Freemasonry is the oldest secular fraternal society. An operative mason is a skilled workman who builds by the construction or repair of stonework or brickwork. Organized operative masonry guilds existed up to the 17th century. Until that time, masons were actively engaged in the construction of buildings, especially gothic cathedrals. These guilds evolved into speculative freemasonry, which was social and philosophical in nature. The roots and evolution of speculative freemasonry can be traced back to several events. Many historians agree one of these is the re-establishment of the speculative science by the English King Athelstan around the year 936 AD. Here a society was formed based on rules for the conduct of its members. A document known as the “Regius” or “Halliwell” Manuscript was written later around 1390 AD. It is generally accepted as a reference for speculativefreemasonry which elaborates on more esoteric subjects.
The system of speculative freemasonry, developed from operative masonry, was completed when four Lodges of London assembled in convention in St. Pauls Churchyard June 24, 1717, and organized the first Grand Lodge. At that time the following “Regulation” was adopted: “That the privilege of assembling as Masons, which had hitherto been unlimited, should be vested in certain places; and that every lodge to be hereafter, convened, except the four old lodges at this time existing, should be legally authorized to act by a warrant from the Grand Master for the time being, granted to certain individuals by petition within the consent and approbation of the Grand Lodge in communication; and that without such warrant, no lodge should be hereafter regular or constitution.” This regulation, which has been observed by subsequent Grand Lodges, made it necessary that all lodges since authorized among Masons should be able to show the authority for their existence; and it is the purpose of this brief sketch to explain to the brethren of this jurisdiction, the manifest authority for the existence of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge for the State of North Carolina.
In accordance with the regulation above mentioned the Grand Lodge of England granted many warrants for holding lodges in the countries of Europe and upon the American continent. Indeed, all masonic lodges established since that period, directly or indirectly derive their existence from the Grand Lodge of England. Many field or army warrants were granted for the holding of lodges, among which one was held in the army of General Gage in the town of Boston, Massachusetts. In this field or army lodge, in 1775, were initiated, passed, and raised Prince Hall, Cyrus Jondus, Bueston Slinger, Thomas Sanderson, Prince Tayden, Cato Speain, Boston Smith, Peter Best, Fortin Howard, Prince Reed, John Canten, Peter Freeman, Benjamin Tiber, Buff Burfron, and Rich Tilly. These Brethren applied to the Grand Lodge of England March 2, 1784, for a warrant to form a regular lodge in Boston, which was granted September 29, 1784, but which was not received until May 2, 1787.
On the list of lodges in America under the English Constitution 1783 and 1889 as prepared by John Lane, Past Provincial Grand Registrar of Devonshire (England) is the following record: “Boston, 1784, September 29, number 459, African Lodge, number 370 in 1782, erased in 1813.” It was said of Prince Hall, the Worshipful Master of this lodge, that he was a man of “exceptional ability,” and “that he worked zealously in the case of Masonry until his death in 1807, exercising all the functions of the Provincial Grand Master,” and was so recognized by the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of England, who under the date of August 29, 1792, wrote Prince Hall inquiring about four of the Prince (caucasian) Lodges, from which he had heard nothing for years; intimating that he was about to erase their names from the roster of Grand Lodges. The report of Prince Hall saved these (caucasian) lodges from Masonic death.
On March 22, 1792, Prince Hall organized a lodge in Philadelphia, consisting of thirteen Negroes who had been made Masons in England. He subsequently organized a lodge in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1808 these three lodges organized the African Grand Lodge in Boston, which is now known as “The Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Massachusetts.”