Chapter Seven of Inside Prince Hall (2003), by David L. Gray (Edited by Tony Pope) Published by Australian New Zealand Masonic Research Council & Anchor Communications Copyrighted Material - All Rights Reserved
Prince Hall Masonry was brought to Ohio in 1847, in the form of two lodges from Pennsylvania, and a third lodge followed in 1848. In 1849 these three lodges came together to regularly erect the first Prince Hall Grand Lodge west of the Allegheny Mountains. As the seventh oldest Grand Lodge of its heritage, Ohio soon became a leader, rather than a follower, in establishing lodges beyond the state borders, in breaking away from the National Compact, and in seeking Masonic recognition at home and abroad, but to truly appreciate the development of Prince Hall Freemasonry during its first 150 years, one must have a keen understanding of the climate of that day, especially for Blacks.
If we could travel back in time to 1847 and arrive in Cincinnati, Ohio, we would find a city situated near the southwest corner of the state, across the river from the slave-owning state of Kentucky. We would find Cincinnati, nicknamed the ‘Queen City’, to be a conservative and racially-divided city, but thriving because of its key position along the Ohio River. To the west of Ohio lay Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa, and beyond them unsettled territories. James Knox Polk was President of the United States and his goals of westward expansion led him to war with Mexico from 1846 to 1848, while Joseph J Roberts, a native of Virginia and President of Liberia, had just declared his country an independent republic.
In the background setting in Cincinnati, we would see horse-drawn carriages, surreys and buggies on the cobblestoned, hilly streets, which were probably glass-lit or dark. The business quarters were narrow and the city housing was tight and tall. The dress of the day was highly conservative, with high stiff collars, pointed shoes, close-fitted vests, and wide lapels on long tick coats.
Many technical improvements in agriculture were being discovered and implemented during this period. Advances were being made in iron and steel in Kentucky, New York and New Jersey. Elisha G Otis had just invented the first passenger elevator, thus making skyscrapers possible. Shoe machinery, oil drilling, repeating rifles, compression ice machines, web printing presses, air brakes, suction-type vacuum cleaners, electric voting machines, motion pictures, cable streetcars, calculating machines, barbed wire, telephones, and electric lighting were just a few of the many discoveries that were going on during this period.
In religion, the suppression of an anti-slavery society by a student at Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati in 1834 would be fulfilled in 1843, when the Southern Baptists withdrew from the national Protestant collective to form their own Southern Baptist Convention, which today still pits northern white Baptists against their southern brothers and sisters.
'The Raven and Other Poems' by Edgar Allan Poe, 'Napoleon and His Marshals' by Joel Tyler Headley, and 'Poems' by John G. Whittler were some of the best selling books during those dramatic years of 1847 and 1848, and 'The Blue Tail Fly (also called 'Jim Crack Corn' (1846) by Daniel D. Emmett and 'Oh! Susanna' (1848) were two of the post popular songs.
In Black America during this time, it was still a high-stakes struggle from slavery to freedom. Of the millions of slaves who escaped through the Underground Railroad, more than half did so by the Kentucky–Ohio crossing at Cincinnati. The distinguished Prince Hall Freemason, Frederick Douglass, was in his prime as a social activist and leader of Black America. The National Black Convention met in Troy, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio, in 1847 and 1848 respectively, and the first Women’s Rights Convention was held in New York.
Nearly twenty years previously, in another southern Ohio city called Portsmouth, Blacks had been forcibly deported by order of city officials and, a year prior to that, a race riot had taken place in Cincinnati, which resulted in more than a thousand Blacks leaving the city for Canada.
The Intelligent Design
The arrival of Freemasonry amongst Blacks in Ohio is a classic tale, which could not have been better written or produced in a play. Prior to this historic date, there were no lodges composed of Black men west of the Allegheny Mountains—which stretch from New York, through the middle of Pennsylvania to Virginia—except St Cyprian Lodge #13 of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
On 3 March 1847, seven men who were residents of the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, and of the highest caliber and repute in their city, traveled the rough and dangerous course through southern Ohio to the city of Pittsburgh. The object of their trip was to gain what was needed to establish a lodge of Freemasons, composed of Black men, in Cincinnati. William Darnes, John Johnson and Joseph C King had already made a previous trek to St Cyprian Lodge #13 to become Masons. The other four, Shelton Morris, George Peterson, Asbury Young and L C Fluellen would have all three degrees conferred on them the coming evening. At that time, by horse from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh would have taken around 36 hours to travel over the course they would have had to follow.
We have on record the proceedings of St Cyprian Lodge on 5 March 1847:
The lodge opened with Martin R. Delany as W.M., George B. Vashon as Senior Warden, H. Nicholson as Junior Warden, Halson Vashon, Secretary, Alex Ferguson, Treasurer, S. L. Collins, Senior Deacon, F. Robinson, Junior Deacon, A. Williams, Tyler.
Members present: Brothers Richard H. Gleaves, A. Johns, William Darnes, John Thompson, T. Boswell and B. Richards
Petitions from Messrs, Shelton Morris, George Peterson, Asbury Young and L. C. Fluellen praying for admission into the order, were received, and upon a ballot being taken the gentlemen were declared elected. The lodge proceeded to initiate them as Entered Apprentice Masons. The lodge was then closed on the first degree and opened on the second degree. The lodge then passed Bros. Morris, Peterson, Young and Fluellen to the degree of Fellow Craft. On motion the lodge closed.
H. Vashon, Secretary
The record continues:
March 5th, 1847
Lodge opened on the third degree. The lodge then determined to raise Brothers Morris, Fluellen, Young and Peterson to the degree of Master Mason, which was accordingly done.
H. Vashon, Secretary:
After the degree work was done and St Cyprian Lodge was duly closed, the newly raised Master Masons were treated to an elaborate banquet which was said to have put all in excellent spirits and humor. The next day, they all returned to their Cincinnati home, well pleased and impressed with what they had experience in Pittsburgh.
