Boston African American National Historic Site

Audio Available:

OVERVIEW: About this audio-described brochure

Hello and welcome to the audio-described version of Boston African American National Historic Site's official print brochure. Through text and audio descriptions of photos, illustrations, and maps, this version interprets the two-sided color brochure that  Boston African American National Historic Site visitors receive. The brochure explores the history of the park, some of its highlights, and information for planning your visit. Throughout this tour of Beacon Hill, you will hear about the free African American community and their allies that lived in this neighborhood during the 1800s and how the events of that time period affected them. 

This audio description version of the brochure lasts for approximately fifty two minutes, which has been divided into thirty two sections, as a way to improve the listening experience. Sections one to sixteen cover the overview and front side of the brochure and includes background information on the history of the neighborhood, African Americans in New England, and a timeline of black Boston highlights. Sections seventeen to thirty two cover the back of the brochure which consists of the walking tour through Beacon Hill. Included on this walking tour are sites associated with the Underground Railroad, recruiting stations for the Army during the American Civil War, the oldest existing African Meeting House, and the first public school for black children in Boston.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Boston African American National Historic Site

In 1980, the United States Congress established Boston African National Historic Site (BOAF). The mission of BOAF, in partnership with Boston Museum of African American History (MAAH), is to preserve and interpret, for the benefit, education, and inspiration of the people of the United States, the historic structures and properties in Boston associated with the creation and development of a free African American Community on Beacon Hill that, in the face of tremendous opposition, mounted a resistance to the forces of slavery and segregation in the years leading up to and including the Civil War.

The largest African American community in Boston during the decades before the Civil War was on the northern slope of Beacon Hill, in the shadow of the Massachusetts State House. Although some black Bostonians lived in the North End and in the West End north of Cambridge Street, over half the city's 2,000 blacks lived on Beacon Hill just below the homes of wealthy whites. The historic buildings along today's Black Heritage Trail were the homes, businesses, schools, and churches of a thriving black community that organized, from the nation's earliest years, to sustain those who faced local discrimination and national slavery; struggling toward the equality and freedom promised in America's documents of national liberty.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Front side of brochure

This brochure consists of two horizontal sides. The front of the brochure includes 1 color modern day photograph of the African Meeting House, historic photographs, line drawings, maps, and photographs of artifacts. Most photos are black and white unless indicated as color. There is also a time line on the last section of the front of the brochure.

The text explains the history of this site which was the neighborhood where many of Boston's African American residents found a home in the 1800s. The residents of the North slope of Beacon Hill established homes, businesses, places of worship, and school where they could live in relative peace. During the 1800s, this neighborhood also was the site of a number of anti-slavery activists and was a site along the Underground Railroad. 

↑ back to top

IMAGE: Boston African American

DESCRIPTION: Photograph of the outside of the African Meeting House on the North Slope of Beacon Hill in Boston, Massachusetts on a bright day. This is the oldest African Meeting House still in existence in the United States. The building is made of red brick and stands at three stories tall. Extending from left to right on the first level are four arches inset about three inches into the building. The first and fourth arch are solid red brick with granite lining the top of the arch. The second and third arch have black wooden doors and are topped by four small square windows.  There is a glass and black metal lantern extending at a ninety degree angle from the building on a metal rod approximately two feet in length. The second and third floors are marked by four large round arch windows with white shutters on the inside of the glass. The sky is blue and cloudless with bright green foliage in the upper right hand corner.

