A Historical Account of the Most Excellent Grand Chapter

H.R.A.M. of Pennsylvania, P.H.A.

 

The Most Excellent Grand Chapter, Holy Royal Arch Masons of Pennsylvania, Prince Hall Affiliated, was organized as a Grand Chapter on May 19, 1820 and is the Mother Grand Chapter of Prince Hall Holy Royal Arch Masons. Royal Arch Masonry, according to William H. Grimshaw, was introduced among Black Freemasons in the following manner. In 1774, Passey Benjamine, Rev. Peter Mantore, Caesar Worthington and Caesar Thomas from Martinique, French West Indies; James Forten, Thomas Depee, Robert Bogle, Jonathan Harding, Mark Stevenson, Nathan Gray, William Jeffers, Robert Barclay, Peter Richmond and Richard Nurse, natives of Haiti and other seafaring men received all the degrees of Freemasonry in England. These brothers settled in Philadelphia, PA and on March 18, 1776 obtained a dispensation from Provincial Grand Master George Harrison to organize a lodge of Royal Arch Masons. However, Grimshaw’s account may be inaccurate.

 

The First Independent African Grand Holy Royal Arch Chapter of North America was organized in Philadelphia, PA on May 19, 1820 with the following chapters: St. Andrews #1, Zion #2 and Jerusalem #3. Joseph W. Smith was elected Most Excellent Grand High Priest and served until 1846. Also, Joseph W. Smith was appointed District Deputy of New York in 1848. The origins of St. Andrews Chapter #1, Zion Chapter #2 and Jerusalem Chapter #3 are unknown, however the Grand Chapter was under the auspices of the First Independent African Grand Lodge of North America for PA. Zion Chapter #2 listed the following officers in the year 1820: Priam Warren, High Priest; Richard Cummings, King; and Prim Clover, Scribe. During this time, there was dissension as Union Lodge #4 was expelled from the First Independent African Grand Lodge of North America for PA in 1819. Union Chapter was established in Philadelphia, PA on October 12, 1820 with Caesar Thomas as High Priest. Subsequently, another chapter named Jerusalem was organized on July 8, 1826 with Joseph B. Smith as High Priest as well as St. John Chapter that was established in 1843. On June 14, 1844, Rising Sun Grand Chapter of PA was organized in Philadelphia, PA with the following chapters: Union #1, Jerusalem #2 and St. John #3. Moses Davis was elected Most Excellent Grand High Priest. This Grand Chapter was affiliated with Hiram Grand Lodge of PA. Dissension soon followed as Friendship Chapter was organized in Philadelphia, PA under a dispensation from an authority of England on July 12, 1844. During the month of October 1844 in Philadelphia, a convention of delegates from Union (1820), Jerusalem (1826) and Friendship (1844) chapters was called for the purpose of forming another Grand Chapter. The culmination of this gathering was the First African Independent Grand Chapter with Jacob Jenkins elected as Most Excellent Grand High Priest. However, this Grand Chapter was short lived. Friendship Chapter was expelled on December 2, 1844 and those members subsequently joined Zion Chapter #2 of the First Independent African Grand Holy Royal Arch Chapter of North America in 1845. Jacob Jenkins and 14 other companions petitioned Rising Sun Grand Chapter of PA for a dispensation to form King Hiram Chapter and this petition was granted on December 28, 1844.

 

Rising Sun Grand Chapter of PA was headquartered at Union Hall, South 7th Street, Philadelphia, PA. In 1845, Rising Sun Grand Chapter suspended and subsequently revoked Jerusalem Chapter #2’s charter. King Hiram Chapter #2, Philadelphia, Pa was chartered on June 12, 1845. King Solomon Chapter, also of Philadelphia, was organized under dispensation on July 14, 1845 and was chartered on October 7, 1845. In an effort to reorganize, Rising Sun Grand Chapter of PA re-chartered Union #1, King Hiram #2, St. John #3 and King Solomon #4 on October 14, 1845. This Grand Chapter subsequently formed chapters in cities of Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, New Jersey and possibly other states. Rising Sun Grand Chapter later moved to the Masonic Temple, 10th & Hunter Streets, Philadelphia PA in 1874. Also in 1874, Rising Sun Grand Chapter expelled 15 members of Union #1 for rebellious actions. Those expelled members of Union started another chapter, naming themselves Union #1. Other chapters joined in the revolt against Rising Sun Grand Chapter. On August 3, 1875, King Solomon #4 merged with the remnants of Union #1 to form King Solomon #1. On December 16, 1875, those expelled members of Union #1 were reinstated by Rising Sun Grand Chapter as Union #4 as well as the other chapters that joined in the revolt. Rising Sun Grand Chapter of PA later moved to the Masonic Temple, 1227 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA in 1879.

