William Henry Grimshaw

Author of “History of Freemasonry among the Colored People of North America”

Photo and Signature of William Grimshaw, from His “History of Freemasonry among the Colored People of North America”

William Henry Grimshaw was born in 1848 apparently in Westmoreland County, Virginia, about 40 miles northeast of Richmond. After serving several hitches in the U.S. Navy, he settled in Washington, D.C., where he worked in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Library of Congress. William had five children with two wives and lived out his life in Washington, D.C. He is buried with his wife, Caroline, in Section 23 of Arlington National Cemetery.

William was very active in Freemasonry and served for a time as the Grand Master of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Washington. He authored numerous books and pamphlets – nearly 50 of them – on Freemasonry generally and on black Freemasons specifically. His best-known work was “History of Freemasonry among the Colored People of North America1.” Unfortunately, some parts of this work have been discredited by later research.

The “”Prince Hall Masons” consist mostly or entirely of black men in America. This branch of Freemasonry was begun in Boston with the initiation of 15 blacks in 1775 by a Mason in the British Army. From this initiation, “African Lodge No. 1” of Boston was begun in July 1775. Prince Hall was the first Grand Master of this lodge. Many Masonic lodges have since been formed under warrant of this Grand Lodge, which took the name of its first Grand Master and became Prince Hall Grand Lodge in 1847.

William’s maternal ancestors apparently arrived in America before the reprehensible institution of slavery had been abolished. It appears that Samuel Grimshaw of Henrico County, Virginia (see companionwebpage) owned slaves who were William Grimshaw’s grandparents or, possibly, his mother. William was apparently born after his ancestors were sold to another family, as described further down on this webpage.


Webpage Credits

Cover and Table of Contents of William Grimshaw’s Primary Book

Photos of William Grimshaw and His Wife Caroline

1920 U.S. Census Record for William and His Family

Books and Other Publications by William Grimshaw

Was William Grimshaw Descended from a Family of Slaves Belonging to Samuel Grimshaw?

William Grimshaw’s Descendant Chart

William and Caroline Grimshaw’s Grave at Arlington National Cemetery

Sample Content of William Grimshaw’s “History of Freemasonry among the Colored People of North America”

Other Freemasonry Books by William Grimshaw

Modern Histories of Black Freemasonry

Image of Prince Hall, Father of Black Freemasonry in the U.S.


U.S. Supreme Court Case Involving William Grimshaw

Webpage Credits

Thanks go to Doris Hightower for giving access to her webpages on Ancestry.com, where she has posted a great deal of information and many photos and images related to William Grimshaw and his family. Doris also provided much valuable information through email exchanges.

Cover and Table of Contents of William Grimshaw’s Book on the History of Freemasonry among the Colored People of North America

William’s book has been re-published or reprinted at least twice. The cover of the most recent reprint2 is shown below. The book has a total of 53 chapters; the table of contents for the first 13 chapters is shown in Figure 3.

Cover of William Grimshaw’s book. Taken from the republished version.

Table of Contents – first page showing the first 13 chapters of the book.

Photos of William Grimshaw and His Wife Caroline 

Doris Hightower’s webpages include several excellent photos of William Grimshaw. They are shown below.

The most recent reprint of William’s book2 includes both a photo and a signature by the author – they are shown below. The image, which is of poor quality, is obviously taken from the above photo.

An earlier (and much better) photo of William appears in the 1969 reprint3 of the original 1903 publication by William. It is shown below.

Doris Hightower has provided the following excellent photo of William’s wife, Caroline (Pryor) Grimshaw.

Doris Hightower has photos of Ruth Marie Grimshaw on her website on Ancestry.com, which can be viewed after she has given permission for access to the website.

1920 U.S. Census Record for William Grimshaw and His Family

The 1920 U.S. Census found William and his family living in Washington, D.C. The record is shown below. William, age 71, was living with his 57-year-old wife, Caroline, and son Walter H., age 37. William and Caroline were born in Virginia; Walter was born in Washington, D.C. Both William and Walter worked at the Library of Congress – William as an attendant and Walter as a clerk.

1920 census record for William and his family. The record is shown in four overlapping segments, from left to right.

William Grimshaw’s Service in the U.S. Navy

William Grimshaw apparently served more than one “hitch” in the U.S. Navy. One of these periods of service was from February 28, 1863 to February 27, 1864 aboard the “Wyandank” as indicated on the certificate of discharge shown below. Thanks go to Doris Hightower for providing this image.

Doris Hightower has provided the following image that shows the “Wyandank” (mis-spelled “Wyndank”) at the Naval Academy in 1879.

The “Wyandank” is described on U.S. Navy history website as follows:


Probably a variant spelling of Wyandance.

(SwStr: t. 400; l. 132’5″; b. 31’5″; dph. 10’10”; a. 2 12-pdrs.)

Wyandank—a wooden-hulled, sidewheel ferry built at New York City in 1847 and sometimes documented as Wyandanck—was acquired by the Navy on 12 September 1861 from the Union Ferry Co. of Brooklyn, N.Y., and used during the Civil War as storeship for the Potomac Flotilla. After hostilities ended, Wyandank served at Annapolis, Md., into the 1870’s as a floating barracks for marines assigned to the United States Naval Academy. She was broken up there in 1879.

Source: http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/w11/wyandank.htm

Another Navy website describes the “Wyandank” as follows:


Screw steamer:

A wooden-hulled ferry built at New York City in 1847
Acquired by the Navy, 12 September from the Union Ferry Co., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Placed in service as Wyandank
During the Civil War Wyandank was assigned to duty as a stores ship for the Potomac Flotilla
Following the Civil War Wyandank served at the US Naval Academy as a floating barracks for marines assigned to the Academy
Placed our of service and broken up in 1879


Displacement 400 t.
Length 132′ 5″
Beam 31′ 5″
Depth 10′ 10″‘
Draft unknown
Speed unknown
Complement unknown
two 12-pdrs
Propulsion steam

Source: http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/86/86063.htm

Was William Grimshaw Descended from a Family of Slaves Belonging to Samuel Grimshaw?

William’s maternal ancestors apparently arrived in America before the reprehensible institution of slavery had been abolished. William indicated to family members that his mother was Julia Grimshaw, a slave, and his father was Robert Tyler. Although the connection is not at all clear, Samuel Grimshaw, who immigrated to Virginia in 1795 (or his parents) may have
owned slaves, thereby giving the Grimshaw surname to a slave family. Samuel lived in Henrico County and is described on a companionwebpage. A historical paper by Richard Dunn, described further down on this webpage, provides the following information on the Grimshaw slave family.

A Grimshaw slave family was subsequently owned by the Tayloe family in the 1820s on a plantation, Mount Airy, which is in Richmond County about 50 miles east of Henrico County. A number of Grimshaws entered Virginia in the Jamestown area southeast of Henrico County in the late 1600s and early 1700s about 80 miles south of Mount Airy, and one of their descendants could have been candidates as the Grimshaw slaveholders. However, at the time of the 1810 U.S. Census, Samuel was the only Grimshaw recorded living in the region around Mount Airy and would therefore seem the best candidate. As noted, Samuel immigrated in 1795 and was therefore not one of the Jamestown Grimshaw descendants. However, the appraisement for Samuel made at the time of his death in 1818 does not include slaves.

Slaves William Grimshaw and Esther Jackson were owned by the Tayloe family and lived on parts of the Mount Airy plantation. William was the son of a “Letty” (Letitia?) Grimshaw and, possibly, Jim Grimshaw. William and Esther Grimshaw were married in the 1820s and had among their children Juliet Grimshaw, who was born in 1826. Juliet was apparently sold to Robert Tyler at a plantation in Westmoreland County, which is adjacent to Richmond County. She had William Grimshaw, the subject of this webpage in 1848.

After an incident in which he was whipped, William’s grandfather, William Grimshaw, successfully ran away in 1845 and later settled in New Brunswick, Canada. He was never reunited with his family in Virginia.

A photo of the north (back) side of Mount Airy, which is located a short distance northwest of Warsaw, Virginia, is shown below. The entrance to the plantation is also shown. The photos were taken by the website author in September 2011.

It is also possible that William was descended from slaves owned by Thomas Grimshaw, first of nearby Alexandria, Virginia and later of Winchester, Virginia. There is no evidence in the records obtained so far on Thomas that he was a slaveholder, and he lived a good deal further away, to the north in Alexandria.

The above information comes mostly from a paper published in 2011 by Richard S. Dunn that details the life of Winney Grimshaw and her family4, including her sister Juliet Grimshaw. Click here for the Richard Dunn Article, “Winney Grimshaw, a Virginia Slave, and Her Family”. Dunn also published an earlier paper5 on Winney in which he compared her life to that of a slave in Jamaica.

William Grimshaw’s Descendant Chart

Doris Hightower has created a website, which requires her permission to access, on William Grimshaw. Information from Doris’ website, along with the information in the preceding section, enables the following descendant chart to be constructed.

Jim? Grimshaw & Letty (Letitia?) unknown

|—1 William Grimshaw & Esther Jackson

|—|—2 Julia Grimshaw & Robert Tyler

|—|—|—3 William Henry Grimshaw* (4 Aug 1848, Westmoreland Co, VA – 15 Oct 1927, Washington, DC) & Caroline E Pryor (23 Apr 1860, Virginia – 5 Jul 1948)

|—|—|—|—4 Ruth M Grimshaw (3 Apr 1892, New York – 12 Apr 1971, East Orange, NJ) & William H Green (16 Nov 1890, Newark, NJ – 12 Feb 1936, Newark, NJ)

|—|—|—|—|—5 Genevieve Green (14 Sep 1915 – 5 Jan 2011) & Emory A Hightower (30 Jun 1914 – 4 Jan 2000)

|—|—|—|—|—|—6 Living Hightower

|—|—|—|—|—|—6 Living Hightower

|—|—|—|—|—|—6 Living Hightower

|—|—|—|—|—|—6 Carol L Hightower (15 Mar 1938 – 5 Sep 2004)

|—|—|—|—|—5 William H Grimshaw* (4 Aug 1848, Westmoreland Co, VA – 15 Oct 1927, Washington, DC) & Mary F(orrest?) Brooks (ca 1851, Washington, DC – 14 Apr 1884, Washington, DC)

|—|—|—|—4 Robert Taswill Grimshaw (ca 1873, Washington, DC – 2 Dec 1889, Washington, DC)

|—|—|—|—4 Evelyn Grimshaw (9 Aug 1875, DC – 3 Mar 1960) & Lawrence G Fletcher (ca1874, DC – ?)

|—|—|—|—|—5 Sumner G Fletcher (21 Jan 1902, DC – Feb 1986, DC) & Janet Anderson

|—|—|–|—|—-5 Gorham C Fletcher (11 May 1904, DC – Jan 1973, DC)

|—|—|—|—4 Mary Elizabeth Grimshaw (1880 – 6 Oct 1960) & Benjamin Washington (1873 – ?). Married November 25, 1908

|—|—|—|—|—5 Evelyn Washington

|—|—|—|—4 Walter H Grimshaw (ca 1880, DC – ?)

