Prince Hall 1735 TO 1807…

Champion of American Liberty Advocate of Negro Freedom Founder of Black Masonry

by Charles H. Wesley Ph.D.

Black Americans have added cause to join in the celebration of their Nation's Bicentennial, for it marks the two-hundred and first anniversary of a major step forward in American brotherhood, under the leadership of the distinguished black patriot Prince Hall. Prince Hall's story is intertwined with the Revolutionary period's struggle for freedom the freedom of the new nation from British tyranny, and the freedom of himself and other black Americans from bigotry, discrimination, and slavery. Prince Hall is thought to have been born in Barbados, although no documentation to that effect has been found. The earliest records concerning him show that he learned the leather trade in Boston from William Hall, who manumitted him on April 9, 1770, stating that while he had been a slave in the Hall family for twenty one years, he was "no longer to be reckoned as a slave," and had "always been accounted as freeman by us, as he has served us faithfully."


Working as a leather dresser and later as a laborer by day and studying at night. Hall not only educated himself but become a leader in the movement, which led to the erosion of slavery in the North. A freeman himself now, he preached the cause of unity among all his people, slave, and free alike. Their common future, he was convinced, depended on their maintaining solidarity and developing consciousness of themselves as a group. To demonstrate that belief he repeatedly took the lead in preparing and signing petitions denouncing the slave trade and the institution of slavery itself. Thus, when three free blacks were seized and transported to St. Bartholomew to be sold as slaves. Hall's signature was the first among those of twenty one black freeman who petitioned John Hancock, then Governor of Massachusetts, to obtain their release. Hancock who knew Hall and had once paid him nine pounds and eight shillings for leather services appealed to the French consul and the men were set free.


With the coming of' the Revolution, black volunteers, Prince Hall among them, saw action in the early battles of Concord, Lexington and Bunker Hill. When George Washington, named to head the Revolutionary Army, arrived at Cambridge to take command of his troops, he found scores of blacks among them. Although he and his officers allowed them to continue serving, they refused at first to accept them as regular members of the Continental Army.

Tradition says that is was Hall who led a delegation directly to the general in protest, reminding Washington that many colonists still sided with the British, that thousands of slaves had already responded to Lord Dunmore's proclamation welcoming Negroes into his forces, and that more would surely follow if only to obtain their personal freedom if they were barred from joining the Continental Army. Washington thereupon agreed to allow them to join, and so informed the Congress.

After the disastrous winter at Valley Forge, he abandoned all his reservations, accepting more than 5,000 into his forces. Six army enlistment records attest that Princes Hall was among those black members of the American Revolutionary Army.

Prince Hall

Throughout the war, Hall and other Negro leaders, including Phyllis Wheatley and Paul Cuffee, continued to stress the inseparability of Americans, Hall was the moving force behind the historic petition, filed on January 13, 1777, which challenged the sincerity of his countrymen in their right for liberty: A great number of Negroes who are detained in a state of slavery in the very bowels of a free and Christian country... cannot but express astonishment that is has never been considered that every principle from which America has acted in the course of her unhappy difficulties with Great Britain bears stronger than a thousand arguments in favor of your humble petitioners. They therefore, beseech your Honors to ... cause an act of the legislature, to be passed where by they may be restored to the enjoyment of that freedom which is natural right of all men.


With the Revolution won, America's freedom was secured at last, but Hall's and his people's struggle for the fruits of liberty and equality continued. In a petition to the Senate and House of Representatives of Massachusetts urging that "means be provided for the education of colored people" Hall pointed out that blacks were taxed as whites were and had not been backward in bearing their share, yet grew at a great disadvantage. For this, he declared, "no other reason can be given than that they were black." His requests were repeated in petitions of 1796 and 1800, and the latter was approved, but with no provision for a site. Hall therefore offered a large room in his own home in Boston, and a school was begun there. When its attendance grew rapidly, it was moved to the African Society House on Balknap Street, where Hall's son. Primus continued it.


Prince Hall remained a champion of the cause of liberty and brotherhood until his death, at the age of 72, in 1807. During his lifetime, his contributions toward the creation of a black consciousness and pride were many but one of the earliest proved to be the most enduring: his organizing, a year before the Declaration of Independence was signed, of the first Negro Masonic Lodge, which now bears his name.

Hall and thirteen other blacks were initiated as Masons in 1775 by Johon Batt of Irish Lodge No. 441, which was attached to a British regiment stationed near Boston, and were authorized by Batt and John Rowe, Provisional Grand master of North America, to form African Lodge No. 1. In 1784, after the war, they were granted a charter from Grand Lodge of England as African Lodge No. 459, with Prince Hall as Master. Subsequently, Hall helped for in other African Lodges in Philadelphia and Providence, and was thus instrumental in creating the first interstate organization of black people in America an important milestone in the development of a collective identify in their continuing struggle for recognition of their rights and the full realization of freedom of all Americans.

Free Masons of color, therefore, trace their heritage through Prince Hall. and they have erected an imposing monument of Vermont granite at his grave But an even greater monument to the masonry of this black American patriot is the dedication to continue his work on the part of the more than half a million members of forty-four Grand Lodges of the Prince Hall masons across America.

Charles IL Wesley, Ph.D, is the author of the book Prime 11"11, 17.45 1807: Life and Legacy in the Era of the A American Revolution.