Prince Hall Story
Complied from various sources by
Robert E. Connors, Jr.
Past Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Master of Texas
Prince Hall, our founder, was one of the greatest Americans; a Worthy Grand Master associated with our first black Masonic Grand Lodge and its expansions. His name is carried and borne by Masonic Organizations throughout the United States and thousands of Masons who regard themselves as descendants from the Grand Lodge of England from which he received his authority more than two centuries ago. This article is a monument to Prince Hall’s life, career and leadership. It shall further serve as information about Prince Hall Masonry.
A significant event happened in Masonry on March 6, 1775. John Bratt, working under the authority and the Constitution of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, initiated Prince Hall and fourteen (14) other free black men into masonry in the Army Lodge No. 44. The other candidates 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 Regiments left Boston on March 17, 1776, a dispensation was issued by Batt authorizing Prince Hall and his brethren to meet as a lodge under restrictions. Under this permit, African Lodge No. 1 was formed July 3, 1776. Official acknowledgement of the legitimacy of African Lodge No. 1 was almost immediately made by John Rowe of Boston, a Caucasian and provincial Grand Master of North America holding authority from the premier Grand Lodge of Freemasons, the Grand Lodge of England. He, too, issued a permit authorizing African Lodge No. 1 to appear publicly in procession as a Masonic Body for the purpose of celebrating the Feast of Saints John and to bury its dead.
For nine years these brethren, with other free black men who had received their degrees in Europe, assembled together and enjoyed their limited privileges as Masons, distressed that Prince Hall’s attempts to formally associate African Lodge with Caucasian Grand Lodges were frustrated by bigotry and racism. It was an ironic period in American history when colonists embraced the doctrine of independence, liberty, and equality to justify the revolt against English rule while promoting and condoning the economic and social exploitation of blacks debased by slavery.
Finally, in March, 1784, Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England through Worshipful Master William Moody of Brotherly Love Lodge No. 55 (London, England) for a warrant of Constitution. The Charter was prepared and issued on September 29, 1784, although it would be three years before African Lodge No. 459 and thus began the parallel lines of black and Caucasian Freemasonry which continues to exist in America.
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. D. Bentley, a contemporary who wrote in his diary, available to all, “The truth is they are shamed of being equal with blacks. Even the fraternities of France, given to merit without distinction of color do not influence Massachusetts’s masons to give embrace less emphactical or tender affectionate to their Black Brethren. It is evident that a preeminence is claimed by whites.” The same situation exists in Texas today but not in all states. Many Texas Caucasian masons refuse to recognize Prince Hall Masons however they do consider permitting a limited number of black men, thought to be prestigious and financially solvent, to join their local lodges. Texas Prince Hall Masons are proud of their legacy and history that our ancestors such as Norris Wright Cuney, I. H. Clayborne, Thomas H. Routt and many others worked so hard for. We are not actively seeking anyone to recognize us.
Before 1815, exclusively territorial jurisdiction was not an active and recognized doctrine of English Masonic Custom. The African Lodge of Boston exercised its right to establish other lodges, making itself a Mother Lodge, its Master Prince Hall having the authority to issue warrants on the same basis as Masters of Lodges in Europe!
African Lodges were constituted in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New York. On June 24, 1791, the African Grand Lodge of North America was organized in Boston with Prince Hall as Grand Master. This was one year before the organization of the United Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (Caucasian). In 1827, 45 years after the (Caucasian) Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had done so, African Lodge of Boston declared itself independent of the Grand Lodge of England.
Prince Hall died December 4, 1807. His successors were Nero Prince, who sailed to Russia in the year 1808, George Middleton, Peter Lew, Samuel H. Moody and the well-known John T. Hilton. The original charter of African Lodge of Boston is in the possession of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and is the only known original 18th Century Charter in existence issued to any American Lodge by the Grand Lodge of England. It proudly represents the indisputable legitimacy and regularity of 45 Prince Hall Grand Lodges and their subordinate lodges and affiliated bodies.
In 1869, a fire destroyed Massachusetts Grand Lodge headquarters and a number of its priceless records. The Charter, in its medal tube was in the Grand Lodge chest. The tube saved the Charter from the flames but the intense heat charred it. Grand Master S.T. Kendall crawled into the burning building and saved the Charter from complete destruction. Thus a Grand Master’s devotion and heroism further consecrated this parchment to us, and add a further detail to its history.
The descendent Grand Lodges of African Grand Lodge changed their names to “Prince Hall Grand Lodge” with two exceptions. Today, throughout the world, there are 44 “Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodges”, some 5000 subordinate Lodges and more than 300,000 Prince Hall Masons.
The Church and Prince Hall Masonry for many years were the two strongest organizations in the black communities for many years. In fact, they were the only organizations that black men and women could participate in or join. Masonic Lodge Halls were used as locations for church services and teaching blacks how to read and write. Prince Hall Masons utilized their resources to provide young black men and women scholarships to college, to provide various forms of charity in their local communities, and to assist in many other programs in the black communities. Ninety percent of the founders of Black Greek Fraternities and Sororities were either Prince Hall Masons, Heroines of Jericho or Order of the Eastern Stars.
Prince Hall Masonry is alive and well in the State of Texas. Our Grand Lodge Office is located in Fort Worth, Texas. Operating under the auspices of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas are the Grand High Court Heroines of Jericho and the Norris Wright Cuney Grand Chapter. Each organization has local Lodges, Courts and Chapters in every county located in Texas.
Our mission is to disseminate charity; promote the spirit of brotherly love; teach and encourage the idea of peace, harmony and good will among the people and loyalty to the constituted authority of our state and country.
The essential qualification for admission into and continuing membership is a belief in a Supreme Being. Membership is open to all men of any race or religion who can fulfill the essential qualifications and are of good repute.
For further information about Prince Hall Masonry in Texas or how to become a member, may contact the office of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas in Fort Worth, Texas at (8170 534-4612. The website is www.mwphglotx.org. The mailing address is P.O. Box 1478, Fort Worth, Texas 76101-1478.
If you are in the San Antonio area and wish to know more about Prince Hall Masons, please email the 19th Masonic District Secretary for more information.