Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is Prince Hall Difficult to Research?

One of the things I find on Blogs and Websites is poor explanations for the difficulty in gathering clear data on Prince Hall.  I would like my mainstream Brethren to consider a few things about this.

While the African-Americans in Massachusetts in the 1780s who formed African Lodge #459 were living as Free men, and were not "slaves", expecting to find County Records, Birth Certificates,  Voting Records, and Drivers Licenses is a bit unrealistic.  The fact we have the written records we do is frankly astounding.  Anyone who has attempted to research family history any earlier than 1850 can tell you that finding historical records for African-Americans that are in any way comparable to those available for White Americans is not realistic.  Before coming to the conclusion that something fishy is going on, please consider the nature of Black existence in Colonial America, and that the difficulty in establishing pristine records is not unexpected.

I would ask people attempting to research both Prince Hall and the Masonic path he initiated to be more patient and professional in their research.

African-American tradition holds that Africans have been named according to all manner of different traditions in this country depending upon the era and local community.  The fact that "Prince" was a common name for Black males at that time should be understandable to researchers.  One would not be suprised at the number of children named "George" or "Mary" I hope.  The fact that five or more individuals may have existed contemporaneously with the Prince Hall we claim as the one who helped found African Lodge #459, between Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Barbados, all with the name Prince Hall, should be an acceptable fact to serious researchers.  It does not mean that his personal history is "confusing" or "difficult to trace" or other such excuses.  One wouldn't be surprised to find there were 5 George Andersons, or Mary Jacksons living at the same time.  A little understanding about the history of African experience in the American colonies and how they were likely to name their babies can easily account for these things.

Prince Hall is not any more difficult to research than any other person of African ancestry living in 1780 New England.  One should be careful not to accept the first record of property ownership one finds under a particular name.  Failure to do this has lead to some poorly researched information getting out there.  The fact that this has been done does not mean that the history of Prince Hall and Prince Hall Freemasonry is not weel researched and documented.  If you really want to inform people about this, it is worth the extra time to verify your information.


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