Dispelling the Myth that Prince Hall Masons Are Clandestine
R. Stanley Harrison, Connecticut (Grand Secretary)
My Brothers, honored Colleagues, Grand Secretaries: Most Worshipful Brother Robert E. Davies, Agenda Chairman of this Grand Secretaries Conference, asked that I prepare and present the above subject and topic for you at this 1991 Grand Secretaries Conference. I assure each of you Brothers from our recognized Sister Grand Jurisdictions, that it is not my prerogative in presenting this subject, to convince or change your thoughts and actions regarding the subject in any of your Grand Jurisdictions. I do prevail upon each and every one of you to listen with open minds to the accurately researched material, proven by so many scholars, who over the many years have authentically studied this subject pertaining to Prince Hall F. & A.M. Masonry.
Definition of Clandestine: (Webster's Unabridged) Conducted with secrecy by design, actually for evil purposes.
(Mackey) The irregular origin or operation as a Masonic Lodge or men functioning as a Body of Masonry. Also referring to Clandestine, perhaps those Grand Jurisdictions do not require a belief in a Supreme Being as a requirement for membership, or the use of a Book of Sacred Law on the Altar in their Lodges; also those Grand Jurisdictions which do not conform to all the requirements of recognition as are set forth in our own Grand Jurisdiction.
The traditional story regarding Prince Hall is published annually in the Prince Hall Masons 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. Prince Hall was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, West Indies, about September 12, 1748. There are some discrepancies of a couple years one way or the other of 1748, which was true in many records of death and birth in that era. He was freeborn. His father, Thomas Prince Hall, was an Englishman and his mother a colored woman of French extraction. At approximately 17 years of age, he worked passage on a ship to Boston, Massachusetts. He worked as a leather worker and some eight years later acquired real estate and became a qualified voter in Massachusetts. Prince Hall was religiously inclined and later became a Methodist preacher with a charge at Cambridge, Massachusetts. In Boston, Massachusetts on March 6, 1775, 15 free black men, including one named Prince Hall, were Initiated into Masonry in Castle William (now Fort Independence) in Boston Harbor by Masonic Lodge No. 441 (attached to the British Garrison 38th Regiment of Foot, as a Military Lodge from the Grand Lodge of Ireland). Sergeant John B. Batt was listed as the presiding Worshipful Master. Records of the Grand Lodge of Ireland show these are true facts. Later, these Black Brethren were granted a permit with limited activities; not being able to confer Degrees. The same procedure was followed by Union Lodge of Albany, now Mount Vernon No. 3, F. & A.M., whose civilian members had all been made in Army Lodge No. 74, Ireland. First Lodge meaning one under Dispensation.
Prince Hall was the first Worshipful Master of this Lodge, which was organized and opened as the first Lodge of Black Masons in America. From 1784 to 1806 Prince Hall conducted voluminous correspondence with the English Grand Secretary, more so than any other American Mason of that period. Most of the information about Massachusetts Freemasonry and Massachusetts Lodges went to England through Prince Hall, since none of the other Massachusetts Lodges corresponded with England during the period of 1770.
Written evidence exists to show that regular meetings of First African Lodge were held from 1779 to 1787. Its Regulations dated January 14, 1777, are now in the British Grand Lodge Library, London, England. Prince Hall made application to Dr. Joseph Warren, who was killed in a skirmish at Bunker Hill before any action could be completed. He later applied to the Provincial Grand Master, Brother John Rowe, but his granted permit was for very limited activities of the Lodge. Irked by Rowe's failure, Prince Hall made a request through one William M. Moody; the application is preserved in the British Grand Lodge Library, and it referred to the Lodge as having existed for eight years. The request was granted and a Charter was issued to African Grand Lodge No. 459 under date of September 29, 1784.
