Boston African American National Historic Site

Boston African American National Historic Site

Sights to See

Abiel Smith School

The Abiel Smith School, located at 46 Joy Street, was constructed between 1834 and 1835. It was built by the City of Boston to house the African School and was one of the earliest buildings designed by architect Richard Upjohn. Starting in 1787, many black Bostonians fought tirelessly against the inequality and discrimination in public schools. At that early date, numerous community members, including Prince Hall, petitioned the state legislator claiming that it was unjust for their taxes to support the education of white children when the city had no school for black children. However, a small number of African American children did attend the city's white schools in the early 1800s.

In 1798, sixty member of the black community organized the African School in order to educate their children. This school first met in the home of Primus Hall. It moved into the first floor room of the African Meeting House in 1808. At this date, the African American children who were enrolled in Boston public schools moved their enrollment to the African School. In 1812, the Boston School Committee finally became worn down by decades of petitions and requests; they officially recognized the African School and started providing partial funding ($200 yearly), but the condition of this school remained poor and space was inadequate.

In 1815 white businessman Abiel Smith died and bequeathed $4,000 for the education of African American children in Boston. The school committee used interest from this money to fund the African School and they later used a portion of it to construct the Abiel Smith School. The Abiel Smith School was opened on March 3, 1835, but the conditions in this school were inferior to those of the white schools in Boston and the black community continued to fight for equal opportunities in education.

One of the most forceful advocates for school integration was African American historian-activist William Cooper Nell. When Nell was a student at the African School, he was awarded the prestigious Franklin Metal, along with two other African Americans. Yet, instead of receiving the medal, they were given biographies of Benjamin Franklin and they were not invited to the award ceremony at Faneuil Hall. Nell did attend the ceremony dinner, but not as a guest. He persuaded one of the waiters to allow him to help serve the white honorees and guests. It was on this night that Nell vowed, "God helping me, I would do my best to hasten the day when the color of the skin would be no barrier to equal school rights."

Another activist was Benjamin Roberts. He filed suit, on behalf of his daughter Sarah, against the Boston School Committee in 1849. Roberts wanted his daughter to be able to attend the school closest to their home and he sought to challenge Boston's segregated system. His lawyers were Charles Sumner and Robert Morris, who was the first black attorney in Massachusetts. Their arguments were forceful and articulate (and later used as precedent in Brown v Board of Education), but they did not win the lawsuit. Sadly, the opinion set forth in the Roberts case was used as precedent for "separate but equal" ideologies in nearly all segregation cases thereafter, including Plessy v. Ferguson.

Also in 1849, most African Americans in Boston chose to withdraw their children from the Abiel Smith School to protest against segregated education. In 1855, success was achieved when the Massachusetts Legislature outlawed "separate schools," but Boston was the only place in the commonwealth that still maintained segregated education. African American children started attending other public schools, including the Phillips School, and the Abiel Smith School was closed that same year.

The Abiel Smith School is now part a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Sources:

Bower, Beth Ann. "The African Meeting House, Massachusetts: Summary Report of Archaeological Excavation, 1975- 1986." Museum of African American History, Boston, MA.

Jacobs, Donald M. ed. Courage and Conscience: Black and White Abolitionists in Boston. Bloomington: Indiana University Press for the Boston Anthenaeum, 1993

Kendrick, Stephen and Kendrick, Paul. Sarah's Long Walk: The Free Blacks of Boston and How Their Struggle for Equality Changes America. Boston: Beacon Hill Press, 2004.

Wesley, Dorothy Porter, and Constance Porter Uzelac, eds. William Cooper Nell, Nineteenth-Century African American Abolitionist, Historian, Integrationist: Selected Writings, 1832-1874. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 2002.

"Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site" by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva

Smith Court Residences

As early as the 1790s, African Americans began to reside on the north slope of Beacon Hill. The area of lower Joy Street and Smith Court was an important center of Boston's 19th black community. Today, the historic homes on Smith Court, along with the African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School, are the best preserved physical locales available for understanding the history of African Americans in Boston.

