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by W.Bro. TONY POPE
PRINCE HALL REVISITED
Presented at the Victorian Lodge of Research, Melbourne, on 26 March 2004 and subsequently published in Masonic Perusings, the 2004 transactions of the Victorian Lodge of Research, edited by Graeme Love and Kent Henderson.
story of Prince Hall and African Lodge has been told many times—often
inaccurately and always incompletely. A careful and precise account is
readily available to Australian readers in David Gray’s Inside Prince Hall.
In summary, Prince Hall was a man held in high regard in Massachusetts, not
only within his own Black community but also among influential Whites. He was
foundation Master of African Lodge #459, chartered by the Grand Lodge of England
(Moderns) in 1784, and continued as Master until his death in 1807.
racial segregation isolated them from other lodges in North America, Hall and
African Lodge laid the foundation of what has become a separate masonic Order,
Prince Hall Freemasonry. Despite several attempts to remedy this shameful
division of masons according to racial origin, it persisted for more than 200
years, and it is only in the past 15 years that it has begun to be
Prince Hall Freemasonry has suffered not only the slights and
attacks of mainstream American masons and the indifference of mainstream Grand
Lodges worldwide, but also from quarrels and schisms within their own
fraternity. There now exist two main groups of Prince Hall freemasons, each
declaring the other to be irregular: in one camp the independent state-based
alliance of Grand Lodges of Prince Hall Affiliation (PHA), and in the other a
National Grand Lodge with subordinate state Grand Lodges of Prince Hall Origin
(PHO). In addition, there are individual Grand Lodges and alliances of Grand
Lodges formed by renegades from PHA and PHO, and many other allegedly masonic
bodies of more dubious origin.
Most of the accounts of the origin of Prince Hall freemasonry
contain particulars of numerous allegations of irregularity and/or defences to
these allegations. Many of these are included in the 1994 Kellerman Lecture for
South Australia, ‘Our segregated brethren, Prince Hall Freemasons’.
omits these allegations and refutations because they became irrelevant after the
ruling of the United Grand Lodge of England in December 1994, following a
lengthy and careful investigation, that Prince Hall freemasonry was regular in
origin and is of exemplary regularity today.
This paper will omit much of the history of Prince Hall
freemasonry prior to 1847, concentrating on later events and current issues. In
particular, it will re-examine the position of the National Grand Lodge (PHO)
and the independent state Grand Lodges (PHA), and discuss options for
reconciliation and recognition.
Relying on Gray’s Inside Prince Hall and the
authorities cited therein, the history of African Lodge may be summarised as
African Lodge #1 formed as a ‘St John’s Lodge’ (ie without
warrant) with Prince Hall as Master.
‘General Regulations’ (by-laws) recorded.
Warrant issued for African Lodge #459 by the Grand Lodge of England
(Moderns) with Prince Hall as Master.
Warrant received; first annual returns made (19 MMs, 4 FCs, 11 EAs).
wrote to Grand Secretary, asking if African Lodge had authority to erect a
second lodge of the same name; no reply extant.
1792 African Lodge renumbered #370 but continued to use #459.
Hall authorised two new lodges to work under duplicates of African
Lodge’s charter, each using the name African Lodge #459—one in Providence
(Rhode Island), the other in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania).
Prince Hall died and was succeeded as WM by Nero Prince (1807–09),
followed by George Middleton (1809–11), Peter Lew (1811–17), Sampson Moody
(1817–26) and John Hilton (1826–27).
Middleton chartered a second lodge in Pennsylvania.
Lew chartered a third lodge in Pennsylvania.
Lew chartered Boyer Lodge in New York.
Lew chartered a fourth lodge in Pennsylvania.
The two Grand Lodges in England (Antients and Moderns)
having amalgamated as the United Grand Lodge of England on 27 December
1813, they renumbered their lodges and the result was published in March 1814,
omitting all previously listed American lodges—but African Lodge apparently
knew nothing of this.
four lodges in Pennsylvania formed a Grand Lodge, First Independent African
Grand Lodge of North America.]
African Lodge of Boston (Massachusetts) wrote to England, seeking
authority to ‘confer the other four Degrees’; letter received but no reply
1826 The lodge in Rhode Island having become defunct, a new lodge was chartered from Boston, Harmony Lodge #1 of Providence; the lodge was required to make annual returns and pay one dollar for each initiation (‘yearly tribute’).