The record of St Cyprian Lodge #13 continues:
March 26th, 1847
A petition having been handed in from Bros Joseph King, Wm Darnes, George Peterson, Shelton Morris, L C Fluellen, Asbury Young, John Johnson and William Brown, of the city of Cincinnati, asking for a recommendation of establishment to the First Independent African Grand Lodge of North America, it appears that there was a misunderstanding with regard to the selected of a name and consequently it was resolved that Bros George B Vashon, H Vashon, and William Austin be a committee to return the petition and to correspond with the above gentlemen in relation to the matter.
April 11th, 1847
The matter of the petition of the Cincinnati brethren having been again brought before the lodge, it was resolved ‘That we, in accordance with the request of the petitioners, do hereby recommend them for establishment to the First Independent African Grand Lodge of North America (11th St.)
George B. Vashon, Secy. pro tem.
Between now and the last recording of the St Cyprian Lodge of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Brothers Martin R Delany, George B Vashon and Richard H Gleaves of that lodge had been commissioned to work with Corinthian Lodge, which was under dispensation. Worshipful Master Martin R Delaney was also appointed District Deputy of the Western District in 1847 by the National Grand Lodge. Richard R Gleaves was the Deputy Grand Master for the First Independent African Grand Lodge for the territories west of the Allegheny Mountains.
The final record on the subject from St Cyprian Lodge #13, on 23 November 1847, was:
Brother Lafayette Coffey, a visiting brother, and member of Corinthian Lodge No 17, located in Cincinnati, Ohio. The petition of Corinthian Lodge No 17, to the Grand Lodge praying for a warrant of establishment was presented to the Lodge, together with their request that we recommend them to the consideration of the Grand Lodge, which, upon motion, it was resolved that we do.
George B. Vashon, Secretary.
Cyprian Lodge would carry through with their recommendation and on 16 January 1848, Corinthian Lodge #17 was duly constituted under the warrant, and its officers officially installed. The first officers of Corinthian Lodge #17 were:
Joseph C King, WM
John Gazaway, SW
William Darnes, JW
Alex Hunster, Secretary
George Peterson, Treasurer
Samuel Wilson, Senior Deacon
Shelton Morris, Junior Deacon, and
Asbury Young, Tyler
The second of the three pioneer lodges of Prince Hall Freemasonry in Ohio came into existence by spurious and irregular circumstances. The very fact that True American Lodge was operating in Cincinnati at the same time that Corinthian Lodge was under dispensation threatened the survival of regular Freemasonry in Ohio amongst Blacks.
True American Lodge had been organized by men who had received their Craft degrees in the eastern cities of the United States. The lodge itself was warranted by Hiram Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, which was a splinter group and rival to the First Independent African Grand Lodge. Hiram Grand Lodge had convinced the Rev H Galbraith, minister of Zion Methodist Episcopal Church of Cincinnati, and himself a respected and distinguished citizen, that they were working under the authority of the Grand Lodge of Ohio (white).
We should digress for a moment here to discuss briefly an aspect of Freemasonry amongst Blacks in Pennsylvania from 1815 to 1847. By 1814, African Lodge #459 of Boston, Massachusetts, had chartered four lodges in the state of Pennsylvania. On 27 December 1815, these lodges organized the First Independent African Grand Lodge of North America, with Absalom Jones as Grand Master; the constituent lodges surrendered their original warrants from Boston and were re-chartered by the new Grand Lodge.
In 1818, Union Lodge #2 dissented and declared itself independent of the First Independent African Grand Lodge, and publicly advertised its action. The lodge was expelled by the Grand Lodge on a charge of ‘rebellion and contumacy’. Union Lodge ignored the expulsion, and continued to meet. In 1828, Harmony Lodge #5, also of First Independent African Grand Lodge, was expelled for ‘rebellion and contumacy’, and this lodge too continued to work without authority. In 1833, Harmony Lodge obtained a fraudulent charter at a cost of $125 from someone posing as a representative of the Grand Lodge of Ohio (white). In 1837 these two lodges and a spuriously formed lodge came together to organize Hiram Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. This spuriously formed Grand Lodge continued to operate until 1847, when proper investigation, led by Brother Richard H Gleaves, revealed that their prized document from the Grand Lodge of Ohio (white) was a fake. John T Hilton, of Massachusetts, later arranged for representatives of the Hiram Grand Lodge to attend the formation of the National Grand Lodge, to be healed and their Grand Lodge dissolved. The National Grand Lodge afterwards proceeded to locate and heal all person who were made Masons under the warrant of Hiram Grand Lodge. Temporarily, Hiram Grand Lodge and First Independent African Grand Lodge ceased to exist, and their members came under the authority of a single Grand Lodge for Pennsylvania, chartered by the National Grand Lodge. But that is another story.
Back to Ohio and 1847! When the brethren of True American Lodge were convinced that their warrant from Hiram Grand Lodge was spurious, they disposed of it and in March 1848 obtained a fresh charter from First Independent African Grand Lodge, which constituted them as True American Lodge #26.
The third founding lodge was formed two months later, for the sole purpose of having enough lodges to establish a Grand Lodge. It was chartered by First Independent African Grand Lodge as St John’s Lodge #27, and was formed mostly from members of True American Lodge, with Brother Richard H Gleaves as Master.
Meanwhile, in the fall [Autumn] of 1847, two Black men had petitioned a constituent lodge of the White Grand Lodge of Ohio to be initiated into the mysteries of Freemasonry. The petitions were referred to a lodge committee which reported favorably on the character of the individuals, but recommended that, before a ballot be taken, the following query be propounded to the Grand Lodge:
Would it be practicable in Ohio, to receive colored men into our lodges, and would the Grand Lodge grant a charter to a lodge of colored persons if the requisite number would apply.
