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Our History

Prince Hall Knights Templar


Masonic tradition states that in 1818, the Grand Master of England, the Duke of Sussex, deputized Passey Benjamine, a seafaring man, and a native of French West Indies, authorizing him to establish commanderies in West Indies and North America. Benjamine had previously been made a Mason in St. Georges Lodge No. 32, Liverpool, England. He became a resident of Philadelphia, PA and was made a member of the first African Lodge of Philadelphia. On June 12, 1820, Benjamine organized St. George Commandery in Philadelphia, PA with Joseph Smith chosen as Commander. The commandery was named after a patron Saint of England, who was martyred under Diocletion after confessing Christianity.


After other commanderies were subsequently formed in Philadelphia, a Grand Commandery of Pennsylvania was organized on September 13, 1832 in Philadelphia, PA with Sir Isaac Sullivan elected as Grand Commander. This Grand Commandery was under the auspices of the First Independent African Grand Lodge of North America for PA. On June 8, 1844, the Grand Commandery of PA evolved into the First Independent African Grand Encampment of North America with Sir Thomas Henderson elected as Most Eminent Grand Master. It was headquartered at the Masonic Temple, 409 S. 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA. In 1844, a Grand Encampment of Knights Templar affiliated with Hiram Grand Lodge of PA was organized in Philadelphia, PA. It was headquartered at Union Hall, South 7th Street, Philadelphia, PA and later moved to the Masonic Temple, 10th & Hunter Streets in 1874 and subsequently to the Masonic Temple, 1227 Locust Street, Philadelphia, Pa in 1879. From these two Grand Encampments, commanderies were rapidly organized and constituted throughout America.


On October 20, 1881, the Grand Encampment of PA merged with the First Independent African Grand Encampment of North America to form the United Grand Commandery, Masonic Knights Templar of PA with Sir William H. Miller elected as Right Eminent Grand Commander. Masonic Knights Templary spread rapidly throughout Pennsylvania among Prince Hall Freemasons who are Holy Royal Arch Masons. The United Grand Commandery was headquartered at 1227 Locust Street and 409 S. 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA until the early 1950s when it moved to the Masonic Temple at 1632 W. Diamond Street. It is presently headquartered at the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of PA Masonic Complex at 4301 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA.

Brief History of King Baldwin Grand Commandery
Knights Templar of Virginia
Prince Hall Affiliation


A.D. 1874                                           A.L. 5874                                                     A.O. 756


In the year of 1812, the Duke of Sussex became Grand Master of the exalted Order of England.  He reestablished the Knights of St. Johns, Malta as late as 1831 after the Order had been extinct for nearly 300 years.  He continued to act until his death in 1843.


It was this Grand Master who authorized the establishment of Lodges of Knights Templar among colored Americans. In 1818 he issued a deputation to Sir Knight Passé Benjamin, a seafaring man, and a native of the French West Indies and North America. Sir Knight Benjamin like Peter Ogden who establish the Order of Odd Fellows among Black men in the United States, was trading between Liverpool and the United States at the time and had previously been made a Mason in St. Georges Lodge No. 32, Liverpool, England.


Many of his seafaring friends from the West Indies had been made Masons previous to their settling in Philadelphia, PA, in the same lodge.  Sir Knight Passé Benjamin called a meeting of such men for the purpose of organizing a lodge of Knights Templar.  This meeting was called December 27, 1819.  At this meeting was Rev. Peter Montore, William Harding, James Forton, Thomas Depee, Prim Glover, William Jeffers, Joseph B. Smith, Passé Benjamin, Caesar Tomas, James Moses and Tomas Henderson; by occupation these brothers were all seafaring men who had received all the degrees in Masonry including that of Knights Templar in London and Liverpool, England.


At this meeting the deputation authorizing the establishment of Knighthood in America by His Royal Highness, the Duke of Sussex, was read and on June 12, 1820, St. George Encampment No. 1 Knights Templar was established in the city of Philadelphia, PA with Sir Knight Joseph Smith serving as Eminent Commander.


On July 3, 1826, Palestine Commandery No. 2 was established with Sir Knight George Clarke as the commander.  A warrant was issued by the same authority to establish Richmond Encampment No. 3 on January 1, 1838.  However, it was not organized until June 8, 1844, and in this same year these three (3) encampments met in Convention at the Masonic Hall, Lombard St., Philadelphia PA, and organized the first African Grand Encampment of North America.  Sir Knights Thomas Henderson was elected Grand Master; Sir Knight James Richmond, Deputy Grand Master for the Southern States; Sir Knight Enos Hall, Deputy Grand Master for the Northern States; Sir Knight Jonathan Davis, Grand Recorder and other grand officers, with headquarters in the city of Philadelphia, PA.


Commanderys were rapidly organized and constituted in the States. Notwithstanding slavery, warrants were issued to free men; its banners were unfolded in many of the slave states prior to 1863.


Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the Mother of all the Higher Degrees of Freemasonry and from whence came all the Commanderies of Knights Templar in the States and Territories. Non Nobis Domine is their motto and In Hoc Signo Vinces is their legend.


By the year 1873 there was a large number of Knights Templar residing in Virginia and the Grand Encampment of Philadelphia PA issued several warrants for Commanderies in Virginia.


In the year 1874 what was to become the King Baldwin Grand Commandery, Knights Templar of Virginia, was organized with Sir Knight James H. Jones as Grand Eminent Commander assisted by the Grand Encampment of Philadelphia, PA.


Oh men of days agone, who gave us Masonry without a stain. We vow, and face the years held in the dawn. Our lives as yours shall not be lived in vain.


Credits:  To Sir Knight G. A. Betts, Past Grand Commander, for supplying the basis of this brief history, as presented in a paper commemorating the 100th Anniversary of King Baldwin Grand Commandery.





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