Boyer Lodge #1 of New York sought a new warrant, which was approved in 1827.
These two last-mentioned events are interrelated. Whatever
the legality of the earlier warrants issued from African Lodge, it appears that
the lodges so chartered were subordinate to African Lodge of Boston, from the
1797 Philadelphia application (we had rather be under our dear bretheren [sic]
from Boston’) to the 1826 charter for
Harmony Lodge (annual returns and ‘yearly tribute’). But Boyer’s 1826
application for a second warrant was of a different nature. The committee of
African Lodge considered the question of issuing an independent charter
to Boyer Lodge. They advised that, in order to do this, African Lodge itself had
to be independent.
Hence the declaration of June 1827.
African Grand Lodge continued as a one-lodge Grand Lodge
until 1847, when, under changed circumstances, African Lodge ceased to exist as
a separate entity, and its members were divided between three new lodges. But in
1984 the Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts revived
African Lodge #459 by proclamation, as a commemorative lodge.
While African Grand Lodge of Massachusetts merely survived
during this period, its offspring were more energetic. First Independent African
Grand Lodge of North America (Pennsylvania) lost two of its four lodges. Those
two combined with a lodge of dubious origin to form a rival, Hiram Grand Lodge
of Pennsylvania (1837). Both Pennsylvanian Grand Lodges were active beyond state
borders, chartering lodges in Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New
Jersey and Ohio. Of these, only Maryland (1845) had formed its own Grand Lodge
prior to 1847.
In 1845 Boyer Grand Lodge of New York was erected; according
to tradition, it was formed from Boyer Lodge and three other lodges chartered
from Boston. It seems to have been preceded by a rival, Philanthropic Grand
Lodge, formed in 1844 by unspecified lodges of unknown origin. Sources are
agreed that there was considerable dissention among the lodges in New York.
This set the scene for what was to follow.
June 1847 a convention was held in Boston, attended by delegates from
Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island,
at which it was resolved to organise a National Grand Lodge.
As David Gray observes:
Precisely who attended, in what capacity or with what
authority, and when, is subject to dispute. There are no extant minutes of the
meeting, or meetings, and retrospective records are tainted by subsequent
events. The indisputable facts are that in June 1847 a body was formed with the
title ‘The Most Worshipful National Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Ancient
York Masons (Colored) of North America’, and John T Hilton was its first
General Grand Master.
to Matthew Brock, in his History of the National Grand Lodge (published circa
1980, presumably by either the MW National Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted
Ancient York Masons, Prince Hall Origin National Compact, U.S.A., or by the
author), the title agreed at the convention was ‘National Grand Lodge of Free
and Accepted Ancient York Masons for the United Sates [sic] of America
and Masonic Jurisdiction’ (page 30), or ‘National Grand Lodge of
Color of these United States of America and Masonic Jurisdiction’ (page 31).
The convention met again in June 1848, this time in New York, to ratify the
formation of the National Grand Lodge, and Brock states (page 33) that from that
time the body was known as ‘The Most Worshipful National Grand Lodge of Free
and Accepted Ancient York Masons, National Compact’. There are many minor
variations on the title, the National Grand Lodge having been incorporated in
many states without attention to uniformity of wording.
Brock, National Grand Master 1963–75, gives a retrospective
exposition of the relationship of the National Grand Lodge and its subordinate
The National Grand Lodge is a constitutional body, with
powers, duties and obligations defined by its organic laws and statutes. Modeled
after the United States constitutional federalism, these potencies are largely
supervisory and paternal. Meetings were to be held triennially at such place as
deemed convenient to the members. Special meetings could be convened to solve
special exigencies. The focus of its Legislative power is vested in the body at
these sessions, while judicial power is vested in both the body and the Supreme
Thus, the National Grand Master and
other officers of the National Grand Lodge have only executive power. Clearly
therefore the focus of these functions was the general welfare of the craft,
leaving the State Grand Lodges the determination of all matters of purely local
and internal concern. Its powers extended to the issuance of charters or
warrants of constitution to State Grand Lodges, which tended to help the craft
proceed along a line of uniform action. It is noteworthy that the power of the
State Grand Lodges was not undermined or reduced, instead it was protected:
“The State Grand Lodges shall have full power and authority to grant letters
of dispensation and warrants of constitution to subordinate lodges within their
several jurisdictions, and to establish as many lodges as they deem most
expedient.” Thus, the creation of the National Grand Lodge, as the focus of
Colored Masonic sovereignty anticipated the problems inherent in a system of
State Grand Lodges as claimants of allegiance, and offered a fraternal solution. . .
