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Hon.Bro.Headley Lewis, Most Worshipful Grand Master
Our purpose is to make "Good men Better men" such as Better fathers, Better sons, Better brothers and Better husbands. We believe in the three tenets of our Fraternity: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. These principles guide us to show Love to one another, give to the less fortunate and always be truthful...
Prince Hall was an African American noted for his leadership in the free black community in Boston
and as the founder of Prince Hall Freemasonry. He was an abolitionist, lobbied for education rights
for black children and was active in the back-to-Africa movement.
On March 6, 1775, Prince Hall and 14 men of color were made masons in Lodge #441 of the Irish Registry attached to the 38th British Foot Infantry at Castle William Island in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. It marked the first time that Black men were made masons in America.
About a year later, since the conflict between England and America had commenced, the British Foot Infantry left Boston, along with its lodge, leaving Prince Hall and his associates without a lodge. Before the lodge left, Worshipful Master Batt, gave them a "permit" to meet as a lodge and bury their dead in manner and form. This permit, however, did not allow them to do any "masonic work" or to take in any new members.
Under it, African Lodge was organized on July 3, 1776, with Prince Hall as the worshipful master. It wasn't long before this lodge received an additional "permit" from Provincial Grand Master John Rowe to walk in procession on St. John's Day.
On March 2, 1784, African Lodge #1 petitioned the Grand Lodge of England, the Premier or Mother Grand Lodge of the world, for a warrant (or charter), to organize a regular masonic lodge, with all the rights and privileges thereunto prescribed. The Grand Lodge of England issued a charter on September 29, 1784 to African Lodge #459, the first lodge of Blacks in America.
African Lodge #459 grew and prospered to such a degree that in 1797 he organized a lodge in Philadelphia and one in Rhode Island. These lodges were designated to work under the charter of African Lodge #459.
In December 1808, one year after the death of Prince Hall, African Lodge #459 (Boston), African Lodge #459 (Philadelphia) and Hiram Lodge #3 (Providence) met in a general assembly of the craft and organized African Grand Lodge (sometime referred to as African Grand Lodge #1).
In 1847, out of respect for their founding father and first Grand Master, Prince Hall, they changed their name to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, the name it carries today. In 1848 Union Lodge #2, Rising Sons of St. John #3 and Celestial Lodge #4 became the first lodges organized under the name Prince Hall Grand Lodge. From these beginnings, there now are some 5,000 lodges and 47 grand lodges who trace their lineage to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Jurisdiction of Massachusetts.
The tradition started by Bro. Prince Hall over 200 years ago is still carried on, and today, Prince Hall Masons include tens of thousands of black and non-black members throughout the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Liberia and the Prince Hall Lodges assigned to military units throughout the world, that represent a testament to the legacy of Prince Hall. These Grand Lodges preside over more than 5,000 lodges. All of them claim descent from the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts which is traced back to African Lodge #459.
Any study of Prince Hall Masonry must begin with the study of Prince Hall and how the Lodges that he would be the Master of came into existence. To sum up Prince Hall it was best said by Joseph Walkes, author of the ‘Black Square and Compass’.
“In order to measure the greatness of Prince Hall, one must review the written documents left by him, his petitions to the Senate and House of Representatives of Massachusetts, his Letter Book and his Charges to African Lodge. There has not been on the … Masonic scene, or in pages of its history, so unique a Black Freemason as Prince Hall. His lack of formal education, his bondage and the racial conditions of the time merely enhance the character of this outstanding individual.”
Prince Hall was an African American noted for his leadership in the free black community in Boston and as the founder of Prince Hall Freemasonry. He was an abolitionist, lobbied for education rights for black children and was active in the back-to-Africa movement.
Today, Prince Hall Masons include tens of thousands of black and non-black members throughout the United States, Canada, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Liberia and the Prince Hall Lodges assigned to military units throughout the world, that represent a testament to the legacy of Prince Hall. These Grand Lodges preside over more than 5,000 lodges. All of them claim descent from the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts which is traced back to African Lodge #459.
