81 Joy Street, Boston (1902)

Site of former 8 Belnap Street in Boston

The house at 81 Joy Street in Boston was built in 1902 and replaced an earlier house on the site, built in 1825 and numbered 8 Belknap Street. This had been the home of two African American abolitionist leaders. From 1827 to 1829, David Walker resided here with his wife Eliza. Born a free black in North Carolina, Walker came to Boston where he ran and used clothing store. In 1829 he published Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World and Expressly to the Coloured Citizens of the United States. This work, which called on enslaved people to rebel against their masters, was banned in the south and Georgia slave owners placed a bounty on Walker’s head. The house was next home to James and Maria W. Stewart. Maria Stewart gave speeches about women’s rights and against slavery, which were published by William Lloyd Garrison. She is the first American born woman, of any race, known to have spoken publicly on political issues. She moved to New York in 1834. Rev. George H. Black, one of the founders of the Twelfth Baptist Church, and Leonard Black, a former slave, lived in the house in the late 1830s. Their lives are discussed in Life and Sufferings of Leonard Black, A Fugitive from Slavery. Written by Himself (1848).

John T. Hilton House (1826)

The house at 73 Joy Street in Beacon Hill in Boston was built in 1825-1826 for black hairdresser and musician John B. Holmes. The house is named for John Telemachus Hilton (1801-1864) (pdf), also a hairdresser, who was a Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge, a founder of the Massachusetts General Colored Association, a member of the Boston Vigilance Committee and on the Board of Managers of the Anti-Slavery Society. Hilton only briefly lived in the house, which is also associated with the brothers, Anthony F. Clark (who lived there) and Jonas W. Clark (who used it as a rental property). The house is also one of several boardinghouses owned by John R. Taylor, who is known to have assisted fugitive slaves. [For more info, see this Document]

3 Smith Court, Boston (1799)

Smith Court, on Boston’s Beacon Hill, was the center of the city’s African American community in the nineteenth century. The house at 3 Smith Court, a double house with a common entryway, was built in 1799 by two white bricklayers. Just the year before, a ropewalk had been demolished on the property leading to the construction of residences. By 1830, black families were renting the house at 3 Smith Court. The longest resident of the house was was James Scott, an African American clothier, who became a tenant in 1839 and bought the property in 1865. Originally from Virginia, Scott was an abolitionist who was arrested in 1851 for his role in freeing fugitive slave Shadrach Minkins. From 1851-1856, part of the house was rented by William C. Nell, a journalist and abolitionist, who led the campaign to integrate Boston’s public schools. He became the first published African American historian when he wrote Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776 and 1812 (1851) and Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (1855).

John Coburn House (1844)

John P. Coburn (1811-1873), a free black resident of Beacon Hill in Boston, ran a clothing business and was a community activist. He was treasurer of the New England Freedom Association, which assisted fugitive slaves and, in 1852, he was a founder and captain of the Massasoit Guards, a black militia unit. In 1851, Coburn was arrested for his role in aiding Shadrach Minkins, a fugitive slave, in his escape from federal custody (he was later acquitted). John Coburn’s first house on Beacon Hill was located in a cul-de-sac off of Phillips Street at 3 Coburn Court. Dating to the 1830s, the house, now lost, was recognized in 2005 as one of Massachusetts’ most endangered historic resources. From 1844 until his death in 1873, Coburn lived in the house at 2 Phillips Street, which was designed for him by Asher Benjamin. The house is a site on the Black Heritage Trail.

The Lewis Hayden House (1833)

Lewis Hayden escaped from slavery in Kentucky in 1844 on the Underground Railroad and later settled in Boston, where he owned a used clothing store and became a leading abolitionist. He moved into his house, built in 1833 at 66 Philips Street (then called Southac Street) on Boston’s Beacon Hill, in 1849. With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, Hayden and his wife Harriet hid fugitive slaves in their home. In 1853, abolitionist Francis Jackson purchased the house, which Hayden occupied as a tenant, to help protect him from harassment for his Underground Railroad activities. Jackson’s estate sold the house to Hayden’s wife in 1865. This important house is a stop on the Black Heritage Trail.

Abiel Smith School (1835)

In 1798, members of Boston’s black comunity organized a grammar school that met in in the home of Primus Hall, the son of Prince Hall, a community leader whose petitions to allow black children into the city’s school system had long been denied. The school moved to the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill in 1808 and received financial upport frm the city after 1812. In the 1820s, the city finally established two schools for black children. Abiel Smith was a white businessman who died in 1815 and left $4,000 for the education of African American children in Boston. Part of this bequest was used to build the Abiel Smith School, completed in 1834 and dedicated the following year on Belknap Street, now called Joy Street, near the African Meeting House. In 1849, most African-American parents in Boston withdraw their children from the Abiel Smith School to protest the segregation of schools in the city. In 1855, the Massachusetts legislature outlawed segregation and the Abiel Smith School was closed. The building was then used to store school furniture and after 1887 as the headquarters for black Civil War veterans. The restored building is now part of the Museum of African American History. The school is also on Boston’s Black Heritage Trail.

African Meeting House, Boston (1806)

The African Meeting House on Beacon Hill in Boston was built in 1806 to house the first African Baptist Church of Boston, known as the First Independent Baptist Church. A commemorative inscription above the front door reads, “Cato Gardner, first Promoter of this Building 1806.” Cato Gardner, born in Africa, raised more than $1,500 toward the total $7,700 needed to construct the Meeting House. The building, which was constructed almost entirely with black labor, served as the cultural, educational and political center of Boston’s black community for many decades. In 1808, Primus Hall‘s school relocated from the adjacent carpenter’s shop to the Meeting House, using a schoolroom funded by Abiel Smith. It later moved to the Abiel Smith School next door. William Lloyd Garrison held the founding meeting of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in the Meeting House on January 6, 1832. The building, which has a facade adapted from the design for a townhouse published by Boston architect Asher Benjamin, was remodeled in the 1850s, with the windows being elongated and converted to having arched tops.

The Baptist congregation moved to Boston’s South End in 1898 and the Meeting House became the African Methodist Episcopal Church. By the late nineteenth century, many African Americans had moved to other neighborhoods and new immigrants occupied the neighborhood around the African Meeting House, which was sold in 1904 to the Hassidic Jewish Congregation Anshe Lebawitz. In 1972, the building was acquired by the Museum of African American History. The first phase of restoration work on the Meeting House was completed in 1987 and the building was opened to the public as a museum. The African Meeting House, the oldest surviving black church building in America, is also the last stop on the Black Heritage Trail.