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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
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.2
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
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.
1. Prince Hall Masonic Directory, 4th Edition 1992. Conference of Grand
Masters, Prince Hall Masons.
2. Black Square and Compass - 200 years of Prince Hall Freemasonry.
Page 8. Joseph A. Walkes, Jr. 1979. Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co. Richmond,
To all and every:
Our Right Worshipful and loving brethren: We, Thomas Howard, Earl of Effingham,
Lord Howard, etc., acting Grand Master, under the authority of his Royal Highness,
Henry Frederick Duke of Cumberland, etc., Grand master of the Most Ancient and Honorable
Society of Free and Accepted Masons, send greetings.
Know ye that we, at the humble petition of our Right Trusty and well-beloved Prince
Hall, Boston Smith, Thomas Sanderson, and several other brethren residing in Boston,
New England, in North America, do hereby constitute the said brethren into a regular
Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, under the title or denomination of the African
Lodge, to be opened in Boston, aforesaid, and do further at their said Petition
and of the great trust and confidence reposed in each of the said above named brethren,
hereby appoint the said Prince Hall to be Master; Boston Smith, Senior Warden; Thomas
Sanderson, Junior Warden, for opening the said Lodge, and for such further time
only as shall be thought by the brethren thereof, it being our will that this, our
appointment of the above officers, shall in no wise affect any future election of
officers of said lodge, but that such election shall be regulated , agreeable to
each bylaws of the said Lodge as shall be consistent with the Grand Laws of the
society, contained in the Book of Constitutions; and we hereby will, and require
you, the said Prince Hall, to take special care that all and every, the said brethren,
are to have been regularly made masons, and that they do observe, perform, and keep
all the rules and orders contained in Book of Constitutions and further that you
do from time to time cause to be entered in a book kept for that purpose, an account
of your proceedings in the Lodge, together with all such rules, orders, and regulations
as shall be made for the good government of same; and in no wise you omit once in
every year to send to us, or our successors, Grand Masters, or Rowland Holt, Esquire,
our Deputy Grand Master for the time being, an account of your said proceedings
and copies of all such rules, orders, and regulations as aforesaid, together with
the list of the members of the Lodge, and such sum of money as may suit the circumstance
of the Lodge, and reasonably be expected toward the Grand Charity. Moreover, we
will, and require of you, the Prince hall, as soon as conveniently may be to send
an account in writing of what may be done by virtue of these presents.
Given at London’, under our hand and seal of Masonry, this 29th day of September,
A.L. 5784, A.D. 1784 by the Grand Master’s Command.
The Prince Hall Legacy in the state of Delaware had its beginnings at the beginning-with
the man himself. On March 6, 1775, Prince Hall, along with fourteen other men of
color, were initiated into Masonry through Lodge #441, a military lodge warranted
by the Irish Constitution. Upon their departure from Boston, Lodge #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 bury their dead as a lodge, but they could
not confer degrees nor perform any other Masonic ‘work’. For nine years these brethren
assembled, often with other men of color who had received their degrees elsewhere.
Finally, after having their fill of enjoying their limited privileges as Masons,
Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England for a warrant or charter on March
2, 1784. The warrant was granted on September 29, 1784 and was delivered in Boston
on April 29, 1787. It was under this warrant’s authority that African Lodge #459
was organized on May 6, 1787, and became the first African American Lodge in the
Expansion into Pennsylvania came as a result of a request by man who made African
American History himself in the area of religion (and has roots traced through Delaware)-Absalom
Jones. Under the authority of the charter of African Lodge #459-Boston, Prince Hall
established African Lodge #459-Philadelphia, Union Lodge, Laurel Lodge #5 and Phoenix
Lodge #6 between 1797 and 1814. Acting in accordance with the custom of the period,
these four lodges met on St. John’s Day, December 27, 1815 and organized themselves
as the “First African Independent Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, for and
in the Jurisdiction of North America.” Reverend Absalom Jones was elected the Most
Worshipful Grand Master. In the year 1826, two men had an honest desire to improve
themselves and be of service to GOD and mankind. These men were Samuel Leary and
Jacob Jenkins-both residents of Wilmington, Delaware. They applied to Union Lodge
#4 of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Having met the necessary requirements, they were
made Masons and admitted as members thereof. Shortly afterwards, the following men
petitioned Union Lodge #4 and were received and made Masons as well: John Cooper,
Moses G. Nelson, William A. Stevens, Henry Weeks, Levi Medford and David Jackson.
