Prince Hall, our founder, was one of our greatest Americans; a Worthy brother and accredited with our first black Masonic Grand Lodge and its expansion. His name is carried and borne by Masonic Organizations throughout the United States and thousands of Masons who regard themselves as descendants from the Grand Lodge of England from which he received his authority more than two centuries ago. America, celebrated in 1976 the two hundredth anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. This year Prince Hall Masons will celebrate its 230th anniversary of the founding of Prince Hall Masonry in the United States. This article is a monument to Prince Hall’s life, career and leadership. It shall further serve as information about Prince Hall Masonry.
A significant event happened in Masonry on March 6, 1775. John Batt, working under the authority and the Constitution of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, initiated Prince Hall and fourteen (14) other free black men into Masonry in Army Lodge No. 441. The other candidates 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. When the British Regiments left Boston on March 17, 1776, a dispensation was issued by Batt authorizing Prince Hall and his brethren to meet as a lodge under restrictions. Under this permit, African Lodge No. 1 was formed July 3, 1776. Official acknowledgment of the legitimacy of African Lodge No. 1 was almost immediately made by John Rowe of Boston, a Caucasian and provincial Grand Master of North America holding authority from the premier Grand Lodge of Freemasons, the Grand Lodge of England. 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 Feasts of Saints John and to bury its dead.
For nine years these brethren, with other free black men who had received their degrees in Europe, assembled together and enjoyed their limited privileges as Masons, distressed that Prince Hall attempts to formally associate African Lodge with Caucasian Grand Lodges were frustrated by bigotry and racism. It was an ironic period in American history when colonists embraced the doctrine of independence, liberty, and equality to justify the revolt against English rule while promoting and condoning the economic and social exploitation of blacks debased by slavery.
Finally, in March, 1784, Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England 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 29, 1784, although it would be three years before African Lodge could actually receive it. Moddy sent a letter to Hall on March 10, 1787, stating the Charter was delivered to James Scott, Captain of the ship, Neptune, and brother-in-law of John Hancock. Hancock was a signer and President of the Continental Congress. The Charter, signed by Deputy Grand Master Roland Holt and witnessed by Grand Secretary William White, reconstituted African Lodge No. 1 as African Lodge No. 459 and thus began the parallel lines of black and Caucasian Freemasonry which continues to exist in America.
Before 1815, exclusive territorial jurisdiction 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! 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. This was one year before the organization of the United Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (Caucasian). In 1827, 45 years after the (Caucasian) Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had done so, African Lodge of Boston declared itself independent of the Grand Lodge of England.
Prince Hall died December 4, 1807. His successors were Nero Prince who sailed to Russia in the year 1808, George Middleton, Peter Lew, Samuel H. Moody and the well-known John T. Hilton. The original charter of African Lodge of Boston is in the possession of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and is the only know original 18th Century Charter in existence issued to any American Lodge by the Grand Lodge of England. It proudly represents the indisputable legitimacy and regularity of 45 Prince Hall Grand Lodges and their subordinate lodges and affiliated bodies.
In 1869 a fire destroyed Massachusetts Grand Lodge headquarters and a number of its priceless records. The Charter, in its metal tube, was in a Grand Lodge chest. The tube saved the Charter from the flames but the intense heat charred it. The Charter was saved when Grand Master S.T. Kendall crawled into the burning building and 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 history. The descendent Grand Lodges of African Grand Lodge changed their names to “Prince Hall Grand Lodge” with two exceptions. Today, throughout the world, there are 44 “Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodges”, some 5000 subordinate Lodges and more than 300,000 Prince Hall Masons.
The Church and Prince Hall Masonry for many years were the two strongest organizations in the black communities for many years. In fact, they were the only organizations that black men and women could participate in or join. Masonic Lodge Halls were used as locations for church services and teaching blacks how to read and write. Prince Hall Masons utilized their resources to provide young black men and women scholarships to college, to provide various forms of charity in their local communities, and to assist in many other programs in the black communities. Ninety percent of the founders of black Greek Fraternities and Sororities were either Prince Hall Masons, Heroines of Jericho or Order of Eastern Stars.