William and Caroline Grimshaw’s Grave at Arlington National Cemetery

William and Caroline are buried in Section 23 of Arlington Cemetery near Washington, DC. Photos of their gravestone, taken by the website author in August 2010, are shown below. Unfortunately, the location of the grave is not at the site indicated by Cemetery records, but is located nearby and is easy to find. It is unknown why William’s stone is marked with “New York” rather than Washington, DC, where he lived.

Caroline’s inscription, as is customary, is on the back face of the headstone.

William and Caroline’s headstone is almost directly behind the signpost indicating their location in Section 23 of Arlington Cemetery.

Sample Content of William Grimshaw’s Primary Book: Foreward, Preface, Introduction, Chapter 1

A portion of William’s book “History of Freemasonry among the Colored People of North America1″ is shown below in order to provide additional background and to illustrate the content and writing style of the book. The first four components of the book are included.


To the Masonic Fraternity and Brethren of every degree:

We, the undersigned, having been connected with Free-Masonry for many years, served in every elective position known to the Craft, established Lodges, Chapters, Councils, and Encampments of the various orders of Free masonry in America among colored men, under and by authority of the Grand Lodge of England, 1717, and other Grand Governing bodies of competent jurisdiction, in this capacity have examined the manuscript of W. H. Grimshaw, P.D.G.M., entitled “OFFICIAL HISTORY OF FREEMASONRY AMONG THE COLORED PEOPLE IN NORTH AMERICA,” and cordially recommend it to the. perusal of every Freemason, and especially to the race, as being a correct statement of facts. It begins with the Mother Grand Lodge, London, England, 1717, and traces the growth of Masonry (especially among the colored people) down to the present day, bringing out interesting facts unknown to many members of the Craft and gives the origin, dates of organization, and establishment of Subordinate and Grand Lodges, Royal Arch Chapters, Commanderies, the Scottish Rite, Nobles of Mystic Shrine and the Rite of Memphis etc., in the several States and Territories. The book is an official reference not only as to Freemasonry inNorth America, but as to the growth and progress of the race as well. It will be found to be a valuable work, 5ince it is the only history published which deals with Freemasonry, together with the growth and wealth of the colored people in America.

We are confident that its reception by the Craft will be equally sustained and its merits will place it among the most valuable reference books of the Twentieth Century. Many of its chapters furnish suggestive reading for those who would like to know something of the great Brotherhood prior to seeking admittance to its ranks.

We can, as Craftsmen, take our stand on actual minutes of Lodges, Chapters, Councils and Commanderies, beginning in the United States as early as 1775, and presenting an unbroken series of records to the present year, supported on one hand by copies of the “Old Charges” and laws dating from the Fourteenth Century, and, on the other, by special regulations of the Craft some three centuries later .

Fraternally yours,

R. H. Gleaves, P.G.M. 33d degree; 96 degree.

Thornton A. Jackson, 33d degree; 96 degree. M.P. Sir Commander; U.S. Council, 

33d degree A.A.S.R. SouthernJurisdiction,U.S.

John A. Gray, Sr., 33d degree.

John W.Freeman, 33d degree.

Masonic Temple

Washington, D. C.

A. D. 1902 A. L. 5902


In sending forth to the Masonic Fraternity and the public account of this description, it, would be well to state that it was the original intention of the author and compiler, to only prepare a history of the Craft in the District of Columbia, but upon the earnest solicitation of many Masonic friends, he has consented to enlarge the work so that it will also include the history of thc Craft in each State of the Union.

In the preparation of this work, two objects have been kept in mind. First that Masons and other readers might have a true official history of the Masonic Fraternity among colored men in the United States. Heretofore there has been no publication to which we could conveniently refer concerning the legitimacy of the order in America, consequently our detractors have taken advantage of this weakness and invariably tried to convince the world that negro Masonry in America did not emanate from the same source as white Masonry, hence it was of a spurious kind and could not be recognized.

Every fair minded reader will see at a glance that the origin and practice of Freemasonry among colored men in the United States, came direct from the Mother Grand Lodge of the world,London, England, in 1784. This is substantiated by the original charters, old records of lodges, and the manuscripts of old Masons in theUnited States. This disposes at once of our detractors’ bill of complaint for want of truth.

Second, the author believes it to he his duty to write this book, having in his possession many facts relative to the advancement of the colored people since the close of the Civil War, which might serve to enlighten the uninformed, and also inspire the younger generation to a higher development.

In presenting this work, the author is fully conscious of its literary defects, but dare not sacrifice the truth of history even for literary excellence.

If, in treating the events of the past, injustice has been done to the living or the dead, the author wishes it under stood that it was not with evil intention.



No institution of ancient or modern times has done more for the uplifting of the human race and the upbuilding of what is known as society, than Freemasonry.

The secret order of Freemasonry is one of the most inspiring and elevating influences of civilization and its power for good is as limitless as its lessons are far reaching.

The search and the longing for merely material things is bound to bring distress and disaster. Recall the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, whose sin caused its own destruction; consider the fate of egotisticalGreece; learn the lesson taught by the life of the Great Alexander.

Where would modern civilization be to-day were it not for the uplifting and ennobling influence of the teachings of the Saviour? What would the United States be had it not been for the band of devoted men – those godly people, of undaunted courage, who braved every danger to found a nation, where spirituality and brotherly love should prevail and rule.

Second only to the church has been the influence wielded by Freemasonry, whose noble precepts and incentives to higher purposes has made it a power for untold good. And many a deed of unsung heroism has been done in the cause of Freemasonry, that its teachings might live and its secrecy be undefiled. Equally countless are the good deeds done in its name done for no prospective reward, nor selfish remuneration. Whatever Freemasonry has done was inspired by the spirit of fraternal helpfulness and love for fellowman.

Since the foundation of Solomon’s Temple, when Freemasonry is supposed to have been founded, to the present day, this great body has kept its original forms and laws. Human thought has not been able to improve upon them nor adverse criticism to change them, for they hold the fundamental truism of life, and shed from the radian altar of their holy purpose, the light of divine truth.

The world’s greatest men have been Masons; its most famous warriors; its most gentle scholars. Within the realms of Freemasonry these beings of diverse occupation, of one common mind, have met in the broad communion of brotherly love.

Could self-interest, greed, venality and kindred short comings of humanity be eliminated and the watchword of Freemasonry be emblazoned on every heart and in every home, this world would be within hail of the millennium.

In literature, as in other lines of progressive endeavor, there are many unexplored fields, which await the master hand and mind of the learned author to place them before the reading public. The pages of this book contain authoritative facts which are as interesting as they are valuable as records. They tell a hitherto unpublished chapter in the history of Freemasonry among the negro.

For centuries the negro has been, through circumstances and environment, degraded and oppressed. Generations passed, and until within the memory of living man, knowledge has been denied him. The last few years has seen a change and soon the negro will take his stand among the rest of mankind, his mental, physical and social equal. And Freemasonry has had much to do with the remarkably rapid advance the negro has made, hence the value of this book.

The author has done his work well and thoroughly, and having had access to various Masonic libraries and manuscripts, he has produced a volume which should be of use alike to the casual reader and to the student.








The origin of Freemasonry was formerly vague and uncertain. At the present day, however, owing to the scientific researches of a few Masonic historians, who have entered this field of darkness with the determination to lay aside all the commonly received opinions and traditions upon the subject, this obscurity has disappeared.

The foundation of Masonry was laid when men commenced to inhabit the earth. “They associated themselves together in tribes or lodges for mutual support, thereby being better enable to guard themselves against the attacks of the wild beasts of the forest. They held their assemblies often on the highest hills, or in the lowest vales, to prevent being taken by surprise.”

Our ancient brethren continued these convocations until the year 715 B. C. Brother Numa Pompilius, a Mason of high standing and integrity, discovered the art of cementing rocks together by the use of clay. He was acknowledged at once to be a master builder. He built and dedicated public buildings to the sun, moon and stars. He was also the founder of the College or Roman Constructors, embracing all tile arts and trades. In this year also, the mysteries of the Egyptians passed through Moses to the Jewish people and were disseminated among the Greeks and Romans. Among the latter they were introduced in part into theCollege ofBuilders or Masons, instituted by Numa Pompilius.

The colleges were, at their organization, religious societies as well as fraternities of artisans. They had their own laws determined with precision. In Persia and in India many were to be found anterior to this period.

They had the exclusive privilege of constructing temples and monuments, and, usually after the labors of the day, convened in their respective lodges, where they determined the distribution and execution of the work. Here also were initiated the new members into the secrets and particular mysteries of the art.

These initiates were divided into three classes, Apprentices, Fellows and. Masters. They bound themselves by oath to afford each other Succor and assistance. They elected a master builder. Before opening their lodges, they entered into religious ceremonies, and each apprentice was carefully instructed in the use of the level, square, mallet and chisel, and certain signs and symbols. Emperor Tiberius Claudius organized in the year 43, A.D., in the British Isles, a lodge of builders or Masons. Here the feeling of common brotherhood spread and was developed among them and gave to the Masonic Lodges the peculiar character which distinguished them at this period. Carausius landed on the Britain Island, and in 281, A.D., declared his independence of Rome and took the title of Emperor.

The two cities, St. Albans and York, became, in 295, the most influential in Britain, and here were founded the rest Lodges of the Masonic corporation, and this latter city, from that time, became the center of all the Lodges of Freemasons in Britain.

In those days it was customary to dedicate and consecrate to some saint every. structure intended for the worship of God, and with the like idea all the corporations of artists, artisans, and trades chose patron saints. The Freemasons choseSt. John the Baptist for theirs, because his feast fell on the 24th of June, the date of the Summer solstice. This day had always been celebrated by the people of antiquity, and by Masons, since the foundation of their fraternity, as the period of the year when the sun has attained its greatest height. Nature is clothed and deports herself in the greatest abundance of her richest products. As successors of the ancient colleges of the Romans, the Freemasons of England preserved these cherished feasts.

