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Prince Hall - The Man, The Myth, The Legend

freemasonry lodge mason masonic pha prince hall

American abolitionist Prince Hall, who was born in 1738, was a prominent member of Boston's free black community. He established Prince Hall Freemasonry and fought for African American children's access to education, and participated actively in the push to return to Africa.

As some of the most important sectors of society in his day, Freemasonry, education, and the military, Hall worked to secure a place for black people in New York who were both enslaved and free. In the United States, Prince Hall Freemasonry—also referred to as "Black Freemasonry"—is said to have been founded by Hall. The African Grand Lodge of North America was founded by Hall. The Grand Master of Prince Hall was chosen by a unanimous vote and held the position until his passing away in 1807.

According to Steve Gladstone, the author of Freedom Trail Boston, Prince Hall "was one of the most prominent free black leaders in the late 1700s" because of his work establishing Black Freemasonry, promoting equitable educational opportunities, and opposing slavery.

There is uncertainty over his birth year, birthplace, parents, and marriages—at least in part because there were several "Prince Halls" at this time.

Early years

The year of Prince Hall's birth is between 1735–1738. It's also unknown where he was born or who his parents are. In his works, Prince Hall referred to New England as his native region. In its 1906 Proceedings, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts chose 1738 as the year, citing a letter from Reverend Jeremy Belknap, one of the architects of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The customary date for Prince Hall's birthday is September 14. Unknown are Hall's formative years.

In 1770, Prince Hall was a free, literate guy who had always been acknowledged as a free man. Prince Hall was a slave (or in-service) to Boston tanner William Hall. Prince acquired his knowledge in leather dressing and processing from William Hall. According to author and historian David L. Gray of Inside Prince Hall, there is no official historical record of the manumission. Hall, who was said to be literate, may have had help from others, like other black people in New England who were either slaves or free, or he may have learned on his own.

Church, family, and work life

At the age of 27, Hall enlisted in the Congregational Church in 1762. He wed Sarah Ritchie (or Ritchery), a slave who passed away in 1769. In 1770, Hall wed Flora Gibbs of Gloucester. David Gray claims that Sylvia (Zilpha) Ward Hall was his second wife. According to a PBS story on Prince for Africans in America, Prince Hall wed Delia, a servant from outside William Hall's home, and had Primus in 1756.

Inside Prince Hall author David L. Gray discovered that there is no evidence of Prince Hall's marriage to Delia or of a son named Primus over the course of his investigation into the life of Prince Hall and the founding of Prince Hall Freemasonry.

In Boston, Hall ran his own leather store and worked as a peddler, caterer, and leatherworker. He made five leather drumheads in April 1777 for a Boston artillery battalion. Hall had a residence and was registered to vote and pay taxes.

Revolutionary Conflict

Blacks who were both enslaved and free were urged by Hall to join the American colonial military.
He thought that including black people in the building of the new country would help all black people achieve freedom. Black people can join the military, according to Hall's proposal to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety. He and other petition signers compared the Intolerable Acts to black people being held in slavery. Their request was turned down.

Black men who served in the British army were promised their freedom in a proclamation made by the British government. After seeing the British Army recruit so many black soldiers, the Continental Army changed its mind and began accepting them. Hall may have been one of the six "Prince Halls" from Massachusetts who served in the war, although this is only speculation.

Numerous African Americans who had fought in the Revolutionary Conflict anticipated receiving racial equality after the conflict, but they were disappointed. Prince Hall worked with others to suggest laws for equal rights with the goal of bettering the lives of fellow African Americans. In order to better the lives of black people, he also staged community activities including educational conferences and theatrical performances.


Prince Hall was interested in joining the Masons since the organization was founded on the same ideas that attracted him. In advance of the commencement of the American Revolutionary War, Prince Hall along with fourteen additional free black men applied for membership at Boston's all-white St John's Lodge. The offer did not receive acceptance.

On March 6, 1775, Hall and 15 other men who had been turned down by colonial Freemasonry sought out and received Masonic initiation from members of Lodge No. 441 of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. The Lodge was a part of the British military presence in Boston. African Lodge No. 1 was established by Hall and other freedmen, and he was elected Grand Master.

The black Masons had limited authority; they could hold lodge meetings, participate in the St. John's Day Masonic procession, and execute Masonic funeral rites for the deceased, but they were unable to bestow Masonic degrees or carry out any other vital duties of a fully functional Lodge. They applied to the Grand Lodge of England after being unable to draft a charter. The African Lodge No. 1 afterwards known as African Lodge No. 459 received a charter from H. R. H. The Duke of Cumberland, grand master of the Mother Grand Lodge of England, on September 29, 1784.

