The Masonic symbol of square and compasses.
The Masonic symbol of square and compasses.

The Freemasons are a fraternal network of worldwide organizations that is thought to have been formed from stonemasons’ guilds during the Middle Ages. In 1717, four lodges in London formed the first Grand Lodge of England. The Freemasons believe in supporting the dignity of man and the liberty of the individual and, thus, were very attractive to free African-Americans during the revolutionary period. Today, there remain African-American Lodges practicing Freemasonry.

Beginnings of Prince Hall Free Masons

Prince Hall Freemasonry is said to have begun in 1775 during the American Revolution when an African-American from Barbados named Prince Hall and 14 other men of color were made Masons in Army Lodge No. 441. After the Army Lodge moved to another location, the 15 men were permitted to present publicly as a Masonic body to celebrate the feast of St. John and to bury their dead.

History of Prince Hall Free Masonry

In March of 1784 the Prince Hall Freemasons applied to the Grand Lodge of England for a charter. The charter was granted under the name African Lodge, No. 459 by the Duke of Cumberland. Prince Hall was the first Master of the Lodge. In the 1790s the African Lodge fell into arrears and was removed from the rolls in 1813. In 1827, despite many attempts on the part of the African Lodge to communicate with the Grand Lodge, the African Lodge declared independence and called itself African Grand Lodge No. 1.

Prince Hall Mason's Today

There are 45 Grand Lodges that originated from the African Lodge No. 459, more than 300,000 members and 5,000 Prince Hall Lodges. The Prince Hall Lodges participate in charitable events, operate children's hospitals, fund medical research, contribute to local community service, and provide care to Masons and their families at Masonic Homes.

Differences Between White and Black Freemasons

There no longer is segregation among the Masonic lodges, which was the only difference between the white and African-American Freemasons. However, there are lodges that remain predominantly African-American. Prince Hall Masonry has always maintained the Masonic code in all respects with regards to the philosophy and ethics or the Masons. These lodges do not differ from other existing lodges in their beliefs, practices or rituals. The Prince Hall charter, which is authenticated and in safekeeping, is believed to be the only original charter issued from the Grand Lodge of England still in the possession of any Lodge in the United States.