Though there is much misleading information on the history of Prince Hall, that which can be documented is an amazing story. Where and when Prince Hall was born has never been factually established. The best information at the time places Prince Hall as a servant in the family of William Hall between 1749 and 1770. William Hall was well known in Boston for his civic and philanthropic acts and was a leather dresser by trade. It has been shown an individual with the name, Prince Hall, was given his manumission in 1770 and when he was given manumission (manumission was the legal act of setting a slave free) and it appears that William Hall help set up Prince Hall in business as a leather dresser.
Prince Hall was known to be very active in his community. In 1777 his name appears on a petition addressed to the Massachusetts Legislature for the abolition of slavery. He was very active in his church; he appears on the voter lists and it was stated that he constantly voted. He was known for lobbying for education rights for black children and was active in the back-to-Africa movement. His activism did not stop there, he was known for helping any who were poor including the Irish immigrants that were arriving in Boston during this time.
The amazing story of Prince Hall Masonry begins on March 6, 1775, when Prince Hall along with fourteen other free black men of Boston were initiated into Lodge No. 441 Irish Constitution, attached to 39th Regiment of foot, British Army stationed at Boston Harbor. It must be remembered this was at the beginning of the American War of Independence (1775–1783). When the British Regiment was moved from Boston these newly made Masons were left with a permit to meet as a Lodge, parade on designated occasions and bury their dead with a Masonic funeral but not having a constituted warrant or charter they could not confer any degrees. These 15 Masons formed themselves in a Lodge which they named African Lodge #1 with Prince Hall as the Master of the Lodge. Without a legitimate Charter from the Grand Lodge this new lodge could not confer degrees on new members and without the ability to initiate new members this Lodge would have eventually die out.
It was up to these men to petition the Grand Lodge of England for a charter to work as a constituted Lodge but unfortunately, with the outbreak of the American Revolution there was virtually no communication with England during this time. When the War of Independence was finally over in 1783 Prince Hall did petition the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns) for a charter to establish a Lodge.
The Grand Lodge of England (Moderns) did receive this request and a charter was granted on September 29, 1784 in the name of African Lodge #459 with Prince Hall as the Worshipful Master. There was no doubt that the Grand Lodge of England knew these were men of colour. It appears that some of the members of this Lodge were well travelled, Prince Spooner, a member African Lodge, was in England and wrote to Prince Hall that the warrant for African Lodge was in the office of the Grand Secretary. After problems with getting the required funds to the Grand of England and communications between Prince Hall and the Grand Secretary, the Grand Secretary wrote to Prince Hall on March 10, 1787 that the money had been received and the warrant was passed on to Captain James Scott to be delivered to Prince Hall. Prince Hall finally received the warrant from Captain Scott, brother-in-law of John Hancock, on April 29, 1787. It is believed this is the only Warrant from the Grand of England still in existence in the United States at this time. Records indicate communication with African #459 and the Grand Lodges of England went on for several years but there was no correspondence received from England after 1796. African Lodge #459, under Prince Hall’s leadership, continued to send correspondence to the Grand Lodge of England up to the time of his death in August 1806.
It appears that Prince Hall did ask the Grand Lodge of England “…’whether this Charter will [empower] us set apart another by the same name as our Lodge’”. There is no evidence there was ever a reply to this question. It appears in 1797 Prince Hall assumed the authority of a Grand Lodge and set up a Lodge in Providence, Rhode Island and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. All these Lodges used the same Lodge number African Lodge #459.
It should be noted that Lodges in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts came together on March 5, 1792 to create their own Grand Lodge electing a Grand Master in the person of John Cutler.
Lodges make their way from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania and by 1815 there were four Lodges charted in Pennsylvania. On December 27,1815 these four Lodges came together to form a Grand Lodge. These were tenuous years for Pennsylvania “Prince Hall Masons” for there appears to have been disagreements within this new Masonic body from the beginning.
In 1827 the African Grand Lodge declared its independence from the United Grand Lodge of England, as the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had done 35 years earlier. It also stated its independence from all the white Grand Lodges in the United States, declaring itself to be a separate Masonic body. There have been many who have questioned the legitimacy of Prince Hall Masonry over the years and the successors of Prince Hall Masonry had to defend their fraternity against many charges that they were not legitimate Masons. In 1994 this was finally put to rest when the United Grand Lodge of England ruled that Prince Hall Masonry was regular in origin and of exemplary regularity today.