It was during the year 1845 that several of these above-mentioned brethren made
application to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania for a charter to open and hold a
Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in Wilmington, Delaware. They received the support
and recommendation of Union Lodge #4 and a dispensation was granted. The organization
of Star in the East Lodge #12 (now #1) on September 20, 1845 brought forth the first
African American Masonic lodge in the State of Delaware. After the dispensated time
had lapsed, this lodge received its warrant; its officers duly installed and were
dedicated in due and ancient form.
Three years later, after Star in the East Lodge #12 had grown to a large number,
several of the brethren resigned their membership and applied to form a new lodge.
Having received the recommendation by Star in the East Lodge #12, their request
was granted and Rising Sun Lodge #28 (now #2) was formed in November of 1848 in
the city of Wilmington, Delaware.
Later that same year, more brethren applied for a dispensation and eventual charter-which
Pennsylvania’s Grand Lodge granted-and Meridian Sun Lodge #29 (now#3) was organized
in Delaware City, Delaware. These three lodges worked Masonicaly and peace and harmony
prevailed. Word of their congruous behavior reached the Grand Lodge and communication
was sent soliciting representatives from this trio to attend the next Annual session
and receive authority to take charge of the state of Delaware.
This report was acted upon in accordance to their wishes and on June 9, 1849 the
three lodges assembled with their officers and members in their hall on West 5th
Street in Wilmington, Delaware at 1 o’clock PM. Having paid all of the necessary
assessments, the Most Worshipful Hiram Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, of
and for the State of Delaware was duly organized. The ceremony was presided by Jacob
Jenkins-the very same man who traveled from Delaware to be initiated into the Mystic
Art of Freemasonry 23 years earlier-who was the Most Worshipful Grand master of
Masons for the state of Pennsylvania.
The elected and appointed Grand Lodge officers were as follows:
Around 1880, a piece of property was acquired on Twelfth Street between Orange and
Market Streets and converted into a Masonic Hall. In keeping with our belief of
improving and assisting our neighbors, Shiloh Baptist Church met in this building
while its present day edifice was being constructed. Also, Howard School used the
first floor to house classes until additions to its own building were complete.
There are many older residents in the city of Wilmington who have recollections
of many a pleasant hours spent in social activities in this Masonic Hall.
As Wilmington grew and businesses developed, the growth of the Craft made it apparent
that a new home would soon be a necessity. Looking forward to that day, in 1914,
Most Worshipful Grand Master John L. Hubert organized and incorporated the Hiram
Grand Lodge Masonic Temple Inc., to have funds available when the new quarters would
be found. He also organized the Hiram Grand Lodge Endowment Association (now Known
as the Mutual Benefit Fund) to aid Masons families to meet burial expenses.
It was under the leadership of Most Worshipful Grand Master Conwell Banton that
negotiations were complete for the sale of the Twelfth Street property (to the Clover
Dairy Company) and the purchase of 514 French Street (the old Delaware Fire Company).
Bro. G. Oscar Carrington, #1, (who later served as Most Worshipful Grand Master
from 1940-47 and 1949-51) was responsible for developing renovation plans, which
were approved. On November 1, 1925, the cornerstone was laid by MW Banton, assisted
by the officers and members of the Grand Lodge and visitors from neighboring jurisdictions.
This home was dedicated according to Masonic customs on May 16th and 17th, 1926.
In 1944, at the 95th Annual Communication, during the administration of Most Worshipful
Grand Master G. Oscar Carrington, #1, the name of this Grand Lodge was changed to
the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Delaware.
It was Most Worshipful Grand Master C.P. Houston, #6, who provided the Jurisdiction
with an international character by organizing lodges overseas.
C. Portfield Harris, affectionately known as “CP”, was born in our neighboring state of Maryland, in a town called Harve de Grace. He moved to Delaware and was educated in the Wilmington Public School System.
Upon graduation, he went on to attend Hampton Institute (now University). There, he distinguished himself in athletics and oratorical contests. He played quarterback, and in 1931 led his team to the CIAA Championship. Past Grand Master Harris also traveled with the famous Hampton Quartet, introducing them before their performances.
His usual vocation was that of an educator. He taught science at Bancroft Junior and Howard High school for a total of 32 years. Teaching was so much a part of his life that even after retirement, he continued to teach. He worked in both the parochial school system and the adult education system through James H. Groves High School.