In the last analysis the advantages of a National Grand Lodge
could only be urged on the basis of reason, and not coercion. A National body
would have at its disposal the advantage of the ability and prestige of the most
intelligent and ablest of Colored Masons, wherever they could be found. It could
reconcile differences by exercising Masonic jurisdiction and the Supreme Council
(which was organized in 1897). It could plan and forecast with greater ability,
resources, and power than any of its component parts. Economic resources could
be concentrated and disposed of more effectively and cumulatively to increase
the power of Colored Masons than if done piecemeal.
theory, this might have worked. The participating Grand Lodges that formed the
National Grand Lodge (NGL) accepted charters from the NGL, and lodges formed in
other states were chartered as subordinate Grand Lodges under the NGL. It is
tempting to draw an analogy with other hierarchical masonic bodies, comparing:
the original participating Grand Lodges with the 20th-century German
Grand Lodges that formed the United Grand Lodges of Germany; and
the post-1847 subordinate Grand Lodges with Provincial or District Grand
Lodges under the English or Scottish systems.
there were significant differences (apart from the references, above, to a
Supreme Council) and the analogy cannot
be taken very far. Also, unfortunately, Brock’s theoretical picture of the
National Grand Lodge is not supported by citation of contemporary documents or
by events. Gray’s Inside Prince Hall summarises what is known of the
growth of the NGL in the period 1847–1877, and the fragmentation of its
The result was that many states had an independent (often ex‑NGL) Grand
Lodge and a Grand Lodge subordinate to the NGL. These subsequently
polarised into independent Grand Lodges of Prince Hall Affiliation (PHA) and
NGL-subordinate Grand Lodges of Prince Hall Origin (PHO), with the PHA Grand
Lodges and individual PHA members scathing in their attacks on the NGL. Gray
provides a list of complaints and an (almost) impartial commentary on them.
reached a climax in 1877–78, but again there is no clear and unbiased
contemporary record of facts. By 1877 a majority of subordinate Grand Lodges had
rebelled and quit the NGL, which had a triennial session scheduled for that
year. Most modern PHA historians claim that the session was held in Wilmington,
Delaware, and that the delegates voted to end the NGL. However, the earliest
record of this claim appears to be 26 years after the alleged event, made by
William H Grimshaw in his Official History of Freemasonry Among the
Colored People in North America, Macoy 1903, and subsequent writers cite no
earlier authority. Not only has Grimshaw been thoroughly discredited as an
historian, but also the very words
of the alleged resolutions are highly unlikely to have been made by delegates of
Resolved, That the National or
Compact Grand Lodge is, and the same is hereby declared to be an irregular and
unheard of body in Masonry, and it is hereby declared forever void.
National Grand Lodge rejects this claim, stating that the 10th triennial session
was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. According to Brock,
this is supported by the research of mainstream masonic historian Edward Cusick
in correspondence with Brock in 1957, who quoted the whole of a newspaper report
from the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette, 18 May 1877, page 4,
column 3. Confirmation of the contents of Cusick’s letter and of the
newspaper report have been sought by the present writer. The director of the
Chancellor Robert R Livingston Library (New York) has searched the extensive
Edward R Cusick Collection without avail; a copy of the newspaper has not
yet been located in Pennsylvania libraries, but the Carnegie Public Library in
Pittsburgh has yet to be explored. PHA champion Joseph A Walkes Jr is ambiguous
on the issue, quoting at length from an
earlier PHA historian, Harry A Williamson, as being ‘of interest’, finding
confirmation in the Proceedings of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio,
1878 (pp 27 & 66) that the 10th triennial was held at Pittsburgh in
but later comments:
. . . when the National Grand Lodge, (or such of it
as was left) was scheduled to meet in Wilmington, Del., in 1877, there was
nothing for the organization to do but dissolve, because, no Grand Lodges were
represented to call a meeting.
view of these facts, the claim that any group of gentlemen insist the National
Grand Lodge did not dissolve, is positively fraudulent.
one PHA historian, Ralph L McNeal, unreservedly accepts that Cusick’s claim is
correct, finding confirmation that the tenth triennial was held at Pittsburgh,
and not at Wilmington, in comments in the annual Proceedings of several
PHA Grand Lodges.
