Compiled by: PHP David L. Gray, Lincoln Chapter #2, Xenia, Ohio
Primary Reference: "An Official History of the M.W. Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons for the State of Ohio, Parham and Brown" (1906)
The first mention of any knowledge of the York Rite among Black Freemasons in America is gleamed from March 2, 1797 letter from Peter Mantor to Prince Hall, requesting a dispensation to establish a lodge in Philadelphia. In this letter Mantore states, 'We have all been try'd by five Royal Arch Masons." In this communication to Prince Hall was also a 'certificate' from John Harding, in which he wrote "Peter Mantor . . . who is at present Master of a the whole who also withstood the amazing trial and after strict examination with … and consequently … sted a Super Excellent and was arch and royal Arch Knight Templar of Ireland, Carrickfurgus Lodge, True Blues, No. 253."
In 1824, African Lodge of Boston wrote a letter to the Grand Lodge of England, asking for the authority to confer the Royal Arch degrees. It remains unknown if England ever responded to that letter, and due to a lack of records we can't ascertain for certain by what manner of authority if any did the Royal Arch Masonry begin operating in amongst regular Black Freemasons in America. It is probably that Royal Arch degree was worked well before 1824 in conjunction with the Master Mason degree.
William H. Grimshaw would record in his, 'Official History of Freemasonry amongst Colored People in North America' that several Black Philadelphia Brothers received all the degree of Freemasonry, included Knighthood fro St. George Lodge No. 32 of Liverpool and St. John's Lodge No. 80 of London, England in 1774. Grimshaw also writes that the first authority granted to colored men in America to confer and work the Royal Arch Mason or Royal Arch Chapter degrees was granted by Provincial Grand Master Harris to Caesar Thomas, Freeman Lattimore, Peter Richmond, Peter Mantore, James Forten, Richard Parker, William Harding, Nathan Gray, William Jeffers, Robert Barclay, James Mintess and others, to organize a chapter of Royal Arch Masons, March 18th, 1776. Under and by this authority, Union Chapter, located at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was established with Caesar Thomas, High Priest, October 12th 1820; Jerusalem Chapter, located at Philadelphia, was established July 8th, 1826 with Joseph B. Smith, High Priest, and in 1844, Friendship Chapter, also located in Philadelphia, was organized with the required officers.
Nothing in Grimshaws account can be substantiated as certain except for the fact that three chapters did met at Masonic Hall in Philadelphia and organized a Grand Royal Arch Chapter, in 1844, under the name and style of "The First Independent African Grand Chapter of North America," with Companion Jacob Jenkins first Grand High Priest. In this same year and same city, the First African Grand Encampment was organized. Both of these bodies spread and were embraced quickly into Prince Hall Freemasonry.
In 1849 Zerubbabel Chapter was organized in the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, with Richard H. Gleaves as the first High Priest. Shortly after, two other chapters were organized in the same city, known respectively as Corinthian Chapter and Franklin Chapter. These Chapters were all warranted by the First Independent African Grand Chapter of North America, Companions James Henderson, Dr. Jonathan Davis, Enos Hall, James Richmond and Dr. Kennard all of Philadelphia, being commissioned by the Grand Chapter of Pennsylvania to visit Cincinnati and set the young chapter to work.
In 1850 these three chapters, Zerubbabel, Corinthian and Franklin, met in the city of Cincinnati and organized a Grand Royal Arch Chapter (the second Royal Arch Grand Chapter in Prince Hall Freemasonry), to be known as "The First Independent African Grand Chapter of Ohio," electing the following officers:
Anderson B. Lewis, Most Excellent Grand High Priest; William Darnes, Deputy Grand High Priest; John G. Johnson, Grand King; Shelton Morris, Grand Scribe; Milton Franklin, Grand Treasurer; Charles A. Roxborough, Grand Secretary
At the time of the organization of its new Grand Chapter or shortly thereafter the two Grand Chapters, The First Independent African Grand Chapter of Pennsylvania and The First Independent African Grand Chapter of Ohio, entered into a solemn agreement, or compact, in which they bound themselves each to the other, by an indissoluble pledge of unity and amity. This compact was duly ratified and confirmed on the 20th day of August, 1850; being signed on behalf of the Pennsylvania Grand Chapter by James Henderson, M.E.G.H.P.; Enos Hall M.E.D.G.H.P.; Edward Cooper G.K.; W. A. Gales G.S.; Francis Peets Gr. Treasurer. James J. Richmond Gr. Secy.
And in behalf of the Ohio Grand Chapter it was signed by the Grand Officers whose name we have already given.
For more than sixteen years after the organization of the Grand Chapter three seems to have been very little done except the warranting and constitution of the two Chapters located at Columbus, Ohio, and Xenia, Ohio, respectively.
Of the Grand sessions which were held in the sixteen years there is no record which we have been able to trace.
In those early days, there were no printed records and the written records were indifferently made and carelessly kept if kept at all. So that tradition must often supply the place of history. It did not seem to occur to them that the time would ever come when those who came after them would be interested in what they were doing.