Because of his commitment, Past Grand Master Harris was appointed by then Governor Russell W. Peterson, in 1970, to serve on the Council on Adult Corrections. He also became a member of the Wilmington Advisory Council on the Aging.
His Masonic career began in Star in the East Lodge #1, where he became Worshipful Master. He also was a member of Corinthian Consistory #5, where he served as their secretary. In 1961, he was awarded the honorary 33rd degree of Masonry. Other Masonic affiliations include Suakim Temple #60 (where he was a past Potentate), and Past Grand Patron of St. Matthew’s Grand Chapter, OES. He served as Most Worshipful GrandMaster of Mason for the Most Worshipful prince Hall Grand Lodge of the State of Delaware from 1958-62.
Most Worshipful Harris was a member of Central Baptist Church, where he served in several capacities: deacon, church treasurer, trustee, choir member, and Vacation Bible school teacher.
Marvin I. Gray was born in Rutherfordton, North Carolina on September 17, 1934. His father, Reverend Felix L. Gray was a Minister of a Holiness Church and his mother, Rose Gray was a church Missionary. He was educated in both Rutherfordton and Spindale, North Carolina. Upon graduation, Most Worshipful Gray went on to attend North Carolina A&T, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Having great athleticism, he was a member of the football team.
Most Worshipful Gray interrupted his studies to join the United States Air Force, so that he could help to support his siblings. The military provided him an opportunity to explore new cultures and people. Most Worshipful Gray had the rare opportunity to serve not only in Europe, but also in Asia. It was while he was in the Sovereign Kingdom of Thailand that he met his wife, Thavorn L. Wong-Ek. Together, they have three lovely children: Laddawan E. Strong, Supoch N. Gray and Michael L. Gray. He went on to retire from the Air Force with 23 years of service, and settled down in Felton, Delaware. His hobbies include an occasional game of golf, and at his wife’s request, fishing.
Holding on to the way his parents raised him, Most Worshipful Gray is a student of the Bible and continues to serve the Lord. He currently is an active member of St. James Union Church, AME, of Frederica, Delaware. He is treasurer of the Trustees Steward Board, Sunday school Teacher, member of the Senior and Men’s Choirs, and Chairman of the Annual Honorary Banquet. He try’s to live by the creed: “If I can help one soul, then my living will not have been in vain.”
Most Worshipful Gray was made a member of the Prince Hall Masonic family by Edwards Air Force Base Military Lodge #103, while stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He has held the following offices in the subordinate lodges that he’s been affiliated with: Junior and Senior Warden and Worshipful Master. On a Grand scale, he has served as District Deputy GrandMaster, Worshipful Grand Lecturer, RW Grand Junior and Senior Warden, and RW Deputy GrandMaster. It was on June 26, 1993 that Past Master Marvin I. Gray was elected as Most Worshipful Grand Master of Masons, for the State and Jurisdiction of Delaware. He has continued to be re-elected to this office every year since.
Most Worshipful Gray knows that the ultimate measure of his tenure will not be how he has stood during times of comfort and convenience, but rather how he faces up to trials and barriers that lie in his path to leading this Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge the next millennium. He has thus demonstrated that he is a patient man. He neither is conservative or radical, choosing to be prudent in all of his decision making. He has shown that he is a man of vision and demonstrated his firm conviction of the need for organization.
Most Worshipful GrandMaster Marvin I. Gray knows that today, more than ever, there is a need for a unity of people. Life is too short, and time is fleeting. He therefore has applied the same measure to his life as Frederick Douglass, who said, “Judge me not by the heights that I have attained, but the depths from which I came.” In doing this, he can be assured that his work will live after him.
Solomon L. Henry was born September 9, 1933, and was raised in Georgetown, DE, the son of the late John J. and Mary A. Henry, along with six brothers and one sister.
He was educated at Richard Allen School in Georgetown. Richard Allen School consisted of grades one through eleven. His educational journey began in 1939 during the period of segregation, when black students had to travel to Delaware State College, currently Delaware State University, Dover, DE or Howard High School in Wilmington, DE to complete the twelfth grade. Solomon chose to attend and graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School for Boys in Philadelphia, PA.