The question was referred by the Grand Master to a special committee of three, who returned the next day and asked for instructions to the following questions:
(1) Is the Grand Lodge prepared to recognize any real or pretended lodge existing within her jurisdiction, or even others previous to the recognition of the Grand Lodge under whose jurisdiction the said real or pretended lodge is chartered?
(2) Will this Grand Lodge allow other so-called Grand Lodges to establish lodges within its jurisdiction, and is it ready to recognize lodges so established?
(3) Does this Grand Lodge recognize the right of holding communications or conversation on subjects appertaining to Masonry, with clandestine Masons when their illegitimacy is acknowledged by themselves?
The Grand Lodge did not answer these questions, leaving them to the chairman of the committee to resolve them himself. The committee then reported in terms found acceptable by the Grand Lodge:
Resolved that in the opinion of this Grand Lodge, it would be inexpedient, and tend to mar the present harmony of the fraternity to admit any of the persons of color so called into the fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons within this jurisdiction.
The resolution was adopted and the committee was discharged from further consideration of the matter.
In that day and age, it was not expedient for Blacks to do much of anything that allowed them to intermingle with whites, unless they were serving them. It was not expedient for them to vote and the laws of the state of Ohio did not find it expedient for Blacks to have unrestricted movement in the state.
Four years later, Grand Master W B Hubbard of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, which in 1847 had found it inexpedient to admit ‘persons of color’, declared: ‘all so-called Negro (Masonic) Lodges in Ohio are clandestine’.
With Freemasonry segregated at the outset in Ohio, representatives from the three lodges chartered by First Independent African Grand Lodge proceeded to convene on 3 May 1849 and organize a Grand Lodge, styled The Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio F&AM.
The first elected officers were:
Rev Thomas W Stringer Right Worshipful Grand Master
Richard H Gleaves RW Deputy Grand Master
Joseph C King Grand Senior Warden
Ephraim Bancroft Grand Junior Warden
Owen T Barton Nickens Grand Secretary
George Peterson Grand Treasurer
Brothers Stringer and Gleaves were Pennsylvania men who came to give stability and credibility to the new Grand Lodge. Stringer was a well known African Methodist Episcopal Preacher and Elder of the Indiana District church circuit which covered most states along the Mississippi river. He, like Gleaves, had been a Deputy Grand Master for the territory west of Pittsburgh, under the First Independent African Grand Lodge. Stringer would later also serve as the Deputy Grand Master of Widow’s Son Grand Lodge, the forerunner of Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ontario, and then as the first Grand Master of the eponymous Stringer Grand Lodge of Mississippi. Gleaves would become the fifth Grand Master of Ohio and later also serve as National Grand Master of the National Grand Lodge, and as Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina during Reconstruction.
Early Expansion, Independence and Recognition (1849 to 1900)
During the years 1849 to 1895, the Grand Lodge of the State of Ohio earned its name as the Mother of Prince Hall Grand Lodges. In the first 46 years there were 107 lodges chartered, 46 of them being outside the borders of the state of Ohio. Brother Richard H Gleaves was very zealous in the movement of establishing lodges. From the time he took office as Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master in 1849 until the end of his tenure as Grand Master in 1861, there were 22 lodges chartered, and most of them solely through his initiative.
The first lodge chartered by this Grand Lodge was Richmond Lodge #4 in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1850. In that year, Gleaves was the Acting Grand Master for Ohio, since Grand Master Dr Thomas W Stringer had left for Canada in 1850 to minister the gospel. Richmond Lodge was already in operation under dispensation by the First Independent African Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, and, according to Joseph Walkes in his history of that jurisdiction, it was discreetly suggested by Stringer to the members of Richmond Lodge that they should consider becoming a constituent lodge of the new jurisdiction, under his leadership. This seems to have been a welcome suggestion, since it was Stringer who had helped them secure their dispensation to work while he was Deputy Grand Master of First Independent African Grand Lodge. Ohio established two more lodges in Louisiana: Stringer Lodge #11 (1854) and Parsons Lodge #18 (1857). John Parsons, after whom Parsons Lodge #18 was named, was Grand Master at the time Stringer Lodge #18 was established, and went on to become the first Grand Master of Eureka Grand Lodge of Louisiana (now Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Louisiana).
The other States in which Ohio chartered constituent lodges were: Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. All these lodge eventually led to the formation of Grand Lodges in their respective States.
In 1849 a Commandery of Knights Templar was organized in Cincinnati, under a charter issued on 1 June by the first Independent African Grand Encampment of North America, based at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Grand Commandery of Knights Templar for the State of Ohio was organized in 1872. The Grand Commandery of Ohio chartered many Commanderies in Ohio as well as in Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Tennessee, West Virginia, and in Canada, at Chatham, Ontario.
The First Independent African Grand Chapter of Ohio Royal Arch Masons was organized in 1850 by three chapters in the city of Cincinnati. The same Grand Chapter was reorganized in 1870 and known thereafter as the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons for the State of Ohio.
On 24 June 1850 the Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio, which was just over one year old, received an unsolicited warrant from that Masonic hybrid, the National Grand Lodge, more formally titled The Most Worshipful National Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Ancient York Masons of the United States of North America and the Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging. By this time the National Grand Lodge had expelled the Grand Lodges of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. At this point it had also begun its long history of making Masons at sight and appointing Grand Masters in jurisdictions that did not bow to its authority.
For some unknown reason, this unsolicited warrant of the National Grand Lodge was kept from view of the brethren in Ohio and it was not even read until 1856. Its existence must have become known, because there were grumbling and opposition to having the Grand Lodge become subordinate to another authority from as early as 1851, but it was not until after the warrant was read in 1856 that organized movements started to take rise in the jurisdiction, to withdraw from the National Grand Lodge.
