Charles Datcher was the first Grand Master of Union Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.
Charles Datcher was born in 1822, the son of Francis Datcher, Sr. (born 1795), who was one of the organizers of the first Lodge in the District of Columbia (Social Lodge No. 7). Francis Datcher, Sr. and others met November 22, 1822 for the purpose of organizing Social Lodge No. 7. Francis Datcher, Sr. was the Senior Warden of the Lodge when it was established in 1825.
Formation of Union Grand Lodge
The Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia is the third (3rd) oldest Prince Hall Grand Lodge in the United States following Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. In the past it had erroneously been written that the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia was the “fifth oldest” Grand Lodge, but in the book, The National Grand Lodge and Prince Hall Freemasonry: The Untold Truth, Alton G. Roundtree discovered that neither Boyer Grand Lodge of New York nor First Colored Grand Lodge of Maryland, were actually established in 1845, as had previously been reported. It was discovered that there never existed any “Boyer Grand Lodge,” and First Colored Grand Lodge of Maryland was not established until 1848. No documentation has been produced to contradict these findings.
The Grand Lodge was established in 1848 in the shadows of a number of activities then occurring in the District of Columbia:
- News of the California Gold rush had reached the District of Columbia
- Work had begun on the Washington Monument, DC Obelisk honoring the first U.S. president.
- Daniel Drayton attempted to smuggle 76 slaves on the ship Pearl out of Washington to Freedom in the North. The slaves belonged to "41 of the most prominent families in Washington and Georgetown and were valued at $100,000." The Pearl got as far as Chesapeake but ran into headwinds. "A steamer was chartered by owners and friends armed to the teeth with guns pistols and Bowie knives for the pursuit. The steamer took Drayton's vessel into tow, and brought them back to Washington. A mob had assembled on 4th street and rushed the group when they reached Pennsylvania avenue shouting Lynch them, Lynch them.”
Other than the details regarding the formation of the Grand Lodge, the 1848 minutes of the Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia do not show much activity. On March 27, 1848 the three warranted lodges of the District of Columbia met in convention to form the first Grand Lodge of colored masons south of the Mason-Dixon Line in the District of Columbia. Whatever the perceptions of black men practicing masonry in the northern states of the United States, there was a different perception of this practice in the southern states where slavery was still very much a part of the southern landscape. The following is from the 1848 proceedings.
Agreeable to notice the three subordinate lodges of the District of Columbia met in convention to establish a Grand Lodge embracing a part of the Grand lodge of Colored men of The United States. At half past seven the convention was called to order by J. T. Costin. And on motion by G. Van Brackle, D. P. Jones was unanimously elected President to preside over the deliberations of the convention. J. Thornton Costin was chosen secretary and Richard Garnett Assistant.
The following named gentlemen appeared as delegates from the different subordinate lodges. Social Lodge No. 1; T. L. Kennedy, William S. Hunt, J. Thomas, C. Datcher, and William Hicks;
Universal Lodge No. 10; Joseph Fresher, Dennis Bourbon, William Ford, Edward Evans, and B. Garret;
Felix Lodge No. 15; J. Thornton Costin, Richard Phiske, Baziel Simes, John H. Massey, and J. A. Thomas
On a motion it was resolved that there be a committee of three appointed to prepare business for the convention. Motion Carried.
The following named gentlemen were appointed by the chair: R. Phiske, D. P. Jones, C. Datcher, and D. Bourbon.
They then retired and the following gentlemen addressed the convention: G. Van Brackle, J. T. Costin, and T. Hamilton. By this time the committee returned and made their report.
Through their chairman C. Datcher who stated that the committee had proposed to draw certain preambles complimentary to the brethren who had brought about such an effective union, but time seemed so short they had concluded only to nominate candidates for the Grand Lodge. The report was duly received and convention proceeded to an election whereupon the following named gentlemen were successful over their opponents:
After the election was over Mr. David P. Jones addressed the convention in a very able and cogent manner in regard to the duties of Masonry.
On March 27, 1848 the Lodges were renumbered under the Union Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia. In the renumbering Social Lodge was No. 1, Universal No. 2, and Felix No. 3. Hiram Lodge No. 4 was warranted on April 4, 1848.