A true record of the act and of all fees being paid is recorded in the English Grand Lodge. The Charter was not delivered for three years due to the ending of the war and travel circumstances. Publicity of the Warrant being received appeared in the Boston newspapers and no protest was ever filed by any white Lodges in or around Boston. At this time, the Black Lodge was the only Body in Massachusetts which held a true Warrant from the Grand Master of England, the acknowledged Mother Grand Lodge of the Masonic World.
In the report of the Massachusetts Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., Most Worshipful Melvin Johnson stated that on May 6, 1787, African Lodge No. 459 was formally organized in Boston under the Charter with Prince Hall as Worshipful Master. That Charter is in existence today and there is no question of its authenticity; it is believed to be the only original Charter issued from the Grand Lodge of England in the United States. African Grand Lodge was formed following Ancient Custom and Usages; Prince Hall being selected as Grand Master.
Prince Hall issued a permit and Warrant to 13 Black Brothers Initiated in England, to form the African Lodge of Philadelphia, with no protest from Philadelphia White Masons. In 1797, Hiram Lodge No. 1 was Chartered in Providence, Rhode Island; the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island itself being formed in 1856. After its formal organization, African Lodge functioned as a Mother Lodge, assuming authority to establish other Lodges, much as it had been founded by the British Army in 1776; this was indeed considered a lawful practice of Freemasonry in those days. Upon the death of Prince Hall it was voted to change the name to Prince Hall Grand Lodge in memory of the founder. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts was formed one year after the African Grand Lodge, and any new and arbitrary regulation concerning Territorial Jurisdiction, such as only one Grand Lodge in each state, could not be applied to preexisting Grand Lodges within the state insofar as legality is concerned. It can only be applied for purposes of recognition. It also cannot make rules binding upon the Mother Lodge of England which Chartered them. Thus, the forming of African Grand Lodge was more properly accomplished than the formation of White Grand Lodges in other states. In 1813, the United Grand Lodge of England, upon revising the Roll of Lodges, omitted those which had gone out of, or joined, other Grand Lodges. African Grand Lodge was included, but so were over 70 Lodges in the United States, among them being St. Johns Lodge of Boston, Massachusetts.
It is now agreed that this act by the English United Grand Lodge in 1813 had no effect upon the legitimacy or standing of any erased Lodge. We all note that there have existed for many years the several active and legitimate Bodies of Appendant Black Masonic Organizations, in York Rite, Scottish Rite, Order of the Eastern Star and so forth. For our acceptance of recognition of Prince Hall Masonry, we are cognizant of their belief in a Supreme Being, the use of a Book of Sacred Law on their Altar, and we know their Rituals, Modes of Recognition (Secret Work), their procedures, their requirements, their beliefs, their tenets or fundamental principles are all either identical with what we have or are recognizably similar. The following items further substantiate that Prince Hall Masons are not Clandestine: The Ancient Landmarks do not require that a Grand Lodge have exclusive Jurisdiction. There were two Grand Lodges in Massachusetts until 1792 and St. Andrews Lodge of Boston continued to work under the Grand Lodge of Scotland until 1809. There were two Grand Lodges in South Carolina until 1817. There were two Grand Lodges in New York until 1827. American doctrine of Exclusive Jurisdiction was not put forth until the 1880s.
The Grand Master of Massachusetts, William Sewall, in 1870 said that he had no doubt that Black Masons were legitimate. Shortly after that, a select committee in the Grand Lodge of Ohio studied the matter for a year and reported that it was satisfied beyond all question that Colored Masonry had a legitimate beginning in this Country, as much as any other Freemasonry; in fact it came from the same source.
In 1898, the Grand Lodge of the State of Washington admitted the legitimacy of the Black Masonry. (Massachusetts, Ohio and Washington all referred to Prince Hall Affiliates.) At the Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of the State of Washington F. & A.M. in July 1990, Prince Hall F. & A.M. Affiliates were granted Recognition and Visitation rights. In 1940 the Prince Hall Affiliate appeared in an action in the Court of Common Pleas at New Haven, Connecticut, against two Clandestine Black Lodges. Two Past Grand Masters of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut, both attorneys, and the Deputy for Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Connecticut, appeared and gave active assistance. The two Past Grand Masters testified to the recognized legitimacy of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge.
