BY BRO. GEORGE DRAFFEN OF NEWINGTON, P.J.G.D., P.M.
Deputy Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Scotland
Fellow The Phylaxis Society
(13 May 1976)
In the United States of America, in Canada and in the Bahamas there are forty Grand Lodges of Prince Hall Freemasonry. There is also in Liberia a Grand Lodge of Prince Hall origin. These Prince Hall Grand Lodges exercise authority over more than five thousand lodges. They claim descent, directly , from the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts which in turn, is the offspring of African Lodge No. 459 warranted by the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns) on 20 September 1784. The great majority of these Prince Hall Grand Lodges incorporate the words 'Prince Hall' in their title. This was done following upon a recommendation made at a conference of Prince Hall Grand Masters held at Hot Springs, Arkansas, in January 1944. The object of adding the words 'Prince Hall' to the titles of the Grand Lodges was to overcome the confusion which had arisen among African-American members of the community in the United States where African-American freemasonry had been subjected to an interminable number of schisms and clandestine 'Grand Lodges'-all aimed at the gullible. While the Prince Hall Grand Lodges are not recognized by the Grand Lodges in the United States they are regarded by most of them as having a certain authenticity as opposed to the spurious and clandestine African-American Grand Lodges which have sprung up from time to time.
The traditional story regarding Prince Hall is published annually in the Prince Hall Masonic Year Book, an official publication sponsored by the Grand Masters' Conference of Prince Hall Masons of America. It must, therefore, be assumed that this traditional history is regarded as correct and accurate by the various Prince Hall Grand Lodges of the United States of America. As printed in the Prince Hall Masonic Year Book the official story of the gentleman known as Prince Hall runs thus:
Prince Hall was born at Bridgetown, Barbados, West Indies, about September 12, 1748. He was freeborn. His father, Thomas Prince Hall was an Englishman and his mother a free coloured woman of French extraction. In 1765, at the age of 17, 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. HE was religiously inclined and later became a preacher in the Methodist Church with a Charge at Cambridge. On March 6, 1775, Prince Hall and fourteen other free Negroes of Boston were made Master Masons in an Army lodge attached to one of General Gage's regiments, then stationed near Boston. This lodge granted Prince Hall and his brethren authority to meet as a lodge, 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 the degrees elsewhere, assembled and enjoyed limited privileges as masons. Finally, in March 1784, Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England, through a Worshipful Master of a subordinate lodge in London for a warrant or charter. On September 20, 1784, the warrant was issued. It was not delivered, however, until three years later, owing to the fact that the brother to whom the matter was entrusted failed to call for it. It was delivered, however, on the 29th day of April 1787, by Captain James Scott, a sea-faring man and, incidentally, a brother-in-law of John Hancock, one other signers of the Declaration of Independence. On May 6, 1787, by virtue of the authority of this Charter, African Lodge No. 459 was established and begin work as a regular Masonic body. In accordance with masonic usage of that time, a General assembly of colored Masons met in Masons' Hall, Water Street, Boston, Massachusetts, on June 24, 1791, and formed African Grand Lodge with Prince Hall as its first Grand Master; which office he held until his death in December 1807. On June 24, 1808, pursuant to a call from Nero Prince, the Deputy Grand Master, representatives of the three then exiting lodges met in Boston and changed the name of the Grand Lodge to M.W. Price Hall Grand Lodge, F&AM of Massachusetts, in memory of Prince Hall. There is no indication in the Prince Hall Masonic Year Book as to the author of this traditional story, but from its contents it is evident that the author drew very heavily upon Grimshaw and Davis. It is greatly to be regretted that an official publication should include a biography which is both woefully inaccurate and, in some cases, manifestly untrue. This can only be derogatory of a man whose life required no false vindication.
