Masonic History

The Early Years – 1822-1848


Virginia Avenue  Fifth Street SoutheastIn the year 1807 the colored population of the city of Washington, D.C., was 1,498, of which 494 were free. Even then many of the individuals who would play prominent roles in Black Freemasonry in the District of Columbia were at work in the community. In (1807) George Hall, Nicholas Franklin and Moses Liverpool, all freemen, came to the city from Maryland and Virginia, and found no schools for colored children. They erected a schoolhouse on the grounds now occupied by Providence Hospital (1150 Varnum Street, NE, Washington, DC). George Bell became the recognized leader, and through this school much was accomplished in the way of educating the colored children. The following is stated in the History of Social Lodge No. 1 of the District of Columbia.

In 1818 George Bell, John W. Prout, John F. Cook, Sr., James Harris, Rev. Stepney Forrest and others, organized the Resolute Beneficial Society. William C. Costin became the Society’s first president, and James Harris, secretary. The mission of this society was not only to bury their members and take care of their sick, but the real purpose was to fight and; undercover, those who were conspicuous in the slave trade in the District of Columbia, such as Allison Nailor, Sr., Prince Robey Carpehart, Henry Burch, and the Georgia slave pen, located on Eighth and B streets, S. W., Washington, DC, kept by Williams [first name not mentioned]. The colored people had many friends among the refined white people of the city, who sympathized with the work of persons connected with this Society and the early schools, they were also connected with the organization of the first Lodge of Freemasons and the Underground Railroad in the District of Columbia, getting the runaways slaves to the Free States. Finally, this slave holding pen became so distasteful to the citizens of the District that its patrons transferred it to Alexandria, Virginia, where it was known as Burch’s Jail, and there the traffic in human flesh continued.

In 1823 Henry Smothers built a schoolhouse on the corner of 14th and H Streets, N. W. John W. Prout, a man of rare ability, who had been educated in the North, came to Washington from Philadelphia during the first session of Congress in the District of Columbia in 1800. He succeeded in the management of this school, which was known as the Columbia Institute, with an attendance of 150 pupils. Mr. Prout’s assistant was Miss Anna Maria Hall, a most excellent lady. Mr. Prout and his wife, Henrietta Prout, resided on the west side on 14th street, between C and D streets, N. W., where they lived for many years. Rev. John F. Cook succeeded Mr. Prout in the management of this school. The first Public School was Lincoln, located on 2nd St. S. E.

Some Free Black men who as early as 1818 were organizing in the District of Columbia to rid the nation’s capital of slave holding pens and slave auction houses, petitioned the African Grand Lodge of North America in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for a warrant to organize a lodge of Free Black men in the District of Columbia.

On November 22, 1822 John W. Prout called a meeting at his house for the purpose of organizing the Masonic Lodge. At this meeting were Rev. Stepney Forest, William Jackson, Francis Datcher, Sr., Lloyd Nichols, William C. Costin, William Wormley, John Randig, James Harris, Edward Maddox, Nicholas Franklin, Joshua Water, Charles D. Harris, George Bell, Albert H. Holly, Robert H. Teel, Richard Wallace, Sr., Moses Liverpool, William T. Richardson, George S. Jackson, William H. Harris, George Coggins, Samuel I. Smoot, Joseph Price, Sr., Daniel Magruder, Hamilton D. Savage, Mathias Harkins, Eugene B. Brown, William Carroll and Wilson Briscal.