 

On November 4, 1847, the First Independent African Grand Holy Royal Arch Chapter of North America was reorganized as affiliated with the National Grand Lodge with the following chapters: St. Andrews #1, Zion #2, Jerusalem #3, all chartered on May 19, 1820; Richmond #4, Baltimore, Maryland (1847) and Friendship #5, that was chartered on November 4, 1847 with demitted members from Zion Chapter #2. Their headquarters was at the Masonic Temple, 409 South 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA. This Grand Chapter subsequently formed chapters in cities of New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, California, Virginia, Missouri, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Illinois, Michigan, Florida, South Carolina, Kansas and Washington, D.C. Also, this Grand Chapter had a chapter under dispensation in Liberia, Africa in 1878. All Prince Hall Grand Chapters of Holy Royal Arch Masons are direct descendents from the First Independent African Grand Chapter of North America. From this parent body, Royal Arch Masonry spread rapidly throughout America among Black Freemasons.

 

There were conflicts between Rising Sun Grand Chapter of PA and First Independent African Grand Chapter of North America as a result of the formation of the National Grand Lodge on June 24, 1847. First Independent African Grand Chapter adhered to the National Grand Lodge and Rising Sun Grand Chapter adhered to the Independent or States Rights Grand Lodges. As Hiram Grand Lodge of PA merged with First Independent African Grand Lodge of North America for PA on January 19, 1848, albeit temporary, Rising Sun Grand Chapter apparently refused to merge with First Independent African Grand Chapter. On November 30, 1881, Rising Sun Grand Chapter of PA merged with First Independent African Grand Chapter of North America to form the United Grand Chapter of Holy Royal Arch Masons of PA. Dr. John Hall was elected Most Excellent Grand High Priest. The chapters representing Rising Sun Grand Chapter were the following: King Solomon #1; King Hiram #2; Union #4; Jerusalem #6, Glen Lock, PA; Prudence #5; Beth-Eden #15; Pilgrim #16, West Chester, PA; and Rising Sun #17, Chester, PA. The chapters representing First Independent Grand Chapter were the following: Friendship #5; St. Stephens #7, Boston, Mass.; Prudence #20; St. James #24, Wilmington, DE; Union #42; Eastern Light #44; Zerubbabel #45; Melchizedek #48; St. John #51, Cleveland, OH; and Chapters #54 & 55, both of Wilmington, DE. Sheba #19, Pittsburgh, PA was not present at the time. The chapter names and numbers were arranged, for the most part, according to their chartered dates in their respective Grand Chapters. In 1882, Prudence #5, Prudence #20 and Beth-Eden #15 tried to merge but were unsuccessful. On February 20, 1882, Prudence # 20 changed its name to William Cooper #6. In 1882, the chapters comprising the United Grand Chapter of PA, effective date November 30, 1881 were the following: King Solomon #1; King Hiram #2; Union #3; Friendship #4; Prudence #5; William Cooper #6; William J. Alston #7 (Union #42); Eastern Light #8; Zerubbabel #9; Melchizedek #10; Pilgrim #11; Rising Sun #12; Sheba #13; St Stephens #14, Boston, Massachusetts; and Beth-Eden #15. Royal Arch Masonry spread rapidly throughout Pennsylvania among Prince Hall Freemasons.

 

In 1927, the name of the Grand Chapter was changed to The Most Excellent Grand Chapter, Holy Royal Arch Masons of PA, Prince Hall Affiliated. On August 1, 1927, with the assistance and guidance of The Most Excellent Grand Chapter, Rahab Grand Court, Heroines of Jericho of PA and the Most Venerable Grand Court, Heroines of Jericho of PA merged to form The Most Ancient Grand Court, Heroines of Jericho of PA, P.H.A. as Mattie B. Smith was elected Most Ancient Grand Matron and A.P.T. Stevenson elected as Worthy Grand Joshua. The Most Excellent Grand Chapter was headquartered at 1227 Locust Street and 409 South 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA until the early 1950’s when it moved to the Masonic Temple at 1632 W. Diamond Street. It’s presently headquartered at the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of PA Masonic Complex at 4301 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA. The Most Excellent Grand Chapter is a supporting member of the General Conference of Grand Chapters Holy Royal Arch Masons, U.S.A. & Bahamas, P.H.A., Incorporated, whereas Past Most Excellent Grand High Priest L. Harold Gray of PA was elected first General Grand High Priest of the General Conference (1958-1961). Past Most Excellent Grand High Priests Pearlie N. Ringgold and William H. Evans of PA also served as General Grand High Priest of the General Conference (1982-1984 and 1991-1993 respectively).

As we are in the 21st Century, we can easily picture strides of rapid progress. We, the Holy Royal Arch Masons of this day, must contribute to that progress. We look to the future while commemorating the past, drawing lessons from the past for the future.

 

Walter J. Sims, Jr. No. 2

Excellent Grand Historian