The statement by Grimshaw, which has been repeated many times by other writers on this subject of freemasonry among the African-American people in the United States of America, that Prince Hall was born 'about September 12, 1748 does not stand up to any examination. Even Davis admits in his book that Grimshaw was inaccurate in respect of Prince Hall's birth. Prince Hall's death was reported in the Boston Gazette for Monday, 7 December 1807:
DEATHS. On Friday morning, Mr. Prince Hall, aged 72, Master of African Lodge. Funeral this afternoon at 3 o'clock from his late dwelling in Lendell's Lane; which his friends and relations are requested to attend without a more formal invitation. Dying at the age of seventy-two would infer a birth date of about the year 1735. We have some confirmation of this possible date in a letter written by Dr Jeremy Belknap, a founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society, with regard to a survey he had undertaken on the history of slavery in Massachusetts. Dr Belknap interviewed Prince Hall to whom he refers as 'one of my informants... a very intelligent black man, aged 57. He is the Grand Master of a LODGE of free masons, composed wholly of blacks, and distinguished by the name of African Lodge. IT was begun in 1775, while this town was garrison by British troops; some of whom held a lodge and initiated a number Negroes. 'If this statement by Dr Belknap is accurate then Prince Hall would have been born about the year 1738. Apart from these two points, no evidence of any kind has ever been produced to support Grimshaw's statement that Prince Hall was born in Barbados in 1748. Grimshaw states, again a statement repeated ad nauseam by subsequent writers, that Prince Hall was freeborn. The fact is that he was not. There exits in the Boston Athenaeum Library, among the notarial papers of one Ezekiel Price, a Certificate of Manumission, dated 9 April 1770, and signed by William Hall, together with three other members of the Hall family, giving Prince Hall his freedom. This document states that he (Prince Hall) had worked with the Hall family for twenty-one years, i.e. since 1749. The fact that Prince Hall was a slave rules out the extraordinary statement by Grimshaw that he was the offspring of a union between a free African-American woman of French extraction and an Englishman. That statement by Grimshaw shows him at his most inventive. Prince Hall seems to have always referred to himself as an 'African'. And probably with some pride, for in my view, he was an African, having been seized in some part of West Africa as a lad of between eleven and fourteen and brought to New England by a slave-trader and sold as a slave. It is not impossible that he was actually sold to William Hall and it is also likely that he took the 'Hall' from the family which he served so faithfully for twenty-one years. This is impossible to prove but is, I submit, a likely inference. There is no doubt that Prince Hall was, as the official story says, 'religiously inclined'- but the facts are not as recorded in the Prince Hall Masonic Year Book. In a Deposition, which is recorded in the Suffolk County, Massachusetts, Register of Deeds, made by Price Hall in August 1807, just a few months before he died, he stated that he was a leather- dresser by trade; that he was about 'seventy; that in November 1762 he had been received into the full communion of the Congregational Church which had its meeting place in School Street, Boston. There is no record of Grimshaw's flight of fancy that Prince Hall ever held a charge at Cambridge. Prince Hall married five times- according to the official records of the City of Boston. The details are:
(1) 2 November 1763, Sara Ritchie (or Ritchery)
(2) 22 August 1770, Florah Gibbs.
(3) 14 August 1783, Affee Moody
(4) 28 June 1798, Nabby Ayrauly
(5) 28 June 1804, Zilpha (? Sylvia) Johnson.
Zilpha, or Sylvia Johnson was Prince Hall's executrix in an estate amounting to $47.22. She herself died in Boston in 1836. So far as is known there were no children from any of the marriages. Prince Hall is buried in Copp's Hill Burying Ground in Boston in the same grave as his first wife. The monumental stone carries the inscription;
Here lies ye body of Sarah Ritchery, wife of Prince Hall, died Feby the 26th, 1769, aged 24 years. On the back of the stone, added some time later, is the inscription;
Here lies the body of Prince Hall, First Grand Master of the Colored Grand Lodge of Masons in Mass., died Dec.7, 1807. Whoever cut this last inscription took as the date of death the date of the announcement in the newspaper (7 December) and not the actual date of death ( 4 December). It is a little curious that Prince Hall should be buried in the grave of his first wife; one would have thought that his last wife might have had other ideas, but perhaps Prince Hall owned the plot in the cemetery. This cannot be checked for the interment records are missing. As an individual, Prince Hall took great interest in the welfare of the African-American people in Boston and in Massachusetts. He continually badgered the city fathers of Boston and also the Senate and House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in respect of the proper provision of schools for the education of the children of the African-American population. He was well read himself and his Letter Book shows that he was familiar with the works of Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen and other Fathers of the early Church. He had, too,, correspondence wit Lady Huntingdon (1707-91), the head of the sect of Calvinistic Methodists known as the 'Countess of Huntingdon's Connection'.