This newly formed Grand Lodge in Pennsylvania ended up at odds within itself almost from the beginning. This Grand Lodge continued to charter additional lodges in Pennsylvania but in 1837 the factions ended up splintering into two Grand Lodges. In 1845, these Grand Lodges then went on to set up lodges in New Jersey.
During this time the African Grand Lodge in Massachusetts (the Mother Grand Lodge) had turned its sights on the State of New York and in 1812 they started setting up lodges there. By 1845 four lodges there formed a Grand Lodge in New York. 3 By this time, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (the Mother Grand Lodge) decided it was time take action and quell the damaging, ongoing disputes in Pennsylvania. There was a call for delegates from the Grand Lodge of New York and the quarrelling Grand Lodges in Pennsylvania to meet in Boston on June 23,1847 with the purpose to clear up the problems in Pennsylvania.
During several days of turbulent deliberation they decided to form what came to be called the ‘National Compact’ with the objective to advise and promote the growth of ‘Prince Hall Masonry’, to bring the various Grand Lodges into closer harmony and to provide a means of settling jurisdictional and other disputes when submitted by the disputing parties. This did have the effect of bringing the two feuding Grand Lodges together in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the Articles that were agreed upon in setting up National Compact would cause many more problems than they solved.
When the delegates from New York who were part of establishing the National Compact, returned home there were many who were not in agreement with the articles that were agreed upon on their behalf. This led to the Grand Lodge in New York to splitting into two Grand Lodges, between those who followed the National Compact and those who were against it. The National Compact or National Grand Lodge that was supposed to hold a role of advisor but it evolved into one of ‘supreme authority’ over all lodges derived from the ‘Prince Hall’ family of lodges, ‘an action without precedent in masonic history’.
The action of the ‘National Compact Grand Lodge’ almost lead ‘Prince Hall’ masonry to a point of destruction. The National Compact claimed the authority of supreme authority, they formed not only Lodges but formed Grand Lodges if the lodges in the state were ready to form a Grand or not, made masons ‘on sight’, sold ‘special dispensations’, introduced into is ritualistic work in the third degree an obligation to obey the edicts of the National Grand Lodge. They imposed a tax on all subordinate Lodges/Grand Lodges for its maintenance. A body above other Grand Lodges was in violation of all Masonic law. This ‘Super Grand Lodge’ expelled lodges and individuals who did not adhere to their edicts or submit their tax to the National Compact. This structure continued for 35 years but due to the arbitrary and arrogant conduct of the National Grand Lodge its influence waned, by 1877 no jurisdiction wanted to host this body’s annual convention. A few delegates did meet in Delaware of that year and adopted a resolution asserting the sovereignty and independence of Grand Lodges and declaring the compact to be irregular. Even though the structured National Grand Lodge (Compact) officially ceased to exist there were others who without any authority, went on their own to raise Masons and Lodges under the name of the National Compact. These Lodges were not recognized by the established ‘Prince Hall’ Grand Lodges. This resulted in a growth of Masonic Lodges that are still active to this day and not affiliated with the Prince Hall Family of Grand Lodges. It was during these tenuous years of ‘Prince Hall Masonry” when we see the first ‘Prince Hall’ lodges established in what was then Canada West, the area that is known as Ontario today.
To truly understand the early history on ‘Prince Hall” masonry in Canada West, where the province of Ontario is today, we must step back and look at the society at the time. Slavery was no to stranger to Canada West, under the British rule.
The first Lieutenant Governor of Canada West from 1791 until 1796 was John Graves Simcoe, a British Army general and a former member of the British Parliament. He had been a supporter of abolition before coming to Canada West; as a British Member of Parliament, he had described slavery as an offence against Christianity. During these early days the slave population in Canada West was not large but it was growing as people migrated to Canada from the United States. John Simcoe heard of the story of Chloe Cooley, a female slave who had been violently removed from Canada for sale in the United States. Simcoe's desire to abolish slavery in Canada West was resisted by members of the Legislative Assembly, some of whom owned slaves themselves. He nevertheless 4 pushed forward a compromise with the intent to remove slavery from Canada West. A compromise was reached and on July 9, 1793 an Act was finally passed titled ‘An Act to Prevent the further Introduction of Slaves and to Limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude within this Province’. This Act stated that while all slaves in the province would remain enslaved, no new slaves could be brought into Canada West, and children born to female slaves after passage of the act would be freed at the age of 25. The colony of Canada West was the first place in the British colonies to take steps to stop and abolish slavery. Any man of colour, entering Canada West could not be considered a slave. Forty years later, in 1833, the British Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act and this Act went into effect on August 1, 1834 abolishing slavery throughout most of the British Empire.
