand Lodge of England.

The original charter of African Lodge of Boston is in the possession of the Prince Hall Affiliated Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and is the only known original Eighteenth Century Charter in existence issued to any American Lodge by the United Grand Lodge of England or its predecessors.  It proudly represents the indisputable legitimacy and regularity of the Prince Hall Lodges and Councils and their constituent and affiliated bodies.