History of Prince Hall

Prince Hall is recognized as the Father of Black Masonry in the United States. He made it possible for us to also be recognized and enjoy all priviliges of Free and Accepted Masonry.

Many rumors of the birth of Prince Hall have arisen. Few records and papers have been found of him either in Barbados where it was rumored that he was born, but no record of birth, by church or state, has been found there, and none in Boston. All 11 countries of the day were searched and churches with baptismal records were examined without a find of the name of Prince Hall.

One widely circulated rumor states that "Prince Hall was free born in British West Indies. His father, Thomas Prince Hall, was an Englisman and his mother a free colored woman of French extraction. In 1765 he worked his passage on a ship to Boston, where he worked as a leather worker, a trade learned from his father. 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." This account, paraphased from the generally discredited Grimshaw book of 1903, is suspect in many areas.

Black Freemasonry began when Prince Hall and fourteen other free black men were initiated into Lodge No. 441, Irish Constitution, attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot, British Army Garrisoned at Castle William (now Fort Independence) Boston Harbor on March  6, 1775. The Master of the Lodge was Sergeant John Batt. Along with Prince Hall, the other 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.

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.  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.

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. It was granted on September 29, 1784, delivered in Boston on April 29, 1787 by Captain James Scott, brother-in-law of John Hancock and master of the Neptune, under its authority African Lodge No. 459 was organized one week later, May 6, 1787.

Prince Hall was appointed a Provincial Grand Master in 1791 by H.R.H., 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 Philidelphia and Hiram Lodge #3 of Providence met in New York City. 

Upon Prince Hall's death on December 4, 1807, Nero Prince became Master. When Nero Prince sailed to Russia in 1808, George Middleton succeeded him. After Middleton, Petrert Lew, Samuel H. Moody and then, John T. Hilton became Grand Master. In 1827, Hilton recommended a Declaration of Independence from the English Grand Lodge.

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.

Today, the Prince Hall fraternity has over 4,500 lodges worldwide, forming 45 independent jurisdictions with a membership of over 300,000 masons.



Prince Hall's Life

African Lodge No. 459, was the first Lodge of African American Free Masons established in North America. Its first Master was Prince Hall. Prince Hall's life has never been written except in the most condensed form, and many of those who have undertaken to set forth his history have omitted or glossed over the most important things connected with his life. If he had been connected with any other race,history would have told the story fearlessly and met all honest criticisms with the truth.

Prince Hall's life was a continued service and a remarkable event. His parentage, his birthplace, his country, his relations to his times and his achievements were marvelous. He was successful in business affairs, in the church and in the state. Prince Hall, a Mason, Statesman, and a Preacher in the Eighteenth Century.

I will begin with his life at his humble home and trace it through the varying scenes where it was touched with the modifying circumstances of his surroundings, and the position he held when he died.

Not that we believe him to be a saint or angel, for he had his human faults as any other person. Thousands of our brethren have heard of Prince Hall, but few know but little about the facts of his inner life.

Prince Hall was born on or about September 12, 1748, at Bridgetown, Barbados, British West Indies. His father, Thomas Prince Hall was an Englishman, and his Mother a free woman of French decent. His father was engaged in a leather business. His parents were of humble circumstances and known among their neighbors as pious persons of excellent character.

When Prince Hall was twelve years of age, he was placed as an apprentice to a leather worker, He made rapid progress at his trade. His greatest desire, however, was to visit America. When he confided this wish to his parents, they gave him no encouragement, but, he was determined to seize the first opportunity offered to accomplish his desire.

With eager eyes he watched each sail that entered the harbor in hope that he might hear the words "Bound for America." This anxiety continued for a long time before his heart's desire was realized. At last his opportunity came. One morning in February 1765, young Prince Hall heard the glad tidings that here was a vessel in port bound for America. He at once, saw the Captain and offered to work his way for the passage. The Captain hesitated, but then seeing that he had meant what he had said, finally agreed to take him. The vessel arrived at Boston Massachusetts in March 1765. When Prince Hall stepped off onto the shores of New England, he was seventeen years of age, small in stature, but his slight frame was surmounted with a shapely head, adorned with refine features, bright and piercing eyes, aquiline nose, mouth and chin firm and spiritual. He was in a
strange land without friends or education, but being determined to fight his own way, by industry economy, he worked steadily during the day and took private lessons at night.