3 Smith Court was built between 1798 and 1800 by two white bricklayers and is now known as the James Scott and William C. Nell House. The front of this wide but shallow two-family-home consists of yellow painted clapboarding; the back of the house is a windowless brick wall. This type of construction was typical for Boston before 1803 and especially for residences on allies. Starting in 1830, 3 Smith Court was rented to numerous African America men and their families. From 1830 until 1845, one side of the house was rented by bootblack and waiter George Washington; the other side was rented by the barber Andrew Telford and his wife Rachel Turner. James Scott, the longest resident of 3 Smith Court, lived there for nearly 50 years. He was a tenant from 1839 to 1865 and owned the property from 1865 until his death in 1888. Scott was born in Virginia and worked as a clothing dealer in Boston. In 1851, Scott was arrested in his shop and charged with spearheading the rescue of Shadrach Minkins from federal custody. It is not clear whether he actually participated in this rescue (he was acquitted for lack of evidence), but Scott did assist other fugitive slaves. For example, on 18 July 1856, James Scott board self-emancipated slave Henry Jackson and his family at 3 Smith Court. From 1850 to 1857, William Cooper Nell was also a tenant of 3 Smith Court. Nell was one of Boston's most forceful advocates for school integration. He was the author of several histories including Colored Patriots of the American Revolution and he worked at various times for the Liberator, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, and the Frederick Douglass' Paper. He was also very active in the Boston Vigilance Committee and he sheltered or aided numerous self-emancipated slaves at 3 Smith Court.

5 Smith Court, a three-story building with reddish-brown clapboard siding, was constructed within the first decade of the 19th century. It passed through the hands of several owners, both black and white, prior to 1849. Peter Wilcox, his wife Chloe, and their five children lived here between 1813 and 1815. This family was part of a group that migrated with mariner Paul Cuffe to Sierra Leone. In 1849 the property was sold to George Washington, who had previously resided at 3 Smith Court. Washington was a deacon at the First Independent Baptist Church (a.k.a. African Baptist Church). He was born in Massachusetts in 1795 and worked at various times as a bootblack and as a waiter. Washington and his wife Rachel had ten children between 1832 and 1848. As was common, this large household also took in boarders, including an Irish-born laborer named Patrick Barnes. Although George Washington died in 1871, this house remained in his family until 1917.

7 Smith Court, a two-story home with light blue clapboard siding, was constructed in the early 19th century as an income property for a lawyer. African American Joseph E. Scarlett owned this building from 1857 until his death in 1898. Scarlett, who lived across the street at 2 Smith Court, mostly rented 7 Smith Court to other African Americans. This practice was started as early as 1822 by 7 Smith Court's previous owner, the white merchant Elihu Bates. Tenants of this property included laborer Phillip Johnson and mariners Warner Hicks and Robert Osborn; few residents stayed longer than three years at this property.

7A Smith Court, a three-story double house with yellow clapboard siding, located on Holmes Alley, was constructed in 1799. This structure is the only surviving example of the early homes that lined the eight-foot wide Holmes Alley, where backyards are found today. The residences on Holmes Alley, including 7A Smith Court, were primarily inhabited by African American throughout the 19th century. In 1800, 7A was co-owned by the New Bedford mariner Richard Johnson and the hairdresser David Bartlett. The property was later owned by David Beal (1826-1844), white carpenter Thomas F. Haskell (1844-1858), and Joseph E. Scarlett (1858-1898); these men rented the property to a variety of individuals and families.

4 Smith Court, a four-story brick building, is typical of residential structure built in Boston between 1885 and 1915. In the 1880s, Boston experienced an influx of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Many of the newly arrived lived in densely populated areas of Boston, including the north slope of Beacon Hill, the West End, and the North End. They moved primarily into areas that had been partially black neighborhoods, just as African Americans were relocating to Roxbury, Dorchester, and the South End. Due to the increased demand for cheap housing, developers tore down some of the smaller wood and brick structures on Beacon Hill and build inexpensive brick "walk-ups"- such as number 4 - where immigrants lived well into the 20th century.

2 Smith Court, a three-story brick building next to the African Meeting House, was constructed in 1853. A home was originally built on this site in 1803 and was occupied by African American tailor William Henry, his family, and some tenants until the property was sold in 1852 to Joseph E. Scarlett. A two-story brick home was built for Scarlett in 1853 (third-story added after 1884) and he resided there with his family from the late 1850s until 1868. Joseph Scarlett was the son of John E. Scarlett, who was a chimneysweeper, a clothing dealer, and a grocer. By the time of his death in 1898, Joseph owned fifteen different properties in Boston, Cambridge, and Charlestown. In his will, Scarlett left bequests to the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church and to the Home for Aged Colored Women on Myrtle Street.

Note: 3, 5, 7, 7A, 4 and 2 Smith Court, sites on the Black Heritage Trail®, are private residences and are not open to the public.

Sources:

Grover, Kathryn. Make a Way Somehow: African Americans in a Northern Community. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1994.

Horton, James Oliver. "Generations of Protest: Black Families and Social Reform in Antebellum Boson."New England Quarterly 49, 2 (June 1976).

Horton, James Oliver and Horton, Lois E. Black Bostonians; Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North, Revised Edition.New York: Holmes & Meier, 1999.