The first resolution for withdrawal from the National Grand Lodge was read on the floor of Grand Lodge at the annual communication in 1857, held in Columbus, Ohio. It garnered a tie vote and Grand Master John Parsons broke the tie by voting for withdrawal from the Compact. Then, on the last day of the session, the matter was reconsidered and another resolution was adopted:
[resolved] that the different subordinate lodges under this jurisdiction be instructed through their delegates and representatives to consider the importance of withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the National Grand Lodge of North America and express their opinions and wishes through their representatives to this Grand Lodge at its next annual communication.
At the next session in June of 1858 in Cincinnati, the committee on unfinished business of the Grand Lodge reported as follows:
Whereas, in the opinion of this Grand Lodge it is not expedient to take any further action at present with reference to the withdrawal from the jurisdiction of the National Grand Lodge, therefore,
Resolved, that the several subordinate lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio, be instructed to report at the next annual Grand communication.
This resolution was adopted. Grand Session was closed on Tuesday, 22 June 1858, but it reconvened in special session on Friday evening, 25 June 1858, to receive the Most Worshipful National Grand Secretary, Right Worshipful Brother S W Chase of Baltimore, Maryland, and to hear from him any official communication he might have to make. RWBro Chase advised that the National representatives had read the Ohio 1857 Proceedings and were troubled to learn of the resolution to withdraw from the National Grand Lodge, which had been laid over for consideration at the (1858) communication which had just closed. He said that the object of his visit was to induce them, if possible, to waive further consideration of withdrawal for the present and wait patiently until the National Grand Lodge convened in 1859. Chase succeeded in his objective and gained valuable time for the National Grand Lodge.
The National Grand Lodge was well aware of the influence and strength of Ohio, the second largest Grand Lodge in membership—second only to Pennsylvania—and with enormous influence by virtue of having chartered so many lodges throughout the country. Consequently, the National Grand Lodge began courting Ohio by electing Ohio Past Grand Masters to some of the highest positions in the National Grand Lodge, as gifts or bribes to Ohio for her loyalty. Among them, Richard H Gleaves, Past Grand Master of Ohio, was elected National Grand Junior Warden in 1858, National Deputy Grand Master in 1862, and National Grand Master from 1868 to 1877.
Discontent had been stifled but not eliminated. In 1865 a resolution was presented, calling for a convention to consider withdrawal, but this resolution was deferred indefinitely. In 1866 a counter-resolution was adopted in support of the National Grand Lodge, stating that no subordinate lodges under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Ohio should admit as a visitor any member of a lodge that had withdrawn from the National Grand Lodge, and no member of the Grand Lodge of Ohio should be allowed to visit such a lodge, under penalty of suspension or expulsion. But the secessionists triumphed in 1868, when a majority of delegates adopted the following:
Resolved, that the Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio and its jurisdiction heretofore working under the M.W. National Grand Lodge of the U.S. of N.A., pay in full all dues to this session.
Resolved, that the Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio and its jurisdiction dissolve its connection with the National Grand Lodge to take effect from the adoption of this resolution.
Although this resolution was adopted, a special session was called in Lebanon, Ohio, on 21 September 1868 to further consider the matter—when the original resolution was affirmed and brought into effect. The National Grand Lodge attempted to disenfranchise and discredit the Grand Lodge of Ohio, with a circular letter from the National Grand Master, Richard H Gleaves, by calling the Grand Lodge for the State of Ohio irregular, illegal and without any authority to operate. Following the action of Ohio, in the next five years 16 other Grand Lodges followed Ohio’s lead and removed themselves from the slipping grip of the National Grand Lodge.
Despite the harsh reality of racial segregation, it was not always completely successful. Unbeknown to mainstream American Grand Lodges, throughout their history there have had Black men on their membership rolls, more especially in the north where Whites were naïve or unaware of the ‘passing’ phenomenon in Black America. Passing was the word used when a Black who was born with sharp European features, straight hair and light complexion, switched races and started a new life as a Caucasian. The practice still exists in the United States today, although it is much less common than it was in the 200 years prior to desegregation. Also, well to do and highly educated Blacks in northern large cities or small towns, where their good family names preceded them, seem sometimes to have had little problem joining mainstream lodges, and other organizations, and White men are also known to have been members of predominately Black lodges during these early years.
In Ohio, even as early as the 1800s, Freemasons on both sides of the color divide found it troubling that they could not fraternize solely by reason of skin color. In 1869, with the predominantly-Black Grand Lodge of the State of Ohio no longer subordinate to the National Grand Lodge, Grand Master William T Boyd eloquently petitioned the predominately-White Grand Lodge of Ohio to act against segregation in Ohio Masonry. The petition was for one of two things: either for absorption into the White Grand Lodge by re-chartering the Black lodges under the aegis of the White Grand Lodge, or, failing that, ‘by full and ample recognition as an independent Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Ancient Masons’. He further stated in his petition:
And we deem it proper to declare to you that this movement is not made for the purpose of obtaining indiscriminate access in your lodges, knowing full well that that is a matter each lodge, and each member of a lodge, can control for itself or himself; but realizing that Masonry is sadly false to its professed principles of the Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of man if so shallow a pretext as complexion shall be the open or covert cause of division or non-recognition . . .
This petition was accompanied by a copy of the charter from the Grand Lodge of England, issued to African Lodge #459 on 29 September 1784. This petition was referred to a Select Committee at the 1869 Grand Session by the Grand Master of the predominately-White Grand Lodge, who added that the Grand Lodge of Illinois had recognized the rights of colored Masons there. Past Grand Master Thomas Sparrow, chairman of the Select Committee, reported back during the same session of Grand Lodge, and successfully submitted a resolution to rescind the ‘1847 Resolution’ (which had declared the admission of ‘persons of color’ to be ‘inexpedient’). The Grand Lodge further resolved that the committee should report at the next Grand Communication of Grand Lodge. Additional material was placed before the Grand Lodge by Bro Sparrow, that the Grand Orient of France had declared, with great emphasis, that ‘Humanity and Masonry are outraged when color, race or religion are sufficient reasons for preventing a profane from entering the great Masonic family’. He also pointed out that, with the 1847 resolution rescinded, there was no rule whereby persons of the [predominantly Black] Grand Lodge of Ohio, if worthy and well qualified, would be excluded if they ‘sought admission through duly organized lodges’.
