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Belated Happy Birthday to Prince Hall Freemasonry

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do, are in harmony.” - Mahatma Gandhi

“A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.” Albert Einstein

“Character is habitual action.” Aristotle

Something interesting I learned while I was researching something else: I came across something about a man named Avigdor Miller, who lived for 93 years. He was one of the leading Torah educators in the United States. He says; “He was particularly skillful at connecting secular phenomena to the Divine. For example, before eating an apple he exclaimed; ‘Almighty God, look at this magnificent apple that You created: The wisdom of its waterproof enclosure, the beauty of its tantalizing red color, and the temptingly delicious aroma with which it is perfumed. How can I even begin to thank You!”

“In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” Bertrand Russell

I have been asked by quite a few Brethren how I’ve been doing with my health. Since it has been about a year since I last sent out a report on my health it has been suggested that I should do it again.

My 4th Quarterly check-up with the Oncologist was about the middle of June ’08, and the cancer is still in remission. This is the beginning of the second year with it being in remission, so check-ups now stretch out to every 4 months instead of every 3 months, I hope to see the check-up stretch out to twice a year and then yearly after that. While cancer never leaves you in as good a shape as you would like, or in as good a shape as a person would be in without getting it, I’m in fine shape. I’m optimistic about the future. I’m actually doing much more physically than I have in years, and I’m having a ball doing it.

I want to thank everyone for their good thoughts and prayers on my behalf over these past couple of years; you have made a difference, I’m convinced of that – and I want to thank you for that and for your continued interest in my well being; it is appreciated.

A Belated “Happy Birthday” to Prince Hall Freemasonry!

A few years ago I wrote a column for the American Mason magazine called “I Didn’t Know That!” The Magazine was begun by Brother Andy Boracci. While I never met Brother Andy face to face we did talk on the phone every once-in-a-while and we emailed regularly; I liked him; he was an easy man to like. As it happened I spoke on the phone with Brother Andy while he was in the hospital just before he died: He was expecting to go home the next day. His death was sudden, untimely, and sad for many of us in Freemasonry. His magazine, which was a fine magazine, was published in print and on the web, and unfortunately it stopped when he did.

One of the items I had in the March 2003 ‘I Didn’t Know That’ column was about Prince Hall Freemasonry. It seems that there is real interest in Prince Hall Freemasonry from a lot of people; it’s not limited to Prince Hall Freemasons by any means.

Back in 2001 Brother Kevin Gem posted something to the Philalethes list server which I enjoyed quite a bit. His piece was called “I am Prince Hall’s Mason.” I later published his piece in the April 7, 2008 issue of Mehr Licht. Sadly at the time I couldn’t remember Brother Kevin’s name, but when I began to go through my notes for this particular article there his name was: If you would like to read his essay titled “I am Prince Hall’s Mason” it can be read in the More Light section.

In his essay Brother Kevin said the reason he considered himself Prince Hall’s Mason rather than a Prince Hall Mason is that he [Prince Hall] set a stellar example for him to model his Masonry after, and is the example he chooses to follow. He promised himself to conduct himself as Prince Hall did, and to practice Freemasonry they way he did too. If a man would like to have a roll model in Freemasonry, Prince Hall is a good one to choose and emulate.

I have had an interest in Prince Hall Freemasonry ever since I first heard about it from a Brother in my Lodge, however, through research I soon found out what my Masonic Brother first told me about it was not as accurate as it could be. Since then I have learned more about it, and my interest in it is still there. I don’t think I’m alone in my interest in Prince Hall Freemasonry because every so often a question will come over the Internet or email about some facet of it. For me it is still a lot of fun to do the research and to learn more about Prince Hall Freemasonry and its history.

Unfortunately there is not an abundance of books and the like written about Prince Hall Freemasonry but with a little searching they can be found. If you would like to study-up on Prince Hall Freemasonry look for books written by Brothers David Gray, William H. Upton, and Joseph Walks Jr.; I think they are the more authoritative of the writings I’ve found, although there are many more places to find information.

Here is something you might find interesting about Prince Hall Freemasonry:

African Lodge #459 was active, and was known to be active by the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns.) Prince Hall and his Brethren on March 2, 1784 applied for a warrant from the Grand Lodge of England, which was issued to them as African Lodge #459 naming Brother Prince Hall as its Master on September 29, 1784. Due to circumstances it was not received by Prince Hall and his Brethren until April 29, 1787 but nevertheless they were issued a warrant to work.

In 1793 the Grand Lodge of England, (Moderns,) renumbered African Lodge #459 to #370.[i] It was the custom of the Grand Lodge to drop Lodges not heard from, or those who did not contribute to the Grand Lodge Charity Fund, and then to renumber the Lodges that remained. Because of this it was not unusual for a Lodge in good standing to receive a new number. This custom of renumbering Lodges causes some confusion in Masonic research but nevertheless Brother Coil, in his Masonic Encyclopedia, says this action on the part of the Grand Lodge indicates that African Lodge was active, in good standing, and a contributing Lodge, because it wasn’t dropped by the Grand Lodge of England, it was renumbered. Brother Coil also says that the Warrant issued for African Lodge #459 was likely the last Warrant issued by the Moderns to a Lodge in the United States.

Another interesting item is that shortly after Prince Hall and the other 14 men who were made Masons, in Irish Military Lodge #441, on March 6, 1775, the 38th Foot (to which Lodge #441 was attached) left Boston, but Brother John Batt,[ii] Master of the Lodge that made these men Masons and raised them, left our 15 Brethren with a permit allowing them to walk on St. John's Day and to bury their dead in Masonic funerals. Coil’s says that "African Lodge No. 1” was born on July 3, 1775.

So we might be able to say that Prince Hall’s African Lodge has had 3 Numbers; the first one being assigned to our 15 Brethren as a time immemorial Lodge; The Second one being with the Warrant issued September 29, 1784, and the third being that African Lodge was renumbered in 1793 to #370.

It might be interesting to note that at the time of African Lodge #459 receiving its warrant from the Moderns the Ancient Grand Lodge was also operating in England: The ancient Lodges were known only by Lodge numbers, whereas the Modern Lodges had names as well as numbers.

Military Lodges generally only made Masons among the military personnel because when the regiment was transferred the problem arose; what about the civilian Masons as members of the Lodge; the Lodge would be moving on, and the charter or warrant went with the Lodge. However, there were military Lodges that did make Masons from among the civilian population as Military Lodge #441 under an Irish Constitution did in the case of Prince Hall and his Brethren. I think that is why the Lodge left our Brethren with a permit or dispensation to celebrate St. John’s Day and to bury their dead when the Lodge and the regiment ‘moved on.’

“Mine honour is my life; both grow in one; take honour from me and my life is done.” - Shakespeare

From the Great light of Masonry = “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”Matthew 18:15 NIV

[i] Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia says it was #390. This has proven to be incorrect, no doubt a typographical error. The correct number is #370. The correct information is found in “Negro Masonry’ by M.W. Brother William H. Upton; page 41 section 20 original print edition by The Temple Publishers. I have a new larger and easier to read edition, but I still prefer the original print edition. The renumbered #370 is also verified on page 1660, and twice again in closely following pages in Volume 6 Mackey’s History of Freemasonry, Singleton-Hughan 1906 edition.

[ii] Sergeant and W.B. John Batt served in the British Infantry the 38th of Foot from 1759 to 1777 when he was discharged at Staten Island (New York.) Inside Prince Hall by David Gray

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Last modified: March 22, 2014