Meanwhile, south of the border, in the United States, sentiments were going in the opposite direction. It might be just a coincidence that the same year Canada West past the Act to Prevent the further Introduction of Slaves into the colony of Canada West in 1793, the U.S. Congress, enacted the first fugitive slave law requiring the return of fugitives who escaped to a northern state that did not allow slavery. This act ensured those who escaped slavery of the south were still in danger if caught anywhere in the United States. Even free men of colour were in danger of being kidnapped by unscrupulous bounty hunters and taken to slave states and forced into slavery.
This left Canada West the only viable refuge from the bounty hunters looking for escaped slaves and during this period many men of color both free men and escaped slaves, made their way to Canada West. Those making this journey also included accomplished free men who included ‘Prince Hall’ Masons. Once these men of colour made their way to Canada there were groups prepared to assist them like, abolitionist groups, church organizations and established communities. Land was made available at reduced prices and abolitionist groups, helped escaped slaves purchase land. Once these men of color owned property they would be eligible to vote. In 1850 the United States Congress passed a new ‘Fugitive Slave Act’ that strengthened the existing ‘Fugitive Slave Act’ by increasing the penalties for helping escaped slaves to $1000 (approx. $33,000 in 2020 purchasing power) and six months in jail. It also penalized United States officials who did not arrest an alleged runaway slave. The years from1850 to1860 saw the greatest migration of Black people to Canada.
With this flow from the United States came such notable Masons as Dr. Martin Delany, Rev. Benjamin Stewart, Rev. Josiah Henson, Abraham D. Shadd, just to name a few, who became celebrated citizens within the black communities in Canada West.
In 1852 we have the birth of ‘Prince Hall’ Lodges in Canada West with establishment of Mount Olive Lodge #1 in the city of Hamilton, in 1853 Victoria Lodge #2 was established in St. Catherines and later that year Olive Branch Lodge #3 was set up in Windsor. All three lodgers were constituted out of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. Many have wondered how and why New Jersey ended up setting up these Lodges but looking at individuals involved we find the first Grand Master From the ‘Prince Hall’ Grand Lodge of New Jersey was one George Shreve and the Worshipful Master of his Lodge was Benjamin Stewart. As it turned out the parents of George Shreve’s wife migrated to Canada West in 1850 and George Shreve followed with his family 1852. Rev. Benjamin Stewart, was the Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey, not affiliated with the National Compact, when he made his way to Canada West.
As more ‘Prince Hall’ Masons made their way to Canada West it is understandable the idea of setting up a Grand Lodge in Western Canada was on their minds. Looking at tensions and problems brewing within the United States with National Compact they might have thought they could protect themselves from the raising problems caused by the National Compact.
On August 25 1856 these Lodges came together and Widow’s Son Grand Lodge was constituted with Joesph B. Adams listed as the first Grand Master. In October of that year, Grand Master Paul Dray 5 and the Grand Secretary of the National Compact Grand Lodge of New York officiated in the inaugural ceremonies. Why the Grand Lodge of New York and not New Jersey over saw the inauguration of Widow’s Son Grand Lodge has never been explained. With the constituting of the Widow’s Son Grand Lodge, it became the ninth Grand Lodge of Prince Hall masons in North America preceded only by Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, District of Columbia, Ohio, California and Indiana.
Though many records were lost during the early years of the Widow’s Son Grand Lodge we know Grand Master T.M Kinnard was the second Grand Master. While in office Grand Master T.M Kinnard returned to his home in the United States in 1866. Before he left, he appointed Rev. Benjamin Stewart to assume the position of Grand Master. At the Grand Lodge of 1866 there were seven Lodges present, Mount Olive #1 of Hamilton, Victoria #2 of St. Catherines, Shaftsbury #6 of London, Kinnard #7 of Ingersoll, Lincoln #8 of Amherstburg and North American #9 of Windsor. It was at this Grand Lodge Rev. Benjamin Stewart was elected to position of Grand Master and it was under his stewardship and administrative talents that held this relatively new Grand Lodge together. Later that year St. John’s #9 in Chatham was erected but it was chartered under the New York National Compact Grand Lodge.