Jacobs, Donald M. ed. Courage and Conscience: Black and White Abolitionists in Boston. Bloomington: Indian University Press for the Boston Athenauem, 1993.

Kaplan, Sidney and Kaplan, Emma Nogrady. The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution. Rev. ed. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989.

Rosebrock, Ellen Fletcher. "A Historical Account of the Joy Street Block between Myrtle and Cambridge Streets." Manuscript Prepared for the Museum if Afro- American History, Boston, 22 December 1978.

Wesley, Dorothy Porter, and Constance Porter Uzelac, eds. William Cooper Nell, Nineteenth-Century African American Abolitionist Historian, Integrationits: Selected Writings, 1832-1874. Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 2002.

"Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site" by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva.

Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment

The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, located across Beacon Street from the State House, serves as a reminder of the heavy cost paid by individuals and families during the Civil War. In particular, it serves as a memorial to the group of men who were among the first African Americans to fight in that war. Although African Americans served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, northern racist sentiments kept African Americans from taking up arms for the United Stated in the early years of the Civil War. However, a clause in Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation made possible the organization of African American volunteer regiments. The first documented African American regiment formed in the north was the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry, instituted under Governor John Andrews in 1863. African American men came to enlist from every region of the north, and from as faraway as the Caribbean. Robert Gould Shaw was the man Andrews chose to lead this regiment.

Robert G. Shaw was the only son of Francis George and Sarah Blake (née Sturgis) Shaw. The Shaws were a wealthy and well connected
New York and Boston family. They were also radical abolitionists and Unitarians. Robert did not blindly follow his parents ideological and religious beliefs, but all recognized the importance and responsibility involved in leading the Massachusetts 54th Regiment.

The
Massachusetts 54th Regiment became famous and solidified their place in history following the attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina on July 18, 1863. At least 74 enlisted men and 3 officers were killed in that battled, and scores more were wounded. Colonel Shaw was one of those killed. Sergeant William H. Carney, who was severely injured in the battle, saved the regiment’s flag from being captured. He was the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The 54th Regiment also fought in an engagement on James Island, the Battle of Olustee, and at Honey Hill, South Carolina before their return to Boston in September 1865. Only 598 of the original 1,007 men who enlisted were there to take part in the final ceremonies on the Boston Common. In the last two years of the war, it is estimated that over 180,000 African Americans served in the Union forces and were instrumental to the Union’s victory.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens took nearly fourteen years to complete this high-relief bronze monument, which celebrates the valor and sacrifices of the Massachusetts 54th. Saint-Gaudens was one of the premier artists of his day. He grew up in New York and Boston, but received formal training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts Paris. In New York, forty men were hired to serve as models for the soldiers’ faces. Colonel Shaw is shown on horseback and three rows of infantry men march behind. This scene depicts the 54th Regiment marching down Beacon Street on May 28, 1863 as they left Boston to head south. The monument was paid for by private donations and was unveiled in a ceremony on May 31, 1897. In 1982, 64 names of known soldiers who died at the Battle of Fort Wagner were inscribed on the back of the monument.   

Sources:

Blatt, Martin ed. Hope and Glory: Essays on the Legacy of the54th Amherst, Universityof Massachusetts, 2001.

Dryfhout, John H. The Works of Augustus Saint-Gaudens  Hanover, University Press of New England, 1982.

“Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site” by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. daSilva.

John J Smith House

John J. Smith - barber, abolitionist, and state legislator - lived at 86 Pinckney Street from 1878 to 1893. He was born in Virginia and moved to Boston in the 1840s. Except for a short time in California searching for gold, Smith spent his pre-Civil War years working as a barber. His shop was an important place for Boston's 19th century black community; it served as a center for community organizing and abolitionist activities. Charles Sumner, United States Senator from 1851 to 1874 and ardent abolitionist, was a friend and client of Smith. It was said that when Sumner could not be found at his home or office, he could usually be located at Smith's shop.

Smith, his wife Georgiana, and other leaders such as Benjamin F. Roberts worked in the 1840s and 1850s in the fight for equal school rights. Boston's public schools were integrated in 1855 and Smith's daughter Elizabeth, in the early 1870s, became the first person of African descent to teach in Boston's integrated schools. John Smith also worked to fight slavery and other injustices. He was one of the men who played a key role in the rescue of the self-emancipated slave Shadrach Minkins from federal custody in 1851.

During the Civil War, Smith was a recruiter for Massachusetts African American regiments and for the Fifth Calvary, also an all black unit. Smith served in the Massachusetts House of Representative, as its third African American member, in 1868, 1869, and 1872. Georgiana, his wife, worked during that time for the Freedman's Bureau. In 1878, Smith was appointed as the first African American to serve on the Boston Common Council and he successfully worked to have the first African American appointed to the Boston police force. John J. Smith's life, filled with service to his community through business, activism, and politics, ended on 4 November 1906 with family in Dorchester.