THE ROMAN FORUM. – If there is classic ground any where in Rome, it is at the spot shown in the preceding picture. [Not included on this webpage.]

Mr. George S. Hillard said: “Who that has the least sense of what the present owes to the past, can approach such a spot without reverence and enthusiasm? Especially, what member of the legal profession, unless his heart be dry as parchment, and worn as the steps of a court house, can fail to do homage to the genius of a place where jurisprudence was reared into a perfect system, while Druids were yet cutting the mistletoe on the site of Westminster Hall?”

Here in the vicinity of the few standing columns, we ponder overRome’s ancient glory.The relics are reminders of famous names and deeds which long ago passed into eternity.

FREEMASONRY TRANSMITTED. – The institution of Free masonry reaches back until it loses itself among the mythological shadows of the past. Its grand rituals and eloquent language of signs and symbols originating in those distant ages, afford a field for exploration which can never be thoroughly traversed.

Transmitted to us by remote generations, it is plain that before we can, in any degree, appreciate Freemasonry, or understand the significance of its mysteries, we must go back to the past, and question the founders of the order. W-e must learn in what necessities of human nature, and for what purpose it was created. We must discover the true genesis of our rites, and become familiar with the ideas which the fathers intended to shadow forth through them, and impress upon the mind. From age to age, through countless generations, these rites have conveyed their sublime lessons of wisdom, hope, peace and warning.

To the Sons of Light the same lessons are taught to-day. But do we see in them what they did.? Do they impress us as they impressed them? Or do they pass before our eyes like a panorama of some unknown land, which had no delineator to tell us what or where it is, or give us any intelligible notion regarding it? It is our duty to make Freemasonry the object of a profound study. We must consult the past, we must stand by Osiris in Egypt, enter the caverns of Phrygia and hold communion with the Cabiri, penetrate the Collegia Fabrorum of Ancient Rome, and work in the mystic circle ofSidon.

We must pursue our researches until we find the thought that lay in the minds of those who created the institution and founded our mysteries. Then we shall know precisely what they mean; we shall see in them a grand series of moral and philosophical dramas, most eloquent and instructive., gleaming with sublime ideas, as the heavens glow with stars.

OBJECT OF FREEMASONRY. – The real object of Freemasonry, in a philosophical and religious sense, is the search for truth. This truth is therefore symbolized by the world from the first entrance of the apprentice into the Lodge and until his reception of the highest degree, this search is continued. It is not always found; yet whatever may be the labor he may perform, whatever the ceremonies through which he may pass, whatever the symbols in which he may obtain, the true end of all is the attainment of truth.

This idea of truth is not the same as that expressed in the lectures of the first degree when brotherly love, relief and truth are there said to be the “three great tenets of the Mason’s profession.” In that connection, truth which is called a divine attribute, the foundation of every virtue, is synonymous with sincerity, honesty of expression and plain dealing.

The higher idea of truth which pervades the whole Masonic system, and which is symbolized by the world, is that which is properly expressed in a knowledge of God.

Independent of God, there is no knowledge, no wisdom and no truth; and without Him they cannot exist. It is impossible for man to discover a truth which has not always existed; therefore we say, the truths of Masonry are co-equal and co-external with the Supreme Ruler of the universe.

The principles of Freemasonry have survived the fall of man, the destruction of the flood and the confusion of tongues; yea, they have survived the rise and fall of empires and the decay of republic; these principles were matured at the cradle of new-born nations, and have hallowed the graves of sleeping heroes; were triumphant as the mighty flood and everlasting as the mountains; have spanned the vast oceans and planted the banner of Mason ry in eyery clime and nation under the sun.

Masonry has tamed the savages, helped to civilize nations, establish law and order, upheld personal liberty and human rights, patronized the liberal arts and sciences, disseminated knowledge and wisdom, proclaimed the universal brotherhood of man and the great central truth one eternal and immutable Grand Master of Heaven and earth, to whom every Mason owes his unswerving and undying allegiance.

Like all truths, the principles of Masonry are founded on the everlasting granite rock, and nothing can shake them.

“Truth crushed to earth shall rise again,

Th’ eternal years of God are hers,

But error, wounded, writhes in pain,

And dies among her worshipers.”

The study of Masonry leads man to the correct knowledge of God; the correct knowledge of God leads to the true worship of Him, and the true worship of Him places man in harmony with all that is true and good, enlarging his powers for usefulness in every vocation, station, position, or condition in life, thereby fitting him for citizenship, in whom we find a true neighbor, a generous friend, and a clear-cut and well defined power of circumscribing his desires and keeping his passions in due bounds. (Principles of Masonry)

Every emblem, principle, and tenet of Masonry, has been baptized with truth, robed in the purest garments, freed of errors, and crowned with the most beautiful wreath of undying wisdom. This is true to him only, who, by industry, diligence and perseverance will have it so. He who is satisfied with a knowledge of esoteric Masonry alone, knows but little of the many sublime truths contained within her sacred precincts, which stands in the pathway of industry and diligence that they may not only adorn and beautify, but become ”as living stones for that spiritual building-that house not made by hands, eternal in the heavens.” We touch not an emblem or a principle or a tenet in Masonry, but that it vibrates not towards God.

Since the fall of man the world has been reeling, rocking and swaying by dynamic forces. An incessant and an irrepressible conflict is raging within each individual, between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error, he.1Ven and hell, God and the devil.

The great truths of Masonry heeded. constitute a security within and an impregnable fortress surrounding the human soul against which the weapons of evil will fall broken at our feet, and we are as little harmed as the atoms which dance in the sunbeams and nestle against our window panes.

Masonry is a great highway leading from wrong to right, from error to truth, from evil to good, and from earth to heaven. It is the champion of wisdom, strength, beauty, virtue and purity, and the eternal enemy of ignorance, weakness, ugliness, libertinism, vice and corruption.

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding, for the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof, than fine gold.”

“She is more precious than rubies and all the things that thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.”

“The fear (love) of the Lord is wisdom and to depart from evil is understanding.”

The Mason has God’s own material with which to construct his spiritual building; material evolved from his own omnific mind, washed and made pure in the water of the river of life and burnished by the exquisite touch of the seraphic host of heaven.

Why then should a Mason use this heaven-born material for any other than grand and glorious purposes ? If he is true to the teachings of the order and true to himself. his whole being is dominated and ruled by the Grand Master of all Worlds, and wherever you find. him, at all times under all circumstances, he is a valiant soldier in the front ranks, battling for home, for family, for good society, for education, for all the noble and useful institutions, for law and order, for human rights and good government.

We are told that the foundation of King Solomon’s temple was laid at a profound depth and consisted of stones of immense size and great durability. They were closely mortised into the rock so as to form a secure basis for the substantial erection of the sacred edifice. So it is with the true Mason: he reaches the almost unfathomable depths of his own soul and there he places the living stones of brotherly love, relief, truth, fortitude, prudence, temperance and justice, whose exact weight God alone knows, and by them his soul is joined in that of the great God of the Universe, and upon this foundation he builds for time and eternity, for God and heaven.

THE PARTHENON OFATHENS. – This world renowned structure is now shorn of its ancient glory, yet in its ruined and dilapidated condition it testifies to the wealth and skill which were devoted to its construction. The designer of this masterpiece of sculpture was Ictinus, and the date of its completion was 438 B.C.

It stood upon the highest platform of the Acropolis. The temple was built entirely of white marble from the quarries ofMountPentelicus. It was used as a store house of sacred objects. The celebrated sculptor, Phidias, wrought many of the figures, and originated the designs that were produced by other artists. Its graceful proportions cannot fail to impress the beholder, for even in its ruin the structure speaks of the architect’s skill, the builder’s strength, and the artist’s labor.

JACOB’S WELL.-In the vicinity of Shechem, not far away from Jerusalem, one will see in the broad valley, surrounded by hills and distant mountains, the well which tradition ascribes to the labor of the Patriarch, Jacob. Often thirsty craftsmen wended their way to this place of refreshment. The scriptural account is as follows :

“And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of  Canaan, when he came from PadanAram, and he pitched. his tent before the city.” “There Jacob dwelt and dug a well. It was by the side of this well that Jesus, being wearied, reclined, and held conversation with a woman of Samaria.” Mandrell says, in “his time, it was one hundred and five feet in depth,” There are fragments of granite columns to be found in the shapeless mass of ruin that lie strewn about, near the old historic well.

Other Freemasonry Books by William Grimshaw

William published many books and pamphlets on Freemasonry that have been republished by Kessinger Publishing, LLC. The collections 50 publications altogether; they are shown below in two categories – general books, and location-specific descriptions of Freemasonry (the dates 2005 and 2006 are the dates of publication by Kessinger). The website for Kessinger Publishing is as follows:


General books on Freemasonry

Ancient Landmarks In Freemasonry. 2006. 12 p.

Freemasonry a Stupendous Factor for Good. 2005.

Freemasonry And Its Divisions And Gradations, Its Powers, Restrictions And Relations

Important Masonic Chronological Events. 2006. 8 p.

Nero Prince the Second Grandmaster of Prince Hall Grand Lodge. 2005.

Organization of the First Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Massachusetts. 2005.

Origin of the National Grand Masonic Lodge in 1847. 2005. 48 p.

Prince Hall: His First Lodge of Freemasons Among Colored Men in America 1775.

Royal Arch Masonry in the District of Columbia. 2005.

Solomon’s Temple: Masonry an Organized Society. 2005.

The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in 1758. 2005. 48 p.

The Early Masonic Lodges of Adoption. 2006. 8 p.

The Growth and Wealth of the Negro in Early American Freemasonry. 2006. 12 p.

The Origin of Freemasonry. 2006. 16 p.

Books on Freemasonry in Various States of the U.S. as Well as in England and Canada

Freemasonry in Alabama in 1869. 2006. 8 p.

Freemasonry in California in 1849. 2006. 8 p.

Freemasonry in Colorado in 1867. 2005.

Freemasonry in Connecticut in 1859. 2005.

Freemasonry in Delaware in 1838. 2005.

Freemasonry in England. 2005. 48 p.

Freemasonry in Florida in 1867. 2006. 12 p.

Freemasonry in Georgia in 1865. 2006. 8 p.

Freemasonry in Illinois in 1851. 2005.

Freemasonry in Indiana in 1848. 2005.

Freemasonry in Iowa in 1870. 2006. 8 p.

Freemasonry in Kansas in 1865. 2006. 8 p.

Freemasonry in Kentucky in 1851. 2006. 8 p.

Freemasonry in Louisiana and Canada in 1851. 2006. 8 p.

Freemasonry in Maryland in 1825. 2005. 48 p.

