Originally this post was to be about the Occult History and Teaching of the Prince Hall Masons. I might do one later, but while I was doing the research on Prince Hall masonry I came across a story that I thought was more important; the story of the man behind the lodge – Prince Hall.
I was blown away by this brother! He was the man directly responsible for the birth of Liberia, the first Civil Rights leader in the United States, a charismatic spiritual teacher and master craftsman, a Revolutionary War veteran, and a legal scholar. Prince Hall is the type of #RealBlackHistory that should be at the forefront of Black consciousness.
Who Is Prince Hall?
Prince Hall was like the Marcus Garvey or the Malcolm X of his time. Born in 1735, (about a month after Crispus Attucks was killed in the Boston Massacre) Prince Hall was born a slave in Massachussets. His master freed him early in life, and Prince Hall went on to become a charismatic Methodist minister early in life. His close ties to the Methodists introduced him to Masonry. Now, 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 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, they were given permission to work under Prince Hall’s Charter. Thus, the first Black Masonic Temple was born. Prince Hall would serve as its Grandmaster until his death.
Beyond his achievement in establishing Black Freemasonry, Prince Hall was a Pan-Aficanist who supported a “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, and an active fighter against slave trader raiding parties. This Black man actually went to Capital Hill to push legislation that would guarantee civil rights damn near 200 years before the actual Civil Rights movement!
Little known Black History Fact: As many as one in seven of the Revolutionary War Continental soldiers were men of color!
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 went in on 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]!”
Hall loved his people – but didnt necessarily hate “whitey”. He encouraged the support of like-minded white abolitionists, and knew it would take the help of those in power to assist us in our fight. At the same time, he believed in the strength and power of Black American s doing for themselves. In 1800, when the state of Massachusetts refused to grant him a building for an all-Black school, Hal opened the school in his own home. 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.
It seems like even today, the fight that men like Prince Hall led are still being fought today.
What is a Mason?
It seems that while everyone has heard of Masonry and Freemasonry, the details are long and complex. Fox News actually did an expose on the group some years ago, so for those of you who would rather watch than read, check it out.
A Quick History of Prince Hall Masonry
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 – part of OUR story!
- 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.
- Under it, African Lodge was organized on July 3, 1776, with Prince Hall as the worshipful master. It wasn’t long before this lodge received an additional “permit” from Provincial Grand Master John Rowe to walk in procession on St. John’s Day.
- 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 masonic 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.
- 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.
- Honorable Brother Leslie A. Lewis., is currently the 66th Most Worshipful Grand Master, and carries on the tradition started by Bro. Prince Hall over 200 years ago.
Regardless of how you feel about masonry, Prince Hall Masons, or Black Christians and Christianity, we should all regard Prince Hall as one of the founding fathers of Pan-Africanist thought and leadership. He 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 Martin Luther King, JR. Celebrate #RealBlackHistory!
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!