CREDIT: Joanne Devereaux

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TEXT: Black Boston: The North Slope of Beacon Hill

DESCRIPTION: This sketch depicts a scene where a large group of people surround a stairway where a man stands alone pontificating to the crowd. In the background of this image, two large trees with no leaves frame the photograph, as their branches stretch across the top of the frame and their trunks root themselves behind the diverse group of people listening to the speaker. In the center of the sketch there are a series of 6 stairs, which begin at the bottom of the sketch and extend to the middle of the sketch itself, and take up the center third of the width of the sketch. A white man, Wendell Phillips, stands on the second stair from the bottom. He stands with his right hand extended stretching up to the sky, and holds his dark colored top hat in his left hand. He wears a dark suit and a dark sack coat, which covers his lighter colored undershirt and reveals a dark colored neckerchief. A thin metal fence and railing line the stairs where Phillips stands, and at the top of the stairs the fence extends to the right and the left, in either direction. On either side of this fence and on both sides of the stairs rests a diverse group of people, all dressed in their best clothing, looking up at Phillips as he makes his speech. Their individual faces are visible, revealing that men and women, black and white, were all present to hear this speech. At the top of the staircase more individuals are visible, however their faces are not visible as if to show the extreme number of people who came to listen to Phillips. There appear to be some form of clouds in the background, but the sky is a clear and pale white.

CAPTION: Reformer Wendell Phillips addresses an antislavery meeting on Boston Common, April 11, 1851.

CREDIT: The Library of Congress

RELATED TEXT: Text by James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton

The largest African American community in Boston during the decades before the Civil War was on the northern slope of Beacon Hill, in the shadow of the Massachusetts State House. Although some black Bostonians lived in the North End and in the West End north of Cambridge Street, over half the city’s 2,000 blacks lived on Beacon Hill just below the homes of wealthy whites. The historic buildings along today’s Black Heritage Trail® were the homes, businesses, schools, and churches of a thriving black community that organized, from the nation’s earliest years, to sustain those who faced local discrimination and national slavery, struggling toward the equality and freedom promised in America’s documents of national liberty.

Crispus Attucks, black martyr of the Boston Massacre, was the symbol of sacrifice in the name of liberty for black Revolutionary War soldiers who helped bring a free nation into being. Yet American promises of freedom and equality rang hollow in the ears of slaves like Quok Walker, who sued for his liberty in 1783. With his victory, Massachusetts abolished slavery, declaring it incompatible with the state constitution. Free blacks, uniting families and seeking mutual support, concentrated in Boston’s North End near the docks and sea where many worked. Black Bostonians’ organizations, like the African Society and Prince Hall Masons, spoke out against racial discrimination and slavery.

Establishment of the African Baptist Church and construction of its African Meeting House on Beacon Hill in 1806 drew many blacks to hear the church’s dynamic minister, Thomas Paul. Soon the center of an active community, the meeting house hosted a school, community groups, musical performances, and antislavery agitation. From these slopes Prince Hall denounced the ill treatment of blacks in Boston, David Walker exhorted southern slaves to rise up against their masters, Maria Stewart called black men to greater exertions on behalf of their race, William C. Nell spearheaded the successful movement for school integration, Lewis Hayden defied southern slave catchers, and Frederick Douglass inspired black men to enlist in the Civil War to end slavery.

In 1831 white abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison launched his radical newspaper The Liberator promoting interracial antislavery alliances and the protection of fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. Boston earned its reputation as a strong center of abolition during antislavery protests in the wake of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Black and white Bostonians took direct action to protect and sometimes rescue fugitives seek­ing shelter in the city.

In the Civil War black Bostonians formed the core of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, fighting to preserve the United States and destroy slavery. Boston’s blacks, mainly domestic workers, laborers, and sailors, created an active community on Beacon Hill that fought for better working conditions. They joined other blacks and white abolitionists, building a campaign that brought freedom to all blacks.

After the Civil War many freed African Americans moved north. Boston’s black population increased from fewer than 2,500 in 1860 to nearly 12,000 by 1900. Most newcomers came from the Southeast, some brought by the Freedmen’s Bureau for training and employment as domestic servants. They expanded black residential areas, settling in Boston’s South End and Roxbury. Gradually long-time black residents of Beacon Hill moved their businesses and homes to that area. By 1930 South End and Roxbury were home to most of Boston’s 21,000 African Americans.