Note: The John J. Smith House, a site on the Black Heritage Trail®, is a private residence and is not open to the public.

Sources:

Collison, Gary. Shadrach Minkins: From Fugitive Slave to Citizen. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

Daniels, John. In Freedom's Birthplace: A Study of the Boston Negroes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914. Reprint. New York: Arno Press and the New York Times, 1969.

"Recent Deaths: John J. Smith." Boston Evening Transcript, 5 November 1906.

"Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site" by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva

Lewis and Harriet Hayden House

Lewis Hayden was one of Boston's most visible and militant African American abolitionists. He was born enslaved in Lexington, Kentucky in 1812. His first wife, Esther Harvey, and a son were sold to U.S. Senator Henry Clay, who in turn sold them into the deep south. Hayden was never able to discover their ultimate whereabouts. Eventually, Hayden was remarried to a woman named Harriet Bell and they escaped with their son Joseph to Canada in 1844, and then to Detroit in 1845.

The Hayden family made their way to Boston by January 1846. Lewis ran a clothing store and quickly became a leader in the black community. In 1850, the Hayden's moved into the house at 66 Phillips (then Southac) Street. The Hayden's routinely cared for self-emancipated African Americans at their home, which served as a boarding house. Records from the Boston Vigilance Committee, of which Lewis was a member, indicate that scores of people received aid and safe shelter at the Hayden home between 1850 and 1860. Lewis Hayden was one of the men who helped rescue Shadrach Minkins from federal custody in 1851 and he played a significant role in the attempted rescue of Anthony Burns. Hayden also contributed money to John Brown, in preparation for his raid on Harper's Ferry.

William and Ellen Craft were among Lewis and Harriet Hayden's most famous boarders. The Crafts had escaped from slavery by riding a passenger train to the north. Ellen, who was of light complexion, disguised herself as a southern gentleman and William played the role of a personal servant. The Crafts toured the United States, Canada, and Great Britain speaking against slavery, and they became celebrated public figures. While they were living and working in Boston, slave catchers were sent north to try to reclaim them. However, Lewis Hayden was determined to fight for their protection. Hayden threatened that two kegs of gun powder were kept near the entryway of his home. Should slave catchers come and attempt to reclaim their "property", Hayden would sooner have blown up the house then surrender the Crafts. Eventually, the slave catchers were convinced to leave Boston.

During the Civil War, Lewis Hayden worked as a recruiter for the 54th Regiment. Later he served a term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and worked for the Massachusetts Secretary of State. Lewis Hayden died on April 7, 1889. Harriet Hayden, upon her death in 1893, bequeathed money to form a scholarship at Harvard Medical School for African American students.

Note: The Lewis & Harriet Hayden House, a site on the Black Heritage Trail®, is a private residence and is not open to the public.

Sources:

Collison, Gary. Shadrach Minkins: From Fugitive Slave to Citizen. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

"Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site" by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva.

African American Churches of Beacon Hill

Between 1805 and 1840, five black churches were organized on the north slope of Beacon Hill.These churches were the spiritual centers of Boston's 19thcentury African American community, but they were also central to the political and social lives of black Bostonians. At these churches, faith directly informed action as men and women were sheltered from slave catchers, abolitionists fought to end slavery in America, and physical or material needs were satisfied.

Prior to the formation of independent black churches in Boston, many African Americans - both free and enslaved - attended predominantly white churches.First Church, Second Church, Third Church, First Baptist, King's Chapel,and Brattle Street Church were the only churches in Boston before 1700. Dozens of known African Americans attended Boston's Puritan church and some became members. For example, an African American named Mathew, son of Dorcas, was baptized into the fellowship in 1652. An African American women Jane was admitted as a member of First Church in 1690.

Throughout the 18th century, African Americans were likewise connected to other white churches, including Hollis Street Church (Congregational) and Trinity Church (Anglican). George Middleton was baptized and married at Trinity Church. While many African Americans continued in their connections with these churches, conditions tended to worsen and not improve over time. In earlier periods, slaves and servants probably sat in church with the families they served.After the Revolution and after the end of slavery in Massachusetts in 1783, segregated seating became a more practiced norm. By 1800 the number of African Americans in Boston had increased, as had exclusionary and segregation practices in churches.These factors influenced the establishment of the first independent black churches in Boston

The first African American church in Boston was formed in 1805. In conjunction with the First and Second Baptist Churches, the First African Baptist Church was founded under the leadership of Thomas Paul. They built their meeting house on Smith Court and met there from 1806 to1898.Read more about this church, and the important political and social events that occurred there, in the African Meeting House section of this website.