At the age of twenty-five he had saved a small amount of money which he invested in real estate and became a taxpayer and a voter. When he was twenty-seven years of age he had a fair understanding of English and arithmetic. He finally joined the Methodist Church, studied his Bible and was widely know as a genuine Christian, joined the ministry and became an eloquent Preacher. Rev. Prince Hall's first church was located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He soon built up a prosperous congregation where he often preached and lectured his Lodge of Free Masons. He was a fearless and progressive preacher. One of his favorite hymns was "O God Our Help and Ages Past."

In the year of 1775, under the yoke of British oppression when men, women and even children were preparing for open resistance to the British forces Prince Hall then twenty-seven years of age, after being denied admission by St. Andrews Lodge of Massachusetts, found his way to the quarters of General Gage on Copps hill, Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. The purpose of his visit was the insatiable desire to become a Mason. He feared nothing, not even the enemy's camp, but with a firm trust in God, he knocked and the door of Masonry was opened unto him. Thus his eyes beheld for the first time, the form and beauty of a Military Lodge.

In that traveling British Lodge no. 441, before the first blood had flowed on the green grass of Lexington, he received the light of Masonry and was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. Thus, becoming the first man of African decent to be initiated into the Order of American Colonies.

On March 6th of the same year, C. Cyrus Johnbus, Benton Slinger, Thomas Sanderson, Prince Taylor, Cato Spear, Boston Smith, Peter Benjamin Tiber, Buff Bufrom, Richard Lilly, were initiated, passed and raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason in the same Lodge as Prince Hall, which made the number of fifteen (15) Master Masons. These fifteen brethren were authorized by the lodge that made them, to work under a dispensation until they had received their charter.

On July 3, 1775, Washington reveiled for the first time the national flag over the camp of Cambridge, and Prince Hall on the same day organized and dedicated to God and to the memory of the two Holy St. John's, African Lodge no. 459, the first lodge of African American Masons in North America.

In February 1776, after a confrontation with General George Washington, he and several men of color of Boston and their environments, were permitted to join the Revolutionary Army. While in the Army he wrote concerning slaves whose freedom he sought.

When he returned home from the war in 1782, he took his wife, Miss Phebie Baker, who was known as a bright and intelligent young lady. He also decided to petition the Grand Lodge of England for a warrant for his Lodge thus having been refused him by the white brethren in Massachusetts.

On March 2nd, 1784, he addressed the Grand Lodge of England. He addressed the Grand Lodge humbly praying for a warrant of Constitution for his Lodge. The warrant was granted by the Grand Lodge of England on September 29, 1784.

In the year 1787, Captain Scott, a seafaring man who married the sister of the celebrated John Hancock, first singer of the Declaration of American Independence, and who was personally acquainted with Prince Hall, and being in London, was requested by Prince Hall to bring the warrant for African Lodge back with him. Captain Scott at once found his way to the office of Sir William White, Grand Secretary of Modern Masons located on Green Street and called for the Warrant. He received the warrant, paying the fee of five pounds, fifteen shillings, and six pence, equal to $27.72. Captain Scott delivered the warrant to Prince Hall personally on April 29, 1787.

African Lodge No. 459, was formally constituted on May 6, 1787, at the Golden fleece on Water Street in Boston
Massachusetts. African Lodge of North America was formed June 24, 1791, at Boston. Its first officers were: Prince Hall, Grand Master; Nero Prince, Deputy Grand Master; Cyrus Forbes, Senior Grand Warden; George Middleton, Junior Grand Warden; Prince Taylor, Grand Secretary; Peter Best, Grand Treasurer.

The Second Grand Lodge of African American Masons was located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The date of their charter was June 24, 1797. It's First Grand Master was Absolom Jones.

The fall of 1807 found Prince Hall enjoying a degree of health and vigor of mind and body, and working at his trade. At other times he could be seen plowing through the snow and rain storms carrying relief to some poor widow or orphan, or whispering some words of comfort in the ears of some sick brother. While on one of these errands of mercy, he caught cold which rapidly developed into pneumonia from which he never recovered, and on the morning of December 7, 1807, after an illness of four weeks, he died.

As a Memorial to Prince Hall, by an act of the General Assembly of the Craft in 1808, African Grand Lodge of North America was changed and would be called the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

Prince Hall is buried in Copps Hill Cemetery in Boston. His grave was situated near a cluster of trees and rose bushes. And, today Pilgrims of our great order can be seen winding their way to that sacred spot to lay their offerings of the final resting place of the first Grand Master of African American Masons in America. This great Mason, Statesman, and Soldier, though in Heaven, still lives here on Earth as a spotless example to the young men today.

May we of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodges and the Jurisdictions there-unto, belonging profit by his life's work, and our lives be so consecrated to the good deed and grand thoughts that we will reach the very pinnacle of our earthly achievements.