↑ back to top

IMAGE: Col. Robert Gould Shaw

DESCRIPTION: A cutout of a historic, black and white photograph of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the white commander of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts. His body is turned quarter facing the camera. He is looking to a point off to the right shoulder of the camera. His hair is dark in color, parted in the middle, and swept to his left. It is straight and comes down to the top of his ears. He has deep set eyes and thicker eyebrows. He has a dark colored mustache that reaches a quarter inch below his mouth on both sides. His chin is slightly pointed. Colonel Shaw is wearing a military uniform which is dark in color with lighter colored epaulets on the top of both shoulders. There are 14 lighter colored buttons going down the center of his body from neck to hip in two rows equally spaced. His uniform extends past his hips.

CAPTION: Col. Robert Gould Shaw. son of a Boston abolitionist family, commanded the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first all-black military unit raised in the North in the Civil War. 


↑ back to top

IMAGE: Recruitment Broadside for the 54th Regiment

DESCRIPTION: This historic broadside, or large format document, was used to recruit African Americans into the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts to fight for the  United States Army during the Civil War after 1863. The document, which would have measured approximately 29 inches tall by 22 inches wide, is yellow with age and is missing parts of the paper in the upper left corner and lower left corner due to age. Using many exclamation points, this broadside would have been pasted on walls, fences, and other flat surfaces throughout Boston to recruit soldiers.

The broadside, which contains a variety of black fonts including bold, italic, serif, and unknown types reads: 

Now in camp at Readville! 

54th Regiment! 

Mass. Volunteers, composed of men of 

African Descent

Col. Robert G. Shaw

a double line separates this text from the next set. The top line is bold and thicker than the second line.

An graphic of a left hand pointing with the index and thumb to the right. Colored Men, Rally 'Round the Flag of Freedom!

a double line separates the above text from the next set. The top line is bold and thicker than the second line.

Bounty $100!

at the expiration of the term of service.

Pay, $13 a Month!

Good Food & Clothing!

State Aid to Families!

A double line separates the above text from the next set. The top line is bold and thicker than the second line.

Recruiting office, 

Cor. Cambridge & North Russell Sts.,


Lieut. J.W.M. Appleton, Recruiting Officer.

A line separates the above text from the next set.

Rwell & Co., Steam Job Printers, No 37 Congress Street, Boston. Written in pencil is [1863?]

CAPTION: Poster in Boston recruiting African Americans for service in the 54th Regiment, 1863.

CREDIT: Massachusetts Historical Society

↑ back to top

MAP: Bostons African American community


This map is primarily used for historical information and should not be used for wayfinding.

This map is the only one on the front side of the brochure for Boston African American National Historical Park. It is untitled and is orientated with north at the top. It shows the area of Massachusetts from Charlestown in the north to Mattapan to the south. There is no tactile map available.

The legend on the map is located in the bottom right corner and shows the distance and scale of the area featured in the map. The scale is from zero to two miles. 

The map marks the following places as traditionally African American communities, listed from north to south:

Charlestown, Cambridge, Beacon Hill, The South End, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, and Mattapan.

The map shows the major roads through these areas including:
Route One,  Route Ninety Three, Route Ninety, Route Twenty Eight, and Route Two Hundred Three

The map also shows the following major bodies of water:
Charles River, Boston Harbor, and Neponset River

CAPTION: Boston's African American community has traditionally lived in neighborhoods shown here. 

CREDIT: Library of Congress

↑ back to top

IMAGE: Ellen Craft and Lewis Hayden

DESCRIPTION: This black-and-white sketch of Ellen Craft is cropped so that there is no frame of the picture. Rather it as if her body, from the chest up, is embedded in the page. She is depicted as looking directly at the artist, however her shoulders are angled so that her chest is turned slightly to the right. Both of her shoulders are still visible. Ellen Craft is a woman of mixed race. She is both Caucasian and of African descent. As a result, her skin is very light, and she could pass as a white woman. Ellen is wearing a typical daytime dress from the Antebellum Period and is wearing accessories typical of a lady of status at that time. For example, there is a broach upon the collar of her dress, which is a metal circle that appears to have some form of jewel in the center. Her hair is pulled back, most likely in a low bun, as was the style of the period. She is wearing a fabric hat on her head, which has many layers of dark-colored fabric, edged in a thin trim. The hat has some beads throughout it and a feather on the left side. There are ribbons that extend down toward her neck that are striped and about 2 inches wide. Her lips are turned up in a slight smile.

