The National Grand Lodge FAQ
    by David L Gray {CRM2} and Ralph L. McNeal Jr. {CARM3}

Was there ever a National Grand Lodge in Prince Hall Freemasonry? Yes! There existed the Most Worshipful National Grand Lodge of Ancient York Rite Masons (also known as - PHO - COMPACT). This conception of one National Grand Lodge (NGL) over all State Grand Lodges gained a little steam in many parts of the country - however, it caused a division within the ranks of Prince Hall Freemasonry; which resulted in two "predominately Black" Grand Lodges in several jurisdictions.

Who Came up with the idea to create one National Grand Lodge and why? The idea was not an original idea. On May 8th, 1843, the mainstream (majority white) Masonic Grand Lodges of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida and Ohio held a convention in the city of Baltimore, Maryland having for its objects: (1) To produce uniformity of work, and (2) To recommend sure measures as to tend to the elevation of this Order to its due degree of respect throughout the world at large.

The result of this convention was the adoption of a form of ritualistic work in the three degrees, the adoption of a funeral service, of a consecration and constitution ceremony, of a ceremony of installation and a ceremony to be observed at the dedication of Masonic Halls. (1) The Committee on Jurisprudence at this convention had the task of evaluating two plans to keep the spirit of uniformity and state fraternalship going; (2) Create a Grand Lodge of the United States, or (3) Establish a triennial convention of representatives of the several Grand Lodges of the United States.

In the city New York on September 27th, 1844 a notice was published calling for a meeting to form a Negro General Grand Lodge of the United States of America. The proposal was to form the First Philanthropic General Grand Lodge of the United States of America, subordinate to which was to be the Philanthropic Grand Lodge of the State of New York. This was the first attempt to form a National Grand Lodge amongst Black Freemasons in the United States.

Past Grand Master John T. Hilton of Massachusetts came up with an idea of bringing the three Grand lodges, that his jurisdiction helped to create, together and to settle the riff between the two Grand Lodge in Pennsylvania (First Independent African Grand Lodge of North America and Hiram Grand Lodge). Boyer Grand Lodge of New York was also invited. They were all to meet on June 24th, 1847.

So who all actually attended this meeting? Individuals from African Lodge No. 459 (Grand Lodge) of Massachusetts, Hiram Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and delegates from Boyer Grand Lodge of New York. Representatives from the First Independent African Grand Lodge of North America (PA) arrived on June 25th. The 1871 Grand Lodge Proceedings from Ohio state that subsequent meetings were held all the way up until June 26th.

So are you telling me a few men acting as reps of their Grand Lodges acted on behalf of all Prince Hall Masons and without a vote in their Grand Lodges to create a NGL to which state GLs would be subordinate to? Wasn't it the custom that only three legally chartered lodges could establish a Grand Lodge? Yes! That is exactly what happened. And yes, it was done in counter of the established custom of how regular Grand Lodges are to be erected.

Did any GLs withdraw from the National Grand Lodge early on? Boyer Grand Lodge of New York repudiated the signatures of their delegates at their session on June 7, 1848 and reformed under another name (United Grand Lodge); Hiram Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania on November 9th, 1849; The First Independent African Grand Lodge of North America on June 28, 1850.

Wait a minute! So three of the four Grand Lodges that had representatives at the creation withdrew from it? Yet the NGL continued? How did that happen? Yes, as odd at that sounds! There were enough 'individuals' from Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania that were zealous enough about the concept of a National Grand Lodge that they persisted in keeping it going independently.

So, how did the National Grand Lodge go about bringing existing Grand Lodges in? There were a few Grand Lodge that were already in existence after the finalization of the NGL constitution that weren't included at the Boston Convention (African Grand Lodge of Maryland, Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ohio, Union Grand Lodge of Wash. D.C., PH Grand Lodge of New Jersey and Hiram Grand Lodge of Delaware. These Grand Lodges were simply mailed a Warrant or Letter, letting them know that they were a subordinate to the Natl. Grand Lodge. In other cases the Natl. Grand Lodge created their own subordinates - from 1848 to 1877 the NGL chartered 23 Grand Lodges.

