All Men Free and Brethren: Essays on the History of African American Freemasonry


In early March 1775, an Irish soldier initiated a dozen or more black Bostonian men into a lodge of Freemasons, making them probably the first people of African descent formally admitted into Freemasonry in the Atlantic world. Prince Hall, a freedman, would emerge as the leader of this group as they worked together to establish a tradition of African American Freemasonry that has persisted ever since—a tradition that still carries his name.

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In early March 1775, an Irish soldier initiated a dozen or more black Bostonian men into a lodge of Freemasons, making them probably the first people of African descent formally admitted into Freemasonry in the Atlantic world. Prince Hall, a freedman, would emerge as the leader of this group as they worked together to establish a tradition of African American Freemasonry that has persisted ever since—a tradition that still carries his name.

All Men Free and Brethren is the first in-depth historical consideration of Prince Hall freemasonry from the Revolutionary era to the early decades of the twentieth century. Through a growing network of lodges, African American Masons together promoted fellowship, Christianity, and social respectability, while standing against slavery and white supremacy. The contributors to this book examine key aspects in the history of the Prince Hall Masons, from accounts of specific lodges and leaders to broader themes in African American history: abolitionist activism, the limits of freedom during Reconstruction, political oration, the role of women in the black community, and relationships between Masonry and African American churches.

Also included are several appendixes containing key texts from Prince Hall Masonry, a glossary of Masonic terms, and lists of archival repositories and contact information for present-day lodges. Edited by Peter P. Hinks and Stephen Kantrowitz, All Men Free and Brethren is a major contribution of the history of Freemasonry, African American history, and the broader history of race, citizenship, and community in the United States.

Contributors: Brittney C. Cooper, Rutgers University; David Hackett, University of Florida; Peter P. Hinks; Stephen Kantrowitz, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Leslie A. Lewis, Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons; Chernoh M. Sesay, Jr., DePaul University; Martin Summers, Boston College; Mark Tabbert, George Washington Masonic National Memorial; Corey D. B. Walker, Brown University; Julie Winch, University of Massachusetts–Boston

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This remarkably useful book explores an aspect of US history long-overlooked by historians of both historical freemasonry and the African American experience. Summing Up: highly recommended."—Choice (October 2013)

"This is a very welcome edited collection that taps into the current thirst for serious histories of American freemasonry. It represents a real boon to further scholarship, urging us to think in new ways about freedom and social agency for African Americans within the Masonic context from the revolutionary era up until the late 1920s. Especially useful are the four appendixes containing three key Prince Hall or African American Masonic texts, an explanatory glossary of Masonic terms, a list of contact details for Masonic repositories, and a further list of Prince Hall Grand Lodge information. Anyone interested in how African American freemasonry links to the main narratives on abolition, emancipation, and Reconstruction will find much of tangible use here."—Joy Porter,American Historical Review

"The book successfully serves two masters by showcasing new directions in the scholarship while also including a detailed chronology, definition of Masonic terms, and extensive endnotes. . . . Essay collections are inherently difficult. This one manages to provide both a useful primer on African Masonry while also showcasing excellent recent scholarship. . . . That the book also highlights new scholarly directions in religion, gender, and racial identity only adds to its merits" Matthew Hetrick, American Studies (April 2014)

"[T]his is an impressive volume that resourcefully draws much useful and persuasive interpretation from scant sources. In many ways, black Masonry is indeed an excellent metaphor for the history of African American activism."—Bruce Dain, Journal of American History (December 2014)

"All Men Free and Brethren is a splendid collection of essays on the history of African American Freemasonry in the period from its founding during the American Revolution into the twentieth century. The essays review the origins of Prince Hall Freemasonry, explicate its Craft, and follow its development over time and its geographic expansion. They provide a centerpole for the study of one of the most important institutions of African American life."—Ira Berlin, Distinguished University Professor of History, University of Maryland, author of Generations of Captivity: A History of Slaves in the United States

"The essays in All Men Free and Brethren break new ground and provide long overdue attention to a pivotal organization. Black Masons have played significant roles in social justice movements throughout American history. Beyond the academy, Prince Hall Masons are also receiving the attention they deserve—along Boston's Black Heritage Trail® and with the recent installation of the Prince Hall Memorial in Cambridge. This volume will surely lead to further scholarly exploration and better public understanding of the critical history of African American freemasonry."—Marty Blatt, Chief of Cultural Resources and Historian, Boston National Historical Park/Boston African American National Historic Site

"All Men Free and Brethren is a fully developed history of the rise, progress, internal conflicts within, and response to emancipation from the black Freemasons. Throughout, the authors write about the paradoxes of black Freemasonry, focusing on the tension between the secrecy of fraternal orders and their role in creating a black 'public sphere,' as well as the fascinating juxtaposition of the universal Enlightened ideals of Freemasonry and the role of Prince Hall orders in creating strong ‘race men’ in a white Republic."—Paul Harvey, University of Colorado, author of Moses, Jesus, and the Trickster in the Evangelical South

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801450303
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 4/2/2013
  • Pages: 262
  • Sales rank: 1,057,462
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter P. Hinks is the author of To Awaken My Afflicted Brethren: David Walker and the Problem of Antebellum Slave Resistance. He has worked extensively as a public historian, editor, and teacher.

Stephen Kantrowitz is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829–1889 and Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy.

Leslie A. Lewis is 66th Grand Master of Masons, of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, Jurisdiction of Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Les Lewis, Grand Master, Prince Hall Freemasons
A Chronology of Major Events in Prince Hall Freemasonry

Introduction: The Revolution in Freemasonry
by Peter P. Hinks and Stephen Kantrowitz

1. Emancipation and the Social Origins of Black Freemasonry, 1775–1800
by Chernoh M. Sesay, Jr.

2. "To Commence a New Era in the Moral World": John Telemachus Hilton, Abolitionism, and the Expansion of Black Freemasonry, 1784–1860
by Peter P. Hinks

3. “A Late Thing I Guess”—The Early Years of Philadelphia's African Masonic Lodge
by Julie Winch

4. Nation and Oration: The Political Language of African American Freemasonry in the Early Republic
by Corey D. B. Walker

5. “Arguing for Our Race”: The Politics of Non-recognition and the Public Nature of the Black Masonic Archive
by Martin Summers

6. Brotherhood Denied: Black Freemasonry and the Limits of Reconstruction
by Stephen Kantrowitz

7. “They Are Nevertheless Our Brethren”: The Order of Eastern Star and the Battle for Women’s Leadership, 1874–1925
by Brittney C. Cooper

8. The Prince Hall Masons and the African-American Church: The Labors of Grand Master and Bishop James Walker Hood, 1831–1918
by David Hackett

Appendix A: Three Key Texts of Prince Hall Masonry
Appendix B: Glossary of Basic Masonic Terminology
Appendix C: Major Repositories of Prince Hall Masonic History
Appendix D: United States Prince Hall Grand Lodge Contact Information


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