The newspaper report is also cited with approval by another mainstream
historian, John Sherman.
It should be noted that the newspaper report, as quoted, records the absence
owing to ill-health of National Grand Master Richard H Gleaves and the election
of Dr George W Levere, of Tennessee, as NGM. Confirmation that there was a
Grand Lodge in Tennessee at that time, which was still loyal to the National
Grand Lodge, may be deduced from Walkes.
There are indications that a motion to dissolve the NGL was entertained at the
Pittsburgh session, but of the nine Grand Lodges represented, only New York
supported the motion.
A meeting was called at Wilmington the following year ‘of
all the colored grand lodges in the United States and Canada’. This emanated
from an NGL resolution at the 10th triennial and was ‘for the express purpose of settling whatever
differences that may exist among the craft, and to form a Union satisfactory to
all, if possible’.
The meeting was attended by representatives of some of the independent (state)
Grand Lodges, and the outcome was a recommendation for a ‘Grand Lodge Union of
the United States of North America’, comprised of elected representatives of
each Grand Lodge, with specific and limited powers, to meet every four years
under a Presiding Officer of restricted tenure and powers, commencing in 1880,
subject to ratification by two-thirds of all ‘colored’ Grand Lodges of North
America on or before 31 December 1879. It was recommended that, upon such
ratification, the pre-existing NGL should be dissolved.
Ratification, however, was not forthcoming. This, of course, did not affect the
validity of any of the participants of the meeting at Wilmington in 1878, merely
that of the proposed new merger. The sequel occurred some years later, in 1888,
when NGM Levere’s successor, Captain W D Matthews, gave the
‘rebellious’ Grand Lodges an ultimatum,
the ‘Great Manifesto’, in effect: Return to the fold within two months, or I
will erect new Grand Lodges in your stead. They didn’t, and he did.
The independent (state, or State’s Rights) Grand
Lodges thrived, spreading through most of the United States, and beyond,
eventually forming the association known as Grand Lodges of Prince Hall
Affiliation. The National Grand Lodge survives, in fewer states and lesser
numbers, and in isolation from mainstream and PHA masonry. It has long been
subject to attack from proponents of PHA, in pamphlets and books, in the courts,
and now on the Internet.
Hard-liners declare the NGL to have been masonically unlawful
from the outset—firstly demonstrating confusion over the modern requirement
directed against control by a Supreme Council, that a Grand Lodge should be
independent and not subject to outside control, and secondly ignoring the fact
that they may be thereby pronouncing their own origins irregular. Others
consider the creation of the NGL, while not unlawful, to be an error of
judgment—in hindsight, the ‘Great Mistake’. Almost without exception, PHA
researchers are convinced that the NGL was dissolved in 1877, and the shell was
taken over or resurrected unlawfully in 1878; they appear to accept Grimshaw’s
claim and ignore or dismiss Cusick’s research, and thus declare the present
body to be irregular from that date.
The NGL claims an unbroken succession from 1847 to the present date and
persuasive evidence to the contrary has yet to be produced. Its origins would
appear to be no more irregular than those of the pre-NGL Grand Lodges which
formed it. When the United Grand Lodge of England recognised the Prince Hall
Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in December 1994, it intimated that the formation
of this Grand Lodge, at the time it was formed, could be seen as merely
eccentric and of acceptable regularity. The present Prince Hall Grand Lodge of
Massachusetts traces its lineage through the National Grand Lodge (1847–1873),
which suggests that England considered the origin of the NGL also to be
‘merely eccentric’. England, of course, has not had occasion to pronounce on
the continued regularity of the NGL beyond 1877.