Were there any Prince Hall Grand Lodges that were not a part of the National Grand Lodge? The Most Worshipful Eureka Grand Lodge of Louisiana wrote a letter to the Triennial session in 1865 stating that they did not want to be a part of the NGL. Though there were lodges in Mississippi, the GM Thomas Stringer did not join the NGL, but he did send a representative to the sessions.

How often did the National Grand Lodge meet? Their constitution allowed them to meet Triennially (every three years), but in the beginning and towards the end of the NGL as we knew it - there were also several 'call' meetings. The Triennials were as follows: 1850 (place unknown), 1853 (place unknown or not held), 1854 (Philadelphia, PA), 1856 (Philadelphia, PA), 1859 (Cincinnati, Ohio - adjourned to July 4th, 1860 in Pittsburgh, PA), 1862 (New York, NY), 1865 (Baltimore, MD), 1868 (place unknown - a call meeting held at Wilmington, DE on October 9th, 1869), 1871 (Chicago, IL), 1874 (Louisville, KY - a call meeting held at Boston, MA on June 23rd - 24th 1875) and 1877 (Pittsburgh, PA).

What good accomplishments did the National Grand Lodge make during its existence? The National Grand Lodge did help to create many jurisdictions that are in existence today. It set up communication with our Brethren in Haiti. It helped to create some uniformity of work between the jurisdictions. Was the key force between creating harmony between jurisdictions - and perpetuated what would become the singular identity of the union called 'Prince Hall Freemasonry' today. The NGL also helped to stimulate the network of Lodges which were working in the underground railroad.

What were some of the major differences that Brethren of that day had with the National Grand Lodge? While creating harmony in some ways - it also helped to create dissention amongst many jurisdictions. Many never fully agreed with the manner in which the NGL was organized. The were opinions that the NGL was over taxing Grand Lodges and that it was abusing its power by taking on the role of a Grand Lodge by establishing Lodges. The NGL made more enemies than friends when it would establish a competing Grand Lodge in jurisdictions were there was already a Prince Hall Grand Lodge in existence.

When did the Prince Hall Grand Lodges decide to withdraw from the National Grand Lodge? There were those who did in the beginning, but the straw that broke the NGL's back was when Ohio decided to leave in 1867, this created a series of Prince Hall Grand Lodge to reconsider their position within the NGL. The 1870s was a pivotal year for the NGL and there was when she was weakening. By the end of 1878 nearly every Prince Hall Grand Lodge, which was a member and is in existence today had official removed itself from subordination of the National Grand Lodge.

So were there any meetings to discuss the future of the of the National Grand Lodge held after that? There were not constitutional Triennials after 1877 with any Prince Hall Grand Lodges present (though some PH Grand Lodge did sent delegates by request of the Natl. Grand Lodge), but there were many 'call' meetings after this year to discuss the many differences that the Grand Lodges had with the National Grand Lodge. In 1888, the Natl. Grand Master, William D. Matthews, issued his famous manifesto ordering all Prince Hall Grand Lodges to adhere to his orders and return to the fold of the NGL. This order fell of deaf ears and the National Grand Lodge went on to establish new state Grand Lodges.

What Lodges and Grand Lodges were apart of the National Grand Lodge after 1877? Some Lodges and Grand Lodges which they created prior to 1877 that didn't unify with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in their state and Lodges and Grand Lodges which they independently formed after 1877.

So if I follow you - before 1871 the National Grand Lodge was considered to be regular by most Prince Hall Grand Lodges? If not regular - tolerated as a Masonic authority at minimum.

What about the Gleaves 1877 resolution to dissolve the compact?

      "Resolved, That each state is its sovereign head, and that each delegate be directed to report to his State Grand Lodge, the action taken by this body. And be it further

      "Resolved, That the National or Compact Grand Lodge is, and the same is hereby declared to be an irregular and unheard of body in Masonry, and it is hereby declared forever void."