The next black church to be founded in Boston was a Methodist Episcopal Church.In the early 1800s, a number of African Americans were attending the Bromfield Street Methodist Episcopal Church.In 1818, this church helped to establish a separate black Methodist church by hiring the Rev. Samuel Snowden.This church met at various locations until a building was purchased by the New England Methodist Conference on May Street in 1823.This church moved in 1835 to Revere Street and changed their name to the Revere Street Methodist Episcopal Church. The Rev. Snowden, like the ministers who followed him, was actively engaged in antislavery activities. David Walker, antislavery advocate and author of the Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World and Expressly to the Coloured Citizens of the United States, was also a member of this church.The Revere Street Church building, which was owned by the Bromfield Street Church,was sold in 1903, and the Revere Street Church was left without a place to meet.They moved into a church in the South End in 1911 and again into another building in 1949.This church remains today on Columbus Avenue and is known as the Union United Methodist Church.

The First African Methodists Episcopal Bethel Society of Boston, later known as the Charles Street AME Church, was organized in November 1833 under the leadership of itinerant minister Noah Caldwell; it was incorporated in 1838. This church grew slowly in its early years,but they purchased a building in 1844 on Anderson Street and remained there until 1876.Read more about this church in the Charles Street Meeting House section of this website.

The Columbus Avenue AME Zion Church, as it is known today, was founded in 1838 when seventeen people withdrew from the Revere Street Methodist Church. They associated themselves with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) denomination, which was led by African Americans. The Rev. Jehiel C. Beman,their first minister, was appointed at the Annual Conference in 1838. Beman was also a prominent abolitionist. By October 1840, the church had over 140 members and in 1841 they moved into a small chapel on West Center (now Anderson) Street. Eliza A. Gardner, who was a prominent abolitionist leader, was a member of this church for over 75 years. The church moved to North Russell Street in 1866 and to Columbus Avenue inthe South End in 1902.

Twelfth Baptist Church was founded in 1840 by a group of 36 individuals, including the Rev.George H. Black, who left the First African Baptist Church (African Meeting House). The reasons for this church division are not clear. Twelfth Baptist struggled for many years until the Rev. Leonard A. Grimes became minister in 1848.Grimes was born free in Virginia and he had worked in Washington D.C.on the Underground Railroad. Before coming to Massachusetts, he served two years in prison in Virginia for helping seven slaves escape to Canada. Unsurprisingly, Twelfth Baptist Church was also known as"The Fugitive Slave Church." Scores of self-emancipated slaves received aid from Twelfth Baptist Church, and many chose to remain with this congregation. LewisHayden, Shadrach Minkins, Anthony Burns, and John S. Rock were all members of Twelfth Baptist. When Anthony Burns was arrested under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, Grimes helped organize resistance to his pending deportation to the south.Grimes also led the effort to buy Burns out of slavery after he had been returned to the south.Twelfth Baptist church constructed a building at 43-47 Phillips Street between 1850 and 1855, and they remained there until 1903.A small portion of the church edifice is still visible between modern apartment buildings.A plague on the corner of Grove and Phillips Streets marks the place where Leonard Grimes lived, diagonally across from his church.Grimes remained pastor until his death in 1874.Twelfth Baptist Church relocated to Shawmut Avenue in the South End in 1903 where it remains to this day.

Sources:

Collins, Leo W. This is Our Church: The Seven Societies of the First Church in Boston, 1630-2005. Published by the Society of the First Church in Boston.

Hayden, Robert C. Faith, Culture, and Leadership: A History of the Black Church in Boston. Boston: Boston Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1983.

Jacobs, Donald M. ed. Courage and Conscience: Black and White Abolitionists in Boston. Bloomington: Indiana University Press for the Boston Athenauem, 1993.

"Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site" by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva

Charles Street Meeting House

The Charles Street Meeting House was built in 1807 by the Third Baptist Church. It was built according to a design by Asher Benjamin. As was the case with every American church in the early 19th century, segregated seating was enforced. African Americans who attended this predominately white church could only sit in the gallery and were excluded from other privileges of membership. On a Sunday in 1836, Timothy Gilbert tested this exclusionary rule. Gilbert invited several African Americans to join him in his pew and he was immediately expelled from the church. Gilbert and several other members of Third Baptist Church subsequently founded the First Free Baptist Church, which became Tremont Temple. This church did not sell pews to individuals and is known as the first integrated church in America. In later years, Third Baptist Church did take a position against slavery, despite its earlier treatment of African Americans. Sojourner Truth, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, and Charles Sumner were among the abolitionists who spoke there.