Similar to the sketch of Ellen Craft, the black-and-white sketch of Lewis Hayden is cropped so tightly that there is no frame of the picture. He appears from the chest up, too. Hayden’s sketch slightly overlaps with the sketch of Craft’s to appear as if his right shoulder is behind her head. Hayden is a man of African descent. He is dressed in a dark suit jacket, and vest, as well as a white-collared shirt. He has a period appropriate bowtie, dark in color. His face is neither smiling nor frowning, but he looks as if he is deep in thought. His hair is short but very curly, and appears to be “salt and pepper” in color, as though his hair is in the process of changing color from black to gray.

CAPTION: Fugitive slave Ellen Craft and Boston antislavery activist Lewis Hayden. The light-skinned Craft and her husband William Craft were two of many fugitive slaves that Hayden helped keep out of the hands of slave catchers. 

CREDIT: The Bostonian Society/Old State House

↑ back to top

IMAGE: Newspaper to defeat slavery

DESCRIPTION: This image is one page of the newspaper The Liberator, an anti-slavery newspaper published in Boston by William Lloyd Garrison from 1831-1865. The paper is a cream color, as if it has aged. “THE LIBERATOR” is clearly written in large block letters at the top of the page, about one fifth of the way down, with a sketch drawn above it. The scan of the page is zoomed out too far to gain an understanding for what the sketch is showing, but it is most likely similar to other versions of the liberator, which depict images of enslaved persons, enslavers, and free blacks amid a larger landscape scene. Beneath the newspaper title, it is evident that the page of the newspaper is filled with small text that make up the contents of that edition of the paper.

CAPTION: William Lloyd Garrison established The Liberator in Boston in 1831. He devoted the four-page weekly newspaper to the defeat of slavery. 

CREDIT: Library of Congress

↑ back to top

IMAGE: Anthony Burns

DESCRIPTION: Anthony Burns was a black man born enslaved in Virginia, who traveled to Boston in 1854 via the underground railroad to steal himself and gain his freedom. This sketch, in a circular frame, shows Burns when he is approximately 20 years old. He is looking to his left, leaving the viewer to see a three-quarter profile of his face. He has strong cheek bones and a cut jawline. He is wearing a dark suit jacket and vest, and a dark neck tie atop of a white collared shirt. His hair is parted on his right side, and is cut very close to his head, so the texture is not evident. His mouth is curved into a very slight smile.

CAPTION: The slavery trial of Anthony Burns in Boston galvanized Northern opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. 

CREDIT: Library of Congress

↑ back to top

IMAGE: U.S. Marshals

DESCRIPTION: This black and white line horizontal drawing shows a crowded scene in Boston's history: Anthony Burns being returned into slavery by United States marshals and United States Marines. There is a large crowd of people on the road in front of a line of buildings. Inside this group, it is difficult to tell many details of the individual people, but they are spaced as if marching in a parade together. At the left side of the image, or the head of the parade are individuals on horses. These horses are both light and dark colored. The people riding them are probably men and are wearing matching outfits that cannot be seen well. The next people in the parade are men who are all wearing dark colored jackets and a variety of hats. Many of the hats are dark colored and look to be stove pipe hats, a short brim of about 2 inches with an upward turn at the end of the brim surrounding a tall circle crown which extends an unknown number of inches above the head of the wearer. These men are followed by two horses and a carriage behind them with an individual standing beside the horses. There is a empty space between these individuals on the road and another crowd which is observing the activity. This large group is also very crowded and it is difficult to see many details. The group is made up mostly of men who are wearing a variety of jackets in light or dark colored fabric and a variety of hats.