The exact circumstances surrounding Prince Hall's admission into freemasonry are obscure. According to the traditional story he and fourteen others were made Master Masons on 6 March 1775. This is one statement by Grimshaw that is very probably accurate. The earliest of freemasonry among African-American people in the United States is to be found on a sheet of paper in the archives of African Lodge in Boston. The document is dated 6 March 1775- the final digit is only just legible- and has the heading:
By Marster Batt wose made these brothers
African Lodge #459 Charter
At the foot of the sheet are certain figures which would seem to show that on the same date, or previously, some fourteen men were made 'Marsters', three Crafts' and thirteen' Prentices'. A second sheet shows payments of 45-1/2 guineas which would indicate an initiation fee of approximately three guineas. There is nothing to indicate whether or not all three degrees were conferred on 6 March 1775 but even if this were so it would be nothing to cavil at. It was quite customary for a lodge to confer all three degrees at one meeting in those days, and if the lodge was a military lodge then it might be almost essential for the lodge to confer all three degrees at one meeting-who could tell when the lodge would next be able to meet? The date, 6 March 1775, is important for it was but a few weeks before the first shot of the War of Independence was fired at Lexington, itself but a few miles from Boston. There is no record in the archives of African Lodge as to the actual lodge in which Prince Hall was initiated. From outside evidence, however, it would appear that Prince Hall and his fourteen companions were admitted to freemasonry in an Irish lodge, No. 441. In support of this one must examine the details of the regiments under General Gage's command in and around Boston in 1775. The Ministry of Defense tell me that they have no official list of these regiments. However, in the first volume of Henry Belcher's The First American Civil War there is an appendix, which he compiled from regimental histories, giving, as far as is known, the names of the regiments engaged in the various actions in the war of Independence. From that appendix I have compiled a smaller list (see the appendix to this paper) of those British Army units which were stationed in or near Boston in 1775 and which had in them lodges under any of the British Grand Lodges. There were fourteen military lodges in and around Boston in 1775. Of these one was English, four were Scottish and the remainder were Irish. There seems to be very little doubt, having consulted the Grand Lodge Registers that Irish Lodge No. 441, in which John Batt was a member, was the lodge in which Prince Hall was initiated. John Batt is registered as a member of Lodge 441 in the register in Dublin under the date of 2 May 1771. Lodge 441 was warranted on 4 July 1765 to meet in the 38th Regiment of Foot(1st Battalion South Staffordshires). The lodge warrant was subsequently, in 1840, returned to the Grand Lodge of Ireland. The number 441 was later, in 1918, reissued to the T.W. Braithwaite Lodge, meeting in Belfast. Any minutes of the lodge while working as a military lodge are lost and it is impossible to say if John Batt was master in 1775. It is equally impossible to say whether or not the meeting at which Prince Hall was initiated was regularly under the lodge warrant or was a clandestine affair with John Batt 'initiating' some gullible Negroes and pocketing the money they paid him. None of those made masons by John Batt on 6 March 1775 are recorded as being members of the lodge in the registers of the Grad Lodge of Ireland. I do not say that this what happened, merely that is possible. On the other hand the difficulties of communication with Dublin in the middle of a civil war were enormous and the fact that Prince Hall and his friends were not registered in Dublin is, in itself, no proof that their admission was not perfectly regular. John Batt is recorded in the Muster Rolls of the regiment from 1759 until his discharge from the British Army when stationed in Staten Island in 1777. There is some faint evidence that after his discharge he may have enlisted in the rebel forces. The detractors of Prince Hall Freemasonry have frequently stated that his initiation by a military lodge was in direct conflict with Regulation XXVII of the Constitution & Laws of the Grand Lodge of Ireland, which regulation forbade the initiation