Prince Hall Freemasonry - A Brief History
Who was Prince Hall?  This continues to be a subject of some speculation.  The traditional version first penned by William H Grimshaw of Washington D.C. has him born in Bridgetown, Barbados, West Indies in 1748, a son of Thomas Hall, an Englishman, a leather merchant, whose wife was a free Negro woman of French descent.  He came to New England during the middle of the 18th century, settling in Boston, Massachusetts, More recent historians have concluded that P.G.M. Grimshaw concocted most of this and there is now real proof of Prince Hall’s birth.    It is estimated from newspaper accounts of his death that he was born about 1735.  Documents that have survived show him to be a laborer, a leather dresser, and a caterer.  Other documentation shows him to be a voter and a leader within the small Black community in Boston.

On March 6, 1775 a group of 15 free black men were initiated into Masonry  in Boston  by Army Lodge #441 of the Irish Constitution attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot Soldiers of the British Army garrisoned at Castle Williams (now Fort Independence), Boston Harbor.  Sgt. John Batt was the Master.  The 15 were Prince Hall, Cyrus Forbes, Bristol Stenzer, Thomas Sanderson, Prince Taylor, Calto Gardner, Boston Smith, Peter Best, Fortune Howard, Prince Reed, John Cater, Peter Freeman, Benjamin Tyler, Cuff Buffom and Richard Tilledge.

Some have suggested that a military lodge of the British army in 1775 might have had alterior motives in initiating blacks into Masonry, to irritate the white American revolutionaries or to enlist the support of American blacks against the revolution.  However, it is known that the 38th Foot had an extended tour of duty in the West Indies prior to the American Revolution and it enlisted some of the local West Indians into the army.  Some of these West Indians were probably members of the attached army lodge and possibly from Prince Hall’s home and that a natural acquaintance ensued which let Hall into the army lodge.

In 1781-2 the 37th Foot was stationed in New York and assisted in the formation of the Grand Lodge of New York.  Army Lodge No 441 being represented by its Master, two Wardens, and two Past Masters.  Lt. John S. Browning of the army lodge was elected and installed as the first Senior Warden.1

The British Army evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776 but left with Bro. Prince Hall a license (a loose form of what today we call a dispensation) to meet as a lodge and observe certain ceremonies as was the custom of the day.  From this group African Lodge #1 was formed on July 3, 1776 with Prince Hall as Worshipful Master.  This same procedure was used to form Union Lodge of Albany, New York, now Mt. Vernon Lodge No 3, Grand Lodge of New York F&AM.  

Prince Hall in his attempt to secure the fullest Masonic power for his Lodge petitioned Dr. Joseph Warren, Provincial grand Master of Ancient Masons, holding a deputation from Scotland.  It seems Dr Warren was favorable toward the petition but before action could be taken he died at Bunker Hill.  He then applied to John Rowe, the Provincial Grand Master of the Moderns without result.  It was finally decided after the war to apply directly to England. Prince Hall’s personnel letter book shows the first date of this application as March 2, 1784, but the only application preserved in the British Grand Lodge Library is dated June 30, 1784.  This petition was granted and a charter issued for African Lodge No 459 by authority of the Duke of Cumberland, the Grand Master of our mother Grand Lodge of England, on September 29, 1784, and a record of this, together with fees paid, is a part of the transactions of the Grand Lodge of England. This Charter was delivered on March 10, 1787 to Captain James Scott master of the good ship Neptune, the third messenger and son-in-law of John Hancock.  The Charter reached Prince Hall on April 29, 1787.  Public acknowledgement of its receipt was made in the Boston Sentinel newspaper and it was also published as news in several colonial papers.

On May 6, 1787, African Lodge #459 was formally organized in Boston under the charter, with Prince Hall as Worshipful Master, and insured the permanency and stability and future expansion of Freemasonry among Black men in America.    That charter is in existence today in a safe deposit vault in Boston. The receipt of the charter stimulated and renewed activity among the members.  A number of worthy Black men in and around Boston were received into membership and men from different sections of New England and from Philadelphia and New York, journeyed to Boston to receive the degrees from African Lodge #459.  The roster in 1809 showed a membership of 124.

