Hall’s Masonic Lodge Is Chartered Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Hall’s Masonic Lodge became a pillar organization in the African American middle-class community. Serving many of the same functions that mainstream Freemasonry has served among upper-class white communities, members of the so-called African Lodge have helped one another in countless ways for more than two centuries.

Summary of Event

Prince Hall, a former slave living in Boston, perceived the many benefits of belonging to the fraternal group called the Freemasons. In the Thirteen Colonies, many of the most prominent and respected citizens were Masons, including George Washington, Samuel Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. Franklin, Benjamin [p]Franklin, Benjamin;Masons As in the mother country, Masonic lodges in America stressed religion, morality, and charity to members in need and to all humankind. Many members developed business ties with their Masonic associates. [kw]Hall’s Masonic Lodge Is Chartered (Sept. 29, 1784) [kw]Chartered, Hall’s Masonic Lodge Is (Sept. 29, 1784) [kw]Lodge Is Chartered, Hall’s Masonic (Sept. 29, 1784) [kw]Masonic Lodge Is Chartered, Hall’s (Sept. 29, 1784) Masons [g]United States;Sept. 29, 1784: Hall’s Masonic Lodge Is Chartered[2560] [c]Organizations and institutions;Sept. 29, 1784: Hall’s Masonic Lodge Is Chartered[2560] [c]Social issues and reform;Sept. 29, 1784: Hall’s Masonic Lodge Is Chartered[2560] Hall, Prince Marrant, John

Prince Hall was born a slave around 1735. When Hall was twenty-one years of age, he was granted his freedom by his master. Hall entered into the trade of leather work. He pursued this calling for the rest of his life, although later, his Masonic leadership and his catering business occupied increasing amounts of his time. Tradition holds that Prince Hall fought against the British in the American Revolution. This is almost certainly true, but since several Massachusetts soldiers were named Prince Hall, details of this Prince Hall’s army career are not clear.

In 1775, just before the outbreak of the American Revolution, a white Mason named John Batt initiated Hall and fourteen other free black Bostonians into the Masonic order. The fifteen initiates soon organized the first black Masonic lodge in America, calling it African Lodge. African Americans;organizations They continued to meet, but under the strict hierarchy of Masonry, a local group such as the African Lodge must be subordinate to a Grand Lodge, making regular reports as well as payments into the Grand Lodge charity fund. The American Masonic hierarchy was still evolving, and Prince Hall and his associates knew that many white Masons in the new country did not approve of black lodges or even black members.

On March 2, 1784, and again on June 30 of that year, Prince Hall wrote to the Grand Lodge of England asking for an official charter. This charter would confer added legitimacy on African Lodge and would give it a powerful ally. Difficulties in getting letters and money between Boston and England slowed the process of obtaining the charter, but Hall’s group finally got the requisite fees to the Grand Lodge of England, and in 1787 African Lodge received its charter. The document, dated September 29, 1784, gave African Lodge the right to initiate new members and the duty of reporting regularly to the English Grand Lodge.

Some of the activities of African Lodge related directly to race. In 1787, three free African Americans from Boston were kidnapped by men who took them to the Caribbean island of St. Bartholomew and prepared to sell them into bondage. One of the three was a member of African Lodge. Prince Hall and the other black Masons of Boston agitated actively for release of their brother Mason, and for law enforcement officers to protect free African Americans from kidnapping. The petition circulated by Prince Hall helped goad the Massachusetts legislature into passing a law to punish slave traders and kidnappers. The three men won their release when the one who was a member of African Lodge gave a Masonic sign that was recognized by a white Mason living on St. Bartholomew, and the white Mason had the captors arrested and the three men returned to Boston.

Although the records of the early meetings of African Lodge are scarce, copies of two addresses by Prince Hall and one sermon by the lodge chaplain have survived. All three documents exhibit a strong degree of racial pride and solidarity. In his first charge to the African Lodge, delivered and published in 1792, Hall chided white Masons who claimed that the existence of black Masons would somehow make the order too common. He pointed out that that had not been the feeling during the recent Revolutionary War, when white and black soldiers had fought shoulder to shoulder. Prince Hall concluded by saying that any man who rebuked an African American man because of his skin color actually was rebuking God, who had made all people in his own image.