Looking in all of the transactions from 1875-1880 there is no mention of this 'Resolution'. The only place where it exist is in Grimshaw's book, "Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People of North America". Therefore, the resolution perpetuated by many who used Grimshaw as a reference. The following Prince Hall Scholars in one way or another have used this statement printed from Grimshaw's book: Crawford, Williamson, Voorhis, Davis, Cooper, Walkes, Wesley and many others who have written papers. In 1885, from the transactions of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Arkansas, on page 75, a letter was written to PGM J.C. Corbin from PGM Gleaves. Gleaves stated: "That thus far as I have been informed, the National Grand Lodge, as the head of the Masonic authority, from that fact, that it has no Grand Master, and but few, if any adherents. The man that claims to be the National Grand Master is not in good standing, Masonically, and his Masonic conduct as National Grand Master in Tennessee has been of such a nature that it, of itself, would disqualified him. There are few Grand Lodges in the states of Kansas, Nebraska and perhaps Colorado that still adhere to the National Grand Lodge, with Levere at its head as Grand Master. In a word, I consider the National Grand Lodge for Masonic power and influence dead."

What may have been some of the reasons behind the exit of the National Grand Lodge from Prince Hall Freemasonry? Many Prince Hall Grand Lodges decided to merge with the Compact Grand Lodges of their respective jurisdictions. The reason why was that the National Grand Lodge was a creature totally foreign of the Ancient Charges and basic Masonic law. Few could comprehend the Masonic justification of having a Grand Lodge over a Grand Lodge. The jurisdictions got real tired of supporting the NGL financially and having to take orders from the leadership. The NGL was set up for reasons of harmony, but to only create enemies amongst Prince Hall Brethren when the leaders started setting up lodges and Grand Lodges where there were Prince Hall Grand Lodges already established.

So what eventually happened with the National Grand Lodge? The Most Worshipful National Grand Lodge still exist today under the same name and it is commonly referred to as PHO (Prince Hall Origin or the National Compact).

So if the National Grand Lodge was empowered as a legal Masonic authority for about 20 years, then the Lodges and Grand Lodges they created could only be considered regular. So therefore, does the modern day National Grand Lodge have 'some' claim on regularity? They clearly can make an argument that they are regular by lineage, but clearly they still are not structured in accordance with laws of Freemasonry and that is the crux of their dilemma from being unable to be accepted into the family of regular Freemasonry.

REFERENCES:

References: 1) Transactions from the following Prince Hall Grand Lodges.

  • 1866-68 Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania FAAYM
  • 1871 Ohio, Alabama
  • 1872 Alabama
  • 1873 Alabama
  • 1874 Alabama, GL of Alabama FAAYM . PHGL of Mass.
  • 1875 GL of Alabama FAAYM
  • 1874-75 Conn.
  • 1875 Mass, Alabama FAAYM,Ohio
  • 1876 Alabama FAAYM, Conn, Ark
  • 1877 Virginia FAAYM, Ark, Ohio, GLof Penn FAAYM
  • 1878 Sovereign GL of Alabama, Ark,Conn,Ohio
  • 1879 Tenn, Ark
  • 1880 Ark
  • 1879-82 Mich
  • 1881 Texas
  • 1882 Ark
  • 1883 Conn
  • 1885 Ark
  • 1896-97 N.J.

    Transactions of the NGL Triennial session 1862, 1865, 1874 and 1874
    ‘The Masonic Union’, by Joshua Woodlin 1855
    ‘The Status of Colored Masons’, by J.C. Corbin 1896
    ‘The National Grand Lodge’, by A.G. Clark 1921The New York Age,
    “Masonic Notes” by Harry Williamson
    ‘The Negro National or Compact Grand Lodge’, by John Sherman
    AQC 1977 Letter to the Editor of the Philalethes Society April 2002


     


    ABOUT US:
    Our Mission, Become a Member, Our Officers, Who Was Charles H. Wesley

    THE MASONIC VOICE JOURNAL:
    Subscribe Now Online, Subscription Form, View Current & Back Issues Content, Read Some Published Articles>

    THE WESLEY KNOWLEDGE BASE:
    The Online Research Project, The Discussion Form, Join Our Mailing List, Masonic Lectures, Other Research Links

    MEMBERS ONLY:
    Electronic Library, Account Login, View Account Balance

    GUESTBOOK:
    View Guestbook , Sign Guestbook