Who was Prince Hall?

As the years passed, Prince Hall decided to approach England again, the war being over in 1783, On March 2, 1784, he wrote a letter to William Moody, Worshipful Master of Brotherly Love Lodge No. 55 in London, England, stating that the 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” and he thought it “best to send to the Fountains from whence he received the Light for a Warrant.” This Warrant or Charter was prepared but was not sent. Three years passed then the cost of it had not been received in London. It seems that Prince Hall had sent it but it had not been delivered. Finally, he was careful in selecting his messengers and asked Captain James Scott, brother-in-law of Governor John Hancock of Massachusetts, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Captain Scott delivered the letter, the money and received the Charter Warrant. Prince Hall acknowledged this receipt and added in his letter to England, “By the grace of God, I shall endeavor to fulfill at that is required of me in the Charter and I shall make the Constitution my guide.” He added, “I hope we can adorn our profession as Masons.” This Charter is in the possession of African Lodge of Massachusetts and is kept under lock and key. Some of us have seen it and treasure it for it is the only Charter in existence from England, our source, available today to Masons.  A recognition of this fact was adopted in a report of a unanimous committee in 1946 of the historic Norther Jurisdiction but it was delayed by another committee’s action, but it is worth noting:

“It is believed to be the only original Charter issued from the Grand Lodge of England which is now in the possession of any lodge in the United States.”

Some white Masons say that Blacks were not denied admission to white lodges and they point to the very few and the presence of others by invitation as proofs. We believe the contrary for D. Bentley, a contemporary who wrote in his diary, available to all, “The truth is they are ashamed of being on equality with blacks. Even the fraternities of France, given to merit without distinction of color do not influence Massachusetts Masons to give an embrace less emphatically or tender affection to their Black Brethren … It is evident that a preeminence is claimed by whites.”

The question of extending Masonry arose when Absalom Jones of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, appeared in 1791 in Boston. He was an ordained Episcopal priest and a Mason who was interested in establishing a Masonic Lodge in Philadelphia. In 1792 Black men come from Providence, Rhode Island to Boston to inquire about Masonry. They attended to hear the charge by Prince Hall who spoke of the presence of these men, “my dear brethren of Providence, who are at a distance from and cannot attend the lodge but seldom.”

Masons in both places, made in England or the West Indies or elsewhere came to Boston to see Prince Hall and mentioned their cities as places for lodges. At a subsequent assembly the African Grand Lodge was formed in 1791 by delegations from Philadelphia, Providence and New York in an assembly, which was a Grand Lodge. Prince Hall regarded, as Grand Masters was the source and remained in this capacity until his death. African Lodge, in Philadelphia, and Hiram Lodge, in Providence, came under his aegis in 1797. With growth and expansion the movement went West and South.

Prince Hall died December 4, 1807. His successor was Nero Prince who sailed to Russia in the year 1808, George Middleton succeeded him, 1809-1810, Peter Lew, Samuel H. Moody and then the well known John T. Hilton who recommended a Declaration of Independence from the English Grand Lodge in 1827, which the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had done in 1772 and assumed powers and prerogatives as an Independent Grand Lodge.

 Freedoms Journal, November 7, 1828, first black newspaper, praised Prince Hall as “the founder of African Lodge of Boston, and for his “work for the Grand Masonic Lodge.” The heritage which Prince Hall left us has authentic and factual goodness to us as Masons, and we go forward distributed in 44 Grand Lodges, Eastern Star, two Supreme Councils, Golden Circles, Shriners, Daughters of Isis, Brother and Sisters in the United States, the West Indies, Canada, Liberia and West African, all doing a great work and spreading a good cause in Masonry. To all these and those who read this we say as Prince Hall said in 1797:

“Blessed be God, the Scene is Changed! They no confess that God has no respect of persons, and therefore receive them as friends and treat them as brothers. Thus doth Ethiopia stretch forth her hand from slavery to freedom and equality.”

Charles H. Wesley

“The above historic record was prepared and published on March 20, 1981 in the First Edition of the Prince Hall Masonic Directory upon a special request from the Conference of Grand Masters, Prince Hall Masons. Dr. Chares H. Wesley was an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was an outstanding Historian, Educator and Author. Dr. Wesley was a Prince Hall Mason, a member of Hiram Lodge No.4, Jurisdiction of the District of Columbia.

December 2, 1891 – August 16,1987