Memorial Day Address 2019


Prince Hall– a Paper Trail                                                                                        

Rosemarie Smurzynski                                                                                       
Vice President, Arlington Historical Society  

Prince Hall Cemetery, Arlington MA                                                              Memorial Day May 27, 2019 at noon                                 


Today we meet in Prince Hall Cemetery in Arlington Mass with members of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge from Dorchester presiding over what has come to be an annual commemoration of the lives buried here, of African Lodge #1 and of the man who founded the Lodge, Prince Hall.

   The facts around establishing the Prince Hall Cemetery we know; the facts of the man for whom this cemetery is named become more important as the years go by.   In fact, in 2009 the City of Cambridge to honor Prince Hall placed a monument to him on the Cambridge Common.  Etched in the monument are his words spoken over a lifetime of advocacy for black people’s rights.  Denise Simmons, the then mayor of Cambridge, called him that day a founding father of America as much as any of our founding fathers were.  

   We do not know the date of his birth 1735 or 1738, or how the values from his family shaped his life.  What did he learn from them about how and why black lives matter?

    He lived and acted in Pre-Revolutionary War, Boston and into the early years of our country. He demanded for himself and others freedom and equality, the right to join the military and the right to be educated.  He had the mind of an abolitionist long before abolition became a word or a cause.

    A document written by a contemporary, a congregational minister, Jeremy Belknap, confirms the minister knew of Prince Hall.  Belknap writes that Hall was enslaved at 11 and free by April, 1770, precisely one month after the Boston Massacre. His owner, William Hall, freed him.  The Certificate of Manumission reads:   No longer Reckoned a slave, but {had} always accounted as a free man.

   It was believed Prince Hall fought in the Revolutionary War.  Six black men named Prince Hall were listed in those military records and that Hall might have been at Bunker Hill.   

  In 1775 Hall and 14 other black men joined the British Army’s Mason Lodge and after the British left Boston, the men petitioned to form their own lodge and called it African Lodge #1.  Hall became a Mason because he believed in the vision of freemasonry that all men are brothers.                                                                                 He was to African Lodge # 1 Worshipful Master.  There are many Prince Hall lodges across the country, today.

   Hall’s involvements after the war proved his commitment to advance the rights of people of his race. This he did, 100 years before Frederick Douglass fought for Emancipation.

* In January 1777 he petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts to give slaves their freedom as an “inalienable right.”

* In 1783 he helped Belinda Royall write a petition for freedom and reparations.

*In October 1787 he petitioned for the education of black children.

*In 1797 in a last speech to the Lodge Hall spoke to his people of mob violence in Boston against blacks

In 1802 he died, age 72, and is buried in Copp’s Hill Burying Ground.                                                                                                                         

      Lest we forget we need to remember Prince Hall knew full well the plight of his people. I leave you with these words, Hall’s recognition of their plight and his wisdom to his people.

{We} carry our lives in our hands, and the arrows of death are flying about our heads…it is not for want of courage in you, for they know that they dare not face you man to man but in a mob, which we despise .

Peace be with us.