Freemasonry in Michigan in 1859. 2006. 16 p.

Freemasonry in Minnesota 1888; Utah 1890; Wyoming 1898; Arizona 1899. 2006. 8 p.

Freemasonry in Mississippi in 1868. 2006. 12 p.

Freemasonry in Missouri in 1865. 2006. 16 p.

Freemasonry in Montana, New Mexico and Nevada in 1885. 2006. 8 p.

Freemasonry in New Jersey in 1845. 2006. 12 p.

Freemasonry in New York in 1812. 2006. 16 p.

Freemasonry in North Carolina in 1865. 2006. 12 p.

Freemasonry in Ohio and Its Jurisdiction in 1847. 2006. 16 p.

Freemasonry in Pennsylvania in 1797. 2005. 48 p.

Freemasonry in Rhode Island in 1797. 2005.

Freemasonry in South Carolina in 1865. 2006. 8 p.

Freemasonry in Tennessee in 1867. 2005.

Freemasonry in Texas 1872; Oklahoma 1875; West Virginia 1877; Wisconsin 1878; Oregon 1884; and Washington in 1884. 2006. 8 p.

Freemasonry in the District of Columbia in 1825. 2005. 48 p.

Freemasonry in Virginia in 1845. 2006. 8 p.

Modern Histories of Black Freemasonry

Several good histories of the Prince Hall Masons are available on the internet. Two of them have been selected for this webpage to provide additional information related to William’s history; they are shown below. According to a number of the historical accounts, William’s book was found to contain a number of errors and other shortcomings (see paragraph in bold in the first history below.)

Source: Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:PrinceHallMason.jpg

First History: “Who Are These Prince Hall Masons?” by Allen E. Roberts, FPS


 Who Are These Prince Hall Masons?

-by- Allen E. Roberts, FPS

Recently I received a letter from the secretary of a country lodge. He had seen a picture of a Black man in a lodge in Massachusetts. He wrote: “I am curious as to his Masonic affiliation. I could be wrong but I was under the impression that New Jersey was the only Grand Lodge that recognized Black Masons. I would appreciate it if you would set me straight on this matter.”

Why the letter was sent to me, I don’t know, but all types of requests for information cross my desk. And why the letter surprised me, I’m not certain. I thought everyone was familiar with the subject of Black Freemasonry.

As far as I can determine there have been Black Freemasons since 1356 when a code of Mason Regulations was drawn up in Guildhall,London. We don’t know when the term “free mason” was first used, but we do know it was applied to early-operative masons to differentiate them from other craftsmen. The “free” was added because these craftsmen were allowed to travel from place to place to seek employment in their important trade. There may have been Black men among them.

Shortly after the Grand Lodge system that we know today was established in 1717, Masonic lodges were formed throughout the world. Many of them were organized in countries with predominately Black populations. The Grand Lodges of England, Ireland and Scotland, even today, have lodges in such countries. In them Whites and Blacks meet, as they should, on an equal footing.

When I was a guest of the Grand Lodge of Scotland in 1964 I sat with dozens of Black Masonic leaders from other countries. Since then I have met with Black Freemasons in many jurisdictions. In this country several have attended many of the seminars I have conducted.

The Constitutions of the Free-Masons clearly defines who can and cannot be Freemasons: “The persons admitted members of a Lodge must be good and true men, free-born, and of mature and discreet age, no bondsmen, no women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good report. ” Note, there is not a word in this charge that specifies a color.

There evidently were no Black men among the Freemasons who were in the American colonies prior to 1730, nor, actually, until 1775. Then on March 6 of that year, 1775, an event took place that has been discussed, often vehemently, continuously. On that date fifteen men of color were initiated into Freemasonry. Among them was a man who has become immortal among Black Freemasons, Prince Hall.

Sergeant John Batt of the Irish Military Lodge No. 441, attached to the 38th Foot of the British Army, conducted the initiation of Prince Hall and his fourteen brethren. They are reported to have paid fifteen guineas to receive the three degrees. Eleven days later,March 17, 1775, the 38th Foot left Boston, but the Black Masons were issued a “Permet” by Batt. This permitted them to meet as a lodge and “walk on St. John’s Day” and “to bury their dead in manner and form. ” So African Lodge No. 1 ofBoston,Massachusetts, was born on July 3, 1775.

John Rowe, the Provincial Grand Master, it is said, issued a similar agreement to the lodge in 1784. It is also said that Prince Hall and the members of his lodge asked the English Grand Lodge of Massachusetts for its approval. This was denied. So on March 2, 1784 a request for a warrant was sent to the Grand Lodge of England (“Moderns”). A charter was prepared on September 29, 1784 (which is still in existence), but didn’t reach Boston until April 29, 1787. African Lodge became No. 459 on the roster of the English Grand Lodge.

Nineteen days later the Lodge sent an account of its activities to the Grand Lodge of England. It indicated it had “eighteen Masters, four ‘Crafts, and eleven Entered Apprentices. ” Along with the return went a copy of its bylaws which had been adopted on January 14, 1779.

My study of Prince Hall Masonry began in 1957. In 1959 I submitted a paper for Virginia Research Lodge No. 1777 entitled “The Controversy Concerning Prince Hall Masonry. “I attempted, and I think succeeded, in making it an unbiased report on the subject as it was then known. My then Grand Secretary gave me permission to research the subject with the then Prince Hall Grand Secretary in Virginia. Even then I believed, and still do, that it’s difficult to consider any organization that’s older than our country irregular, illegal, or clandestine.

“Free-born” is the catch-all phrase that the opponents of recognition of Prince Hall Masonry have constantly used. And it may be surprising to many to learn there were Negro (or Black) slaves in Boston in the 1770s. It isn’t surprising to this ex-New Englander. There were, however, as many free Blacks as there were slaves. The men Batt initiated into what became African Lodge were free men.

What we often forget is that there have been as many, if not more, white and yellow slaves throughout the years. There still are!

Bias has been deeply embedded in the subject of Prince Hall Masonry from its inception. Black and White Freemasons have used language to describe each other that’s anything but Brotherly. The bigots are not confined to just one side alone.

Truth is always difficult to determine for any subject. Historians must depend on the work of others, but whenever possible the work of others should be supplemented by examining original documents. This is often demanding, but frequently more than one book or article will be found on the subject being researched.

Such is the case with Black Freemasonry. In 1903 William H. Grimshaw, a Black Mason, wrote Official History of Freemasonry Among the Colored People in North America. In 1940 Harold V.B. Voorhis wrote Negro Masonry in theUnited States. Voorhis based much of what he wrote on Grimshaw’s book. A short time later Voorhis discovered Grimshaw’s book was loaded with errors and fanciful writing, so Voorhis removed his book from distribution. Harry E. Davis wrote A History of Free Masonry Among Negroes in America in 1946. He also found Grimshaw’s book full of myths and outright untruths.

In 1979 Joseph A. Walkes, Jr., wrote

Black Square and Compass which was later revised and published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company. Later he wrote Prince Hall Masonic Quiz Book which Macoy later revised and published under the same title. 

Charles H. Wesley wrote Prince Hall Life and Legacy in 1977 and attempted to correct the falsehoods of the past. He didn’t hesitate to “tell the truth as he found it. ” He named those who had stretched the truth or told outright falsehoods. And the falsehoods were plentiful; they came from all sides. One such report came from one of my Masonic heroes, Josiah Hayden Drummond of Maine.

After the end of the American Civil War in 1865, many more Black men became interested in Freemasonry. This alarmed several Grand Lodges. As Foreign Correspondent for the Grand Lodge of Maine, Drummond wrote in May 1868 that Prince Hall and other men of color went to England and were made Masons. He said the Grand Lodge of England granted them a warrant for African Lodge No. 459.

Drummond added in his report: “But the granting of this charter was an invasion of the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. It was, therefore, recalled, but a copy of it was kept by the Lodge, and though it was no longer any authority for them, they continued to work as a Lodge, many of those made in the Military Lodges having joined them. “

This was a complete distortion. These Black men were made Freemasons inBoston, not London. The warrant from England was requested by letter and the Lodge did become No. 459 on the roster of the Grand Lodge of England. The warrant wasn’t recalled. African Lodge was dropped by the Grand Lodge of England in 1813, along with many other American lodges that had made no report to that Grand Lodge in years. Among those dropped were half the lodges in Massachusetts; the other half were never on the rolls of the English Grand Lodge. Exclusive jurisdiction wasn’t even thought of in the 1700s, and at any rate there were then two Grand Lodges in Massachusetts, English and Scottish. In addition, the Grand Lodge of England has never considered “exclusive jurisdiction” of any importance.

The first evidence that African Lodge had been established as a Grand Lodge occurred on September 28, 1789 when a letter was sent from Philadelphia to “Mr. Hall, Master of the African Lodge.” The Black men in that city “were all ready to go to work, having all but a Dispensation.” The request was cautiously approved. Later requests from Providence, Rhode Island, and New York City were granted. African Grand Lodge was a reality and Prince Hall was its Grand Master.

Those who question the legality of Prince Hall Freemasonry claim African Lodge, even if legitimate, had no power to warrant other lodges. This is a difficult argument to support. Scottish lodges had warranted new Lodges for years. But one has to go no further than the American colonies.

The Lodge at Fredericksburgh in the colony of Virginia came into existence on September 1, 1752 with a full slate of officers. This makes one wonder when and where this Lodge was actually formed. On February 28, 1768 this Lodge granted a warrant for the formation of Falmouth Lodge in Virginia; on October 10, 1770 Fredericksburgh Lodge warranted Botetourt Lodge in Gloucester, Virginia. No one has ever questioned the legitimacy of these lodges. Nor has anyone questioned the legitimacy of St. John’s Lodge in Massachusetts which set itself up as a Grand Lodge in 1733.

Prince Hall died on December 4, 1807. The Black Masons continued to work. Caucasian Masonry continued to ignore them even though they requested recognition. In 1824 African Lodge requested permission from the Grand Lodge of England to confer the Royal Arch degrees. The request was ignored, but this created no problem for African Lodge-it had been conferring the degrees for years!

On June 26, 1827 African Grand Lodge notified the world that it was “free and independent of any lodge from this day. “Although every Grand Lodge in theUnited States, includingVirginia, had made much the same observation, this statement would haunt Prince Hall Freemasonry to the present day.

In 1847 the African (or National) Grand Lodge became Prince Hall Grand Lodge.

