This is it folks. Last day. Last blog. Last item on my To Do & See in Boston list.
Today we walked the 1.4 mile Black Heritage Trail. It actually winds around the blocks here in Beacon Hill because between 1800 and 1900 most African Americans in Boston lived in the West End, a neighbourhood now called the North Slope of Beacon Hill. The South Slope was, and still is, home to upscale white residents.
After the American Revolution, in 1783 the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts declared slavery unconstitutional. When the first federal census was taken in 1790, Massachusetts was the only state in the Union to record no slaves. The Black Heritage Trail is a stroll past the homes, Meeting Houses (churches) and schools that are buildings of significance in the struggle for equality and freedom. All of the homes are private residences or offices so you can’t enter them but it was a nice cool day and a pleasant walk. I had the brochure that gives a brief history of each building and it’s owners’ role in the abolition movement and the lives of the black community.
The Trail begins at the Shaw Memorial in the upper corner of Boston Common, across from the State House.
- The Shaw Memorial commemorates the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; the first black regiment recruited in the north after Lincoln admitted African American soldiers into the Union forces in 1863. They were almost wiped out in their first battle attempting to capture Confederate-held Charleston, SC. Sgt. William Carney of New Bedford was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery, the first black soldier to receive this honor. The memorial was dedicated May 31, 1897.
2. George Middleton House. 5-7 Pinckney Street. Built in 1787 it is one of the oldest standing homes in Beacon Hill. Middleton was a Revolutionary War veteran. He led the Bucks of America, one of three black militias that fought against the British. After the war he was an activist and community leader.
3. Phillips School. Corner of Anderson and Pinckney Streets. Built in 1824 this was a white-only school until 1855. When the Massachusetts Legislature abolished segregated schools that year this became one of Boston’s first integrated schools.
4. John J. Smith House. 86 Pinckney Street. Smith was born free in Richmond, VA and moved to Boston in the late 1840s. He opened a barbershop that became a center for abolitionist activity and a rendezvous point for people escaping on the Underground Railway. Smith was later elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for three terms.
5. Charles Street Meeting House. Mt. Vernon and Charles Streets. This meeting house was built by the white Third Baptist Church of Boston. The segregationist tradition of seating prevailed. After Timothy Gilbert, one of the members tested this by inviting black friends to his pew (he was expelled) he joined other white abolitionists Baptists and founded the First Baptist Free Church – considered to be one of the first integrated churches in America.
6. Lewis and Harriet Hayden House 66 Phillips Street. Lewis Hayden was born enslaved in Lexington, KY. He escaped with his wife Harriet and settled in Boston. Lewis became a leader in the abolishonist movement and Hayden House became an integral stop on the Underground Railroad. It is said he helped over 100 slaves to freedom.
In 1850, in an effort to appease the South and prevent a Civil War the federal government strengthened the Fugitive Slave Law and granted the right to search and capture escaped slaves in previously ‘safe’ northern states. Boston earned its reputation as a strong center of abolition during antislavery protests in the wake of this legislation.
To protect any escaped slaves who may be residing in his house should slave catchers come Lewis Hayden put kegs of gunpowder at his front door. When catchers arrived one day he met them at the door with a lighted flare in hand and said if they tried to enter he would light the kegs. They left.
Hayden was recruited for the 54th Regiment, was a Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons and was late elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
7. John Coburn House. 2 Phillip Street. He was a clothing retailer and community activist. He served as treasurer of the New England Freedom Association which was dedicated to helping people escape from slavery. He was arrested in 1851, tried and acquitted for the courthouse rescue of Shadrach Minkins, a freedom seeker who was caught in Boston by federal slave catchers.
8. Smith Court Residences. 3,5,7, 7A and 2 Smith Court. Five homes that typify those of black Bostonians in the 1800s. All of the various owners were active in the Underground Railroad and the abolitionist movement and the struggle to integrate Boston’s schools.
9. Abiel Smith School. 46 Joy Street. White philanthropist Abiel Smith willed money to the city of Boston for educating African American children. The city built this school with her legacy. Prior to this school being built Boston’s black children attended classes in the African Meeting house; which is next door. The Abiel Smith School is home to the African America Museum and is the end of the trail.
We could not take photos in the museum which contained information about African American authors and newspaper writers and copies of their works but we were on hand when a park ranger opened the African Meeting House and took us inside to tell us about the building and it’s importance to the African American community as a church, school and meeting room. Many important speeches and speakers of the abolishist movement were given within its walls.
The Meeting House was built by free black labourers in 1806 and is considered the oldest surviving black church building in the USA.
As we walked the Black Heritage Trail we saw other buildings we liked, passed the ritzy Louisburg Square again, and went to Acorn Street. reputed to be the most photographed street in Boston
This building is across the street from Boston Common and is getting enfolded in scaffolding. I spoke to one of the workers and he said it will be a six month job to work on the brick and the windows.
Vilna Shul, the building on the right, is the oldest synagogue in Boston. Completed in 1919 by Jews from Vilna (now Lithuania), it was abandoned in 1985 when the congregationd dropped to a single member but was bought by the Boston Center for Jewish Heritage and is undergoing extensive renovations.
When we left the museum we made our way back to Boston Common and to the back side of the Frog Pond to locate a geo-cache. We also found a cache down a small semi-hidden street off the very busy pedestrian shopping streets of Summer and Washington. And a third cache in the fence on Park Street not far from the Shaw Memorial where our day began.
The Puritan ethic – Religion, Industry and Learning.
It was a good last day in Boston. I hate to see it end. We had a great time here and there is still lots we could see and do. But I am pleased that we made it through my list successfully. Early to bed tonight. We have an 8 am flight to Seattle and need to be at the airport not long after 6, which means a 4:45 wake up. Yuck.
Thanks for following along on our latest journey. I appreciate your comments and ‘likes.’ I have fun. I am glad you do as well.