Boston: George Middleton House
If you take up arms to fight for the freedom of a nation, what sort of personal freedom do you expect in return? This week we take a look at the home of a man who answered that very question. Like several homes along the Black Heritage Trail, the building at 5 Pinckney St. in Beacon Hill is a private residence today and is therefore not available for touring, but the site remains an important one for the community.
George Middleton was approximately 40 years old when the first shots of the American Revolution were fired. Born at some point in 1735, the exact month and day are unknown. He chose to fight alongside his countrymen as a Patriot against the British, and was in command of a unit that was known as the Bucks of America. This group was one of very few all-black companies in Massachusetts during the American Revolution, and although war records are incomplete and do not detail what action they saw, it is believed that Middleton (the only member of the Bucks to be remembered by name) rose to the rank of colonel. As the war ended, John Hancock - a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the governor of Massachusetts - presided over a ceremony honoring the Bucks of America and presented them with a flag which is now owned and preserved by the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Settling back into civilian life after the war, George Middleton joined several other African Americans to build a community of their own. Alongside a hairdresser named Louis Glapion he built a two-family home in 1786, which is now the oldest remaining home on Beacon Hill. Serving his city by tending horses at a livery, Middleton also joined the African Lodge of Masons and eventually became their third Grand Master. He was an outspoken proponent of equal rights, especially those of schooling for children, and in 1796 he joined others in creating the Boston African Benevolent Society that would provide financial assistance and job placement for his neighbors (especially widows and orphans).
As he approached his later years, he was remembered as a fighter who would call upon his neighbors to stand up for the rights that other races enjoyed. At one point during a celebration at Boston Common on the anniversary of Massachusetts' abolition of slavery, a group of young white men disrupted the attendees and as they chased them north into Beacon Hill's North Slope community the elderly Colonel Middleton brandished a musket at his front door, shouting out a challenge to whomever would approach his property. Such spirit rallied those who were fleeing to turn and successfully stand up to their assailants. Middleton died in 1815 at the age of 80, leaving behind a legacy of courage and leadership. The simple wooden home on Pinckney Street that survives today can remind visitors of the simple anti-slavery words he wrote that mirrors so well the spirit of our Founding Fathers:
"Freedom is desirable, if not, would men sacrifice their time, their property and finally their lives in the pursuit of this?"