The Real Origins of Prince Hall Freemasonry

The Real Origins of Prince Hall Freemasonry

A paradox in Freemasonry, where Brothers are supposed to have a high regard for truth, is that the same Brothers have been known to downplay, ignore, and suppress truth that is found to be inconvenient.

The so-called “clandestine” roots of Prince Hall Freemasonry is one inconvenient truth that author and researcher E. Oscar Alleyne, a member of Wappingers No. 671, which labors under the Grand Lodge of New York, wasn’t afraid to talk about during a recent conference. Specifically (*SPOILERS*), that the first Prince Hall lodge, African Lodge No. 1, wasn’t founded on March 6, 1775 with assistance from a so-called “regular” military lodge. Instead, the date likely was in 1778 and assistance came from a degree peddler (*END SPOILERS*).

It was not unusual in the 18th Century for lodges to independently form on their own and then go looking for a Grand Lodge to provide them with a charter or warrant. In that context, African Lodge’s true origins are nothing to be concerned about. Brothers have been anyway, Alleyne said during an all-too-brief presentation of his paper at the International Conference of Masonic Research Lodges, the ICOM, this past May in Toulon, France.

“Some people don’t like the truth of this story because they think it means that Prince Hall was clandestine or was irregularly made,” Alleyne said.

Getting stuck on that notion misses the greater point: that African Lodge overcame racism, the then current enslavement of most peoples of color in North American, and the war-encroaching international politics to come into being, Alleyne said. “They were able to accomplish something that didn’t seen accomplishable,” he said.

I strongly recommend reading the online version of Alleyne’s paper, including maps and documents I’ve never seen before, because a brief summary is all I can offer here. Alleyne cites as his text John L. Hairston’s “Landmarks of our Fathers: A Critical Analysis of the Start and Origin of African Lodge No. 1,” edited by Alleyne. Hairston, a publisher, author, and researcher, is a demitted member of Harmony Lodge No. 2, which labors under the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Washington, and a member of University Lodge 141, which labors under the Grand Lodge of Washington.

Alleyne started where most Masonic scholars and casual readers start, with the legend that Bostonian caterer and leather dresser Prince Hall. Hall, a free man of color, along with other free men of color in the same city, decided to form their own lodge after being turned away from existing lodges. According to that legend, Hall and 14 others were initiated into Freemasonry by Irish Military Lodge No. 441, under the direction of WM Sergeant John Batt, on March 6, 1775. By July of the following year, African Lodge was organized under a limited permit from Batt, and by 1779, thirty-three Brothers were listed on the rolls of the Lodge. Prince Hall later petitioned the Grand Lodge of England for a warrant or charter, which was granted June 30th, 1784.

That story, told and retold for generations and included on a number of Prince Hall websites, was written in the early 20th Century – not Freemasonry’s shiny era of accurately written histories – by William H. Grimshaw, most noted for his “Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People” published in 1903.

“Grimshaw probably was the person who caused the most problems with this story,” Alleyne said. “Grimshaw made up stories about things that didn’t happen.”

Scholars then repeated those stories, which then took on other inaccuracies, others believed it all and, in that “Who Shot Liberty Valance” (When the legend becomes fact, print the legend) way, became perpetuated. Documentation that suggested otherwise was downplayed, ignored and suppressed, all in service to the legend.

Hairston’s extensive research makes a convincing case that the truth isn’t so simple as Grimshaw would have anyone believe and piecing all that together is made difficult because records are lacking, Alleyne said. The true story appears to be that neither Hall nor any of the other 14 Brothers of what would be African Lodge were made Master Masons in 1775 and Irish Military Lodge No. 441 had nothing to do with their initiations or the foundation of African Lodge No. 1.

The Lodge certainly sought assistance more locally. My ears perked up when I heard Alleyne mention Hall’s connection to the Revolutionary War hero Gen. Joseph Warren, who then was Provincial Grand Master of Freemasons in Massachusetts. After all, I’ve long been convinced that Warren was behind the consecration of St. Anne’s Lodge, a female-only Lodge of Adoption in Boston, and the making of Masons in that Lodge. But that’s another paper, expected next year.

