Every month we will release a document from the Archive of African Lodge (Boston and Philadelphia), as well as other documentation and provide a short summary of the improtance and significance of that document.
This Month's Document:
January 1783 Letter from Prince Hall to publisher of a local newspaper
“А paragraph inserted in the Boston paper, viz. Draper and Folsom of Monday, December 31, 1782. “ Оп Friday, last, 27th, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, was celebrated by St. Black’s Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, who went in procession preceded by a hand of music, dressed in their aprons and jewels from Brother G . . . pions up State Street and thro Coruhill to the House of the Right Worshipful Grand Master in Water Street, where an elegant and splendid entertainment was given upon the occasion. “The Master`s answer to the above sketch: “
“ Sir: Observing a sketch in Monday’s paper painted by Mess. Draper and Folsom, relative to the celebration of the feast of St. John the Evangelist by the African Lodge, the Master of said Lodge being possessed of a charitable disposition to all mankind, does therefore hope the publisher of the said sketch meant to give a candid description of the procession &c. Therefore with due submission to the public, our title is not St. Black’s Lodge; neither do we aspire after high titles. But our only desire is that the Great Architect of the Universe would diůuse in our hearts the true spirit of Masonry, which is love to God and universal love to all mankind. These I humbly conceive to be the two grand pillars of Masonry. Instead of a splendid entertainment, we had an agreeable one in brotherly love.
“ With humble submission to the above publishers and the public, I beg leave to subscribe myself, your humble servant .
Master of African Lodge No 1,
Dedicated to St. John.”
[end of transcription]
The importance of this document is social, and how Prince Hall and the members of African Lodge wanted to be designated [socially and politically] in the Boston Society. During this time the terms "black" and "negro" were terms that denoted proprerty, slave or stateless [civilly disabled or without any rights or freedoms]. These terms were also marks enacted by State legislation, ushered in by Judicial interpretation. In light of these facts, it provides a bit more context as to why Prince Hall chose to use the term "African" to designate the Lodge, and why it was so important for him to write to Mr. Willis to correct the error of calling the lodge St. BLACKS Lodge.
A reading of a Webster's dictionary, the myriad of court cases and congressional records regarding the use of the terms "black" and "negro" as statuses of socio-political inferiority, will convince the reader of the reasoning behind this very improtant letter here. If one was to revisit both of the speeches by Prince Hall 1792/98, one will not find the term "Black" there either.
Many of the organizations of that day chose to use the designation "African" rather than black or negro or colored.
It is interesting to get a glimpse inside the mindstate of the Society surrounding the so-called African American community and how it impacted the establshment and function of our institutions.