Prince Hall...Founder of African American Freemasonry

Prince Hall

His name is carried by our masonic organizations in the United States, and by thousands of freemasons who regard themselves as descendants from the Grand Lodge of England, from which he received his authority more than two centuries ago. We in America celebrated in 1976 the two hundredth anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. This is also the two hundred and first (201st) anniversary of the founding of Prince Hall Freemasonry. It is a monument to Prince Hall’s life, career and leadership.

He and 14 other free black men were initiated into Freemasonry March 6, 1775, on Castle William Island in Lodge #441 of the Irish Registry, attached to the 38th British Foot Infantry. This marked the first time Black men were made Masons in the United States.

Then on March 17, 1776, the British Foot Infantry evacuated Boston and took its army lodge with it. Worshipful Master Batt gave Prince Hall, and the fourteen other brethren, a permit to meet as a lodge and to bury its dead in manner and form. On July 3, 1776 African Lodge #1 was organized with Prince Hall as its Worshipful Master. Later Provincial Grand Master John Rowe gave them the right to walk on St. Johns Day.

To give some insight to Prince Hall’s thought process, on January 13, 1777 he petitioned the legislature to free all slaves in Massachusetts. Then on July 3, 1777 he petitioned George Washington to permit Blacks to join the army.

Prince Hall and these 14 men enlisted and served as a soldier in the 2nd and 6th Regiments of Massachusetts and was noted to be a good soldier.

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 # 55) for a warrant or charter.

On September 29, 1784, the Grand Lodge of England, issued 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 Lodge was designated #459 and became the first regular lodge of Blacks in America.

Prince Hall’s focus and drive caused him to petition the City of Boston, on October 17, 1787, for the education rights of Black children and then on February 27, 1888 he petitioned the legislature for the return of kidnapped Black seamen.

African Lodge #459 grew and prospered to such a degree the WM Prince Hall was appointed a Provincial Grand Master in 1791 and out of this grew the first Black Grand Lodge where he served until his death in 1807 at age 72.

Besides running his lodge, Prince Hall was also the first Black leader in New England and set the stage for generations to come.

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 #1).

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.

As the founder of Black Freemasonry, an abolitionist, civic leader, religious leader, soldier, family man, Master Mason, and also founder of what would become the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Prince Hall’s legacy results in over 44 Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodges, over 4500 lodges worldwide, with a total membership of over 300,000 masons.

The original Charter #459 has long since been made secure between heavy plate glass and is kept in a fire-proof vault in a downtown Boston bank.

This is just very short piece of the history of the first Grand Master of our fraternity. I challenge every Brother here to enlighten yourselves with the life of Prince Hall, the origin of Black Freemasonry, his work, and how it has impacted us as a people and our culture. Keep the Prince Hall legend alive!