in a military lodge of any person living in a town where there was a town lodge. The regulation is in the following terms: Regulation XXVII of 1760. No Army lodge shall for the future make any Townsman a mason where there is a warranted lodge held in the Regiment, Troop or Company, or in the Quarters to which such man blongs. Any Army or other lodge making a mason contrary to the rule to be fined One Guinea. This regulation could, of course, only apply to lodges under the Grand Lodge of Ireland- and there never was a 'Town lodge' in Boston nor, indeed, anywhere else in Massachusetts, under the Grand Lodge of Ireland. The regulation is specific in its penalty for breach- a one guinea fine on the lodge. There is no statement whatever that any mason so made is clandestine or irregular. That would be excluded under the legal maxim expressio unius exclusio alterius, a maxim which English judges have applied to enactments as far back in history as 1601(e.g.. The Poor Relief Act, 1601). The maxim means that anything expressly stated excluded anything not expressly stated and that applies particularly to anything penal. Apart from the legal maxim, however, the minutes of the Grand Lodge of Ireland record breaches of regulation. Lodge No.10, held in the Louth Militia, complained that lodges 240, 382, 703 and 971 had all initiated members of the regiment. Grand Lodge ordered that a 'fine be inflicted for this offence unless the lodge can account for their conduct against the next Grand Lodge meeting'. There is no ruling the Grand Lodge minute that the masons so made were either clandestine or irregular. No other evidence has been produced to show that Prince Hall's initiation was in any way irregular and it must be presumed that he became a mason in the normal and regular way according to the customary manner of the times. Back in Boston, Prince Hall and his fellow masons continued to meet as a 'lodge for some years. They had a 'Permet' to walk in Procession on St John Day and to bury their dead, although there seems to be some doubt as to who gave them this 'Permet'. The traditional story says, as does Grimshaw, that the 'Permet' was issued by the lodge which had initiated them, and that would not be at all unusual. On the other hand when Prince Hall sent in his petition for a warrant in June 1784 he stated that the 'Permet' had been issued by Grand Master Row'(sic). John Rowe was appointed Provincial Grand Master for North America in March 1768 and he died in 1787. His appointment was made by the 'Modern' Grand Lodge- that to which Prince Hall sent petition. Grimshaw states that Prince Hall was appointed Provincial Grand Master for North America on 27 January 1791, presumably in place of John Rowe. Grimshaw goes so far as to print the text of the alleged Patent. The Patent is said to have been signed ' Rawdon, Acting Grand Master'. The Masonic Year Book Historical Supplement shows Francis, 1st Marquees of Hastings, as Acting Grand Master from 1790 to 1813. According to Burke's Dormant and Extinct Peerages the Barony of Rawdon was conferred upon Francis, eldest son of John, 1st Earl of Moira, on 5 March. He did not succeed to the title of Earl of Moira until 1793 and was created Marquees of Hastings on 7 December 1816. It follows that the alleged Patent of Appointment of Prince Hall as Provincial Grand Master for North America was correctly signed for 'Rawdon' would have been the proper signature of the Acting Grand Master at that time. Davis expressed grave doubts as to the existence of this Patent and there is of course, no record whatever in the archives of the United Grand Lodge of England of the issue of such a Patent. Davis goes on to say: 'Furthermore, there is no evidence that anyone ever saw the original deputation. It is strange indeed that such an important document was not exhibited to the masons of that day in Boston. Prince Hall was on friendly terms with a number of Boston's leading masons. He freely exhibited the Charter and Book of Constitutions to white brethren in that city, and mentioned their receipt in the daily press. It is hard to believe that Hall would withhold such an important document from his friends- a document which would be of supreme importance to the little band of colored masons then in Boston, and of equal importance to Prince Hall himself, conferring, as it did, great honor and dignity upon him, and elevating him to a rank equal to that of any American mason of his day. Equally difficult to