Over the years there have been several white Freemasons who have wished Prince Hall Masonry well. They have assisted it insofar as their obligations would permit. John Dove, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, shortly after the close of the American Civil War gave Prince Hall Masons his text book. Much of it is still used to this day even though it has been revised and copyrighted by Prince Hall Masonry.

William Upton, and others, in the Grand Lodge of Washington, in 1898 considered Prince Hall Masonry legitimate, and that Grand Lodge said so.

This brought down the wrath of most of the Grand Lodges in the country. It was rescinded by the Grand Lodge of Washington, in part, the following year. (For a full discussion on this subject, see the Proceedings of this Grand Lodge for 1897, 98, 99.) Even so, for the past several years it worked closely with the Prince Hall Grand Lodge on many civic projects. One hundred years after Upton was condemned the two Grand Lodges officially recognized each other, then met to celebrate in public ceremonies this historical event.

In 1947 Melvin M. Johnson of Massachusetts, another of my Masonic heroes (even though he attempted to make his state Masonically first in everything!), proved to the satisfaction of his Grand Lodge and the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite that Prince Hall Freemasonry is legitimate. George Newberry, also of the NMJ, testified in court that Prince Hall Masonry is legitimate.

And I’ll confess. Over the years I have written ritual (not ours’) and other things for Prince Hall Masonry. I’ll continue to help it in any way I can as long as what I do doesn’t violate the obligations of Freemasonry that I have taken. And I shall continue to abide by the laws, rules and regulations of my Grand Lodge regardless of how I may feel personally.

What does Prince Hall Freemasonry want from “Regular” Freemasonry? Perhaps this item I wrote for my column “Through Masonic Windows” for The Philalethes magazine will answer the question:

“Grand Master (and Reverend) Howard L. Woods of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Arkansas would like to see more cooperation among the Prince Hall Grand Lodges and the Caucasian counterparts. He puts it this way: ‘Grand Masters (Prince Hall) do not want any integration as such among the jurisdictions, for we each walk a different path toward the same goal. What I personally would like to see is more meetings like the Phylaxis meetings with you and Jerry [Marsengill] and others like you that have a greater depth of feeling for Freemasonry. Once that feeling is attained, you ‘become one with the universe’ where there is no color or any other vain distinction that would separate men from each other. Kind of Utopian, but this I believe.’ In an organization that is nothing without Brotherly Love, shouldn’t this become a reality rather than ‘Utopian’?”

It must be emphasized that Brother Woods made it clear he was expressing his personal opinion and not that of any organization.

From my discussions with Prince Hall leaders I believe that Body does want to retain its own identity. It wants Black men to join its ranks rather than our lodges. It would like to be fully recognized as THE legitimate Black Freemasonry. It would like to be able to meet with us, outside our lodges, as equals. This is an accomplished fact in several jurisdictions today.

What can we do to help? We should never refuse to accept a petition from any good man because of his race, creed, religion, or color. In the case of Black men, however, we should inform them about Prince Hall Masonry and its need for good leaders. These men should then be left to make their own choice with no persuasion in any way on our part.

Is Prince Hall Masonry legitimate? You be the judge. Take into ac count that it began in 1775, making it older than our country. It started with African Lodge inMassachusetts. This was formed into a Grand Lodge and warranted other lodges and became national in scope. In 1847 it was renamed Prince Hall Grand Lodge to honor its first Master and Grand Master, the man it considered its founder. It has continued to be active without a break to the present day.

The Prince Hall rituals, insofar as I have read them, are similar to those we practice. Much of their work is based on the work developed by John Dove, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, and one of the greatest ritualists in the country in his day. His work in the Baltimore Convention proves this statement. Prince Hall laws, again derived from the work of John Dove, along with Anderson’s constitutions of the Free-Masons, are what we follow.

A caution, however. There are something like 40 Black organizations calling themselves Masonic that are illegitimate. These have no connection with Prince Hall Masonry, and the latter is constantly at war with them. To fight them successfully, Prince Hall Masonry must have our help.

This, briefly, outlines the facts as I see them concerning Black Freemasonry. Each of us must make our own determination about what should be done to keep the Brotherhood of Man through the Fatherhood of God a viable cause for Freemasonry as a whole.

Much of this I related in my keynote address at the Conference of Grand Masters in 1989 when I pleaded for Freemasonry to put Brotherhood and Universality to work in the Craft. The Grand Lodge of Connecticut did during the same year. Since then about 20 others in the United States and Canada have followed.

We claim there is universality within Freemasonry – but is there?

About Allen E. Roberts (from the same website)

Allen Roberts is the most prolific Masonic author of the twentieth century. He has authored 25 Masonic books, revised and edited the recent edition of Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, and written numerous articles, papers, and speeches. He was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, onOctober 11, 1917. After serving in World War II he and his lovely wife, Dottie, made their home in Highland Springs, Virginia. He is a Past Master, Past District Deputy Grand Master, Past Deputy Grand Secretary, and Past Grand Master of the Allied Masonic Degrees of the U.S.A. Allen has been recognized by several Grand Lodges with medals and citations. Through the Philalethes Society, the premiere Masonic research and study society in North America, he came to national fame. He was elected a Fellow of the Society (FPS), which is limited to 40 Masonic authors and scholars. He is a Past President of the Society and currently serves as Executive Secretary. In 1994 the Grand Lodge of Virginia dedicated “The Allen E. Roberts Library and Museum” in recognition of his work for our Fraternity. Of all his awards he is very proud of one in particular, that of being an honorary member of Vincennes Lodge No. 1, F. & A. M. of Vincennes, Indiana. Allen has written several articles for The Indiana Freemason over the years. He kindly accepted the offer to write one more.

Second History: “Prince Hall History”


Prince Hall is recognized as the Father of Black Masonry in the United States. He made it possible for us to also be recognized and enjoy all privileges of Free and Accepted Masonry.

Many rumors of the birth of Prince Hall have arisen. Few records and papers have been found of him either in Barbados where it was rumored that he was born, but no record of birth, by church or state, has been found there, and none in Boston. All 11 countries of the day were searched and churches with baptismal records were examined without a find of the name of Prince Hall.

One widely circulated rumor states that “Prince Hall was free born in British West Indies. His father, Thomas Prince Hall, was an Englishman and his mother a free colored woman of French extraction. In 1765 he worked his passage on a ship to Boston, where he worked as a leather worker, a trade learned from his father. Eight years later he had acquired real estate and was qualified to vote. Religiously inclined, he later became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church with a charge in Cambridge.” This account, paraphrased from the generally discredited Grimshaw book of 1903, is suspect in many areas.2

Black Freemasonry began when Prince Hall and fourteen other free black men were initiated into Lodge No. 441, Irish Constitution, attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot, British Army Garrisoned at Castle William (now Fort Independence) Boston Harbor on March  6, 1775. The Master of the Lodge was Sergeant John Batt. Along with Prince Hall, the other newly made masons were Cyrus Jonbus, Bensten Slinger, Prince Rees, John Canton, Peter Freeman, Benjamin Tiler, Duff Ruform, Thomas Santerson, Prince Rayden, Cato Speain, Boston Smith, Peter Best, Forten Howard and Richard Titley.

When the British Army left Boston in 1776, this Lodge, No 441, granted Prince Hall and his brethren authority to meet as African Lodge #1 (Under Dispensation), to go in procession on St. John’s Day, and as a Lodge to bury their dead; but they could not confer degrees nor perform any other Masonic “work”. For nine years these brethren, together with others who had received their degrees elsewhere, assembled and enjoyed their limited privileges as Masons. Thirty-three masons were listed on the rolls of African Lodge #1 on January 14th, 1779.  Finally on March 2, 1784, Prince Hall petitioned the Grand Lodge of England, through a Worshipful Master of a subordinate Lodge in London (William Moody of Brotherly Love Lodge No. 55) for a warrant or charter.

The Warrant to African Lodge No. 459 of Boston is the most significant and highly prized document known to the Prince Hall Mason Fraternity. Through it our legitimacy is traced, and on it more than any other factor, our case rests. It was granted on September 29, 1784, delivered in Boston on April 29, 1787 by Captain James Scott, brother-in-law of John Hancock and master of the Neptune, under its authority African Lodge No. 459 was organized one week later, May 6, 1787.

Prince Hall was appointed a Provincial Grand Master in 1791 by H.R.H., the Prince of Wales. The question of extending Masonry arose when Absalom Jones of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania appeared in Boston. He was an ordained Episcopal priest and a mason who was interested in establishing a Masonic lodge in Philadelphia. Under the authority of the charter of African Lodge #459, Prince Hall established African Lodge #459 of Philadelphia on March 22, 1797 and Hiram Lodge #3 in Providence, Rhode Island on June 25, 1797. African Lodge of Boston became the “Mother Lodge” of the Prince Hall Family.  It was typical for new lodges to be established in this manner in those days.  The African Grand Lodge was not organized until 1808 when representatives of African Lodge #459 of Boston, African Lodge #459 of Philadelphia and Hiram Lodge #3 of Providence met in New York City.

Upon Prince Hall’s death on December 4, 1807, Nero Prince became Master. When Nero Prince sailed to Russia in 1808, George Middleton succeeded him. After Middleton, Petrert Lew, Samuel H. Moody and then, John T. Hilton became Grand Master. In 1827, Hilton recommended a Declaration of Independence from the English Grand Lodge.

In 1869 a fire destroyedMassachusetts’ Grand Lodge headquarters and a number of its priceless records. The charter in its metal tube was in the Grand Lodge chest. The tube saved the charter from the flames, but the intense heat charred the paper. It was at this time that Grand Master S.T. Kendall crawled into the burning building and in peril of his life, saved the charter from complete destruction. Thus a Grand Master’s devotion and heroism further consecrated this parchment to us, and added a further detail to its already interesting history. The original Charter No. 459 has long since been made secure between heavy plate glass and is kept in a fire-proof vault in a downtown Boston bank.

Today, the Prince Hall fraternity has over 4,500 lodges worldwide, forming 45 independent jurisdictions with a membership of over 300,000 masons.

Image of Prince Hall, Father of Black Freemasonry in the U.S.

The 1969 reprint of William’s book3 includes an image of Prince Hall (p. 68), the first Grand Master of the first black Masonic Lodge in America (shown below.)

Image of Prince Hall as shown in the 1969 reprint of William’s book


1Grimshaw, William H., 1903, Official History of Freemasonry among the Colored People in North America — Tracing the Growth of Masonry from 1717 down to the Present Day: New York and London, Broadway Publishing Company, 392 p.

2Grimshaw, William H., 1903, Official History of Freemasonry among the Colored People in North America — Tracing the Growth of Masonry from 1717 down to the Present Day: Republished, date unknown, by Kessinger Publishing Company, Kila, Montana, U.S.A.