In the background, from left to right are four buildings spaced very closely to each other. The first building is a three story building that has at least six windows on the second story and seven windows on the third level. The second building is the Court House. It has six stories and is the widest building in the photograph. The building has six columns that stretch four stories tall and are spaced evenly through the building with five vertical sets of three windows between them. The top of the building ends in a large, wide, and thin triangle. The third building is three stories tall, though shorter than the first building. There is a partial view of the fourth building on the far right of the image.  The fourth building is four stories tall and has at least three windows evenly spaced on each story. The parade obscures the first floor of each building in this line.

CAPTION: After the trial, US marshals and a company of marines escort Burns to a ship to take him back to Virginia and slavery. 

CREDIT: The Library of Congress

↑ back to top

IMAGE: John J. Smith

DESCRIPTION: A historic , black and white photograph of John J. Smith. Smith is facing the camera at a two-thirds angle. He is wearing a very dark colored jacket, which is buttoned at the sternum. On his jacket are two medals made of metal that hang from 1 inch wide and long ribbons. One medal is shaped like a plus sign with a raised circle in the middle. The other medal is shaped like an empty circle with a triangle in the middle of it. Underneath the jacket, he is wearing a white shirt with the collar popped up and a striped tie, which is tucked into his jacket. Smith has very little white colored hair on the top of his head and it is closely cropped to the skull. His eyebrows are dark colored. Smith wears metal rimmed glasses that are oval in shape which touch his eyebrows slightly. While he does not have any facial hair on his chin, Smith has a groomed white mustache that extends out into mutton chops which connect the sideburns to the mustache and come off of the face from the cheeks for approximately 4 inches, resting on his shoulders.

CAPTION: John J. Smith, Boston abolitionists.

CREDIT: Museum of African American History

↑ back to top

IMAGE: William H. Carney

DESCRIPTION: William H. Carney, the first African American Medal of Honor Recipient, is shown in a black and white photograph at a one quarter turn towards the camera. He is at least 60 years old in this photograph and looking directly at the camera and appears calm. He has closely cropped white hair across the top and sides of his head. His eyes slightly bulge out of his face and are dark in color. He has a well groomed, dark colored mustache and a soul patch, a tuft of hair extending from the middle of his lower lip an inch towards his chin.

He is wearing a dark colored suit jacket with a pin on the lapel of the left side and a vest which seems to match in color. The vest has at least one button, which is secured. Underneath the vest, Carney is wearing a white dress shirt with a bowtie that is dark in color with lighter colored polka dots. His Medal of Honor is pinned to his jacket above his heart. It is a ribbon with a metal star attached to it. This award was given to Carney after 1900.

CAPTION: Sgt. William H. Carney, the nation's first black Medal of Honor recipient. 

CREDIT: Museum of African American History

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TIMELINE: Black Boston highlights; 1638–1909

DESCRIPTION: This lithograph was created from an artist standing on the North end of Joy street, looking up the North slope of Beacon hill, standing on the sidewalk on the left side of the street, opposite the Abiel Smith School. The Abiel smith school is the two story brick building that is placed directly in the center of the image, and is placed just behind Smith Court – a street that branches off of Joy Street on the right hand side. On the side of the street facing Smith Court, there are 5 windows visible – three on the second story, and two on the first. The windows are evenly spaced apart, and it can be assumed the rest of the windows are being blocked by another wooden building on the other side of Smith Court. On the side of the building facing Joy Street, there are also 5 windows; three on the top story which are evenly spaced, and two on the bottom

In the foreground on the right hand side is a wooden house, and there are our people of color standing around the front door. This wooden house has two stories and is on the part of the street going down. There is a door and window on the first floor and two windows spaced evenly above on the second floor.

CAPTION: Abiel Smith School

CREDIT: Museum of African American History


1638: First enslaved Africans brought to Boston aboard the slave ship Desire.