understand is the complete absence of any mention of such a Patent, or 'Deputation' as it was called in those days., in Prince Hall's Letter Book. Prince Hall's methodical methods are well illustrated in his Letter Book and the very issue of such a Patent would require some correspondence. The alleged Patent cites an application- and this could hardly escape some reference in his Letter Book. Davis is not the only African-American mason to express doubts as to the authenticity of the Provincial Grand Master's Patent. Davis states: "The late W.T. Boyd, Past Grand Master of Ohio (Prince Hall) and Frederic S. Monroe of Massachusetts (PH). both careful investigators in the historical field of Negro masonry, expressed strong dissent on the validity of the alleged Patent". I think we must take it that the alleged Patent appointing Prince Hall as Provincial Grand Master for North America is another of Grimshaw's inventions. It must be said, however, that the inventor was astute enough to have the correct signature appended to the text. It might here be noted that Grimshaw was appointed a library attendant in the Library of Congress on 1 October 1897 and as such would have had access to books dealing with the English peerage. Francis, 1st Marquess of Hastings would only have signed'Rawdon' between 1783 and 1793. The titles became extinct on the death of Henry, 4th Marquess, on November 1868. To return to the 'Permet'. No matter by whom it was issued it was certainly used. In the issue of Monday, December 1782 of a Boston newspaper published by Draper & Poison, the following item appears: On Friday, last, 27th, the Feast of St John the Evangelist, was celebrated by St Black's Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, who went in procession preceded by a band of music, dressed in their aprons and jewels from Brother G... pions up State Street and thro Cornhill to the House of the Right Worshipful Grand Master in Water Street, where an elegant and splendid entertainment was given upon the occasion. This paragraph brought forth a riposte from Prince Hall in a letter which indicated that they had not had a 'splendid' entertainment, we had an agreeable one in brotherly love'. He signed the letter, addressed to Mr. Willis, presumably the editor of the paper, thus Prince Hall Master of African No.1 Dedicated to St John. The signature is interesting as showing that the brethren considered themselves to be a lodge, albeit as yet without a warrant. I do not know what significance there is in 'No. 1. Presumably it would indicate a position on some Register or Roll. Prince Hall remained the Master of the lodge until his death when he was succeeded by Nero Prince
In 1784 Prince Hall wrote two letters to a Brother Moody in London seeking his help in obtaining a warrant for his lodge. Brother Moody was a member of the Lodge of Brotherly Love, No. 55, meeting at King's Head Tavern, Holborn. He later became Master of the Perseverance Lodge, No. 398, meeting at The Fleece, Old Palace Yard, Westminster. Prince Hall's first letter was dated 2 March 1784 and his second 30 June 1784. The first letter is printed in A QC (vol. 73, p. 56) and the second is reprinted in Davis (pp. 33-4). I reproduce the second:
Wm M. Moody, Most W. Master.
[ I omit the opening paragraph which is not relevant to the petition.]
I would inform you that this Lodge hath been found almost this eight years and had no Warrant yet. But only a Permet from Grand Master Row to walk on St John's Day and Bury our dead in form which we now enjoy. We have had no opportunity til now of aplieng [sic] for Warrant though we were prested upon to send to France for one but we refused for reasons bet know to ourselves. We now apply to the Fountain from whom we received light for this favour, and Dear Sir, I must beg you to be our advocate for us by sending this our request to his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland Grand Master, and to the Right Honourable Earl of Effingham acting Grand Master, the Deputy Grand Master and Grand Wardens and the rest of the Brethren of the Grand Lodge that they would be graciously pleased to grant us a Charter to hold this Lodge as long as we behave up to the Spirit of the Constitution.
This our humble petition we hope His Highness and the rest of the Grand Lodge will graciously be pleased to grant us there.
Though poor yet sincere brethren of the craft, and therefore in duty bound ever to pray, I beg leave to subscribe myself.
