Prince Hall: Building Blocks of Freedom for Slaves
Known as a crucial black leader of his time, Prince Hall was one of the original Patriots of the American Revolution in Boston. Both he and his sons fought with George Washington as part of The Continental Army. He also founded the first Black American Organization and Institution in 1775, the first black mason organization.
His best known quote:
“My brethren, let us pay all due respect to all who God had put in places of honor over us: do justly and be faithful to them that hire you, and treat them with the respect they may deserve; but worship no man. Worship God, this much is your duty as Christians and as masons”.
Prince Hall…the early years:
Hall was born in 1735. His birthplace is not confirmed. Some believe he may have been born in Barbados, somewhere else in the Caribbean, or in Africa, but it is considered more likely that he was a native of New England. By age 11, he was offered as a slave (likely by parents unable to afford their child) to Boston tanner, William Hall, who is attributed with providing young Prince with an education.
By 1770, Prince was a free, literate black man living in Boston. The manumission certificate for Prince Hall, dated one month after the Boston Massacre [April, 1770], stated that “no longer Reckoned a slave, but [had] always accounted as a free man.”
Noted Black Leader:
Noted as a tireless abolitionist and for his leadership in the free black community in Boston, Hall is also known as the founder of Prince Hall Masonry, the first black organization in the New World, America.
Prior to organizing the first black masonry entity, he tried to gain New England’s enslaved and free blacks a place in already existing Freemasonry organizations and also in education institutes and in the military, which were some of the most crucial spheres of society in his time.
Before the American Revolutionary War, Prince Hall and fourteen other free black men petitioned for admittance to the white Boston St. John’s Lodge. They were turned down. Having been rejected by colonial Freemasonry, he and 15 others sought and were initiated into Masonry by members of Lodge No. 441 of the Grand Lodge of Ireland on March 6, 1775. The Lodge was attached to the British forces stationed in Boston.
Next, Prince and other freedmen founded African Lodge No. 1. With the formation of the African Grand Lodge of North America, Prince was unanimously elected its Grand Master and served until his death in 1807. Hall is considered the founder of “Black Freemasonry” in the United States, known today as Prince Hall Freemasonry.
Efforts for Blacks in the American Military
Hall encouraged enslaved and freed blacks to serve the American colonial military. He believed that if blacks were involved in the founding of the new nation, it would aid in the attainment of freedom for all blacks. Hall proposed that the Massachusetts Committee of Safety allow blacks to join the military. He and fellow supporter’s petition compared Britain’s colonial rule with the enslavement of blacks. Their proposal was declined. England issued a proclamation that guaranteed freedom to blacks who enlisted in the British army. Once the British Army filled its ranks with black troops, the Continental Army reversed its decision and allowed blacks into the military.
It is believed, but not confirmed, that he was one of the six “Prince Halls” from Massachusetts to serve during the war. His son, Primus, was a Revolutionary War soldier, having enlisted at the age 19.
Having served during the Revolutionary War, many African Americans expected, but did not receive, racial equality when the war ended. With the intention of improving the lives of fellow African Americans, Prince Hall collaborated with others to propose legislation for equal rights. He also hosted community events, such as educational forums and theatre events to improve the lives of black people. Many of the original members of the African Masonic Lodge had served during the Revolutionary War. Prince Hall was interested in the Masonic fraternity because Freemasonry was founded upon ideals of liberty, equality and peace.
Another area of notoriety for Mr. Hall is his efforts in education for blacks. Hall lobbied extensively for education rights for black children. He was also very active in the back-to-Africa movement. Those who joined Prince to found Boston’s African Masonic Lodge built a fundamentally new “African” movement on a preexisting institutional foundation. The Back-to-Africa movement was known for its work to bring information about black history and heritage to America. Within that movement they asserted emotional, mythical, and genealogical links to the continent of Africa and its peoples.
Many historians regard Prince Hall as one of the prominent African-Americans during the early years of the United States.
Prominent Burial Site for a Notable Bostonian
Prince Hall died in 1807 and is buried in the Historic Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in Boston along with other notable Bostonians from the colonial era. A tribute monument was erected in Copp’s Hill on June 24, 1835 in his name next to his grave marker. The inscription reads: “Here lies ye body of Prince Hall, first Grand Master of the colored Grand Lodge in Mass. Died Dec. 7, 1807”. His life’s work remains an inspiration to others and significant to the Founding of America and freedom for all.
- Freemasons. Proceedings of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Granting of Warrant 459 to African Lodge, at Boston … Sept. 29, 1884, Under the Auspices of the M.W. Prince Hall Grand Lodge F. and A. Masons.Boston: Franklin Press, 1885.
- Walkes, Jr., Joseph A (1979). Black Square and Compass—200 years of Prince Hall Freemasonry, p. 8. Richmond, Virginia: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co.
- Massachusetts Historical Society