1641: Massachusetts enacts Body of Liberties defining legal slavery in the colony.

1770: Crispus Attucks, an escaped slave, is first colonist killed in the Boston Massacre.

1783: Slavery abolished in Massachusetts.

1798: First black private school opens in home of Primus Hall.

1800: Free black population nears 1,100.

1806: African Meeting House opens as First African Baptist Church.

1808: Hall house school moves to African Meeting House.

1826: Massachusetts General Coloured Association, a black abolitionist group, founded in the African Meeting House.

1829: David Walker publishes The Appeal, an essay urging slaves to fight for their freedom.

1831: William Lloyd Garrison begins publishing The Liberator.

1832: Garrison forms New England Anti-Slavery Society at the African Meeting House.

1835: Abiel Smith School opens, Boston’s first black public school; replaces African Meeting House school.

1849–50: Sarah Roberts unsuccessfully challenges segregation in Boston public schools.

1850: Fugitive Slave Law requires fugitive slaves be returned to their owners.

1855: Boston integrates public schools; Abiel Smith School closes.

1861: Civil War begins.

1863: Emancipation Proclamation signed; 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment formed, the first all-black regiment raised in the North.

1865: Civil War ends; 13th Amendment abolishes slavery.

1897: Robert Gould Shaw Memorial honoring 54th Massachusetts Regiment dedicated on Boston Common.

1898: Black congregation at African Meeting House moves to Roxbury; meeting house becomes a Jewish synagogue.

1900: Sgt. William H. Carney, veteran of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, receives Medal of Honor for rescuing the flag during the Battle of Fort Wagner, SC, in 1863.

1901: William Monroe Trotter begins publication of influential African American magazine The Boston Guardian.

1909: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founded, with overwhelming support of black and white Bostonians..

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Back side of brochure

DESCRIPTION: The back of the brochure has six modern day color photos of sites along the Black Heritage Trail and a map of the area in between text with information about each site along the Trail. The map is in color and shows where the Black Heritage Trail and Freedom Trail meet along with sites of interest, the locations of the subway, and a scale for distance.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Black Heritage Trail®

DESCRIPTION: The American Revolution was a turning point in the status of African Americans in Massachusetts. In 1783 the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts declared slavery unconstitutional. When the first federal census was counted in 1790, Massachusetts was the only state in the Union to record no slaves.

The free African American community in Boston was concerned with finding decent housing, establishing independent supportive institutions, educating their children, and ending slavery in the rest of the nation. Between 1800 and 1900, most African Americans in Boston lived in the West End, between Pinckney and Cambridge streets and between Joy and Charles streets, a neighborhood now called the North Slope of Beacon Hill. Many of these homes are part of the Black Heritage Trail®.

Note: Historic homes on the Black Heritage Trail® are private residences and not open to the public. Please respect the privacy of homeowners.

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TEXT: Robert Gould Shaw

 Robert Gould Shaw, 54th Regiment Memorial Park and Beacon Streets

DESCRIPTION: This photo shows the Robert Gould Shaw, 54th Regiment Memorial which is located across the street from the Massachusetts State House. This Memorial honors the African American men who joined the United States Army starting in 1863 during the American Civil War to fight under command of colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a white man. The Memorial is made of bronze and depicts the individuals of the 54th Regiment in full scale and in three d. The color of the monument is dark brown and where the light shines on it, the metal is shiny. Each individual soldier is depicted in a very lifelike manner and is different from the soldier beside or in front of him.

The viewer is looking at the Memorial from a left angle. From left to right, there are multiple lines of men  who are shown as if they are walking together in the background of the sculpture. Each man who is depicted is shown wearing the items of a Civil War soldier: boots, trousers that extend to their ankles, a circular canteen or water bottle attached to their belt at the hip, long sleeve jacket that extends to their wrists, a kepi or cap that sat on the top of their head. The soldiers are all carrying rifles that are braced on their right shoulders in the air. They also all have knapsacks on their backs with a bedroll or sleeping bag on the top of the knapsack and items inside of it.