Hall approached Warren for a warrant in March of 1775, at the same time Grimshaw alleged the Lodge was founded with help from the Irish military lodge. Warren’s death June 17 of that year during the battle of Bunker Hill shut Hall off from that opportunity, Alleyne said. Hall also sought out several other options, including connections in France.

African Lodge finally made some headway toward organization through Batt, who provided a “permit” to bury their dead and march in processions as Freemasons. However, contrary to what Grimshaw wrote, Batt had no known associations with Military Lodge No. 441 and appears to have been something of a degree seller, a common thing over the centuries. Hall likely understood the truth about Batt at the time but he continued to seek out a way for African Lodge to be “regularized”, which happened with its recognition by the Grand Lodge of England in 1784.

“This is the correct story,” Alleyne said.

 

Welcome

Welcome

Welcome to the blog.

Look for a new post here at least once a week on topics of interest to Freemasons in general, to Co-Freemasons in particular. This blog is hosted and sponsored by the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry, the American Federation of Human Rights, so expect lots and lots of news from and about that Order.

It is the intent of this blog to share news, articles and other Masonic information that you won’t necessarily find on other U.S.-based Masonic blogs, websites and news outlets. That need has gone unfulfilled way too long. Rectifying that is the most important thing this blog can do, to broaden the amount of Masonic news and information available to rank-and-file Freemasons, regardless of jurisdiction.

That effort will be brought to a grinding halt if we don’t, right away and right up front, address the topic that just won’t to quit. Currently, the only online topic of discussion about Co-Masonry, at least in the U.S., seems to be about whether it exists (yeah, it has, for well more than a century). There generally follows the ever – forever – tiresome talk about “regularity” and “amity”. Then the word “clandestine” gets tossed into the conversation and what follows usually puts off way more heat than light, especially if no Co-Mason is present to speak truth to ignorance.

I am heartily sick of that topic. I won’t blog about it, unless it somehow becomes news, and any posts about it in the comment section will be deleted. Don’t bring it here and don’t expect me to be moved by any mention of 1st Amendment Rights and etc. This is a private blog, not a public access, and there are plenty of other places online to talk about that worn-thin topic that never goes anywhere.

This blog will do its humble best to go somewhere, to push past that topic and try to move the conversation forward onto other topics.

Make no mistake, there’s a need for that. For instance, most on this side of the pond, Mason and otherwise, don’t know about news in Co-Masonry and female-only Masonry because it isn’t much reported.

For instance, the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry has darn near tripled in size during the last decade and a new Lodge building is expected to be consecrated later this year.

Oh, and the Order’s name is about to change.

Expect all that in future blog posts.

It isn’t just news about the Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry Masonic that goes unreported. News and information about Freemasonry in Europe seldom falls on our ears. For instance, the Mixed Grand Lodge of France got a new Grand Master last year. In November, Marie-Thérèse Besson, Grand Maîtrese of the of the Feminine Grand Lodge of France gave a lecture in Saint-Gaudin .

Last spring, the Irish Times published an article about the history of women Freemasons and Co-Masons in that country.

Closer to home and earlier this month, there was – in my opinion – an incredibly important and ground-shaking discussion in Philadelphia about the misconceptions between Prince Hall Freemasonry and traditionally African American churches. That event hasn’t been reported much outside of Philadelphia.

Sure, all those events, foreign and domestic, got some attention in the local, nonMasonic press but they warranted not so much as a whisper in the established U.S.-based male-only blogs, websites and news outlets. And there’s no reason why it should. Those sites and outlets prefer to serve only a portion of the Masonic audience. And that’s OK, they have every right to do so.

However, that partial coverage is a very crooked way to navigate through news, articles and information about Freemasonry. It leaves the reader with the inevitable impression that there are only male-only Masons and, therefore, only their news is relevant.

That hasn’t been true for a very long time.

With this blog, I hope to make that crooked way straight. This blog has every right to do that, or to at least try. In any case, the quiet time is over.

Booger.