Prince Hall - September 12th, 1748 – December 4th, 1807

By R. W. Raymond T. Coleman, FPS, Grand Historian 

Originally published in the summer 2006 edition of The Phylaxis magazine

The history of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons (F.&A.M.), Jurisdiction of Massachusetts, has its origin with the initiation of Prince Hall and fourteen other "men of color" on March 6, 1775.

They were initiated in a British Army Lodge, No. 441 of the Irish Registry by J. E. Batt, Worshipful Master, on Castle William Island (now Castle Island), in Boston Harbor.

When the British evacuated Boston along with its 38th British Foot and its Lodge #441, Prince Hall was given a “permit” to meet as a Lodge. However, not being a regular lodge, they were not allowed to make any new Masons. Their charge was only to "meet as a Lodge and to bury their dead in manner and in form.” Under it African Lodge # 1 was organized on July 3, 1776 with Prince Hall as the Worshipful Master. Later (December 1782) Provincial Grand Master John Rowe gave them a permit to "walk on St. John's Day.” Today, we would refer to this as a U.D. (Under Dispensation) lodge.

In 1784, Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England, the premier (or mother) grand lodge of the world, for a warrant, or charter, to become a "regular masonic lodge.”

On September 29, 1784, the Grand Lodge of England granted a charter to Prince Hall and his associates for African Lodge #459. They formally began work as a "regular" Masonic lodge on May 6, 1787, "with all the rights and privileges" of any Masonic lodge in the world.

Since African Lodge #459 was the only lodge in America to receive her charter directly from England, a close relationship developed between Prince Hall and the Grand Lodge of England. In 1791, he was appointed a Provincial Grand Master, and African Lodge #459 became a "mother" lodge.

In 1797 Prince Hall organized lodges in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island under the #459 Charter, and the march of Prince Hall lodges had begun. Today there are over 5,000 Prince Hall lodges with forty-seven grand lodges who can trace their origin to African Lodge #459, Boston, Mass. In these organizations are over 300,000 Master Masons. There are also adoptive, appendant and affiliated bodies including all houses in the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, the Order of the Eastern Star and the Shriners.

Prince Hall died on December 4, 1807, after serving thirty-one years as Worshipful Master of African Lodge. One year later (December, 1808) the brethren of the African Lodges of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, in a General Assembly of the Craft held in Boston, organized African Grand Lodge with Most Worshipful Brother Nero Prince as the Grand Master.