In 1947, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts voted to recognize Prince Hall Masonry but bowed to pressures from one Northern Grand Lodge and several in the South and rescinded that action in 1949, saying because of objections . . . and not because (they were) not legitimate.
In May of 1876, the Deputy Grand Master of Scotland presented a lengthy paper in the Transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge and concluded that Prince Hall Masonry was legitimate according to the customs of the times (when it was founded), that Prince Halls patent of appointment as Provincial Grand Master was legitimate and that Prince Hall and African Lodge warranted other Lodges exactly as the White Lodges did (notable examples being the Lodge at Fredericksburg establishing two). In 1974, a Special Committee of the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, chaired by a former Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, ended two years of exhaustive studies of the legitimacy of Prince Hall Masonry and the doctrine of exclusive Jurisdiction. The Committee concluded that nothing prohibited the recognition of Prince Hall Masonry. After stalling in 1976 and 1977 and further stalling in 1978 and 1979, the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin recognized Prince Hall Masonry, F. & A.M., in 1990. Let me conclude thusly: Here are men, good men, who have been following the ideals of Masonry and thinking themselves as Masons, for well over 200 years, and have contributed to the welfare of Freemasonry over all these years. Therefore, the important first step is simply to acknowledge the legitimacy of Prince Hall Masons, to cease the hostilities and to stop stating Irregular every time Prince Hall Masonry is mentioned. Summary
It has been my honor and privilege to present and discuss this topic with you, this august assemblage of Grand Secretaries. Great concern has been evidenced by so many of you good Brothers regarding Prince Hall Masonry, whether or not it is a prevailing subject in your respective Grand Jurisdictions. To date, there have been five Grand Jurisdictions which have recognized Prince Hall Masonry. They are: Connecticut, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Washington, with the latest being the Grand Lodge of Colorado. The recognition in four Grand Jurisdictions has been for Recognition and Visitation rights only, and the Grand Jurisdiction of Nebraska permitted Affiliations and so forth. Within the past few months, I have received requests from five other Grand Jurisdictions for all the material we used in our Grand Jurisdiction of Connecticut in our preparations and mutual resolutions between my Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut and Prince Hall F. & A.M. Affiliates of Connecticut. I have distributed these materials at each of the classes I have conducted at this Conference. Concern was expressed by some Brothers regarding other Black Grand Lodges, several being in some Grand Jurisdictions. The consensus of opinion seems to be that Prince Hall Grand Lodge should take the initiative to have these other Black Grand Lodges clean up their act, so it eliminates the prevailing situation which is currently existing in those Grand Jurisdictions where several Black Grand Lodges now are operating. Considerable discussion evolved with reference being directed to Brothers visiting in Lodges that recognize Prince Hall Masonry. The opinions seem to be that you let your conscience be your guide and attend their Lodges. It also would work in the same manner for those who have recognized Prince Hall Masonry already, while visiting a Grand Jurisdiction which has not recognized Prince Hall Masonry. We must bear in mind at all times that we must recognize and abide by Regulations of each and every Grand Jurisdiction.
The matter of Grand Lodge of England withdrawing recognition of Prince Hall Masonry was brought up; research has proven that such has no effect on the legitimacy of Prince Hall Masonry. Prince Hall Masonry operates even now with a legitimate Charter with all their other Masonic Appendant and Affiliated Bodies in full and legitimate operation. It was my pleasure to have researched the subject and present to you that which I have gleaned from materials prepared and presented by so many notable Masonic Scholars and researchers. Thank you, and so mote it be.
(A talk the the Grand Secretaries assembled at the Grand Masters conference in Alexandria, VA, February, 1992.