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Prince Hall And The Birth Of Black Freemasonry

Prince Hall was the Malcolm X of his time. He was the one of the individuals directly responsible for the birth of Liberia, the first Civil Rights leader in the United States, a charismatic spiritual teacher and master craftsman, a land owner, a Revolutionary War veteran, and a legal scholar.

Most notably, Prince Hall is the founder of the Black Freemasonry. Generally Freemasonry (or Masonry) is one of the world’s oldest and largest secular fraternal organizations, whose members are concerned with moral and spiritual values. The Fraternity has always claimed to unite men of differing beliefs into a harmonious and productive community through the application of Masonic moral values and the practice of benevolence, intellectual development, and mutual respect.

The necessary prerequisite for acceptance into the Masonic fraternity is the belief in a Supreme Being and membership is open to men of all races and religions who profess belief in deity and are of good repute.

While Freemasonry today represent every race, during the 18th Century, the Fraternity was just as segregated as every other western institution. It wasnt until Prince Hall organized the African Lodge that Black men were able to access the same privileges as other Masons.

 

Who Is Prince Hall

Prince Hall was born a slave in Massachusetts in 1735, about one month after Crispus Attucks was killed in the Boston Massacre that started the American Revolution.

His master freed him early in life, and Prince Hall went on to become a charismatic Methodist minister. His close ties to the Methodists introduced him to Masonry.

A Portrait of Prince Hall founder of Black Freemasonry
Portrait of Prince Hall, Founder of Black Freemasonry

Back then, Black men who wanted the same advantages granted by a fraternal Masonic organization were denied entry into white Masonic halls, and white Masons did not freely accept their Black counterparts, despite their claims to liberty, fraternity, and love of God.

On September 29, 1784, Prince Hall petitioned for the formation of an independent Black Lodge to the The Grand Lodge of England, the premier Grand Lodge of the World. His charisma and honesty led to the issue of a charter to the African Lodge, making it a regular lodge with all the rights and privileges of any regular lodge in the world.

The Prince Hall African Lodge was so popular that the Grand Lodge of England made him a Provincial Grand Master on January 27, 1791. He was given the job of reporting on the condition of the Lodges in the Boston area – both white and Black. Eight years later, on March 22, 1979 Prince Hall organized a lodge in Philadelphia, called African Lodge #459, which was then given permission to work under Prince Hall’s Charter. Thus, the first Black Freemasonry Temple was born. Prince Hall would serve as its Grandmaster until his death.

Prince Hall And Pan-Africanism

Prince Hall was a Pan-African who supported the “Back to Africa movement, and an abolitionist who fought for equal access to education for Black children and the right to serve in America’s military. In fact, Prince Hall went to Capital Hill to push legislation that would guarantee civil rights 200 years before the actual Civil Rights movement!

As Many As One In Seven Of The Revolutionary War Continental Soldiers Were Men Of Color. – Source

Following the end of the Revolutionary War, Black men who had served thought their service would guarantee them equal rights. They were wrong.

After realizing they were now trapped in the white values system that is America, Prince Hall and 12 other Black lodge members petitioned the government to organize a back-to-Africa movement in January 4, 1787. Even though the petition died in state committees, Prince Hall might be the inspiration that later led to the birth of Liberia.

In a speech to the African Lodge at West Cambridge, Prince Hall discussed the revolt in Haiti led by Toussaint L’Overture and used it as an example of what Blacks should be doing in America:

“…have faith in God and to bear your burdens quietly, but to be ready for the day of deliverance. Now, my brethren, nothing is stable; all things are changeable. Let us seek those things which are sure and steadfast, and let us pray God that, while we remain here, He would give us the grace and patience and strength to bear up under all our troubles, which, at this day, God knows, we have our share of… 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. My brethren, let us remember what a dark day it was with our African brethren, six years ago, in the French West Indies (Haiti). Nothing but the snap of the whip was heard, from morning to evening. Hanging, breaking on the wheel, burning, and all manner of tortures were inflicted upon those unhappy people. But, blessed be God, the scene is changed [and Haiti is free]!” – Prince Hall

Despite encouraging the support of white abolitionists, Prince Hall believed in the strength and power of Black Americans doing for themselves. In 1800, when the state of Massachusetts refused to grant him a building for an all-Black school, Hall opened the school in his own home with his own funds. Two Harvard College students served as teachers until 1806, when increased enrollment forced Hall to move to a larger facility provided by the African Society House on Belknap Street.

A Brief History of Prince Hall Masonry

It seems that while everyone has heard of Masonry and Freemasonry, but the details are long and complex.

Prince Hall Shriners

One of the few resources online concerning the early history of Prince Hall masonry can be found at www.princehall.org. From them, we get the following history:

  • On March 6, 1775, Prince Hall and 14 men of color were made masons in Lodge #441 of the Irish Registry attached to the 38th British Foot Infantry at Castle William Island in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. It marked the first time that Black men were made masons in America.
  • About a year later, since the conflict between England and America had commenced, the British Foot Infantry left Boston, along with its lodge, leaving Prince Hall and his associates without a lodge. Before the lodge left, Worshipful Master Batt, gave them a “permit” to meet as a lodge and bury their dead in manner and form. This permit, however, did not allow them to do any “masonic work” or to take in any new members.
  • On March 2, 1784, African Lodge #1 petitioned the Grand Lodge of England, the Premier or Mother Grand Lodge of the world, for a warrant (or charter), to organize a regular Black Freemasonry lodge, with all the rights and privileges thereunto prescribed.
  • The Grand Lodge of England issued a charter on September 29, 1784 to African Lodge #459, the first lodge of Blacks in America.
  • African Lodge #459 grew and prospered to such a degree that Worshipful Master Prince Hall was appointed a Provincial Grand Master, in 1791, and out of this grew the first Black Provincial Grand Lodge.
  • In 1797 he organized a lodge in Philadelphia and one in Rhode Island. These lodges were designated to work under the charter of African Lodge #459.
  • In December 1808, one year after the death of Prince Hall, African Lodge #459 (Boston), African Lodge #459 (Philadelphia) and Hiram Lodge #3 (Providence) met in a general assembly of the craft and organized African Grand Lodge (sometime referred to as African Grand Lodge #I).
  • In 1847, out of respect for their founding father and first Grand Master, Prince Hall, they changed their name to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, the name it carries today. In 1848 Union Lodge #2, Rising Sons of St. John #3 and Celestial Lodge #4 became the first lodges organized under the name Prince Hall Grand Lodge.

Prince Hall died in 1807[1] and is buried in the Historic Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in Boston along with other notable Bostonians from the colonial era. Also, thousands of African Americans who lived in the “New Guinea” community at the base of Copp’s Hill are buried alongside Snowhill Street in unmarked graves.

A tribute monument was erected in Copp’s Hill on June 24, 1835 in his name next to his grave marker. The inscription reads: “Here lies ye body of Prince Hall, first Grand Master of the colored Grand Lodge in Mass. Died Dec. 7, 1807”

From these beginnings, there now are some 5,000 lodges and 47 grand lodges who trace their lineage to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Jurisdiction of Massachusetts.

The Honorable Yves-R. Maignan  is currently the 71st Most Worshipful Grand Master, and carries on the tradition started by Brother Prince Hall over 200 years ago.

Prince Hall is an important part of our story as Black men and women, and should be given all the scholarly observation that we give to Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and other important Pan-Africans.

If you are, or know someone who is a Prince Hall Mason, get in touch with us. If you can add to the conversation, fill us in in the comments section!

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