Roughly about 240 years ago, in 1775, Prince Hall Free Masonry among Black men began during the War of Independence, when Prince Hall and fourteen other free black men were initiated into Lodge # 441, Irish Constitution, attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot, British Army Garrisoned at Castle Williams (now Fort Independence) Boston Harbor on March 6, 1775. The Master of the Lodge was Sergeant John Batt. Along with Prince Hall, the other newly made masons were Cyrus Johnson, Bueston Slinger, Prince Rees, John Canton, Peter Freeman, Benjamin Tiler, Duff Ruform, Thomas Santerson, Prince Rayden, Cato Spain, Boston Smith, Peter Best, Forten Howard and Richard Titley.
When the British Army left Boston, this Lodge, # 441, granted Prince Hall and his brethren authority to meet as a lodge, to go in procession on Saints John Day, and as a Lodge to bury their dead; but they could not confer degrees nor perform any other Masonic "work". For nine years these brethren, together with others who had received their degrees elsewhere, assembled and enjoyed their limited privileges as Masons. Finally in March 2, 1784, Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England, through a Worshipful Master of a subordinate Lodge in London (William Moody of Brotherly Love Lodge # 55) for a warrant or charter.
The warrant was granted on September 29, 1784 under the name of African Lodge, # 459 on the register of the Grand Lodge of England by authority of then Grand Master, the Duke of Cumberland, delivered in Boston on April 29, 1787 by Captain James Scott, brother-in-law of John Hancock and Master of the Neptune. Prince Hall was the first Master of the lodge which was organized one week later, May 6, 1787.
The warrant to African Lodge # 459 of Boston is the most significant and highly prized document known to the Prince Hall Masonic Fraternity. Through it, Masonic legitimacy among free black men is traced, and on it more than any other factor, rests their case. That charter, which is authenticated and in safekeeping, is believed to be the only original charter issued from the Grand Lodge of England still in the possession of any Lodge in the United States. African Lodge allowed itself to slip into arrears in the late 1790's and was stricken from the rolls after the Union of 1813 although it had attempted correspondence in 1802 and 1806. In 1827, after further unreplied communication, it declared its independence and began to call itself African Grand Lodge # 1.
It is interesting to note that when the Massachusetts lodges which were acting as a Provincial Grand Lodge also declared themselves an independent Grand Lodge, and even when the present Grand Lodge of Massachusetts was formed by the amalgamation of the two separate lodges, African Lodge was not invited to take part, even though it held a warrant every bit as valid as the others.