Prince Hall Order of the Eastern Star organizations are fraternal groups to which both men and women may belong. Eastern Star orders are an adoptive group of Freemasonry and the Prince Hall orders historically have had a black membership. They adhere to a philosophy of service based on faith and biblical teachings, if not religion.
Prince Hall’s History
Prince Hall is generally recognized as the Father of Black Masonry in the United States. No firm record of his birth exists, but it is believed he was born in Barbados or the British West Indies around 1748. It is believed he was the son of an Englishman and a French woman of color and that around 1765 he worked his way to Boston to work in the leather trade. He married a woman named Sarah Ritchery (who died young), became a property owner and eligible to vote. He pressed to be allowed to join the Continental Army and was one of a small number of blacks who fought at Bunker Hill in the American Revolutionary War.
Freemasonry and Blacks
It was during the War of Independence that black men, including Prince Hall, were invited to join a Masonic lodge in Boston that was attached to an Army regiment. When that regiment left the town, Hall and the other black men were given authority to attend meetings as a lodge with limited Masonic privileges. In 1784, Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of Freemasonry in England for a charter and was granted the warrant to form a lodge, African Lodge #459. Hall became the first Master of the lodge.
Eastern Star orders base their rituals and actions on the teachings of the Bible without being an active religious organization. Their works tend to be benevolent and charitable. Founded by Dr. Robert Morris of Boston, the group was intended to be female only but gender bias of the day ruled and that idea was opposed.
Offices and Membership
Members of Eastern Star must be at least 18 years of age and must be Master Masons in good standing or females related to the same. Relatives may include the immediate — wives, mothers, sisters, widows — or further removed, such as granddaughters, step-mothers, step-sisters or half-sisters, nieces, daughters-in-law and grandmothers. Two offices in each order are specifically male and nine are for females. The female position of Worthy Matron is the presiding officer but cannot be deemed such without a Mason of good standing in the order.
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