After graduation he returned to Georgetown and was employed J. G. Townsend, Jr. & Co., processor of frozen vegetables. In 1997, he was appointed Plant Manager of J.G. Townsend & Co. In 2000 he was honored for 50 years with the company. He gives credit to all the people who worked with him to make it possible. Today he thanks God for giving him the perseverance to work hard, to be dependable, and to be dedicated to the organization that he represented as an employee.
In 2002, he had the pleasure of a visit from U.S. Senator Tom Carper, who dropped in to see the Townsend Operations. The Senator said he wanted to shake the hand of the man that had given his services to a company for over 50 years. He said that J.G. Townsend was a very lucky to have someone so dedicated and it was a pleasure to meet him. Two weeks later, Mr. Henry received a letter of thanks and an expression of gratitude from the Senator.
Bro. Henry became a Mason in 1958 when he was accepted as a member of Prince Hall Lodge #14 in Frankford, DE. He was Worshipful Master of that Lodge from 1965 to 1971. Appointed District Grand Lecturer, in 1967, he continued to advance and in 2000 was elected the Most Worshipful Grand master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State and Jurisdiction of Delaware. He served a one-year term as Chairman of the North East Regional Conference of Grand Masters. The Region includes DE, PA, NJ, NY, RI, CT, MA and Canada. His other Masonic affiliations include: Honorary Past Master of Morning Star Lodge #10, Past Patron of Lily of the Valley #14, OES – PHA; member of G. Oscar Carrington Consistory #93, Honorary Illustrious Potentate of Suakim Temple #60; Grand Inspector General of the Thirty Third and last degree of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Freemasonry, PHA, Northern Jurisdiction, USA, Inc.; Honorary Past Grand High Priest of the Most Excellent Grand Chapter of Holy Royal Arch Masons, PHA; Honorary Grand Joshua of Queen of Sheba Most Ancient Grand Court, Heroines of Jericho, PHA; and member of African Lodge #459, F&AM, Boston, MA (oldest Black Lodge in the world).
Bro. Henry is a member of Prospect A.M.E. Church, Georgetown, DE; a member of the NAACP and belongs to the Delaware Safety Association. He is married to Delores Beasley Henry; with two daughters from his first marriage, four stepchildren and nine grandchildren. The family enjoys playing games, talking and hanging out together.
Bro. Henry’s Mother and Father taught him to be respectful and nice to people and people in turn will be respectful and nice. His favorite quote is: “It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice.”
The New York African Burial Ground is one of the nations earliest known African-American cemeteries. It has been called the most important archaeological finds of our time. Though recorded on old maps that has been long hidden, it became effectively forgotten and much violated. Becoming more than that it remains an enduring testament to our history and an important part in the history of our nation, which cannot be allowed once again to slip into oblivion.
During construction of a new sidewalk on Chambers Street on the southern edge of the historic African Burial Ground some full or nearly completed human skeletons were found in 1999, that thousands have walked over daily. The human skeletons were sent to Howard University in Washington, D.C. for study and after some years of inspection they were proven to be the remains of the first African Slaves that arrived in New York around the year 1625, to help build the new colony.
The African burial ground re-interment is a project of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Director, Howard Dodson initiated a program to commemorate the contributions of African Americans in ceremonies as they passed through five cities that both documents and celebrates the ancestral remains as they are returned to a permanent resting place in the African Burial Ground Memorial Site of New York City.
The five cities include Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Maryland, Wilmington, Delaware, Newark, New Jersey and New York City, New York. On October 1, 2003 the skeleton remains arrived in the City of Wilmington, Delaware. The Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and the Schomburg Center celebrated the first commemorative ceremony at the Fort Christina State Park, followed with an ecumenical service at Mother African Union Church.
Director, Howard Dodson, a member of Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, New York State, requested to have Prince Hall Masons of Delaware to act as pallbearers in a procession meant to symbolize the tens of thousands of slaves in America, whose bones lie unmarked and without any honor bestowed upon them, beneath sites nationwide.
Representing on behalf of Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, State of Delaware, Brothers of the First Masonic District ushered the hand carved coffins in both ceremonies. Many Dignitaries witnessed the Masonic ritual being performed to the rhythm of African drums with such perfection, impressing all in attendance. Afterwards, Brother Howard Dodson decided to have only the Brothers of the First Masonic District act as pallbearers at the African Burial Ground Memorial Site in New York City to put the final remains to rest. The entire ceremony was covered by the television news media and is available on DVD.
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