Your loving friend and Brother
Master of African Lodge No. 1
June 30, 1784 In the Year of Masonry 5784
In the name of the holl Lodge
C. Underwood, Secretary
The petition was successful and the Grand Lodge of England ( Moderns) issued a warrant to African Lodge No. 459 on 20 September 1784. For a number of reasons the warrant did not arrive in Boston until April 1787. Its arrival was announced in the Columbian Centinal, a Boston newspaper dated 2 May 1787, in the following words: 'By Captain Scott, from London, came the charter, etc.' According to Grimshaw, the lodge was erected on 6 May 1787, but we are left in the dark as to the manner of its erection and by whom it was carried out. Prince Hall also received a copy of the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge and they contained a requirement that each lodge must be properly constituted. To what extent that requirement was observed by lodges overseas is open to doubt; if there was another lodge in the area or near at hand there would be little difficulty in complying with the rules. If it was an isolated lodge, strict compliance may have been impossible. The date of the petition, 30 June 1784, is important in that the War of Independence had finished and a Peace Treaty had been signed in 1783. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was no longer a British Colony but a State in the United States of America. Was the issue of this warrant to African Lodge an infringement of jurisdiction? It has been held by many writers that the issue of this warrant was, in fact, an infringement of jurisdiction- but they fail to say whose jurisdiction for there were, at that time, two Grand Lodges in Massachusetts. And in any event the British Grand Lodges have never accepted the American doctrine of exclusive jurisdiction. On this latter point I would refer to my paper on this subject in A QC volume 88. The issue of this warrant was the last granted by the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns) to a lodge in what is now the United States of America. The Grand Lodge of England ( Antients) granted a warrant, No. 236, to a lodge at Charleston, South Carolina, on 26 May 1786, although a Grand Lodge had been formed in that State in 1777. At the time of the issue of the warrant to African Lodge the American doctrine of exclusive jurisdiction had not been promulgated and does not seem to have arrived at until the 1800s. As I have already stated there were two Grand Lodges in Massachusetts when African Lodge received its warrant. There was the Massachusetts Grand Lodge, which had been the Scottish Provincial Grand Lodge over which Joseph Warren had presided. Joseph Warren was killed at the battle of Bunker Hill and this led to the Provincial Grand Lodge declaring itself an independent Grand Lodge on 8 March 1777. There was the St John's Grand Lodge which had been the English Provincial Grand Lodge (Moderns) with John Rowe as Provincial Grand Master. These two Grand Lodges continued to exist independently of each other until they were united on 19 March 1792 to form the present Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. If there was any invasion of jurisdiction it is a moot point as to whose jurisdiction was invaded. This may be the place to point out that St Andrew's Lodge at Boston, holding its charter from the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and a founding lodge of the Scottish Provincial Grand Lodge refused to join the new Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. At a meeting of St Andrew's Lodge held on 21 December 1782 the lodge voted 30 to 19 against giving up its allegiance to Scotland and against joining the new Grand Lodge. St Andrew's Lodge remained under the Grand Lodge of Scotland until 1809. It is clear that the doctrine of exclusive jurisdiction was not operating at the time African Lodge's warrant was issued.
The exact date at which African Lodge assumed the powers of a Grand Lodge is impossible to pinpoint. That it functioned as a normal lodge for some years and made returns to the Grand Lodge of England with fees to the Charity Fund is beyond dispute. It was finally struck off the Register of the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns) at the Union in 1813 because no returns or fees had been made for years. In that respect Prince Hall's Letter Book shows a certain laxity on the part of the secretariat of the Grand Lodge, for his letters to Grand Secretary contain numerous complaints that his correspondence is not being answered. Doubtless there were transmission difficulties but one cannot think that all his letters to Grand Secretary were never received. If the criterion for being a Grand Lodge is the exercising of the right, de jure or de facto, of issuing warrants for the erection of a lodge, the African Lodge can be said to have acted as a Grand Lodge from the year 1797. If the criterion be that of a declaration of independence and surrender of allegiance the African Lodge did