Prince Hall

From Academic Kids

Prince Hall (c. 1735-December 4, 1807) is considered the founder of "black Freemasonry" in the United States, known today as Prince Hall Freemasonry.

No record of his birth has yet been found, although he is variously stated to have been born in Africa or Barbados and brought to North America as a slave. Documents in Massachusetts showing that slaveowner William Hall freed a man named Prince Hall on April 9, 1765 cannot be conclusively linked to any one individual, as several other Prince Halls were living in Boston at that time. It is unknown whether he was free-born or a freedman. Narrative stories of Prince Hall's birth and youth are unsubstantiated and appear to have been invented by their authors (particularly William H. Grimshaw in 1903).

Prince Hall was a property owner and registered voter in Boston. He worked as an abolitionist and civil rights activist, fought for laws to protect free blacks in Massachusetts from kidnapping by slave traders, campaigned for schools for black children, and operated a school in his home.

On March 6, 1775, Prince Hall and fourteen other black men were initiated, passed and raised in Military Lodge No. 441, an integrated Lodge attached to the British Army, at Boston. Prince Hall later served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and may have fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

When the British Army left Boston in 1776, the black Masons were granted a dispensation for limited operations as African Lodge No. 1; they were entitled to meet, to process on St. John's Day, and to bury their dead, but not to confer degrees or perform other Masonic functions. Rejected by Provincial Grand Lodges in Massachusetts and elsewhere, they were granted a charter by the Premier Grand Lodge of England in 1784 as African Lodge No. 459 (but, due to communications problems, did not receive the actual charter until 1787). Shortly thereafter, black Masons elsewhere in the U.S. began contacting Prince Hall with requests to establish affiliated Lodges in their own cities. Consistent with European Masonic practice at that time, African Lodge fulfilled their requests and served as Mother Lodge to new black Lodges in Philadelphia, Providence and New York.

(Although individual exceptions exist, Masonic Lodges and Grand Lodges in the newly-formed United States generally excluded blacks, not only refusing membership to black petitioners, but also excluding black men who had legitimately been made Masons in integrated jurisdictions. Thus arose a system of effective segregation, peculiar to the U.S., which remained in place until the early 1990s and which persists in some jurisdictions to this day.)

In 1791, black Freemasons met in Boston and formed the African Grand Lodge of North America. Prince Hall was elected its Grand Master and served until his death in 1807. (The claim that he was appointed Provincial Grand Master for North America in 1791 appears to have been fabricated.) The African Grand Lodge was later renamed the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in his honor. In 1827 the African Grand Lodge declared its independence from the United Grand Lodge of England, as the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had done 45 years earlier.

Today, predominantly-black Prince Hall Grand Lodges operate in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Liberia, governing Prince Hall Lodges throughout the world. After literally centuries of controversy, many (but not all) "mainstream" (predominantly-white) Grand Lodges in the U.S. and internationally now extend full fraternal recognition to their Prince Hall counterparts.


  • Draffen of Newington, George (May 13, 1976).  Prince Hall Freemasonry.  Scotland: The Phylaxis Society.  Reprinted at Phylaxis Society: Prince Hall Freemasonry ( (retrieved December 29, 2004).
  • Edward, Bruce John (June 5, 1921).  Prince Hall, the Pioneer of Negro Masonry.  Proofs of the Legitimacy of Prince Hall Masonry.  New York.
  • Grimshaw, William H., Past Grand Master, 1907 of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington, District of Columbia (1903).  Official History of Free Masonry Among the Coloured People in North AmericaNote: significant claims in this book have been discredited by later research.
  • Moniot, Joseph E.  Prince Hall Lodges History—Legitimacy—Quest for recognition.  Proceedings, Vol. VI, No. 5, Walter F. Meier Lodge of Research No. 281, Grand Lodge of Washington.
  • Walkes, Jr., Joseph A (1979).  Black Square and Compass—200 years of Prince Hall Freemasonry, p. 8.  Richmond, Virginia: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co.
  • Wesley, Dr. Charles H (1977).  Prince Hall: Life and Legacy.  Washingon, DC: The United Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction, Prince Hall Affiliation and the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum.  Reprinted in Prince Hall Masonic Directory, 4th Edition (1992).  Conference of Grand Masters, Prince Hall Masons.

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