The problem lies in the dearth of historical research and the
lack of reliable, unbiased contemporary records. This is true of both parties,
PHA and PHO, from the beginning right up to the end of the 20th century. Those
few who have engaged in research have been almost entirely PHA, which, given the
rivalry, has seldom resulted in impartiality. Just as, until very recently, the
bulk of US mainstream researchers painted a picture of PHA irregularity, so too
have PHA researchers given a bad press to the NGL, and the NGL has produced
neither the scholars nor the verifiable documentation to refute it.
There is a vital need for scholarly and impartial research in
both branches of Prince Hall masonry, to fill the many gaps in the historical
development of the fraternity in most states and on a national basis. A
substantial part of this burden could be assumed by research lodges, if they
existed, but they have been rare—and short-lived—in PHA, receiving little
encouragement or official support, and they are non-existent in PHO. For the
past 30 years the prime source of PHA history has been the Phylaxis
magazine, and the work of some of its leading members, particularly the books of
its founder, Joseph Walkes. Now, with the advent of the new millennium, younger
researchers are active in the field of PHA history and ready to publish their
work. David Gray, with the encouragement of the ANZMRC, was first; others
include Ralph McNeal (a meticulous researcher), Alton Roundtree (an experienced
writer and editor), and Ezekiel M Bey of New York. The results are eagerly
The only readily available historical work from the National
Grand Lodge is Matthew Brock’s History of the National Grand Lodge (c.
1980), available from the National Grand Lodge at US$15.00. The author completed
secondary education in Georgia, and then received gratuitous private tuition in
Ohio. He was employed on the Pennsylvania Railroad for 43 years. He served as
National Grand Master from 1963 to 1975, and his forte appears to have been
finance, placing first his Grand Lodge (Eureka Grand Lodge of Ohio) and then the
NGL on a sound financial footing. From his correspondence with Edward Cusick in
the 1950s, it is apparent that Brock had long been interested in the history of
his fraternity, and after his term as NGM he was appointed NGL Historian.
The book cannot be judged by its cover, which is of good
quality and attractive appearance. Inside, it is seriously flawed as a reference
work: it lacks an index; it has no bibliography or list of references, no
footnotes or endnotes, and very few indications of sources; clearly it did not
receive the attention of a copy-editor or even of a professional proof-reader (a
breed which had not yet disappeared in 1980)—probably not even galley-proofing
by the author, since large chunks of material are repeated in close proximity to
each other. But it cannot be dismissed out of hand. It is the only book
available to present the other side of the PHA/PHO story. Some of it is
demonstrably wrong (notably the history of Smooth Ashlar Grand Lodge in
Georgia), but some can be subject to verification (for example the disputed
location and outcome of the tenth triennial session of the National Grand Lodge
in 1877). Even with agreed facts, it is enlightening to see the different
perspective of PHA and PHO.
There is a clear need for a better work on the NGL history,
and one is in progress. The author is Cedric Lewis, Grand Master of the Prince
Hall Grand Lodge of Mississippi (PHO), the present historian and webmaster of
With such a dearth of accessible published material, the Internet is virtually the only source for further investigation, from outside the United States, of the history of the NGL since 1878 and the present situation. The main problem with material from the Internet is verification, and this should be kept in mind in relation to the next section of this paper.
More information about the rival Grand Lodges in New York in the
mid-1800s, including St Philip’s and Osiris Electric Grand Lodges, may
soon be available in a book in preparation by PHA researcher Ezekiel M Bey.
Brock’s pronouncements about the Supreme Council (formed in 1897 under
controversial circumstances) are obscure; there appears to be no cogent evidence
of control of the NGL or its affiliate Grand Lodges by the Supreme Council,
although—as is common in US Craft jurisdictions—much is made of holding high
rank in the Scottish Rite. He may be referring to the ‘Council of Nine’, a
group of high-ranking Scottish Rite Masons whom the NGM may consult if he
Among the few PHA researchers active on the Internet who concede that the
10th triennial was held in Pittsburgh, where George Levere was elected NGM, and
reject Grimshaw’s claim it was held in Wilmington and the NGL dissolved by
resolution of the delegates, Ralph McNeal nevertheless considers the NGL to have
been irregular from 1847 to 1878—and ‘bogus’ thereafter—but Alton
Roundtree, whose long-awaited book is now scheduled for publication in October
2004, considers it to have been regular throughout.