The following year, the same Select Committee reported that by the repeal of the 1847 resolution:
. . . the Grand Lodge has left its subordinates at perfect liberty to confer the degrees of Masonry on any man, and to admit to membership any lawful brother who has the necessary Masonic qualification. The regulations make no distinction on account of the color of persons who desire the benefits of Freemasonry.
The committee, Bro Sparrow implied, had solved the problem, and should be discharged—and his Grand Lodge concurred.
But this was not what had been sought. Grand Master Boyd had asked the White Grand Lodge either to accept the transfer of his lodges in their entirety, or to recognize his Grand Lodge as a lawful, independent body. What was being offered was a ‘healing’, implying that his brethren were not already true and regular Masons. He rebutted this report in 1871, stating:
Thus all our fond hopes vanished into thin air . . . and while there is so much said against the Grand Orient of France, we can but honor her for the stand she has taken on this very question of ‘color’. This new doctrine—to leave the question of admission of colored applicants—is all right and proper. But our petition did not pray for the right of profanes, but for the rights of brother Masons. We are Masons. Masons whom Brother Sparrow and a plenty of other white Masons have sat with in Lodge.
There is nothing that we know of that can beat a Yankee in whipping a question round a stump. They know that we cannot be admitted to their Lodges, for be they ‘as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape’ one black ball, and that is just discovered to be more potent than any edict that can be enacted by a Grand Lodge
Brethren, the pass, sign and token to the American Lodges are three. The pass is wealth; the sign education, refinement and intelligence; the token, position. With these, and time and patience, we will conquer all obstacles.
Grand Master Boyd then indicated that it was time to turn to the European Grand Lodges and Grand Orients for recognition. Members of his Grand Lodge embraced this suggestion with enthusiasm, particularly Justin Holland, to whom this duty was delegated from 1871 to 1883. The home situation was made quite clear to the foreign Grand Lodges, and applications for recognition were successful in seven cases between 1875 and 1877. First was the Grand Orient of Peru, followed by the League of German Grand Lodges, the League of German Grand Lodges, the Grand National Orient of the Dominican Republic (all in 1875), the Grand Orient of France, the Grand Orient of Italy (both in 1876) and the Grand Orient of Hungary (1877).
The foreign recognitions did not go unnoticed by the White Grand Lodge of Ohio. Of their own initiative, they made a move towards recognition, albeit it was both insensitive and unsuccessful. At the instigation of Grand Master Asa H Battin, in his annual address at the October 1875 session of the White Grand Lodge, yet another committee was formed, to report back on the legitimacy of the Black Grand Lodge and its members, and with appropriate recommendations for action. Their recommendations were deferred for one year, to enable them to be circulated to the lodges, and discussed by them.
On 18 October 1876, on the second day of their Grand Session, the predominately White Grand Lodge of Ohio held a vote to recognize ‘the so-called Colored Grand Lodge of Ohio’ as legitimate, on the condition that it change its name to The African Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Ohio. This resolution was objected to on a point of order. The Grand Master ruled against the point of order. The Grand Master’s interpretation of the point of order was challenged, and put to the vote. The majority voted against the Grand Master, and consequently the motion for recognition lapsed. The issue was brought up once more in the same Grand Lodge in the following year but the motion was voted to ‘lay on the table’ and was not officially brought up again until over a century later.
It should be noted that the predominately Black Grand Lodge of Ohio had no intention of changing its name, or had even intimated that it would consider doing so. It may have suited Boston Blacks of 1775 to consider themselves African, but American-born Blacks in Ohio a century later did not consider themselves to be African. Past Grand Master Parham noted, ‘I cannot now recall to mind one Brother in all these lodges of whom it can, with certainty, be said, “He is an African”.’
The name had, however, been changed a few years earlier. At the Grand Session in 1871 resolutions were adopted to incorporate the Grand Lodge, and on 26 June of that year the Grand Lodge was legally incorporated in the state of Ohio. A second noteworthy resolution was adopted in 1873, which changed the annual session from June each year to August.
Other events of note in the closing years of the 19th century were:
- Brother Martin R Delaney, author of Objects and Origins of Ancient Freemasonry: its introduction into the United States and Legitimacy among Colored Men (1853), who had greatly assisted in giving rise to Prince Hall Freemasonry in Ohio, died on 24 January 1885 in Wilberforce, Ohio, at the age of 72.
- Samuel W Clark, who served as Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio from 1987 to 1888, and again from 1898 to 1902, published Negro Mason in Equity in the 1886 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge and it was later issued as a pamphlet. This was a plea for the recognition of Negro Masonry.
At end of that century the Grand Lodge of Ohio F&AM had 13 Past Grand Masters, had chartered nearly 100 lodges, with a current membership base over 1000, had established fraternal relations abroad, and had begun the first book of the history of the jurisdiction.
The 20th Century
America had changed significantly in the 51 years since the Grand Lodge of Ohio had been organized. The Civil War and Reconstruction had ended, and North and South were trying heal their wounds and grow as a country industrially. In Black America, the educated class began to feel that they controlled the destiny of all Blacks, and began to organize themselves into select fraternities and social groups reserved only for those with college education. This push would forever place Prince Hall Freemasonry in middle-class society. It was not surprising that most of these new college fraternities, sororities and social groups were founded by Prince Hall Freemasons and Eastern Stars.
William H Grimshaw, a future Grand Master of the District of Columbia, had brought awareness of their history to all legitimate Black Freemasons in the United States, through his book, The Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People in North America (Macoy, 1903). Despite its inaccuracies and outright inventions, this was the most valuable book published early in the 20th century, bringing an awareness of the contributions of Prince Hall and something of the history of every Grand Lodge derived from African Lodge. Other worthwhile publications of this period were William H HHUpton’s Negro Masonry, being a critical examination, (1902), and the Official History of the MW Grand Lodge F&AM for the State of Ohio, (1906), by Past Grand Masters William H Parham and Jeremiah A Brown.
