PRINCE HALL STORY
Prince Hall, our Founder, was a great American and was the first Grand Master associated with our first Grand Lodge and its expansion. Approximately one year and four months prior to the writing of the Declaration of Independence, Prince Hall engraved his image in the annals of American history. Prince Hall, a free mulatto, became a property owner, voter, and community activist in the Cambridge-Boston Colony. His story has not been told nor recorded in the history and text books despite the fact that he was a civil rights activist who actually lived and made a significant contribution to the growth and development of this nation.
Although little is known about the circumstances of his birth, his condition of servitude, or his occupation, we do know that because of Prince Hall’s dedication to improve the quality of life for his people, accompanied by a desire to become a Freemason, he and 14 other men of color received the three degrees of Freemasonry by being initiated into the fraternity on March 6, 1775 in an Irish Military Lodge attached to the 38th Foot of the British Army. This event made Prince Hall the first of his race in North America to enter the oldest and most prestigious fraternity in history. The historical record reflects that the others were: Cyrus Johnston, Bueston Slinger, Prince Rees, John Canton, Peter Freeman, Benjamin Tiler, Duff Ruform, Thomas Santerson, Prince Rayden, Cato Speain, Boston Smith, Peter Best, Fortune Howard, and Richard Titley.
Around April 14, 1776, the military regiment to which Hall’s lodge was attached received orders to relocate to the New York Colony, leaving Prince Hall and his Negro brethren, all civilians, without a lodge. Prior to his leaving, however, the Worshipful Master, Sgt. John Batt, issued to Prince Hall and his brethren a permit to walk on St. John’s Day and to bury their dead with full Masonic Rites.
As a result, African Lodge #1 Ancient Accepted York Masons was formed with Prince Hall elected the Worshipful Master. As the Batt permit left Prince Hall with Masonic limitations, Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England, Ancient and Accepted York Masons, for a full charter in 1784.
On March 2, 1784, Prince Hall wrote a letter to William Moody, Worshipful Master of Brotherly Love Lodge #55 in London, England, stating that African Lodge had been in operation for eight years and they had only “a Permit to walk on St. John’s Day and to bury their dead in manner and form.” He thought it “best to send to the Fountains from whence he received the Light for a Warrant.” This Warrant or Charter was prepared that same year but was held up when the fees sent by Prince Hall never arrived.
After several years had passed, Hall decided to entrust another fee to Captain James Scott of Boston, brother-in-law of Governor John Hancock of Massachusetts, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Captain Scott delivered the letter and the money, and received the Charter Warrant, which he duly delivered to Prince Hall in Boston, Massachusetts in September of 1787, about the time of the writing of the U.S. Constitution. Prince Hall acknowledged receipt of the Charter in a letter to England and added, “By the grace of God, I shall endeavor to fulfill all that is required of me in the Charter and I shall make the Constitution my guide.”
According to record, the Charter naming and numbering African Lodge No. 459, which was later changed to 371 on the English Grand Lodge Register, has been and is in the exclusive possession of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Massachusetts, and it is secured in the First National Bank of Boston. It is brought out and displayed every ten years during the Prince Hall Masonic pilgrimage. Some of us have seen it and treasure it, for it is believed to be the only original Charter issued from the Grand Lodge of England which in now in the possession of any lodge in the United States.
Prince Hall made a great impact upon society during his life; among his many accomplishments:
He petitioned General George Washington to admit men of color into the Continental Army. Of further note Hall distinguished himself at Bunker Hill. He led the entire Lodge membership in support of Governor Bowdoin during the rebellion of Daniel Shay and his group.
He petitioned the Massachusetts state legislature for the funds to educate children of color.
He opened his home as a school to provide an education to adults of color.
He petitioned the state legislature to grant to all citizens of color the right to own real property and to vote in all elections.
He served as a “Special Deputy” to the Grand Lodge of England at the end of the Revolutionary War and was armed with the charge to travel throughout the colonies to determine the number of Subordinate Caucasian Lodges still operating as such in the new world.
The question of extending Masonry within the Black Community arose when Absalam Jones of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania appeared in Boston in 1791. He was an ordained Episcopal Priest and a Freemason who was interested in establishing a Masonic Lodge in Philadelphia. Black men from Providence, Rhode Island also came to Boston to inquire about Masonry. At a subsequent assembly in 1791, the African Grand Lodge was formed by delegations from Philadelphia, Providence, and New York. Prince Hall served as its first Grand Master and remained in this capacity until his death. African Lodge in Philadelphia and Hiram Lodge in Providence came under the aegis of this Grand Lodge in 1797.
Prince Hall died December 4, 1807. A broken-column monument marks the gravesite of Prince Hall in Copp’s Hill Cemetery in Boston. At the General Assembly of the Craft in 1808, the name “African Grand Lodge” was changed to “Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Massachusetts.” The Deputy Grand Master, Brother Nero Prince, became Prince Hall’s successor as Grand Master from 1807-1808, followed by George Middleton, 1808-1810, then Peter Lew, Samuel H. Moody, and the well-known John T. Hilton, who recommended a declaration of independence from the English Grand Lodge in 1827 and the assumption of powers and prerogatives as an independent Grand Lodge.
During this most significant period of Masonic growth and development, Freemasonry spread from Massachusetts, through New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Deleware, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Ohio, and Virginia. Many lodges and Grand Lodges were founded under the authority of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge. Today there are over one million Prince Hall Masons in approximately 50,000 lodges in 44 jurisdictions throughout the United States, Canada, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean.
It takes three or more lodges to form a Grand Lodge. Hannibal Lodge Number 1 of San Francisco, Philomathean Lodge Number 2 of Sacramento, and Victoria Lodge Number 3 of San Francisco are the three lodges that formed the “Grand Lodge, Free Ancient and Accepted York Masons,” organized in San Francisco, California on Tuesday, June 19, 1855. Hence, the ninth Grand Lodge was formed. Later, it was titled “Sovereign Grand Lodge.” The fraternity now holds the distinguished title of “Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of the States of California and Hawaii, Incorporated.” Since its colonial birth, the organization has attracted to its ranks professional men in business, government, religion, and community service—civic-minded men of goodwill and character who continue to provide needed services for the betterment of mankind, thereby leaving a legacy by which Prince Hall Freemason’s are best known.