After the Civil War, the Third Baptist Church dwindled in numbers. They sold the Charles Street Meeting House in 1876 to the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Charles Street A.M.E. Church, as it was thereafter known, was organized in 1833 and incorporated in 1839. This church was located on West Centre (Anderson) Street from 1841 to 1876. After the Civil War, it became the largest of Boston's then five black churches. The Charles Street A.M.E. Church continued to be a leader in political and social activism well into the twentieth century. Ministers such as John T. Jennifer spoke about political issues ranging from the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to temperance to Irish independence. In 1889 The National Association of Colored Women was founded at the Charles Street Meeting House by Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin. By 1900 economic, social, and political forces made continued existence on Charles Street difficult for this church and they moved to Warren Street, Roxbury in 1939. The Charles Street A.M.E. Church was the last black institution to leave Beacon Hill.

Sources:

Hayden, Robert C. Faith, Culture, and Leadership: A History of the BlackChurch in Boston. Boston: Boston Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1983.

"Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site" by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva

John Coburn House

John P. Coburn, clothes dealer and community activist, resided at 2 Phillips Street from 1844 until his death in 1873. This home was the second owned by Coburn on Beacon Hill and it was designed for him by the famous architect Asher Benjamin. Coburn, born in Boston between 1809 and 1813, was one of Boston's wealthiest 19th century African Americans. His primary business was a Brattle Street clothes shop, but limited evidence also suggests that he ran a gaming house for wealthy Bostonians in his home. Coburn was married to Emeline Gray, a native of New Hampshire.

In 1845 Coburn was the treasurer of the New England Freedom Association. This group was founded by Boston African American leaders in 1842 as a fugitive slave assistance group. The Boston Vigilance Committee was a later biracial group founded for the same purpose, but Coburn does not appear to have been similarly connected with this group. Coburn's association with community vigilance work was publicly established in 1851 when he was arrested, along African American attorney Robert Morris, for aiding and abetting Shadrach Minkins in his escape from federal custody. When James Scott had been charged in months prior with spearheading the rescue of Minkins, Coburn was one of the people who helped post Scott's bond. All three men of these men were eventually acquitted.

John Coburn was also a founder of the Massasoit Guards. Although their petitions seeking recognition by the state were essentially ignored, a black militia unit was organized in 1852 under the leadership of Coburn, Robert Morris, and others. They named themselves after a Native American who had been especially kind and loyal to colonists of Massachusetts. As evidenced by the attitudes of African American soldiers in the American Revolution and the Civil War, military service was considered an opportunity to demonstrate one's manhood and to claim the rights of American citizenship.

Note: The John Coburn House, a site on the Black Heritage Trail®, is a private residence and is not open to the public.

Sources:

Collison, Gary. Shadrach Minkins: From Fugitive Slave to Citizen. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

"Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site" by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva

David Walker & Maria Stewart House- 81 Joy Street

Several of Boston’s most prominent African American activists resided at 81 Joy Street (originally 8, then 4 Belknap Street) in the early 19th century.  David Walker, one of America’s earliest abolitionist authors, and Maria Stewart, the first woman to speak publicly for abolitionism and women’s rights, both resided there. A three-and-one-half-story brick home was built on this site in 1825; it was replaced around 1902 with the current building. 

David Walker was born in Wilmington, NC and moved to Boston around 1825. He ran a used clothing shop in the city. By February 1826, Walker had married a local woman named Eliza Butler. From 1827 to 1829 David and Eliza were tenants at 81 Joy Street. He was a member of the Prince Hall Masons, the Rev. Snowden’s Methodist Church, and the Massachusetts General Colored Association, the first abolitionist organization in Boston. Walker was also an active supporter of Freedom’s Journal, the first newspaper owned and operated by an African American. Walker became one of the earliest and most forceful abolitionist authors with his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World and Expressly to the Coloured Citizens of the United States. The Appeal enumerated the sufferings of black men and women, but it also demanded that African Americans fight for change. In one of many vivid and forceful pronouncements, the Appeal states: 

Remember Americans, that we must and shall be free and enlightened as you are, will you wait until we shall, under God, obtain our liberty by the crushing arm of power? Will it not be dreadful for you? I speak America for your good. We must and shall be free I say, in spite of you. You may do your best to keep us in wretchedness and misery, to enrich you and your children; but God will deliver us from under you.  And wo, wo will be to you if we have to obtain our freedom by fighting. 

After David and Eliza Walker relocated to Bridge Street, James and Maria Stewart moved into 81 Joy Street. The Stewarts were admirers of David Walker and James Stewart, who was a mariner, may have helped to distribute copies of Walker’s Appeal in the south. In September 1832, Maria Stewart gave her first public speech to a group of men and women at the African Meeting House; yet this was not solely her first speech.  This is the first recorded occurrence of an American born woman, of any race, speaking publicly on a political issue.  Stewart, throughout her years in Boston, continued to write and speak for women’s rights and against slavery. She also published some religious meditations in 1832. Now widowed, Maria Stewart moved to New York in 1834. 