The Grand Lodge experienced the passing of many of its old guard pioneers, including Samuel Clark (1903), William Parham (1904) and Richard Gleaves (1907). In this period, the Grand Lodge showed less interest in international recognition, and declined to participate in National Masonic Congresses proposed to be held in southern states—from a disinclination to suffer the greater racial discrimination there, and from an aversion towards national Masonic organization—but did look beyond the borders of Ohio to participate in memorials to Prince Hall and William Upton in Massachusetts. The Grand Lodge devoted more of its energy to chartering lodges throughout the state, many of them to accommodate the flood of southerners moving to the north. In 1904 there were 44 lodges in this jurisdiction and 1173 members.
In common with many other jurisdictions, the rank and file of members often showed a lamentable lack of interest in Masonic education. In 1906 a thousand copies were published of the first edition of the Grand Lodge history, at a production cost of just over one dollar a copy. Grand Master William Hunnicut, in introducing the work, said:
This excellent work should occupy a place in every lodge library and be in the home of every Mason. Permit me to urge every Brother here to have a copy, the Worshipful Masters to insist on the members of their respective lodges to purchase copies.
His successor, Grand Master William Clemens, described the result as ‘disappointing’. Fifty years later, a further 2000 copies were printed. In the same year, Bro Dr Charles H Wesley was commissioned to write the history of the Grand Lodge since 1904. Instead, he covered the entire period of Prince Hall Masonry in Ohio, in his book The History of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the State of Ohio 1849–1960, which he subsequently extended to 1970.
From 1912 to 1917, Cory Adams was the 17th Grand Master of this Grand Lodge and probably the last Grand Master to make Masonic Education a high emphasis on his agenda. At the opening of his first Grand Session in 1912 he stated:
There is a mistaken idea by many of the Brethren today that, so long as we meet, transact business, pay dues and authorize the wearing of a Masonic pin, we are Masons and are conducting a Masonic Lodge . . . Past experience in service we have rendered in an official capacity gave us a fair knowledge of facts and conditions and I assure you, my Brethren, that unless we go back, back from whence we came, and build anew on a more substantial foundation, ancient Masonry will not be recognized or distinguished from the modern organizations of today.
Grand Master Adams tackled numerous issues which all had lasting impact on this jurisdiction. Adams unified the degree work being done in Ohio by 1916, creating an official coded ritual for the jurisdiction, and he attempted to get the same ritual used by all Prince Hall Grand Lodges. He explained to the Conference of Prince Hall Grand Masters that he was presenting it:
. . . to make it possible for Brethren of our nationality to accomplish an achievement that those of other nationalities have strived for and failed, that it, to adopt a work that all Jurisdictions of recognized regularity be governed by the same Esoterick Work.
At the 1916 Conference, where 21 of the 35 jurisdictions were represented, the ritual and floor chart produced by Adam’s committee was approved. The reason why this ritual was not subsequently implemented in all Prince Hall Grand Lodges is unknown.
In crafting this ritual and floor work, Adams combined many rituals being used throughout the country, and in particular the official ritual of the predominately-White Grand Lodge of Ohio. Even today, the difference between these two rituals, are scarcely noticeable. In 1955, Grand Master Louis B Henderson declared that Ohio had been the first Prince Hall Grand Lodge to issue a coded ritual. It was eventually copyrighted in 1949, and revised in 1974. A ‘master copy’ of this ritual, written in longhand, remains on file at Grand Lodge headquarters, and may be viewed by any Master Mason of the jurisdiction. Simon’s Monitor, published by Macoy, was officially adopted in 1974 as a supplement to the coded ritual.
Other ground-breaking efforts in Masonic education started by Grand Master Cory Adams during his tenure included the establishment of Masonic schools, which he persuaded lodges to create, by means of a circular in 1912 and by letters sent directly to larger lodges in 1913. St Marks Lodge #7, of Columbus, Ohio, was the first lodge to establish such a school, in November 1913. The establishment of these schools seems to have ceased after 1917, when Adams left office and the United States entered World War I. During Cory Adams’ tenure, the first steps were taken towards a formalization of the Past Master’s Degree, which is conferred on all newly elected Worshipful Masters before they are installed in office, but it was not until 1956 that the working of this degree was unified throughout the jurisdiction.
The moral bar was raised during Cory Adams’ tenure (1912–1917), as he followed up on his threats to expel those Brothers who did not carry the character of a Freemason. Brother Adams also saw through a legal challenge brought forth in 1916 by the Most Worshipful National Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Ancient York Masons (Colored) of the United States of America (the National Compact), which sought to deny the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio the right to use the name Masons, the signs, emblems, ceremonies, and insignia of the Order. In response, the attorneys for the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio challenged the National Grand Lodge to show its legal descent from their warrant, and to this the National Grand Lodge stated that it does not contend that its authority was derived from the warrant of 1784. In its first ruling, the court agreed that the National Grand Lodge was not descendant from the 1784 warrant. The court also ruled that the National Grand Lodge failed to show by proper allegation of ultimate operative facts any proper title and lineage from the parent English organization to connect it with the warrant set forth and pleaded in the petition. The National Grand Lodge maintained appeals against this decision until 1921, but the courts never reversed or modified the original ruling.
Grand Master Adams was also responsible for providing the initiative to purchase a Grand Lodge headquarters for this jurisdiction. The Grand Lodge eventually approved the purchase of a three-story building at 50 Hamilton Park, in Columbus, Ohio, to be used as its headquarters. That was in 1949, at a cost of $40,000, and it still serves as the home of Prince Hall Freemasonry in Ohio to this day.