3Grimshaw, William H., 1903, Official History of Freemasonry among the Colored People in North America — Tracing the Growth of Masonry from 1717 down to the Present Day: Republished, 1969, by Negro Universities Press, NY, 392 p.

4Dunn, Richard, 2011, “Winney Grimshaw, a Virginia Slave, and Her Family: Early American Studies, Fall 2011, p. 493-521.

5Dunn, Richard, 1977, A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life at Mesopotamia in Jamaica and Mount Airy in Virginia, 1799 to 1828: The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, vol 34, no 1 (January 1977), p. 32-65.

U.S. Supreme Court Case Involving William Grimshaw

William Grimshaw became involved in a land dispute in Washington, D.C. that was carried all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a decision was rendered in 1897. An image of a website describing the lawsuit is provided below, followed by the text of the Supreme Court decision.

The text of the Supreme Court decision is as follows:

This was a bill in equity, filed May 24, 1889, against William H. Grimshaw, and against Mary J. Brooks, an heir of Stephney Forrest, by the other heirs of Forrest, and by ‘Horace S. Cummings, trustee,’ to enforce a resulting trust in, and to obtain partition of, land in the city of Washington, conveyed by Forrest to David Redden and others, trustees for the Union Beneficial Society of the City of Washington, for a burial ground. The case was heard upon pleadings and proofs, and was, in substance, as follows:

By deed dated August 9, 1845, and recorded October 21, 1845, William Nolan, commissioner of public buildings, in consideration of the sum of $129.93, recited to be paid by the grantee, conveyed to ‘Stephney Forrest, his heirs and assigns forever,’ 10 lots, comprising the north half of square 1089 in the city of Washington.

By deed not dated, but acknowledged September 25, 1845, and recorded October 21, 1845, Stephney Forrest, for a like consideration, conveyed the same land to ‘David Redden, Daniel Simms, and William Barton, trustees for the Union Beneficial Society of Washington City.’ to have and to hold to said Redden, Simms, and Barton, ‘and their successors in office forever, for the sole use and benefit of the Union Beneficial Society of the City of Washington as aforesaid, for a burial ground, and for no other purpose whatever.’

Stephney Forrest died in 1855, having been twice married, and leaving six children by his first wife, and one daughter (since Mary J. Brooks) by his second wife, Rachel Forrest, who also survived him. He was a member of the society, and the answer alleged that he purchased the land in behalf of the society, and with its money.

The only evidence offered in support of this allegation consisted of depositions of Rachel Forrest, his widow, and of Mary J. Brooks, their daughter, taken in November, 1889, the material parts of which were as follows: Mrs. Forrest testified that she was now 85 years old; that she knew her husband bought this land for the society, because, before he left home on the morning of the day of his purchase, he told her that he was going to buy the land for the society, and to get the money from the society to buy it, and came back and showed her a bundle which he said contained the money, and later in the day told her that he had bought the land for the society; and that she never talked with her daughter about this, or mentioned it to any one until the day she tetified in this case. Mrs. Brooks testified that, when she was 13 or 14 years old, she heard her father, as he left home one morning, say that he was going to the secretary of the society to get the money to buy the land for the society. The plaintiffs’ counsel, at the hearing, objected to this testimony of Forrest’s widow and daughter as insufficient to establish a trust; and to the widow’s testimony, as incompetent to prove statements made by her husband to her.

The Union Beneficial Society of the City of Washington was an unincorporated association of colored persons, formed by articles of association in writing in 1841, by which provision was made for visiting sick and infirm members, and for applying to their relief money appropriated for that purpose, and for paying, upon the death of any member, certains sums out of the funds of the society ‘towards defraying the funeral expenses,’ and ‘to the widow, orphan children, or legal representatives, of such deceased member.’ The funds of the society were to be derived from entrance fees, monthly dues, and other pecuniary contributions of the members, and fines imposed upon on them for violations of the articles; and, ‘whilst six members of this institution unite for its continuance, it shall not be broken.’

For many years after the deed of Forrest to the trustees, the land was used by the society for the burial of its members, and also for the burial of any other colored inhabitants of the city, upon the payment of certain fees. Since 1852, at least, fees so obtained, instead of being applied to the use of the society, were divided from time to time among its members. The last admission of a new member was in 1870, and the members gradually dwindled in number until 1882, when there were only three members, one being Philip Wells, its president. For the five years before 1883, there were 1,589 interments; and from January, 1883, to November 13, 1883, there were 560 bodies interred, many of them one upon another. On November 13, 1883, further interments were prohibited by the board of health, and none were made afterwards. It did not appear that since 1887 the society did anything, kept any records, or held any meetings.

All the trustees named as grantees in the deed from Stephney Forrest being dead, the defendant, Grimshaw, who was a son-in-law of Mrs. Brooks, obtained in 1887 and 1888 conveyances to himself, as follows: (1) Deeds from Mrs. Forrest and Mrs. Brooks of their interests in the land; (2) a deed from Philip Wells, the president of the society, purporting to convey all its and his interests in the land; (3) deeds of the land from the heirs of the trustees aforesaid.

In February, 1889, the board of health, upon the petition of Grimshaw, claiming to have authority from the surviving members of the society, ordered him to exhume all the bodies interred in this burial ground, and to remove them to other cemeteries; and he did so at his own expense, amounting, as he testified, to the sum of $2,000.

The bill alleged that the plaintiffs and the defendants sued and were sued in their own right, except Cummings, who sued as trustee under the trust afterwards mentioned, and that on March 20 and 27, 1889, the land in question was conveyed to him by the other plaintiffs, by deeds which (as put in evidence at the hearing) purported to convey that land to Cummings in fee, ‘in and upon the trusts, nevertheless, hereinafter mentioned and declared, that is to say, in trust to sell and convey the same to such person or persons, in fee simple or otherwise, and upon such terms and conditions, as Franklin H. Mackey, of the District of Columbia, shall in writing direct, and the proceeds of said sale to distribute according to the terms of a paper of even date herewith, and signed in duplicate by the party of the first part, one copy of which is in the hands of the said Cummings, and the other in the hands of the said Mackey; and the purchaser or purchasers of said property shall not be required to see to the application of the purchase money.’ The paper so referred to, concerning the distribution of proceeds of sales, was not in the record transmitted to this court.

The bill further alleged that ‘by virtue of said deeds, complainant Cummings now holds the entire legal title in trust for the other coplaintiffs to said property, except the interest of the defendant, William H. Grimshaw, and that a complete and perfect title to the same will be held by the complainants when this court has decreed the reverter which complainants are entitled to have declared by reason of the terms of the said original deed from Stephney Forrest to said trustees.’

The bill prayed that the land ‘be decreed to have reverted to the heirs of Stephney Forrest by reason of the terms and provisions and purposes of the original conveyance of said Stephney Forrest, and the order of the municipal authorities, and the carrying out of said order’; that a commission be appointed to make partition of the land between Grimshaw, as grantee of Mrs. Brooks, one of the heirs of Stephney Forrest, and the plaintiffs, his other heirs; that the deeds to Grimshaw from the heirs of the trustees be declared to be a cloud upon the plaintiffs’ title, and of no effect to pass any title in the land, and be directed to be surrendered for cancellation; and for further relief.

Grimshaw, in his answer to the bill, denied that Cummings sued as trustee, and alleged that he sued in his own right and for his own benefit, and at the hearing, in support of this allegation, introduced a bill in equity, filed by Cummings alone April 16, 1889, similar to the present bill, except in alleging that by the deeds to him from Forrest’s heirs the entire and full beneficial interest and estate vested in him. That bill was dismissed by Mr. Mackey, as solicitor for Cummings, on the same day on which he filed the present bill as solicitor for the plaintiffs therein.

The answer further averred that the deeds to Grimshaw from the heirs of the original trustees were procured by him at the instance and for the benefit of the Union Beneficial Society, and he held the land in trust for the society, and for no other use or purpose whatsoever; and denied that those deeds were clouds upon the plaintiffs’ title; denied the plaintiffs’ title; and denied that any title vested in Stephney Forrest’s heirs, by reverter or otherwise; and averred that the deed from Forrest vested in the trustees named therein an absolute and indefeasible estate in fee simple, and that the society used the land solely for the purpose of a burial ground as long as it was lawful so to use it, and only ceased such use when compelled to do so by law. To this answer the plaintiffs filed a general replication.

Mrs. Brooks never filed an answer, and the plaintiffs, before the hearing, dismissed their bill as against her.

Upon the hearing the supreme court of the District of Columbia dismissed the bill, ‘without prejudice to the rights of the complainants to claim, in any proper suit or proceeding, such right, if any, as the said Stephney Forrest may have been entitled to, in said real estate, as a member of said Union Beneficial Society.’ The plaintiffs appealed to this court.

F. H. Mackey and H. O. Claughton, for appellants.

J. J. Darlington, for appellee.

Mr. Justice GRAY, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

Additional text related to the Supreme Court decision is provided as follows:

1. Stephney Forrest, in 1845, purchased a parcel of land in Washington, and conveyed it to three persons, ‘trustees for the Union Beneficial Society of Wasbington City,’ habendum to them ‘and their successors in office forever, for the sole use and benefit of the Union Beneficial Society of the City of Washington as aforesaid, for a burial ground, and for no other purpose whatever.’ Forrest died in 1855, and all three trustees afterwards died.

2. The Union Beneficial Society was an unincorporated association for the mutual aid of its members in case of sickness, and for their burial in case of death. This land was used by the society for a burial ground for nearly 40 years, and then, by order of the board of health, ceased to be so used, and all the bodies which had been buried there were exhumed and removed to other cemeteries. Grimshaw afterwards procured conveyances of the land to himself from the heirs of the trustees named in Forrest’s deed, as well as from Forrest’s widow and from Mrs. Brooks, one of his heirs, and from Wells, the last president of the society, and one of its three surviving members. And the society (which, by the terms of its articles of association, was to continue so long as it had six members) does not appear to have since done any acts, held any meetings, or kept any records, and was practically dissolved and extinct.

3. The present bill was filed by the other heirs of Forrest against Grimshaw and Mrs. Brooks, praying for a decree that the land had reverted to Forrest’s heirs, and for a partition of the land between the plaintiffs and Grimshaw, as grantee of Mrs. Brooks, and for cancellation of the deeds from the heirs of the trustees to Grimshaw, as being a cloud upon the plaintiffs’ title, and for general relief.

