According to the existing records, the first warranted Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons among men of color in Pennsylvania, was erected by the Right Worshipful Grand Master Prince Hall, assisted by the Grand Wardens Cyrus Forbes and George Middleton of the African Grand Lodge of Massachusetts on September 22, 1797, in Philadelphia. This Lodge was known as the African Lodge No. 459 of Philadelphia.
This action came as the result of a communication, dated March 2, 1797, from Peter Mantore of Philadelphia to Prince Hall of Boston, Massachusetts, requesting a dispensation to open and hold a lodge among Freemasons of color residing in the City of Philadelphia.
The Reverend Absalom Jones of the African Episcopal Church of Philadelphia was elected Worshipful Master and Richard Allen, founder and first Bishop of the Africa Methodist Episcopal Church, who would serve as Treasurer. The pioneering spirit, which led to the establishment of these great institutions of responsibility and service to the black community of yester year, was fostered in the organization of the Free African Society, a beneficial and moral reform society among free blacks, on April 12, 1787, in Philadelphia. The first insurance beneficial society among free blacks also came because of the activities of the Free African Society, as well as the movement for the establishment of schools for the education of free black children. The success of the latter movement is owed largely to the generous aid and support given by the Society of Friends (Quaker) community in the City of Philadelphia.
The laudable activities of the brethren of African Lodge of Philadelphia spurred a keen interest in the affairs of Freemasonry to the extent that the Massachusetts Grand Body, i.e., Union Lodge (1810), Laurel Lodge No. 5 (1811), and Phoenix Lodge No. 6 (1814) erected more lodges in Philadelphia. Acting in accordance with Masonic custom and tradition, the Past Masters of these four lodges met in solemn session on December 27, 1815, in the City of Philadelphia with unanimous consent of the brethren and erected the "First African Independent Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, for and in the Jurisdiction of North America," with the following Grand Lodge Officers elected:
This enlightenment began to spread westward with the appointment of Richard Howell Gleaves as District Deputy Grand Master by the Grand Lodge and assigning him the territory west of the Allegheny Mountains. It was largely through his efforts and those of the Rev. Thomas W. Stringer that Freemasonry among men of color was spread West and South of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 1846, Gleaves became the first Worshipful Master of Saint Cyprian Lodge in Pittsburgh and in 1847, he established Corinthian Lodge in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Schisms and fractures in the structure of the masonic institution existent among our number have played a deep and challenging role. Union Lodge, after bitter dissension, began to set in, declared itself independent and in July 1837, formed Hiram Grand Lodge. However, these two diverging groups re-united in 1847 as -- the Free and Accepted Ancient York Masons of Pennsylvania under the newly organized National Compact of Grand Lodges. Pennsylvania freemasons played a leading role in the establishment of the National Grand Lodge. James Byrd of First African Independent Grand Lodge was its first Deputy Grand Master and Enos A. Hall, Redmond Faucett and Richard H. Gleaves were its National Grand Masters, hailing from Pennsylvania.
However, dissension again set in among the Craft with the establishment of the Colored Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, with Emory Cronkin as Grand Master.
These Grand Bodies maintained a co-existence until 1882 when they were brought together by Grand Master William H. Miller of the Ancient York Masons, under the name and style of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, through all of the trials and tribulations of the early days, with the blessings of divine providence, we have prevailed and the Union of the craft has been preserved.
For all of the efforts expended by the saints and sages, we are proud to report, the direct parentage of six Grand Lodges (Maryland--1846, District of Columbia--1848, New Jersey--1848, Ohio--1849, Delaware--1849, and Virginia--1866) and Lodges in California, Georgia and Louisiana, which came constituent lodges that formed the Grand Lodges of their respective Jurisdictions.
The triennial session of the Grand Lodge (1900-1901-1902) saw the Grand Lodge take on an international character, with the erection of Ethiopia Lodge, #75 (renamed Southern Cross Lodge #75) and Coppin Lodge, #76 (renamed Saint Patrick Lodge) in South Africa. In 1977, these lodges expressed a desire to affiliate their allegiance to the Grand Lodge of South Africa and sever their affiliation with the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. The Grand Lodge granted their prayer and by November 1977, the two Lodges joined the Grand Lodge of South Africa.
The constellation of appendant, concordant, affiliated and adopted Masonic organizations, both male and female, which grew around mainstream Freemasonry, also has grown and been uniquely preserved by our Grand Lodge. In addition, our extended family has supported Masonic youth organizations (i.e. Knights of Pythagoras, Ruth M. Tucker Girls Youth Dept.), as well as, Masonic Research Chapters (i.e. The Phylaxis Society and Phyllis Chapter), which are devoted to the history of Prince Hall Freemasonry in general and the Masonic African American experience in particular.
Ultimately, Prince Hall Freemasonry in Pennsylvania has a rich and fascinating history that now has journeyed into the second decade of the 21st century. Although our membership has seen a slow decline over the years, the principles of dispensing charity, caring for the downtrodden, educating our youth, and the discipline of community service, remain the focal points of our Grand Lodge. With fervency and zeal, the 102 Grand Masters that have lead this august Grand Body have reinforced the quest to make good men better.
To this end, the journey continues for our Grand Lodge. However, we can joyfully pause for just a moment at this 200 year milestone, which has provided a rich legacy of dedication and service that we are justly proud of … and reflect how our Great Creator has brought us this far by faith.