Prince Hall – Black Freemason and Civil Rights Activist

Prince Hall

By Bro. Ed Klein

Born in Bridgetown, Barbados, Prince Hall arrived in Boston in 1765 at age seventeen, having worked in exchange for passage on a vessel bound for America. Living in colonial Medford, MA, Hall married Sara Ritchie, a slave who died soon after the marriage. At age 25, after many years of making a living as a peddler and leather worker, Hall owned land, paid taxes and was eligible to vote. He was one of the Free Blacks to join the Continental Army and fight at the battle of Bunker Hill. Although a Free Black, Prince Hall faced a daily life of discrimination and oppression. Denied membership in the White Masonic lodges in the new nation, despite its ideals of preaching brother-hood across all races, classes and skills, Hall along with fourteen other Free Blacks joined the Grand Lodge of Ireland, attached to the British forces stationed at Castle William (now Fort Independence) in Boston Harbor in 1775. Although their power within the lodge was limited, this marks the first time men of color were made Masons in America.

When the military lodges left Boston, Hall founded African Lodge #1. Unable to create a charter, Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge in England and was granted a charter in 1784 as the African Lodge #459. In 1827, the African Lodge of Freemasons declared itself the African Grand Lodge #1. Prince Hall established the first African American institution in the United States. An early civil rights activist, Hall continuously challenged the government to stand by its principals of freedom for all. A petition to the General Court as early as 1777 requested that slaves be given their freedom and held the government accountable for taking Africans from their homeland. He fought for the abolishment of slavery years before the abolitionist movement took root in New England.

In his efforts to obtain freedom for slaves, Prince Hall is believed to have helped Belinda Sutton with her petition for reparation in 1783. In 1807 Prince Hall died, leaving a legacy as the founder of the first African American institution in America, a champion of education and tireless advocate for the abolition of slavery. In 1847, the African Lodge #1 changed its name to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in honor of their first Grand Master and founding father of black freemasonry. Hall is buried in Copp’s Hill Cemetery in Boston, MA.

Sources: Medford Historical Society , Wikipedia Submitted by Bro. Rickey Townsell