Hall’s second charge to his lodge was delivered and published in 1797. In this address, the Masonic leader painted a baleful picture of the barbaric cruelties of African slaves Slavery;of Africans[Africans] slavery, and used the Bible to prove that the institution was not part of God’s will. On a more optimistic note, Hall lectured his brother Masons about the nation of Haiti Haiti, where six years earlier the slaves had revolted and thrown off the yoke of French government and of slavery itself. Hall saw the revolt in Haiti as a first step by African Americans in ending the hated system of slavery.

John Marrant, a free African American minister living in Boston, became the chaplain of African Lodge. One of Marrant’s sermons to the lodge was delivered and printed in 1789. As was the case with Hall’s addresses, Marrant’s sermon stressed what later writers would call black pride. Marrant said that African Americans should not be ashamed that their race was enslaved, since nearly every great people had been enslaved at one time or another, and such enslavement had often been the prelude to a great flourishing of that people. Marrant dipped into the Bible and into ancient history to prove that Africa had produced at least as many great civilizations as had any other region on Earth.

On at least one occasion, members of the African Lodge put their pride in Africa into action. In 1787, Prince Hall circulated a petition asking the Massachusetts government to aid in returning men and women of color to Africa. Seventy-three persons signed the petition, including most members of African Lodge. The petition is one of the earliest documents in American history associated with a Back-to-Africa movements[Back to Africa movements] back-to-Africa movement. On most other occasions, however, members of African Lodge preferred to work to improve their standing within the United States.

Significance

As the free black population in the northern states continued to grow, African Lodge responded to requests to bring Masonry to African Americans in other areas. A number of residents of Providence, Rhode Island, were initiated into African Lodge and later began their own lodge with the blessings of Prince Hall and his followers. African Lodge also helped found new lodges in Philadelphia and New York. Meanwhile, all the Masonic lodges in the United States that were chartered by one of the British Grand Lodges began to have less contact with the Grand Lodges across the ocean. African Lodge was no exception. In 1827, African Lodge declared its independence of the English Grand Lodge and of any other Grand Lodge. It became the Grand Lodge for all chapters of African American Masons it founded in the United States.

The so-called Prince Hall Masonry continued to flourish long after the death of Hall in 1807. In 1995, the order boasted 300,000 members in the United States. For more than two hundred years, Prince Hall Masonry has provided moral teachings, aid to members in need, and even business contacts for the millions of African American men who passed through the ranks of the order. For most of that time, white Masons attacked the Prince Hall Masons for claimed irregularities in the latter’s organizational history, including the history of the Prince Hall Masons’ charters. Yet any alleged irregularities were also part of the history of early white lodges in the United States. While attacks on Prince Hall Masonry are less common today than they were previously, Masonry remains a highly segregated area of American life.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crawford, George W. Prince Hall and His Followers. 1914. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1971. The classic defense of Prince Hall Masons to the charges of irregularity made by white Masonic groups.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dillard, Thomas Henry. “History of Calumet Lodge #25 Free and Accepted Masons, Prince Hall Affiliation.” Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society 10, no. 1 (1989): 22-28. A rare glimpse into the history of a single lodge of Prince Hall Masons.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grimshaw, William H. Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People in North America. 1903. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971. For many years, this book was considered the basic history of Prince Hall Masonry. Readers should be aware that it contains a vast number of unsubstantiated statements and should be used with care.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Horton, James Oliver, and Lois E. Horton. In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community, and Protest Among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. A history of the Northern freed blacks, tracing their lives from the colonial slave trade through the antebellum era. The founding of the first African American Masonic Lodge is described in chapter 6. The book features additional information about Prince Hall’s life efforts to immigrate to Africa.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Muraskin, William A. Middle-Class Blacks in a White Society: Prince Hall Freemasonry in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975. Sociological and historical examination of Prince Hall Masonry as a foundation of the African American middle class.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Ten Most Important Figures in African-American History.” Ebony 57, no. 4 (February, 2002): 88. Prince Hall is among the ten people listed in this historical overview of significant achievements by African Americans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallace, Maurice O. Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men’s Literature and Culture, 1775-1795. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002. Focuses on seven episodes that illustrate African Americans’ efforts to create a positive male identity; one of the episodes is the founding of the first black Masonic Lodge in 1775.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wesley, Charles H. Prince Hall: Life and Legacy. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: United Supreme Council, 1983. A careful history that does a good job of separating earlier myths about the origins of Prince Hall Masonry from documented fact.

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