The Rev. George H. Black, one of the founders of Twelfth Baptist Church, and Leonard Black, a self-emancipated freedman from Maryland, resided at 81 Joy in the late 1830s and early 1840s. The lives of these two men are discussed in the Life and Sufferings of Leonard Black, A Fugitive from Slavery. Written by Himself (1848).

Note: The David Walker and Maria Stewart House is a private residence and is not open to the public. 

Sources:

Hinks, Peter P., ed. David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of World. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

Richardson, Marilyn, ed.  Maria W. Stewart, America’s First Black Woman Political Writer; Essays and Speeches. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987.

“Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site” by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva

George Middleton House

George Middleton was an early leader in Boston's African American community and he was a colonel in the Revolutionary War. Middleton and Louis Glapion began constructing a two family residence at 5 Pinckney Street in 1786. Finished in 1787, this building is now the oldest extant home on Beacon Hill. This wood structure is a typical example of late 18th century Boston homes built by African Americans.

Little is known of Louis Glapion except that he was a hairdresser who may have been from the French West Indies. Glapion lived and ran his business out of 5 Pinckney Street until his death in 1813. His wife Lucy continued to live there until 1832. George Middleton worked tending horses, but during the Revolution he was the leader of a black militia company called the Bucks of America. While little evidence of the group has survived, they likely guarded the property of Boston merchants during the Revolution and they may have also been known as the "Protectors." Near the close of the Revolution, the Bucks of America were presented with a unit flag by John Hancock. This flag is preserved in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Middleton was heavily involved in African American community organizations. He was an early member of the African Lodge, later known as the Prince Hall Masons, and he was the third Grand Master of that group. Middleton married Elsey Marsh on 11 March 1781 at Trinity Church. In 1796 Middleton and others organized the African Society (also known as the Boston African Benevolent Society). As early as 1800, Middleton fought and petitioned for equal school rights for black children. Middleton died in 1815 and was apparently not survived by wife or children. As a leader concerned with education and the needs of his community, George Middleton was among the earliest in a long line of African American activists on Beacon Hill.

Note: The George Middleton House, a site on the Black Heritage Trail®, is a private residence and is not open to the public.

Sources:

Chamberlain, Allen. Beacon Hill: Its Ancient Pastures and Early Mansions. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1925.

Kaplan, Sidney and Kaplan, Emma Nogrady. The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution. Rev. ed. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1989.

Nell, William C. The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution with Sketches of Several Distinguished Persons: To Which is Added a Brief Survey of the Conditions and Prospects of Colored Americans. Boston: Published by Robert F. Wallcut, 1855. Reprint. New York: Arno Press, 1968.

"Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site" by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva


The Phillips School

The Phillips School, which occupies a prominent location on the corner of Pinckney and Anderson Streets, was built between 1823 and 1825. The architecture of this building is typical of 19th century Boston schools. The building was first used by the English High School, but it was converted to a grammar school in 1844. The grammar school was named after the first mayor of Boston, John Phillips, who was father of famed abolitionist Wendell Phillips.

The Phillips Grammar School educated only white male children, and as a result of its location, generally catered to the wealthiest families in Boston. In contrast to the Abiel Smith School, which was the public school for African American children from 1835 to 1855, the Phillips School was considered one of the best schools in the city. Black Bostonians fought tirelessly for equal school rights throughout the 19th century, as described in the Abiel Smith School site description. In 1847 Benjamin Roberts attempted to have his daughter Sarah admitted to the school closest to their home, but his request was denied by the Primary School Committee, the District Committee, and the General School Committee. Frustrated, Roberts brought Sarah to the door of the Phillips School, which now educated both males and females, but entrance was denied by Principal Andrew Cotton. Ironically, when Boston schools were finally integrated in 1855, by an act of the Massachusetts legislature, the Phillips School became one of the first integrated schools in Boston.

In 1863 the Phillips School moved to a new building on Philips Street (formerly Southac Street). In the early 1870s, Elizabeth Smith, daughter of abolitionist John J. Smith, started teaching at the Phillips School and was probably the first African American to teach in an integrated Boston public school.

Note: The Phillips School, a site on the Black Heritage Trail®, is a private residence and is not open to the public.

Sources:

Kendrick, Stephen and Kendrick, Paul. Sarah's Long Walk: The Free Blacks of Boston and How Their Struggle for Equality Changes America. Boston: Beacon Hill Press, 2004.

"Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site" by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva

African Meeting House

The African Meeting House was built in 1806 to house the first African Baptist Church of Boston (a.k.a. First Independent Baptist Church) and it is now the oldest extant black church building in America. Moreover, this was the first African American Baptist church created north of the Mason Dixon Line. The church was organized primarily by and for black Bostonians, but not without cooperation and assistance from Boston's white Baptist churches. The Reverend Thomas Paul, a native of New Hampshire, spearheaded the founding of this church and was its minister until 1829. The African Baptist Church was officially constituted on 8 August 1805 with twenty-four members, of whom fifteen were women. A building committee was organized of prominent men from the white Baptist churches; these men handled financial transactions and partially oversaw construction, but many of the people who worked to construct the church building were African American craftsmen. Cato Gardner, a native African, led the fundraising effort by personally raising $1,500. The Belknap Street Church, as it was also known, was originally encouraged by white Baptist churches to only allow African American to become members. However, a few white people did attend the Rev. Paul's services and some African Americans in Boston continued to attend predominately white churches throughout the 19th century despite discriminatory practices.

In addition to serving as a spiritual center for the community, the African Meeting House was the chief cultural, educational, and political nexus of Boston's black community. The African School held classes in a room on the first floor of the meeting house from 1808 until 1835, when it moved into the new Abiel Smith School. Classes returned to the meeting house in 1849 when most African American chose to withdraw their children from the Smith School in order to protest against segregated education. Adult education was regularly offered at the meeting house in the form of classes and lectures. Abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison, Maria Stewart, Wendell Phillips, Sarah Grimke, and Frederick Douglass all spoke at the meeting house. The Massachusetts General Colored Association, which was the first abolitionist organization in Boston, met at the African Meeting House, and in 1832 the New England Anti-Slavery Society was founded there. Community celebrations often occurred at the meeting house, including annual commemorations of Haitian Independence (1803) and the end of the international slave trade (1807). In 1863 the meeting house served as a recruitment post for the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Regiment, which was the first official African American military regiment to fight for the Union in the Civil War.

In 1898 the Baptist congregation sold their meeting house and moved to a new location in the South End. The meeting house became the Jewish Congregation Anshi Libavitz in 1904 and was acquired by the Museum of African American History in 1972. The building is a National Historic Landmark.

Sources:

Bower, Beth Ann; Rushing, Byron. "The African Meeting House: The Center for the 19th Century Afro-American Community in Boston." in Archeological Perspectives on Ethnicity in America. Vol. 1. New York, 1980.

Hayden, Robert C. Faith, Culture, and Leadership: A History of the Black Church in Boston. Boston: Boston Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1983.

Horton, James Oliver and Horton, Lois E. Black Bostonians; Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North, Revised Edition. New York:Holmes & Meier, 1999.

Levesque, George A. Black Boston: African American Life and Culture in Urban America, 1750-1860. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994.

Yocum, Barbara A. The African Meeting House Historic Structure Report. Lowell, MA: Building Conservation Branch, National Park Service, 1994.

"Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site" by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva

Boston African American National Historic Site's Historical Resource Study (Adobe Acrobat format)

George and Susan Hillard House- 62 Pinckney Street

The George and Susan Hillard House, located at 62 Pinckney Street, was built circa 1835. The Hillards lived there from the early 1840s until the 1870s.  George Hillard was a law partner of Charles Sumner, until Sumner was elected to the U.S. Senate. However, these men’s political views grew more divergent over time. Sumner became the most forceful abolitionist in the Senate, but Hillard remained a more conservative Whig. While Hillard believed that slavery was wrong, he sided politically with Senator Daniel Webster and was not willing to risk the dissolution of the nation to end slavery. 

In addition, George Hillard was a federal commissioner and in 1850 this meant that he had to uphold the new Fugitive Slave Law by giving out arrest warrants to slave catcher.  This law, which did not allow the accused to speak in their own defense, put all African American in Boston in jeopardy. Anyone, it seemed, could be kidnapped and taken down into southern slavery.  However, Susan Hillard was hiding known fugitive slaves in their home during these very same years, and in full knowledge and plain view of her husband. Whatever his position on national politics, George Hillard was sympathetic to self-emancipated slaves and was a proponent of racial equality, especially in education. Ellen Craft was in the protection of the Hillards in 1850 when slave catchers came to Boston in search of her and her husband. At least five fugitive slaves resided in the Hillard home between 1855 and 1858.  

Note: The George and Susan Hillard House is a private residence and is not open to the public. 

Sources:

Still, William. Underground Railroad. 1871. Reprint. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 1970.

Taylor, Anne-Marie. Young Charles Sumner and the Legacy of the American Enlightenment, 1811-1851. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001.

“Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site” by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva