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The History of Prince Hall Free and Accepted Masons
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. 1
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 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.
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, Virginia
The Text of the Original Charter A.G.M.
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 United States.
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:
- Most Worshipful Grand Master.......................... Levi Anderson
- Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master.......... Moses G. Wilson
- Right Worshipful Senior Grand Warden ................William Blunt
- Right Worshipful Junior Grand Warden............. Michael Sterling
- Grand Treasurer...................................................... Bennett Hill
- Grand (Recording) Secretary........................... Joseph H. Banks
- Grand (Correspondence) Secretary.................... John E. Young
- Grand Pursuviant............................................. Charles Webber
- Grand Tyler......................................................... Levi Medford
- Grand Senior Deacon ...........................................Alex Watson
- Grand Junior Deacon....................................... Hennard Bayard
- Grand Master of Ceremonies............... Benjamin W. Sharpless
- Grand Sword Bearer.......................................... Henry Weeks
- Grand Marshal........................................................ John Viney
- Grand Chaplain................................................... Daniel Russell
- Grand Chaplain................................................. Henry Johnson
- Grand Senior Steward................................... Hemsley Jackson
- Grand Junior Steward......................................... Samuel Green
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.
Prince Hall Masons of Delaware and Rites of Ancestral Return
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.