Prince Hall was the founder of the oldest social organization among blacks in America. Today’s Prince Hall Masonic order goes back to seed-time of the republic, while almost all blacks are acquainted with the Prince Hall Masons and their social and charitable activities very little is known about Prince Hall.
It is still a matter of opinion as to where Prince Hall was born, some say Bridgetown, Mass, Barbados, and even the British West Indies. The generally accepted date of his birth is 12 September 1748, although some other dates have been stated no one is certain.
Prince Hall was the son of an Englishman named Thomas Prince Hall, he was a leather worker by trade and his mother was a free Black woman of French Decent. Little is known of his parents except that they were in humble circumstances and had a reputation for piety, sobriety, and industry. These qualities were transmitted to their son.
It is well to deviate here to emphasize that Prince Hall came to this land from free Parentage, and was NOT a slave. This digression is justified at this point, because when black Masonry became the subject of bitter controversy, its opponents adduced the alleged “Free Born” qualification, charging that Prince Hall’s was invalid.
Prince Hall was not satisfied with his island home and the outlook for his father’s trade to which he was an early apprentice. At age 17, he worked his passage on a sailing vessel bound for Boston. He arrived there in March 1765, where he immediately set to work at his trade. At age 25 Prince Hall had acquired some real estate and was qualified to vote. Prince Hall also operated his own soap manufacture.
In personal appearance, Hall is described, as rather short in stature (5′ 3″) fair complexion, slight of build, delicate, and almost effeminate. His head was shapely, his features refined and regular, and his eyes bright and piercing. His Physique did not deter him from engaging in hard work.
Prince Hall was married to Sarah Ritchery, who died 26 February 1769 at the age of 24. His second wife was Phoebe Baker, whom he married in 1784.
In 1774, Prince Hall joined the Methodist Church and eventually became a minister and the leader of the small black community then in Boston.
As a Public spirited citizen and leader of his people, Prince Hall was what is now termed a radical that is in breadth of view he was a century in advance of his time. He not only was an abolitionist, but he also advocated citizenship for black men, participation in government, and equality below the law. He opposed all forms of racial or class discrimination and was insistent on the protection of his people from social insult and indignity.
Prince Hall also founded schools for the education of black youths in 1796.
On 6 March 1775, Prince Hall and 14 other free black men were initiated into Lodge No. 441, Irish Constitution, attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot, British Army Garrisoned at Castle Williams (now Fort Independence) Boston Harbor on March 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 Ruformm, Thomas Santerson, Prince Rayden, Cato Speain, Boston Smith, Peter Best, Forten Howard and Richard Titley.
When the British Army left Boston, this Lodge No. 441 granted Prince Hall and his brethren authority to meet as a lodge, to go in procession on St. Johns 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 enjoyed their 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 (William Moody of Brotherly Love Lodge No. 55) for a warrant or charter.
The Warrant to African Lodge No. 1 of Boston is the most significant and highly prize document known to the Prince Hall Masonic Fraternity. Through it our legitimacy is traced, and on it 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 mater of the Neptune, under its authority African Lodge No. 1 became African Lodge number 459.
Four Years later an African Grand Lodge was formed and Prince Hall was elected Master. In 1797 Hall organized an African lodge in Philadelphia and Rhode Island. The obligation of charity and benevolence was always in his mind and his countless acts of kindness enshrined him in the heart of the community, In November of 1807 while on one of these errands of mercy, he contracted a sever cold which developed into pneumonia. On 4 December 1807,this great soul was called from labor to refreshment amidst the tears and grief of a company of those who best knew him. He met death as he encountered the problems of life unshrinking and unafraid.
Is there one who doubts that when his spirit knocked at the portals of the grand lodge above, he was joyfully received by the grand Tyler of the universe, as one who was duly and truly prepared, worthy and well qualified to enter into the rewards of the temple on high not made by hands, eternal in the heavens.
On Monday, 7 December 1807 at 3 O’clock the funeral service for Prince Hall was held at his late dwelling house in Lendell’s lane in Boston. With appropriate ceremonies due to his Masonic rank, he was buried in the historic Copps Hill Cemetery.
After Hall’s death in 1807, Black Masons decided to change the name of their organization from African Grand Lodge to Prince Hall Grand Lodge. Also Upon his death, Nero Prince became Grand Master. When Nero Prince sailed to Russia in 1808 George Middletown succeeded him. After Middletown, Petret Lew, Samuuel 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, and saved the charter from complete destruction. Thus a Grand Master’s devotion and heroism further consecrated this parchment to us, and added further detail to its already interesting history. The original Charter has long since been made secure between heavy plate glass and is kept in a fireproof vault in a downtown Boston Bank.
Today the Prince Hall Masonic Fraternity has over 4,500 lodges worldwide, forming 45 independent jurisdictions with a membership of over 300,000 Masons.