In the city of Xenia on the 16th of August, 1867, representation from Prince White Chapter, which had been formed by a consolidation of all the Cincinnati Chapters, Lincoln Chapter of Xenia, and John Chapter of Columbus met and proceeded to reorganized the dormant and apparently defunct Grand Chapter, electing the following Grand Officers:
John R. Blackburn, G.H.P.; Jackson M. Moore, D.G.H.P.; Job B. Thompson, G.K.; David Jenkins, G.S.; Henry Porter, G.M.; Austin Hubbard, Grand Treasurer; William D. Goff, G.C.H; Matthew T. Epps, G.P.S.; William H. Moore, G.R.A.C.; John Cousins, G.M. 3rd V; H. Johnson, G.M. 2nd V; B. Lanning, G.M. 1st V; C. Vena, G.G.
By resolution it was determined to hold the next annual communication in the city of Urbana in 1868. There was, however no communication either in 1868 or 1869.
Again, in the city of Xenia, the three Chapters "Prince White," "Lincoln" and "Johnson" met in 1870, October 15th, and organized the present "Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons for the State of Ohio," electing the following Grand Officers:
John Black Blackburn, G.H.P; Jonathan Tosspott, D.G.H.P.; David Jenkins, Gr. King; Rev. S. P. Lewis, Grand S.; John Cousins, Grand Treas.; William T. Boyd, Gr. Secy.; P. C. Alston, G.M.; Rev. J. P. Underwood, G.C.H.; E. I. Watson, G.P.S.; T. A. Conrad, G.R.A.C.; J. B. Taylor, G.M. 3rd V.; William M. Wilson, G.M 2nd V.; E. C. Jackson, G. M. 1st V.; Rev P. Tolliver, Grand Chaplain and Charles Robers, G. G.
A constitution and by-laws were adopted and a new Grand Royal Arch Chapter stared on it career among the Grand Masonic bodies of Ohio.
Chapters Warranted between 1870 to 1902:
Name Location Year Warranted
Prince White #1 Cincinnati, OH 1870
Lincoln #2 Xenia, OH 1870
Johnson #3 Columbus, OH 1870
Underwood #4 Springfield, OH 1871
Garvin #5 Delaware, OH 1872
Maumee #6 Toledo, OH 1872
Detroit #7 Detroit, MI 1872
Keystone #8 Cleveland, OH 1873
Franklin #9 Cincinnati, OH 1874
St. Paul’s #10 Hamilton, OH 1874
Lansing #11 Chillicothe, OH 1874
Eureka #12 Mobile, AL 1874
Alpha #12 Indianapolis, IN 1875
Hodges #14 Memphis, TN 1876
Quinn #15 Zanesvillie, OH 1876
Hiram #16 Wilmington, OH 1876
Clark #17 Louisville, KY 1876
Rock City #18 Nashville, TN 1878
Gustavas Vasa #19 Urbana, OH 1878
Shekinah #20 Louisville, KY 1879
Iron City #5 Ironton, OH 1880
Triple Tau #21 Knoxville, TN 1880
St. Peter’s #22 Eufaula, AL 1881
Burning Bush #7 Dayton, OH 1881
St. John’s #14 Cleveland, OH 1883
Scioto #9 Portsmouth, OH 1882
Mt. Moriah #18 Pensacola, FL 1883
Sinar #21 New Richmond, IN 1885
Melchizedek #23 Evansville, IN 1885
Tetragammaton #24 Montgomery, AL 1885
Gallia #12 Gallipolis, OH 1892
Excelsior #19 Columbus, GA 1892
Jeptha #26 Newark, OH 1893
Elbert C #27 Charleston, W. VA 1894
Japhet #28 Louisville, KY 1807
Valley #29 Nelsonville, OH 1900
King David #30 Parkersburg, W. VA 1898
Signet Stubenvillie, OH 1902
Companion John R. Blackburn, the first M.E. Grand High Priest, was born in Essex County, Virginia. At an early age his mother moved to the city of Cincinnati where he was reared and received his common school education. He afterwards entered Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, from which he graduated with honors. His chosen profession was that of school teaching, which he entered soon after leaving college and has continued during more than forty years. Throughout all these years his labors have been confined to three schools. He first taught in the public schools of Xenia, Ohio, as principal until the year 1871, when he was tended the presidency of Alcorn University, Miss., which he accepted and filled acceptably for about three years when he was induced to return to Xenia and resume his old position in the schools of that city. He remained in charge of the schools of that city. He remained in charge of the schools of Xenia until the repeal of the separate school law, when he was called to the charge of the schools of Evansville, Indiana.
Companion Blackburn was initiated, passed and raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason in 1864 in Wilberforce Lodge No. 21, Xenia, Ohio. In 1865 he was elected Secretary of this Lodge; in 1866 he was elected Senior Warden and in 1867 was chosen Worshipful Master. As Worshipful Master he served until his removal to Mississippi. Immediately upon his return he was again elected Master, serving two terms as Master and seven terms as Secretary, until his departure for his new field of Labor in Evansville, Indiana. In the Grand Lodge he served as Grand Secretary fourteen years. He was exalted to the degree of Royal Arch Mason in Lincoln Chapter No. 2 in Xenia, Ohio. Upon the organization of the present Grand Chapter he was elected Grand High Priest. Upon the reorganization in 1870, he was elected Grand Secretary of the Grand Chapter and served in that position seven years.
Companion Blackburn is a man possessed of scholarly attainments of the highest order. As an educator he has always ranked among the foremost. In his relations to the brethren of the Grand Lodge and the companions of the Grand Chapter he possesses their esteem and regard by the geniality of his ways. There was never anything stilted, reserved or self conscious in his manner; but he was ever the same companionable and hearty friend of all the brethren and companions.
"For he’s a jolly gold fellow,
Which nobody will deny."
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