African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism


This collections brings together a number of documents related to historically black fraternal organizations, including many related to Prince Hall Freemasonry.

A leading citizen in Boston’s eighteenth-century black community, Prince Hall (1738-1807) was an abolitionist who petitioned the Massachusetts’ legislature to end slavery, and a Methodist who campaigned for schools to educate the African-American children of Boston. Hall was a leather dresser by trade who, in 1777, supplied drumheads to the Regiment of Artillery. Drawn to Freemasonry’s values and opportunities, Hall, a former slave, tried to join Boston’s Masonic lodges in the early 1770s, but was denied membership.

African-American men’s participation in Freemasonry is generally traced back to the March 6, 1775 initiation of Prince Hall and fourteen other black men in Lodge No. 441, a British military lodge attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot. A year later, the military lodge that had initiated Hall was leaving Boston, but before they left, the lodge granted Prince Hall and his brethren authority to meet as a lodge, bury their dead, and march in processions for St. John’s Day. However, they were not given authority to confer degrees or perform any other “work.” With this authority granted to them, Prince Hall and his brethren organized as African Lodge No. 1 on July 3, 1775, with Hall as Master.

In order to become a fully functioning lodge that could confer degrees, African Lodge No. 1 needed to be chartered. Unable to obtain a charter from a Grand Lodge in the United States, they appealed to the Grand Lodge of England and were granted a charter on September 29, 1784 as African Lodge No. 459. It wasn’t until later that those lodges and Grand Lodges that descended from African Lodge No. 459 chose to give their fraternity Hall’s name to distinguish it from the predominantly white “mainstream” lodges that generally excluded blacks throughout the 19th and part of the 20th century.

Pictured above: detail from Prince Hall Master Mason certificate issued by Hermon Lodge, No. 21, to Theodore Gleghorn, 1921. A2019/124/001.

View the items in the African American Freemasonry & Fraternalism collection

Social Bookmarking

Collection Items

Petition for initiation for William S. Miller
An undated membership application for William S. Miller. In this document, Miller applies for membership at Arkansas Valley Lodge, No. 21, of Wichita, Kansas.

Handwritten petition from Joseph Wilson, Jr., to Arkansas Valley Lodge, No. 21, 1907 May 18
A handwritten petition from Joseph Wilson, Jr., to the members of Arkansas Valley Lodge, No. 21. Dated May 18, 1907. In this petition, Wilson applies for membership at Arkansas Valley Lodge, No. 21, of Wichita, Kansas.

Unissued International F. & A.M. Masons application, about 1975
An unissued membership application for the International Free & Accepted Modern Masons. Dated about 1975.
View all 41 items