not assume the function of a Grand Lodge until 1827 when the Boston Advertiser of 26 June carried an official declaration of independence over the signature of John Hilton, then Master of the lodge. Between these two dates much had happened. In 1797 Prince Hall received a letter from a Peter Mantone who lived in Philadelphia. This letter is reproduced at in Davis and to save space I do not reprint it here. The letter recited that Peter Mantone and ten other brethren were desirous of having a warrant for a lodge. They had made application to the white masons and had been refused a warrant on the grounds, Mantone said, that the white masons were afraid that 'black men living in Virginia would get to be masons too'. Mantone did not say to which Grand Lodge he had applied. The Grand Lodge of Virginia was formed in 1778 and the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1786. In reply to Mantone Prince Hall agreed to issue a warrant to the brethren in Philadelphia. In doing so Prince Hall was doing no more and no less than what Lodge Fredericksburg, Virginia, had done in 1757. Lodge Fredericksburg was self-formed in 1752 and did not get a warrant of its own (form the Grand Lodge of Scotland) until 1758. In 1757 it issued a Dispensation to Lodge Botetourt to meet at Gloucester, Virginia, and that lodge subsequently obtained a warrant from the Grand Lodge of England ( Moderns) as NO. 458 IN 1773. We have here a lapse of sixteen years between the granting of a Dispensation, by an unwarranted lodge, before the obtaining of a warrant. Lodge Fredericksburg is now No. 4 under the Grand of Virginia and was George Washington's lodge. Lodge Fredericksburg was not content with the issue of one Dispensation but, in 1768 (by which time it had been warranted by the Grand Lodge of Scotland), it issued a further Dispensation to Falmouth Lodge in Stafford County, Virginia. Of these activities of Lodge Fredericksburg the Hugo Tatsch states: " It chartered lodges at Falmouth, Virginia ( no longer in existence), and Botetourt Lodge, Gloucester County, Virginia. The right of Fredericksburg Lodge to issue these charters was recognized by the Craft during that period". If Fredericksburg Lodge possesses, and had exercised, the right to issue charters then that same right cannot be denied to African Lodge No. 459.
In reply to Peter Mantone's request Prince Hall wrote:
Mr Peter Mantone,
Sir, I received your letter of the a which informed me that there are a number of blacks in your city who have received the light of masonry, and I hope they got it in a just and lawful manner. If so, dear Brother, we are willing to set you at work under our charter and Lodge No. 459, from London: under that authority, and by the name of African Lodge, we hereby and herein give you license to assemble and work as aforesaid, under that denomination as in the sight and fear of God. I would advise you not to take in any at present till your officers and Master be installed in the Grand Lodge, which we are willing to do, when he thinks convenient, and he may receive a full warrant instead of a permit.
This letter clearly shows that African Lodge proposed to function as a Grand Lodge- or at least to exercise rights similar to those of which Lodge Fredericksburg believed itself to be possessed. It further agreed to install the Master and officers in the new lodge in Philadelphia. All this time African Lodge was still writing to London, in its capacity as a private lodge under the Grand Lodge of England ( Moderns) and sending in returns and fees. Lane records that the last payment of fees was made in 1797. On 15 June 1802 Prince Hall wrote yet again to Grand Secretary White and said, inter alia:
I have sent a number of letters to the Grand Lodge and money for the Grand Charity, and by faithful brethren as I thought, but I have not received one letter from the Grand Lodge for this five years, which I thought somewhat strange at first; but when I heard so many were taken by the French, I thought otherwise, and prudent not to send.
Prince Hall's Letter Book contains a copy of yet a further letter, of 16 August 1806, to William White complaining that he had not received any answers to his letters since 1792. From that it is clear that Prince Hall and African Lodge were still of the view that, as late as in 1806, African Lodge was still a private lodge under the Grand Lodge of England. William White seems either to have neglected to answer Prince Hall's letters- or possibly never to have received them. in this latter respect one can hardly suppose that all Prince Hall's letters failed to reach their destination. It might be supposed that the silence from London over a period of some twenty years would have caused African Lodge to give up all hope of continuing as a private lodge under the Grand Lodge of England. But not a bit of it . On January 5, 1824, the then Master, Samuel h. Moody wrote:
To Right Worshipful, the Grand Master, Wardens and Members of the Grand Lodge of England.
