February 18, 2019

More From Copp's Hill: A Smuggling Patriot and A Masonic Grand Master

I wanted to follow up on my recent post about Copp's Hill Burying Ground in Boston. Although the really famous patriots are buried in the Granary Burial Ground, there are also some interesting Revolutionary War era people buried at Copp's Hill. 

One of them is Captain Daniel Malcolm (1725 - 1769). Malcolm's grave is marked with a large and impressive stone engraved with a traditional death's head, but as you can see from the photos there are unusual round indentations in the stone. They could be natural wear and tear, but according to tradition these holes were made by musket balls. In other words, someone shot at Malcolm's gravestone. 

Daniel Malcolm was a patriot and took great joy in smuggling wine and tea into Boston without paying taxes to the British. He once allegedly brought sixty casks of wine into Boston without the British finding out - or collecting taxes on the black market cargo. As the inscription on his grave reads,

A true son of Liberty
A friend of the Publick
An enemy to oppression
And one of the foremost
In opposing the Revenue Acts on America 

The British had great hatred for Captain Malcolm. They knew he was a smuggler but were never able to catch him in the act. He always managed to outsmart them. He knew the British hated him, so he left instructions in his will that he should be be buried in a stone grave ten feet deep. He didn't want the British soldiers to mutilate his body. 

Frustrated that he had escaped them even in death, the British soldiers took out their anger on Malcom's gravestone, firing their rifles at it repeatedly. This is supposedly what caused those round marks - soldiers using Malcolm's gravestone for target practice. Is this story true? I don't know. It sounds plausible to me, but I'm not an 18th century ballistics expert.

Near Daniel Macolm's grave is this impressive monument, which marks the resting spot of Prince Hall (1735? - 1807), one of 18th century Boston's most prominent African-American citizens. Boston had a sizable black population in the 1700s, and of the 10, 000 people buried at Copp’s Hill around 1,000 were of African descent. 

The details of Hall's early life are vague, but it appears that he began his life as a slave and became a free man by the 1770. He was literate and owned his own business (a leather shop). And he wanted to become a Freemason. 

In the 18th century the Freemasons were a really important organization for men, particularly businessmen like Hall. Masonic Lodges were places where they could network, make business connections, and learn important news. Many of the local patriots, like Paul Revere and John Hancock, were Masons. Hall knew he was missing out on a significant opportunity so he applied to join the Boston lodge. They turned him down because he was black. 

Undeterred, Hall went to Boston's other Masonic lodge - the one run by the British and their sympathizers. They accepted him as a member and he eventually became a Masonic Grand Master. Some other local black men followed his lead, and together they eventually founded the Masonic African Lodge, which became the founding lodge of all black freemasonry existing today.

Why were the British willing to initiate black members into the Masons when the Americans weren't? It's possible they were less racist than the locals, but the British also knew they couldn't afford to turn away any possible supporters in a hostile town. Once the Revolutionary Way erupted the British actively urged blacks in America to join the British army, promising them they would get their freedom and equality when the war ended. 

Prince Hall didn't sign up. Instead, he urged blacks to fight against the British, arguing that if black people were involved in the founding of the new nation they would get their freedom. It is believed that Prince Hall served in the Continental Army fighting the British during the Revolution, but it is hard to know for sure. There were six me named Prince Hall enlisted from Massachusetts. Historians tend to think one of them was the Prince Hall of Copp's Hill.

After the war in 1783 ended Hall continued to be involved in community organizing, Masonry, and the abolition movement. He died in 1807, and the African Lodges were renamed Prince Hall Lodges in his honor. In 1784, Massachusetts became the first state to abolish slavery. 

1 comment:

Rich Clabaugh said...

Thanks for the post, Peter! A great piece of history, thanks again for sharing!