African Grand Lodge was organized by an assembly of the Craft on June 24, 1791 with the following officers:

  • Prince Hall, Grand Master
  • Cyrus Forbs, Senior Grand Warden
  • George Middleton, Junior Grand Warden
  • Peter Best, Grand Treasurer
  • Prince Taylor, Grand Secretary

This session was held at the Golden Fleece, 20 Water Street, Boston. It was recorded that Caucasian members of St. Andrews Lodge of Boston were in attendance and assisted in the installation ceremonies for the new Grand Officers.

Early in 1797 Prince Hall received an application from Peter Mantone to open a lodge in Philadelphia.  Prince Hall assisted by his Grand Wardens installed the officers of the new lodge, African Lodge of Philadelphia and in the same fashion on June 24, established Hiram Lodge #3 at Providence, R.I.

In November of 1807 Prince Hall caught a cold which developed into pneumonia and he died on December 4, 1807. 

 In 1808, after his death, a delegate convention changed the name to "Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F & A M”, as a memorial to him.

Indiana was the tenth, formed in Indianapolis on September 13, 1856 as The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F & A M, Jurisdiction of Indiana.  There were 27 Master Mason representatives of the 5 established Indiana Lodges that met on Kentucky Avenue at the meeting place of Union Lodge #5.  John G. Britton, a member and Past Master of Union Lodge, was elected as the first Grand Master and the Lodges were re-numbered as follows:

  • Union Lodge #5 became Union Lodge #1, Indianapolis
  • Gleaves Lodge became Gleaves Lodge #2, Indianapolis
  • King Solomon #8 became King Solomon Lodge #3, Madison
  • Darnes Lodge #15 became Darnes Lodge #4, Terre Haute
  • Britton Lodge #13 became Britton Lodge #5, Richmond
  • R. Phillip's Lodge No 17 became R. Phillip's Lodge #6 Carthage

August 22, 1901, at the Grand Communication held in Anderson, Indiana under MWGM Daniel W. Caine, Meridian Lodge #33 was chartered.  Grand Master Caine appointed Andrew J. Fry Worshipful Master; William B. Reed, Senior Warden; and Robert O. Frazer, Junior Warden.

In the early years Meridian Lodge along with the other city lodges met on Court Street, before moving to 357 Indiana Ave. in a building owned and managed by the Colored Masonic Temple Association.  The occupants were Central Lodge No1, Waterford Lodge No 13, Trinity Lodge No 18, Meridian Lodge No 33, Southern Cross Lodge No 39, and OES Chapters Union, Nellie M. Strong, Leah, and Pride of the West.  Constantine Consistory and Persian Temple also met there and there was no active York Rite Masonry in Indianapolis.  In 1956 the Phyllis Wheatly YWCA at 653 N West St. was purchased and everyone moved from Indiana Ave.  Dissatisfaction with the direction of the Board in running the building, in 1978 Meridian Lodge left the Association and leased a building at 904 Udell St. which we rented from First Baptist Church of North Indianapolis.  The building on West street was sold and a new building purchased in 1982 to be managed by the Prince Hall Masonic Temple Association who tried to persuade Meridian Lodge to come back, but in November 1984 the Lodge voted not to rejoin the Masonic Temple Assn. and remained on Udell until in 1986 we purchased the building at 2455-2457 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St

The Tyrean Club was formed in 1953 consisting of Lodge members and their wives.  It was a social club whose main purpose was to raise revenue for the Lodge charity and other projects, and to sponsor the annual Christmas widow’s diner.  For over 35 years it was a vital part of the larger Meridian Lodge mission.

1953 also marks the beginning of a fellowship with Mt. Pavan Lodge #2 of Detroit Michigan in which each year we would alternately host a fall banquet.  Equity Lodge #121 was added in 1958 and the Tri-State Visitation was formed.  In addition to fellowship and fun, and because of the Freemasons tenant for charity, each Lodge would bring a 500.00 donation and the host Lodge would get the privilege of deciding who the recipient of the $1500.00 donation would be.  The 1953 visitation was held in Detroit and at the Saturday night banquet Meridian Lodge Worshipful Master Lucian Patton announced that they were forming a OES chapter and in June 1954 Nellie M. Strong Ch. #59 was chartered.

Meridian Lodge has a long history of outreach and service to the public at large.  After conversations during the lodge bowling, league we became, in the early 1980’s, the first lodge to have a public awareness booth at the Indiana Black Expo.  A tradition which with but few absences continues today.  The Easter season is a busy time for the Lodge due to the annual egg hunt which includes a hundred baskets and at least 50 bicycles