For all that Cory Adams did, he probably came too late to make a lasting impact on the jurisdiction. There was so much of a passion for expansion during the first fifty years that the development of the individual Mason was forsaken, in the drive for development of lodges and membership numbers.
The Grand Lodge continued to hold Grand Sessions throughout World War I, which (in the USA) began on 6 April 1917, but, 15 years later, the 83rd Grand Session was called off because of the Great Depression. The depression years significantly impacted the membership rolls for lodges in this jurisdiction. In 1925 there were 3463 members, compared with 1285 in 1934. The following table illustrates the growth of Masonry in the jurisdiction.
International Conferences of Prince Hall Grand Masters and Grand Secretaries have been held since 1915, and in 1944 the Conference held its session at Hot Springs, Arkansas. One of the results of this communication was to ask all Grand Lodges to become incorporated under the name and title of Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge F&AM of _____________(state). Ohio, which began life as Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons for the State of Ohio, changed its name to Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons for the State of Ohio and its Jurisdiction to cover lodges chartered outside the State, and in 1924 changed again to Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons (Prince Hall Affiliation) for the State of Ohio and its Jurisdiction. Nevertheless, it complied with the request of the Conference and changed again, to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Ohio.
The first discussions on the floor of Grand Session to establish a Masonic Home for elderly members, widows and orphans were proposed in 1911. Through cooperation with the Order of the Eastern Star of Ohio, the cornerstone was laid by the Grand Lodge for the new women’s and orphans’ building on the Masonic Home grounds at Urbana, Ohio, on 14 August 1927. From that date, a tumultuous relationship ensued between the Grand Lodge and Grand Chapter over the financial obligations of each towards the Masonic Home, and continued even after the mortgage was paid off in 1935.
In January 1939, Grand Master Alfred Alford severed, repealed and revoked the adoption of, and fraternal relations with, Amaranth Grand Chapter Inc, Order of the Eastern Star for the state of Ohio and its Jurisdiction. The cause of this edict was that Amaranth Grand Chapter had not contributed towards the cost of running the Masonic Home for three years, and had adopted the position that they were independent of the Grand Lodge, because they were an incorporated organization of Ohio. Prior to this, the Amaranth Grand Chapter had filed a civil suit in the courts. In June of the same year, the court Judge recommended that these two bodies hold a conference, because if the case went on, both bodies might lose. Within the month, decisions were reached by the committee to resolve this old and tense issue between Amaranth Grand Chapter and the Grand Lodge. In October 1940, Grand Master Casterman revoked the suspension of Amaranth Grand Chapter, but the Grand Chapter had not entirely given up the idea they were independent of the Grand Lodge.
During the 1950s, as the number of inmates dwindled and Grand Lodge began to incur significant financial losses, it no longer made good sense to continue to maintain the Home, and it was closed at the end of 1963.
The Order of Pythagorans, a youth group for boys, was founded and introduced to Prince Hall Masonry by Past Deputy Grand Master James A Revaleon, in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1936. The Order was organized in the State of Ohio ten years later through the aggressive efforts of Grand Master Charles F Casterman. The purpose of the organization was to provide a club for boys, emphasizing programs for their educational, social, vocational, physical and moral development. It foundered for a while, but in 1949 the president of the Grand Council, Odie Smith, reorganized the Grand Council and reactivated several of the Chapters.
It was during the administration of Grand Council president John W Payne that the most significant changes were effected. The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio, upon the request of its Grand Advisory Council, officially severed relationship with the Supreme Council of the Order of Pythagorans, in Boston, and declared the Ohio Grand Council sovereign. A new constitution, ritual and administrative program were set forth by Council president John W Payne, vice-president James Horn and recording secretary Carl V Hawkins.
In 1956, James Day, as Grand Council president, effected a more concrete program for the joint annual session with the Girls Assembly. He assigned Carl V Hawkings the task of revising the ritual, and to work with him on a revision of the constitution, and the results were approved by Grand Council. It was during this time that much renewed interest was shown in the Order by the lodges, as the Grand Council, through the Director of Youth Activities, kept them informed of their progress and appealed for their support. As old Chapters were reactivated, it was found that many of the boys had since become members of the sponsoring lodges, and some of them were now working as Pythagoran Advisors. Today, the proud legacy, tradition and trail blazing motives of the Order of the Pythagorans continue in the Chapters, hearts and minds of the hundreds of Companions throughout the state.
The first steps to publish an official newsletter or magazine for the jurisdiction began in 1945 with the Prince Hall Masonic Bulletin, financed by the Cleveland lodges. Two years later, the same lodges commenced publishing the Prince Hall Masonic Informer, which seems to have had some national appeal, with noted New York historian Harry A Williamson serving as contributing editor. Finally, in 1957, the Grand Lodge took a personal interest in establishing The Lamp as the official quarterly publication of the jurisdiction, selecting the editorial staff and financing its publication. The Lamp is still published today, with each Grand Master in turn serving as its Editor-in-Chief.
The Grand Lodge has published its annual Proceedings continuously since 1849. These contain invaluable information for researchers, including full membership lists of all lodges and names of all brethren deceased during the year, as well as detailed reports from all senior grand officers and committees. This has been supplemented since 1957 by a Souvenir Journal, published after each annual Grand Session, with fewer details but more pictures.
The Masonic lodge is only a mirror of the community in which it operates. Prince Hall Freemasonry being predominantly composed of Blacks, it has always mirrored the changes in Black America—the good and the bad.
Black American historians and social activists often point to the decline of communal spirit in the Black community when the Supreme Court of the United States ushered in desegregation. When Blacks realized they could shop, educate, live, worship and entertain themselves in the same venues as Whites, everything changed. Most of the Black-owned businesses operating in Black communities went out of business, as all the more affluent Blacks moved into better neighborhoods, with the old neighborhoods they left behind turning into low-income and high-crime ghettos. They also left behind their Prince Hall lodge buildings. Was this new low-income and crime-ridden community the one that the Prince Hall lodge wanted to service, and was this the community that it wanted its members to come from?