Your Petitioners, Samson h. Moody, Peter Howard, Abraham C. Derendemed, John I. Hilton, James Jacson, Zadock Lew, Samuel G Gardner, Richard Potter, Lewis Walker and other Companions who have been regularly exalted to the Sublime degree of Royal Arch Masons, send greetings:
Our worthy and well beloved Brethren, Prince Hall, Boston Smith, Thomas Sanderson and several Brethren having obtained a Warrant from your Honourable Body, on September 29, 1784 AD, AL 5784, when under the Government of Thomas Howard, Earl of Effingham, Lord Howard, etc,etc., acting Grand Master under the authority of His Royal Highness Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland, Grand Master of the Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons This Warrant allowing us to confer but the three Degrees, and finding it injurious for the benefit of our Body by having no legal authority to confer the other four degrees. And understanding that the seven degrees is given under the Warrant from Grand Lodge, we, therefore, humbly solicit the renual of our Charter to ourtherise us. Legally to confer the same, as we are now getting in a flourishing condition. It is with regret we communicate to you that, form the decease of our Wee Beloved Brethren who obtain'd the Warrant we have not been able for several years to transmit Monies and hold a regular Communication; but, as we are now permanently Established to work comfortable to our Warrant and Book of Constitutions. We will send the monies as far as circumstances will admit, together with the money, for a new Warrant,
Should your Honourable Body think us worthy to receive the same. We remain,
Right Worshipful and Most Worshipful Brethren,
With all Due Respect, Yours fraternally
Samson H. Moody WM
Peter Howard SW
C. A. DeRandamie JW
Given under our hands at Boston, in the year of our Lord 1824 January 5th
William J. Champney, Secretary
It is not clear from this last letter whether or not the members of African Lodge were seeking a Royal Arch warrant or whether they had, in some curious way, heard of the Rite of Seven Degrees. This seems unlikely for the Rite of Seven Degrees had cease to function many years before this letter was written. The statement that the petitioners were Royal Arch masons need not surprise us. Referring to Lodge NO. 441, I.C. Gould states: " The records of No. 441, in the 38th Foot, afford an illustration of Irish practice. The working of the royal Arch degree was resumed in the Lodge [ Gould's italics] in 1822, when a letter was read from the Deputy Grand Secretary, of which the following passage appears in the minutes. " There is not any warrant issued by the Grand Lodge of Ireland other than that you hold; it has therefore always been the practice of Irish lodges to confer the Higher Degrees under that authority. While the earliest records in the possession of African Lodge make no mention of the Royal Arch degree having been conferred, either by ' Master Batt' or any other brother, it is not impossible that, that degree was given at some later date. At the date of this letter, 1824, African Lodge were still under the impression that they were on the Register of the Grand Lodge of England ( Moderns). They do not seem to have been informed of the change of number from 459 to 370 at the renumbering in 1792. Neither would they seem to be aware of the union of 1813 and their own removal from the register of the new United Grand Lodge of England. The petitioners of 1824 received no warrant of any kind from the United Grand Lodge of England and in 1827 declared their independence from any Masonic authority
As has already been stated, African Lodge- by a Declaration dated 18 June 1827 and published in the Boston Advertiser of 26 June 1827- declared itself to be 'free and independent of any lodge from this day'. The one -sided connection with the United Grand Lodge of England was finally severed. Prince Hall had been succeeded on his death by one Nero Prince as 'Grand Master'. The minutes of African Lodge show that he was raised in the lodge on 20 August 1799. Grimshaw, in one of his wilder stretches of imagination says that Nero Prince was a Russian Jew. Nothing is further from the truth. He is shown in the Boston Assessors Tax Books for 1800 as a bread baker. He married, in 1803, Nabby Bradish of Henniker, New Hampshire. In 1810 he went to Gloucester, became a sailor and made at least two voyages to Russia with a Captain Thomas Stanwood of Gloucester. In 1812 Nero Prince entered the service of Princess Purtossof and later became one of the staff at the court of the Emperor Alexander. He died in Russia in 1833. By the time that the declaration of independence was made African Lodge had warranted two lodges; one to brethren in Philadelphia on 24 June 1797 and a second to Hiram Lodge in Providence, Rhode Island, on 25 June 1797. From these three lodges and others subsequently chartered by them or their descendants the whole of the present' regular' Prince Hall Grand Lodges have arisen. This is not the place or deal with the question of the recognition, or non-recognition, of the Prince Hall Grand Lodges by the more widely-recognized Grand Lodges of the United States of America. That is a matter that can only be dealt with by the United States Grand Lodges and is completely outside the scope of this paper, whish confines itself to the origins and not the subsequent history of the Prince Hall Grand Lodges.
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