The lodge was the first African Masonic lodge in the nation. Under the terms of his charter, On March 22, 1797, Prince Hall founded African Lodge 459 in Philadelphia. A separate charter was granted to them at a later date. On June 25, 1797, he established African Lodge in Providence, Rhode Island; it later changed its name to Hiram Lodge 3.

James Sidbury, a writer, and historian, stated:
On a pre-existing institutional framework, Prince Hall and those who joined him to build Boston's African Masonic Lodge created a radically new "African" movement. They advocated for emotional, mystical, and ancestral ties to the African continent and its inhabitants within that movement.
The African Grand Lodge was established on June 24, 1808, by the brethren, comprising the lodges in Philadelphia, Providence, and Boston, following the passing of Prince Hall on December 4, 1807.

In 1827, the African Grand Lodge formally proclaimed its secession from the United Grand Lodge of England and all other lodges. They changed their name to Prince Hall Grand Lodge in 1847 to pay tribute to its founder.
The "Father of African Freemasonry" was Hall. Regarding civic engagement, Prince Hall stated: "My brothers, let us show the utmost respect to everyone who God has placed in positions of authority over us. Do right, be loyal to those who employ you, and treat them with the respect they may be due, but let us not worship men. Your obligation as Masons and as Christians is to worship God."

Community involvement

Prince Hall strove to establish black rights, abolish slavery, and safeguard free blacks from being abducted by slave dealers in the state political sphere. He advocated for equitable educational opportunities, a back-to-Africa movement, and ran an African American school out of his house. He debated and spoke in public, arguing against slavery before a legislative assembly that was mostly made up of Christians.


Hall asked the Massachusetts Congress to establish an educational program for black children. Hall used the same argument against "Taxation without Representation" during the American Revolution. To disassociate themselves from white supremacy and raise educated Black people, Hall and other Black Bostonians pushed for the establishment of a separate school.

Hall made rational arguments, but despite that, neither of his two attempts to get legislation through the Massachusetts Congress succeeded. Then, out of his own house, Hall began a school program with a concentration on classical education and the liberal arts for free Black children.

Speaking and creating petitions

He is well-recognized for his petition writing and lectures. "My comrades, let us not be thrown down by these and many other evils we currently labor under", Hall said in an address to the Boston African Masonic Lodge, "for the darkest is before the dawn. Let's not forget the terrible day that occurred with our African brothers and sisters in the French West Indies six years ago. From daylight to night, just the sound of the whip was audible".

The assault and kidnapping of other Black Boston citizens were denounced in a 1788 petition to the Massachusetts legislature, along with other atrocities the group had to endure.

His most famous writings are the 1792 Charge and the 1797 Charge. The subject of Hall's 1792 Charge was the elimination of slavery in his own Massachusetts. He talked about how important it was for black leaders to play significant roles in the development of the nation and the promotion of unity. Hall wrote about the abuse and hatred that African Americans experienced in the United States in his 1797 Charge. In the Haitian Revolution, he identified black revolutionaries.

Several free black people in Massachusetts, including Hall, petitioned the state in 1788 to stop the sale of African-American sailors into slavery.

Hall stated the following in a speech he gave in June 1797:
"Patience, I say, because if we didn't have a lot of it, we wouldn't be able to handle the everyday abuse we receive on Boston's streets, let alone during open-air recreation days. When this happens, we are horribly mistreated in such a way that we may genuinely be said to be holding our lives in our hands while the arrows of death are whizzing about our heads. It's not for lack of confidence on your part since they are aware that they cannot face you one on one but rather in a crowd."

Movement for Return to Africa

The Back-to-Africa movement was active in Prince Hall's life, and he went to the legislature to ask for money for voluntary emigration to Africa. Prince Hall and 73 other African-American delegates made an appeal for emigration to the Massachusetts Senate in January 1773. This argument, which also argued that African Americans would fit in better with the climate and way of life in Africa, was rejected. Hall's passion for the cause was rekindled after several emancipated black men were detained while traveling to Africa. He discovered that the Back-to-Africa movement did not have the momentum or support at the time to become a reality.

Copp's Hill Cemetery

Prince Hall, along with other prominent Bostonians from the colonial era, is buried in Copp's Hill Burying Ground in Boston after passing away in 1807. Numerous unmarked graves near Snowhill Street include the remains of thousands of other African Americans who resided in the "New Guinea" neighborhood at the foot of Copp's Hill.
On June 24, 1835, a memorial plaque in his honor was built adjacent to his gravesite in Copp's Hill.

According to the plaque, Prince Hall was the first Grand Master of the colored Grand Lodge in Massachusetts. died on December 7, 1807" Newspaper reports said that Hall passed away on December 4 and was buried three days later, according to historian David Gray. Sylvia (Zilpha) Ward Hall, his wife, served as the executrix of his estate, which had only $47.22 in cash and no real estate.


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