4. The original joinder of Mrs. Brooks as a defendant is unimportant. By reason of having conveyed her right to Grimshaw, she had no interest in the suit, and filed no answer; and the plaintiffs, before the hearing, dismissed their bill as against her.

5. Nor can the joinder of ‘Horace Cummings, trustee,’ as a plaintiff in this bill, affect the rights of the principal parties to the suit. The deeds made to him by the other plaintiffs, two months before this suit was brought, and produced at the hearing, showed that the land was conveyed by them to Cummings in trust to sell and convey it to such persons, and upon such terms and conditions, as their solicitor should direct, and to distribute the proceeds of such sale according to the terms of a paper, copies of which were in the hands of the solicitor and of Cummings, respectively. Although that paper is not in the record, the terms of those deeds clearly show Cummings to have been a mere trustee to bring suit and to sell the land for the benefit of the other plaintiffs, and not in his own behalf, notwithstanding the allegation in the bill thereafter filed by him alone, and voluntarily dismissed upon the filing of the present bill, that by those deeds the whole beneficial interest and estate vested in him. Perhaps, as suggested by the counsel of the appellee, the former bill was dismissed for fear of the rule of law recognized in Schulenberg v. Harriman, 21 Wall. 44, 63, that a right of entry for breach of a condition subsequent cannot be alienated.

6. The allegation in the answer, that Forrest purchased this land in behalf of the society, and with its money, is supported by no competent and sufficient evidence. The only evidence upon this point was the testimony, taken 40 years after the transaction, of Forrest’s widow and daughter, respectively the grandmother and the mother of Grimshaw’s wife.

7. The first question presented in relation to this testimony is whether the widow was a competent witness to prove admissions or declarations supposed to have been made by her husband in conversation with her.

8. At common law, upon grounds of public policy, husband and wife (with some exceptions not here material) were not permitted, even by consent, to give evidence for or against each other, or to testify, even after the ending of the marriage relation by death or divorce, to private communications which took place between them while it lasted. Stein v. Bowman, 13 Pet. 209, 222; O’Connor v. Majoribanks, 4 Man. § G. 435; Id., 5 Scott, N. R. 394; 1 Greenl. Ev. §§ 334-337.

9. The congress of the United States, by a clause originally inserted in the civil appropriation act of July 2, 1864, c. 210, § 3 (13 Stat. 351), and embodied in section 858 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, has enacted that there shall be no exclusion of any witness in a civil action because he is a party to, or interested in, the issue tried. But that clause has merely removed all disqualifications of witnesses for interest, and does not affect the exclusion of testimony of a husband or wife upon grounds of public policy. Lucas v. Brooks, 18 Wall. 436, 453; Bassett v. U. S., 137 U. S. 496, 505, 11 Sup. Ct. 165.

10. Congress on the same day passed another act, entitled ‘An act relating to the law of evidence in the District of Columbia,’ by which it was enacted ‘that on the trial of any issue joined, or of any matter or question, or on any inquiry arising in any suit, action or other proceeding in any court of justice, in the District of Columbia, or before any person having by law, or by consent of parties, authority to hear, receive and examine evidence, within said District, the parties thereto, and the persons in whose behalf any such action or other proceeding may be brought or defended, and any and all persons interested in the same, shall, except as hereinafter excepted, be competent and compellable to give evidence, either viva voce or by deposition, according to the practice of the court, on behalf of either or any of the parties to said action or other proceeding: provided, that nothing herein contained shall render any person who is charged with any offence, in any criminal proceeding, competent or compellable to give evidence for or against himself or herself; or shall render any person compellable to answer any question tending to criminate himself or herself; or shall, in any criminal proceeding, render any husband competent or compellable to give evidence for or against his wife, or any wife competent or compellable to give evidence for or against her husband, or in any proceeding instituted in consequence of adultery; nor shall any husband be compellable to disclose any communication made to him by his wife during the marriage, nor shall any wife be compellable to disclose any communication made to her by her husband during the marriage.’ Act July 2, 1864, c. 222 (13 Stat. 374).

11. This act (except in the restriction to the District of Columbia) was taken, almost word for word, from modern English statutes; the first half of it (except the words ‘and any and all persons interested in the same,’ who had been made competent witnesses by the statute of 6 & 7 Vict. c. 85) from section 2 of the statute of 14 & 15 Vict. c. 99; the first two clauses of the proviso from section 3 of that statute; and the last two clauses, being those concerning husband and wife, from the statute of 16 & 17 Vict. c. 83, § 3.

12. The same act has been re-enacted in the Revised Statutes of the District of Columbia, with hardly any change, except in substituting for the words ‘except as hereinafter excepted’ the words ‘except as provided in the following section,’ and in making the proviso a separate section, omitting the words ‘provided that nothing herein contained,’ and beginning with the words ‘Nothing in the preceding section.’ Rev. St. D. C. §§ 876, 877.

13. The latter part, which constituted the proviso in the act of 1864, c. 222, and which now forms section 877 of the Revised Statutes of the District of Columbia, is upon its face, and according to its uniform construction in the courts of the District of Columbia, not new and affirmative legislation, but wholly negative, and by way of proviso or exception out of the enactment which goes before, and therefore has no application to any cases other than those in which the husband or wife called as a witness is a party, in name or in fact, to the suit, or interested in it, and does not make a husband or wife, not a party to or interested in the suit, competent to testify, before or after the death of the other, to private communications between the latter and the witness. U. S. v. Guiteau, 1 Mackey, 498, 547, 548; Clark v. Krause, 2 Mackey, 559, 572; Holtzman v. Wagner, 5 Mackey, 15, 16; Beale v. Brown, 6 Mackey, 574, 577. See, also, Barbat v. Allen, 7 Exch. 609; Percival v. Caney, 14 Jur. 1056, 1062, cited in 7 Exch. 611; Alcock v. Alcock, 5 De Gex & S. 671; Reg. v. Payne, L. R. 1 Crown Cas. 349, 355; Reg. v. Thompson, L. R. 1 Crown Cas. 377.

14. Stephney Forrest’s widow was neither a party to nor interested in this suit, having conveyed all her interest in the subject thereof to the defendant, Grimshaw, before the suit was brought. She was therefore incompetent to testify to private conversations between her and her husband in his lifetime; and a conversation between them in their own home, in the presence of no one but their young daughter, who does not appear to have taken any part in it, must be deemed to be a private conversation, within the rule. Jacobs v. Hesler, 113 Mass. 157.

15. The daughter herself may have been a competent witness to such a conversation. But her testimony, which amounted to no more than that she heard her father, as he left home one morning, say that he was going to the secretary of the society to get money to buy land for the society, was clearly insufficient to prove that he bought the land with money of the society, or that the society had any greater or other title, legal or equitable, than appeared to be conveyed to it by the deed made by him to, and accepted by, the trustees in its behalf. Such slight testimony to a casual remark of the supposed trustee, more than 40 years ago, falls far short of the clear proof required by a court of equity whenever a trust in real estate is sought to be implied, against the terms of a deed of conveyance, by parol evidence of payment of the price by a third person. Prevost v. Gratz, 6 Wheat. 481; Slocum v. Marshall, 2 Wash. C. C. 397, Fed. Cas. No. 12,953; Smith v. Burnham, 3 Sumn. 435, Fed. Cas. No. 13,019.

16. We are then brought to the principal question in the case, which is of the nature and effect of the deed from Forrest to trustees for the Union Beneficial Society for a burial ground.

17. The first inquiry which naturally arises is whether the deed was for a charitable use, in the legal sense. If it was, the conveyance would not be open to any legal objection by reason of the length of time during which the trust might last, or because of the society named not being a corporation. Ould v. Washington Hospital, 95 U. S. 303; Russell v. Allen, 107 U. S. 163, 171, 2 Sup. Ct. 327. And the trustees, although the deed did not in terms run to their heirs and assigns, would take the legal estate in fee. Russell v. Allen, above cited; Potter v. Couch, 141 U. S. 296, 309, 11 Sup. Ct. 1005; Easterbrooks v. Tillinghast, 5 Gray, 17, 21.

18. A grant for the maintenance of a churchyard or burial ground in connection with a church or religious society, or of a public burial ground, or a burial ground of all persons of a certain race, class, or neighborhood, might be considered as in the nature of a dedication for a pious and charitable use. Beatty v. Kurtz, 2 Pet. 566, 583, 584; Cincinnati v. White, 6 Pet. 431, 436; Jones v. Habersham, 3 Woods, 443, 470, Fed. Cas. No. 7,465, and 107 U. S. 174, 183, 184, 2 Sup. Ct. 336; Dexter v. Gardner, 7 Allen, 243, 247; In re Vaughan, 33 Ch. Div. 187.

19. By the act of congress of May 5, 1870, c. 80, § 5, re-enacted in the Revised Statutes of the District of Columbia, provision has been made for the voluntary incorporation of cemetery associations in the District of Columbia; and ‘any person or persons desiring to dedicate any lot of land, not exceeding five acres, as a burial ground or place for the interment for the dead, for the use of any society, association or neighborhood,’ may convey such land by deed to the District of Columbia, ‘specifying in such deed the society, association, or neighborhood for the use of which the dedication is desired to be made, and thereby vest the title to such land in perpetuity for the uses stated in the deed.’ 16 Stat. 106, 107; Rev. St. D. C. §§ 594-604.

20. But the conveyance now in question, made to private persons, as trustees, 25 years before the passage of that act, was expressed to be ‘for the sole use and benefit of the Union Beneficial Society of the City of Washington as aforesaid, for a burial ground, and for no other purpose whatever.’ The articles of association of that society appear to have contemplated the burial of none but its own members; and the usage, which early sprang up, of permitting the interment in its burial ground of other inhabitants of the District of Columbia, upon the payment of certain fees, appears to have been adopted, not from any charitable motive, but as a source of private profit to the members of the association. It may be doubted whether, in the absence of express statute, the burial ground of such a society can be held to be a public charitable use. See King v. Parker, 9 Cush. 71; Donnelly v. Boston Catholic Cemetery, 146 Mass. 163, 15 N. E. 505; Anon., 3 Atk. 277; Pease v. Pattinson, 32 Ch. Div. 154; Cunnack v. Edwards [1896] 2 Ch. 679; In re Buck [1896] 2 Ch. 727.

