Showing posts from July, 2020

Boston: John Coburn House

As we visit another home along Boston's Black Heritage Trail, we have the opportunity to see the impact that affluence can have on a worthy cause.  The builder and first resident of the home at 2 Phillips Street was John P. Coburn, one of Boston's wealthiest African-American residents.  A native of the city, he not only provided evidence that black men could be successful entrepreneurs, but also used his abundant resources to assist the cause of freedom. John Coburn originally worked as a housewright - a term that included construction and repair of homes - but as a young man made a change to the clothing industry that employed many African-Americans.  After his business outgrew his home, he expanded to run a pair of stores on land that is now home to Boston's City Hall, possibly assisted in this venture by his white father, also named John.  By the time Coburn was in his young 30s he had become prosperous enough to hire a well-known architect by the name of Asher Benjamin

Boston: Lewis & Harriet Hayden House

If you won your freedom, would you be more likely to protect it at all costs or to risk it in order to save others?  This week we look at the life and home of a man and his wife who took the more heroic path.  Lewis Hayden and his wife Harriet spent their lives in Boston fighting for fugitive slaves from their home in the Beacon Hill neighborhood - a fight that had an especially personal meaning to Lewis, a former slave himself. Lewis Hayden was born in Lexington, KY, to a family of 25 slaves.  He had two early life experiences that helped him determine his worth: first, at the age of 10 he was traded by his first owner for a pair of carriage horses which was his market value, and then later at the age of 14 he happened to meet Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette, who tipped his hat to the boy and gave him a sense of his real value as a person.  His first wife, named Esther, and their child were bought by Senator Henry Clay and then sold again, separating the family forever.  B

Boston: Charles Street Meeting House

Throughout Boston history, meeting houses have been important places.  Whether originating as churches or civic gathering points, they have long served as sources of information.  From Faneuil Hall to the Old South Meeting House, we've already looked at how certain locations have been critical to how Bostonians have come together to form opinions, exchange ideas, and mold their society.  The site we will discover this week symbolizes the city's struggle with race in faith, much as the Phillips School represented the fight for equal education. Built during the first decade of the 19th century along the waterfront at the edge of Beacon Hill (before additional land was filled in along Charles River), the original congregation that met at the corner of Mt. Vernon St. and Charles St. was that of the Third Baptist Church.  As with most locations at that time, segregation existed.  Pews were only sold to white members, and black attendees at services had to sit in the gallery.  Some 2

Boston: John J. Smith House

First of all, happy Independence Day!  I hope you had a chance to celebrate "liberty and justice for all" this past weekend.  Second, my apologies because I am on vacation and do not currently have access to the maps that I usually use to supplement the posts on this site.  I'll be sure to add a map when I am able, just so you can find out a little more about the site we are discussing today: the John J. Smith house. On the south side of Pinckney Street, just down the street from the Phillips School that we discovered last week, sits the home of John J. Smith.  His first stint in Boston was short-lived, as he arrived in town in 1848 but quickly left for California in search for riches during the Gold Rush.  It was probably to many people's benefit that he never found riches, because upon his return to Massachusetts he not only opened up a barbershop in his neighborhood but also began making positive changes within his community.  In 1850, he supported Benjamin Roberts