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio over the past fifty years became more internalized and attempted to solidify its gains. The Lamp became the official organ of the jurisdiction, reaching the hands of every Master Mason of the jurisdiction. A Grand Lodge building was purchased in Columbus, Ohio, in 1949 and today still functions as our Grand East. The Masonic Home, which had become a ‘money pit’, closed in 1963, and the Grand Lodge began to purchase land and build properties for renting to low-income families.
Ohio reached its membership peak in the 1970s, with more than 7000 members. Attempts were also made during this decade to heal the differences with all the so-called Masonic groups with predominately Black membership operating in Ohio. The Progressive Masonic Congress was established in conjunction with the offices of Deputy of Non-Prince Hall Masonry and the Committee on Non-Prince Hall Masonry, which met annually with the irregular predominately-Black Grand Lodges in Ohio until 1979.
In the early 1980s the Grand Lodge chartered its most recent lodges: Edward Dugger Jr. Military Lodge #123 (Fairborn, Ohio) and Centralforce Collegiate Lodge #124 (Wilberforce, Ohio). Centralforce Lodge closed in 1991, and its members demitted to Wilberforce Lodge #21, of Xenia, Ohio. The claim was that Centralforce Lodge was too transient—being composed mostly of college members—to operate in accordance with the constitution of this Grand Lodge. Edward Dugger Jr. Military Lodge has also since moved to Xenia, Ohio.
The 1990s saw the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio begin to focus more on the business of the fraternity rather than brotherhood and Mason-building. This fiscally responsible attitude was much needed after some loose spending in the 1970s. Whether business while forsaking brotherhood and Mason-building will send Ohio down the same unrecoverable path that expansion did has yet to be determined.
Grand Master Steven Reece Sr. (1993–1995) was, in the opinion of this writer, the financial version of Cory Adams. Reece established credit unions in the jurisdiction, a banking plan with a national bank, an Ohio Prince Hall credit card, began work to build a new Grand Lodge headquarters, developed economic empowerment programs for the constituent lodges, and brought about awareness of prostate cancer to the membership.
Post-WWII initiatives finally paid off in the late 1980s and the 1990s with widespread recognition of Prince Hall Grand Lodges by their mainstream counterparts, beginning with an exchange of recognition between the two regular Masonic powers in Connecticut in 1989, closely followed by a similar exchange in Nebraska. The United Grand Lodge of England, which had initially forbidden its members to visit Masonically in those states where Prince Hall Masons could visit mainstream lodges, itself recognized the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in late 1994, and dropped a broad hint that it would consider favorably other applications for recognition.
In 1994, the Grand Heads of the Grand Lodges, Northern Supreme Councils AASR, and Grand Commanderies (Knights Templar) of both the Prince Hall and mainstream bodies of Ohio met in Cincinnati to discuss mutual recognition between the various bodies. In 1995, both Grand Lodges agreed to recognize each other as legitimate Masonic bodies operating in the same jurisdiction. By 1996, the two other bodies that were part of the original meeting also agreed to recognize and open up visitation with each other. By 2002, all the male Masonic bodies appendant to the Prince Hall Grand Lodge had voted to recognize their in-state counterparts beholden to the mainstream Grand Lodge of Ohio.
Frederick E Kelley succeeded Steven Reece as Grand Master, and while not much interest was paid by him in continuing the financial empowerment or building of a new headquarters, which had been initiated during the Reece tenure, Kelley pushed for recognition by the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Lodge of Ireland, and succeeded in 1997.
During the final year of the term of Embie R Bostic (2001) and the beginning of the tenure of Sidney D Broadnax Jr, as Grand Master, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio worked extensively with Murray Yaxley, coordinator of fraternal relations for the Australasian Grand Masters (and president of the Australian & New Zealand Masonic Research Council), for an exchange of recognition between the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio and all seven regular Grand Lodges in Australia and New Zealand, and fraternal relations were fully established by February 2002.
With the advent of the Internet, the Masonic world opened up for Prince Hall Masons even ahead of recognition moves, and ideas began to flow from other jurisdictions in North America and overseas. Websites were established for the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio and the appendant Orders, for individual lodges and individual Masons. Prince Hall Masons joined worldwide email discussion lists and chat-room facilities, and established their own, including a Prince Hall Research email list.
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio had never chartered a lodge of research; indeed, such lodges have been rare—and ephemeral—in the whole of the Prince Hall Fraternity, but now Prince Hall researchers in Ohio saw the advantages of working as a group, and began exploring the options. They found a lack of appreciation of the need for a research lodge and opted to form an unchartered society ‘independent of any Masonic Body and governed only by the laws of the State of Ohio in regard to not-for-profit organizations’. At a meeting at Xenia, Ohio, on 20 January 2001, the Dr Charles H Wesley Masonic Research Society was constituted, with nine research members (restricted to members of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio) and thirteen associate research members (members of other jurisdictions). Membership is by invitation only. One month later, the Society began publication of its journal, the Masonic Voice. In addition to the magazine, which is published four times per year, the Society plans to produce transactions, entitled the Masonic Tongue, every second year. In the first 18 months of operation, the Society had not lost any of its original members, and had gained two research members, five associate research members and 240 affiliate research members (journal subscribers). The Society’s website is at , and the Secretary may be contacted by email , or by post to PO Box 462, Wilberforce, OH 45384-0462, USA.
The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio has such a magnificent history, which is barely able to be captured on so few pages. It has been led by, and continues to have as her Grand Masters, incredible men of mark and vision. Not only has this Grand Lodge given birth to Freemasonry in other jurisdictions, and they to others, but Ohio has been a birthing-ground for many other rites, and is the home of Prince Hall Royal and Select Cryptic Rites. One has to marvel at the sheer will, bravery and conviction these men had to have, to pass along to us this gift in a time when their very lives were in danger and their rights were few.