21. If it be assumed, however, as most favorable to the defendant, that this deed created a charitable trust, it was not a grant indicating a general charitable purpose, and pointing out the mode of carrying that purpose into effect; thus coming within the class of cases in which courts of chancery, when the particular mode had failed, have carried out the general purpose. Late Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ v. U. S., 136 U. S. 1, 51-60, 10 Sup. Ct. 792; Jackson v. Phillips, 14 Allen, 539. But the trust was restricted, in plain and unequivocal terms, to the particular society to be benefited, as well as to the purpose of a burial ground; adding (as if to put the matter beyond doubt), ‘and for no other purpose whatever.’ The trust would end, therefore, at the latest, when the land ceased to be used as a burial ground, and the society was dissolved. Easterbrooks v. Tillinghast, above cited; Reed v. Stouffer, 56 Md. 236, 254; Society v. Dugan, 65 Md. 460, 5 Atl. 415; In re Rymer [1895] 1 Ch. 19, 31, 32.

22. In Easterbrooks v. Tillinghast, above cited, an inhabitant of a town devised land to a trustee named, and his successors to be appointed as provided in the will, in trust to apply the income in support of the gospel and the maintenance of a pastor or elder in a church already existing in the town, of a certain faith and practice, so long as the members of that church, ‘or their successors, shall maintain the visibility of a church in said faith and order, and uniting in fellowship and communion with those who hold and practice said principles and no others.’ Three years after the testator’s death the members of the church, reduced to two in number, voted and resolved, at a meeting called by public notice, that they would no longer endeavor to maintain the appearance of a visible church, and declared the church dissolved and extinct. The supreme judicial court of Massachusetts, speaking by Mr. Justice Metcalf, decided that the trustee took an estate in fee, but that, the church having been dissolved, and having ceased to be a visible church, he held the land for the devisor’s heirs at law, as a resulting trust. 5 Gray, 21.

23. In Rawson v. Uxbridge, 7 Allen, 125, cited by the defendant, the deed was to a town of land already, as the deed recited, ‘being improved for a burying place,’ habendum ‘to the said town of Uxbridge forever, to their only proper use, benefit, and behoof, for a burying place forever.’ There were no such negative words as in the deed now before us, ‘and for no other purpose whatever.’ The action was at law, and the only question argued or considered was whether the deed created an estate upon condition subsequent. While deciding that it did not, Chief Justice Bigelow said, ‘If it be asked whether the law will give any force to the words in a deed which declare that the grant is made for a specific purpose, or to accomplish a particular object, the answer is that they may, if properly expressed, create a confidence or trust, or amount to a covenant or agreement on the part of the grantee.’ 7 Allen, 130.

24. The somewhat similar cases of Crane v. Hyde Park, 135 Mass. 147, and Mahoning Co. v. Young, 16 U. S. App. 253, 8 C. C. A. 27, and 59 Fed. 96, also cited by the defendant, likewise turned upon a question of forfeiture for breach of a condition subsequent in a deed to a municipal corporation.

25. In the case at bar, the trust created by the deed having been terminated, according to its express provisions, by the land ceasing to be used as a burial ground, and the dissolution and extinction of the society for whose benefit the grant was made, there arises, by a familiar principle of equity jurisprudence, a resulting trust to the grantor and his heirs, whether his conveyance was by way of glft, or for valuable consideration. 2 Fonbl. Eq. 116, 133, and notes; 2 Story, Eq. Jur. §§ 1199, 1200; Hill, Trustees, 113, 133; Easterbrooks v. Tillinghast and Reed v. Stouffer, above cited.

26. The question suggests itself whether the case at bar falls within the rule of law known as the ‘rule against perpetuities,’ by which an estate, legal or equitable, granted or devised by one person to another, which, by the terms of the instrument creating it, is not to vest until the happening of a contingency which may by possibility not occur within the period of a life or lives in being (treating a child in its mother’s womb as in being) and 21 years afterwards, is void for remoteness, and consequently a limitation over to a third person, which may possibly not take effect within the period, is void, and the estate remains in the first taker. That rule does not apply to a gift to a charity, with no intervening gift to or for the benefit of a private person or corporation, or to a contingent limitation over from one charity to another. But it does apply to a grant or devise to a charity after one to a private person, as well as to a grant or devise to a private person, although limited over after an immediate gift to a charity. Russell v. Allen, 107 U. S. 163, 171, 2 Sup. Ct. 327; Jones v. Habersham, 107 U. S. 174, 185, 2 Sup. Ct. 336; McArthur v. Scott, 113 U. S. 340, 381, 382, 5 Sup. Ct. 562; Brattle Square Church v. Grant, 3 Gray, 142; Theological Education Society v. Attorney General, 135 Mass. 285; In re Tyler [1891] 3 Ch. 252; In re Bowen [1893] 2 Ch. 491.

27. But when there is no limitation over in the grant or devise, and the grantor or devisor, or the heirs of either, claim the estate, not under the grant or devise, but because, by reason of the failure thereof, the estate, legal or equitable, as the case may be, reverts or results to him or them, the rule against perpetuities is inapplicable.

28. Even when the first gift is strictly upon condition subsequent, requiring an entry on the part of the grantor or devisor, or his heirs, to revest the estate in him or them, the American courts have treated their title as unaffected by the rule against perpetuities. Cowell v. Springs Co., 100 U. S. 55; Gray v. Blanchard, 8 Pick. 283; Austin v. Cambridgeport Parish, 21 Pick. 215; Guild v. Richards, 16 Gray, 309; Tobey v. Moore, 130 Mass. 448; Gray, Perp. §§ 304-310.

29. But the deed in this case is clearly, in terms and effect, a conveyance in trust, with no words apt to create a condition. Stanley v. Colt, 5 Wall. 119; Barker v. Barrows, 138 Mass. 578; Attorney General v. Wax Chandlers’ Co., L. R. 6 H. L. 1. In such a case, it has been held, both in this country and in England, that upon the failure of the trust declared in the deed, although depending upon a contingency which might not happen within the period
prescribed by the rule against perpetuities, the resulting trust to the grantor and his heirs is not invalidated by the rule. Easterbrooks v. Tillinghast, above cited; Stone v. Framingham, 109 Mass. 303; Society v. Boland, 155 Mass. 171, 29 N. E. 524; In re Randell, 38 Ch. Div. 213, 218, 219; In re Bowen [1893] 2 Ch. 491, 494. In Randell’s Case, Mr. Justice North said: ‘In my opinion, a direction that in a particular event a fund shall go in the way in which the law would make it go in the absence of such a direction cannot be said to be an invalid gift, or contrary to the policy of the law.’ And in Bowen’s Case Mr. Justice Sterling said: ‘As property may be given to a charity in perpetuity, it may be given for any shorter period, however long; and the interest undisposed of, even if it cannot be the subject of a direct executory gift, may be left to devolve as the law prescribes.’

30. In the case at bar, our conclusions as to the effect of Forrest’s deed, assuming it to be in the nature of a valid dedication for a pious and charitable use, may be summed up as follows: The trustees named in the deed took the legal estate in fee. The equitable estate in fee was from the beginning, and always remained, in the grantor and his heirs. The trust declared in the deed, for a burial ground for the Union Beneficial Society, came to an end, according to its own express restriction and limitation, by the land ceasing to be used as a burial ground, and the dissolution of the society. Thereupon the trustees held the legal estate in fee, subject to a resulting trust to the grantor’s heirs, unaffected by the rule against perpetuities; and the legal estate of the trustees descended to their heirs, and passed by the deeds of the latter to the defendant, charged with this resulting trust.

31. The alternative that the trust expressed in Forrest’s deed was not a charitable use, but was void as tending to create a perpetuity, and that the trustees, immediately upon the execution and delivery of the deed to them, held the land subject to a resulting trust for the grantor and his heirs, would be wholly inconsistent with the position always taken by the defendant, Grimshaw, and by the trustees and the society under whom he claims title, and could not, therefore, inure to his benefit by way of defense to this suit, on the ground of laches or otherwise. All Forrest’s heirs (except Mrs. Brooks, who had conveyed her title to the defendant, Grimshaw) have joined as plaintiffs in this bill to enforce the resulting trust in their favor. Both they and Grimshaw had acted upon the theory that the deed of Forrest created a valid trust for the Union Beneficial Society. The plaintiffs made no claim to the land, so long as it was used by that society for a burial ground. And neither the trustees, nor Grimshaw claiming under them, contended that they took an absolute title, free from the trust expressed in Forrest’s deed. The real controversy between the plaintiffs and Grimshaw was as to the construction of the deed, and as to the duration of the express trust therein declared for the Union Beneficial Society.

32. The objection that the plaintiffs’ only remedy is at law is unavailing. The bill, besides specifically praying that the land be decreed to have reverted to Forrest’s heirs, and that a partition be ordered to be made
between the defendant, Grimshaw, as grantee of Mrs. Brooks, one of Forrest’s heirs, and the plaintiffs, his other heirs, and that the deeds to Grimshaw from the heirs of the trustees be deciared to be a cloud upon the plaintiffs’ title, contains a prayer for general relief, under which the court may grant any frlief justified by the facts stated in the bill and appearing in proof. Jones v. Van Doren, 130 U. S. 684, 692, 9 Sup. Ct. 685.

33. Upon the allegations of the bill, and the proofs at the hearing, the trustees named in Forrest’s deed, and their heirs, and Grimshaw as grantee of the latter, took the legal title in fee, in any aspect of the case, subject to a resulting trust for the heirs of the grantor. A resulting trust is a creature of equity, and can be enforced in a court of chancery only. Wilkins v. Holman, 16 Pet. 25, 59. Moreover, the title of the plaintiffs appearing upon the allegations and proofs to be purely equitable, the bill may also be maintained for partition of the land. Act Aug. 15, 1876, c. 297 (19 Stat. 202); Willard v. Willard, 145 U. S. 116, 12 Sup. Ct. 818; Lucas v. King, 10 N. J. Eq. 277.

34. The court, having acquired jurisdiction of the bill upon both these grounds, was authorized to retain it for the purpose of administering complete relief between the parties, including the question of any allowance to which Grimshaw might be entitled for the expense incurred in the removal of the bodies from the burial ground to other cemeteries, or upon any other account.

35. The decree below appears to have proceeded upon the misapprehension that the heirs of Forrest were not entitled to any relief, unless by reason of his membership in the Union Beneficial Society.

36. Decree reversed, and case remanded for further proceedings in conformity with this opinion.

Webpage History

Webpage posted December 2002, updated February 2003 with additions of 2nd photo of William, and photo of Prince Hall. Webpage updated February 2007 with conjecture on William Grimshaw’s origins. Updated November 2008 with addition of image and information on William’s discharge from the U.S. Navy in 1864, and several other additions from Doris Hightower. Updated March 2011 with extensive addition of photos and information from Doris Hightower.