The Widow’s Son Grand Lodge found itself in precarious situation, since the Grand Lodge of New Jersey that set up the original lodges in Canada West was not at the time recognized by the National Compact of ‘Prince Hall’ lodges. The National Compact did not want to recognize the Widow’s Son Grand Lodge even though the representatives from the Grand Lodge of New York that was under the National Compact of ‘Prince Hall’ lodges that oversaw the inauguration of Widow’s Son Grand Lodge. The Widow’s Son Grand Lodge sought recognition from the National Compact of ‘Prince Hall’ Lodges, but their request was turned down. During This same time, the Caucasian Grand Lodge in Canada West was growing, and Widow’s Son Grand Lodge sought recognition from them with no avail. In the meantime, the National Compact of ‘Prince Hall’ lodges were setting up their own lodges in Canada West with at least four ‘Prince Hall’ Grand Lodges setting up lodges in Canada West by the early 1870’s. With the end of the Civil War in the United States there was a mass migration of men of colour back to the United States and this included many ‘Prince Hall’ Masons. This migration only added to the many concerns facing the Widow’s Son Grand Lodge.
In 1872 there was a call of amalgamation to all the lodges of ‘Prince Hall’ lineage throughout what was then called the Province of Ontario. (In 1867, the British parliament passed the Constitution Act, formerly the British North America Act). This created the Canadian federation that included the newly named Province of Ontario. In October of 1872 ten Lodges came together, in Chatham, representing three Grand Lodges. By the time this gathering was over all the lodges came together as a united body with a new name for this Grand Lodge, the ‘Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Ontario’ with Rev. Benjamin Stewart elected as their Grand Master. Several items were agreed upon including the development of a new constitution. It should be noted that the Grand Master of the ‘Prince Hall’ Grand Lodge of Ohio Wm. T. Boyd conducted the installation of elected officers.
In 1874 Isaac Holder was elected as Grand Master. On June 23, 1875 there was an international meeting called in Boston Massachusetts of all ‘Prince Hall’ Grand Lodges in North America and Grand Master Isaac Holder felt it was important to be in attendance. On his return the Grand Lodge was in session and he reported that a resolution was adopted at this important meeting: “Resolved, that this general assembly recommended that the Grand Lodges of serval States be requested to cultivate a fraternal intercourse and treat for a union: and be it further Resolved, that as we are fully alive to the necessity of having full complete harmony in our future actions as Free and Accepted Masons upon this continent, we do advocate and recommend that the various Grand Lodges represented in this assembly, as soon as 6 practicable after its adjournment, do open Masonic correspondence among themselves leading to a union of the craft throughout the United States and other Countries”. Carried.
At the end of this session Josiah Scott was elected Grand Master. This must have been a jubilant time for this Grand Lodge as a result of the Boston meeting for this would opened up communication with the other Prince Hall’ Grand Lodges. It was reported that a letter of fraternal greetings was received from Liberia. The National Compact Grand Lodge ceased to exist in 1877 and it appears fraternal communications and Masonic recognition was well under way with the other ‘Price Hall’ Grand Lodges. In the years that followed, the migration of men of colour, back to the United States continued. A number of Lodges came and went during this period. In 1913, keeping in step with ‘Prince Hall’ Grand Lodges in the United States the word ‘Ancient’ was dropped from the Grand Lodge and it was then known as the ‘Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Province of Ontario’.
Today, keeping in line with the naming convention adopted by descendants of African Lodge #459 and the chartering of Lodges in the Province of Quebec the official title of this Grand Lodge is now ‘The Most Worshipful Price Hall Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons Province of Ontario and Jurisdiction
To truly understand the early history on ‘Prince Hall” masonry in Canada West, where the province of Ontario is today, we must step back and look at the society at the time. Slavery was no to stranger to Canada West, under the British rule...
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