Was Black Freemason and Abolitionist Prince Hall born in Barbados?

Murder victim Fred Parris former Prince Hall Grand Master Freemason

An upsurge in search queries from New York about murder victim Fred Parris made us curious about the famous free black leader and abolitionist, Prince Hall.

Victim Fred Parris (photo left), the brother-in-law of Barbados Governor General Sir Clifford Husbands, was elected in 1995 as the 52nd Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons of New York State. Mr. Parris was murdered Wednesday, December 8, 2010 while out for his morning walk and sea-bath at Brighton Beach. Police say that robbery was not the motive.

Prince Hall: Escaped Barbados slave, Boston slave or born free?

In researching the “Prince Hall Freemasons” that obtained a Warrant for Charter from the Grand Lodge of England in 1784 and formed African Lodge #459, we came across conflicting accounts of the birth place and origins of Mr. Prince Hall, one of the founders of Black Freemasonry in the United States.

As always, Wikipedia is a good place to start (but not necessarily relied upon). An article about Prince Hall details three scenarios and explains the problem…

Prince Hall’s life history has been a subject of debate. William Grimshaw’s 1903 “Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People of North America” began the story that Prince Hall was born in Barbados to a white father and mulatto mother who fled to the British colony of Massachusetts where Hall became a Methodist minister. Black Freemasonry scholars have for the most part, rejected Grimshaw’s account due to inconsistencies.

Charles Wesley, a historian (not the founder of Methodism), put together an alternative history for Prince Hall through compilations of archival sources. He claimed that Prince Hall was enslaved to the tanner William Hall at age eleven in Boston. Prince Hall may have become literate on his own, or through the direct help of white people. Some New Englanders made a point of teaching slaves and Free Blacks to read and write.[3] Documents in Massachusetts showing that slaveowner William Hall freed a man named Prince Hall on April 9, 1765 cannot be conclusively linked to any one individual as there exists record of no fewer than 21 males named Prince Hall, and several other men named Prince Hall were living in Boston at that time.

It is extremely hard to conclusively say which man in either case is actually Prince Hall. At the time that Hall was supposedly freed, there were no fewer than 21 black males named Prince hall in Boston. But it is certain that by 1770 Prince Hall was a free, literate, black man living in Boston.

… from the Wikipedia article Prince Hall

We’re curious if anyone can add more to the story. Whether from Barbados or not, the history of Prince Hall’s leadership and the struggles of the times make for compelling study. As always, we are reminded how much of what we see today in Barbados and elsewhere was shaped hundreds of years ago by the societal conventions of the times – and often by the actions of a few individuals who changed history.

Further Reading

Wikipedia: Prince Hall Freemasonry

Prince Hall Masons of New York State

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