Boston African-American National Historic Site
A one-and-a-half-mile walking tour throughthe Boston African-American National Historic Site in Boston's Beacon Hill district transports visitors back to the time when African Americans struggled for independence and citizenship.
The Boston African-American National Historic Site, which includes 15 pre-Civil War structures linked by the Black Heritage Trail, focuses on the political, social, and educational aspects of black life during this time.
Rangers from the National Park Service lead the guided tour, which begins at the Boston Common. There, at the corner of Park and Beacon streets, is a statue sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and dedicated to the Massachusetts 54th, the first black regiment to fight in the Civil War. The next stop is the 1797 George Middleton House, the oldest home built by African-Americans on Beacon Hill. George Middleton was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and is said to have led a company known as the "Bucks of America."
The elite of Boston's black community first built and owned the homes in this area. Beacon Hill became a safe haven for runaway slaves and was a major point along the Underground Railroad.
Other stops along the trail include the Phillips School, one of Boston's first integrated schools (1855); the home of abolitionist John J. Smith; Abiel Smith School, a grammar school organized by black parents in 1808 as the African School, when their children were denied access to the public school system; and several homes typical of those owned by black Bostonians in the nineteenth century.
The trail also includes the Lewis and Harriet Hayden House, home to an escaped slave and his wife and a station along the Underground Railroad. The Haydens reportedly kept kegs of gunpowder under their front stoop. When bounty hunters came to their house looking for escaped slaves, they met them at the door with burning candles, saying they would rather drop the candles and blow up the house than turn in the ex-slaves in their care.
The tour ends at the African Meeting House, the oldest black church still standing in the United States. It was formed in 1805 and built almost entirely by black labor. The structure served as a house of worship as well as a political meeting place, and it helped bind together the free black community in Boston as it struggled to find its place in the new nation.
The first Africans arrived in Boston in 1638 as slaves purchased in Providence Isle, a Puritan colony off the coast of Central America. By 1705, there were more than 400 slaves in the city, and a small community of free blacks was just forming in the North End.
The American Revolution proved to be a turning point for that small community, and by the end of the war there were more free blacks than slaves. When the first federal census was taken in 1790, Massachusetts was the only state in the Union to record no slaves. Blacks in Boston were already struggling with some of the issues -- finding decent housing, educating their children, earning equal pay -- that would be addressed by the civil rights movement more than 150 years later.
Boston African-American National Historic Site Information
Address: 14 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108
Hours of Operation: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m - 4 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelance writer who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the
© National Park Service
At the Boston African-American National Historic Site stands a statue dedicated
to the first black regiment to fight in the Civil War: the Massachusetts 54th.