In front of the soldiers is a full sized horse that has colonel Robert Gould Shaw on it. The horse is also depicted as walking. colonel Shaw is shown sitting in a saddle on the horse with his feet in the stirrups. He is wearing boots, long trousers, a long sleeve jacket, and kepi or cap. There is a bedroll located behind the saddle that Shaw is sitting on. In his right hand, he carries a long sword which is pointed at a downward angel towards the ground. While the faces of the men are shown as calm, determined, and stoic, the horse is shown with wide opened eyes and his lips pulled back from his teeth as if to show fear.

Above the men is an angel that is floating horizontally. She is part of the back wall of the Memorial. She is traveling in the same direction that the men are. She is dressed in a flowing gown that extends from her shoulders down her body. The dress has many folds and indicates a light weighted material for the fabric.

The photograph was taken during the spring or summer and is in the light. There is a branch from a tree with green leaves in the top right corner of the Memorial, but the branch does not obscure the Memorial. 


CREDIT: Susan Cole Kelly

RELATED TEXT: Responding to pressure from black and white abolitionists, President Lincoln admitted African American soldiers into the Union forces in 1863. The 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was the first black regiment recruited in the North. On July 18, 1863, the 54th regiment led an assault on Fort Wagner in an attempt to capture Confederate-held Charleston, SC. In this hard-fought battle, Col. Robert Gould Shaw and many of his soldiers were killed. Sgt. William Carney of New Bedford was wounded while saving the flag from capture. Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery, the first black soldier to receive this honor. This bronze memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens was dedicated May 31, 1897, in a ceremony that included Carney and members of the 54th Regiment.

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TEXT: George Middleton House, 5–7 Pinckney Street

DESCRIPTION:  A photograph of the George Middleton House on the North Slope of Beacon Hill. George Middleton was an early leader in Boston's African American community and a colonel in the Revolutionary War.  The house is made of wood siding, stands two stories tall, and is dark gray in color. From left to right, the house has a wooden door with a light located at the top and middle of the entrance. It also has a gold colored door knocker located in the top third of the door. There are two windows spaced evenly next to the door with black metal braces and white shutters located on  the inside of the windows. The second story has three windows, the top left which is obscured by a black lamp post which is located on the sidewalk outside of the house. The other two are spaced evenly above the ones on the first floor. The top of the house has metal gutters which drain into a shiny copper pipe down the side of the structure. Next door is a three story red brick building which has multiple windows that are framed with black shutters on the outs

The George Middleton House

Boston African American NHS/ NPS

CAPTION: George Middleton House

CREDIT: Susan Cole Kelly

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TEXT: Phillips School, Anderson and Pinckney Streets

DESCRIPTION:  The Phillips School is a four story red brick building with a small tower or cupola on top. A birds-eye view of the building would reveal the building is shaped like a plus sign. The photographer did not take the picture from directly in front of the building, but rather from an angle where the front face of the building and the left face of the building is in the frame. From left to right the front faces of the first story of the building has a black wooden door with a small horizontal window above it. The main entrance is located in the middle of the building on this level and has light colored granite around the entrance. There are four light color granite stairs that lead into the building. Some of the entrance is obscured by a small tree with green leaves. The second story has from left to right a large arched window, set within a frame of red brick that is set slightly back from the rest of the front face. In the center of the building there is another large arched window, laying flush with the front face. The third story has two large rectangular shaped windows, one in the center of the left hand side of the building, and one centered in the building. Because of the angle which the photograph was taken, we cannot see the right hand side of the front face of the building. The center of the building extends outward, forming one portion of the "plus" sign floor plan that would be visible from above. The protruding center of the front face of the building has small rectangular windows along it's left face, one on each floor. 

On the top of the building has a rectangular pediment, the triangular upper part of the front of a building, made of red brick with a circular window in the center.

Just behind the pediment rests the cupola, made of white rectangular windows connecting along the edges to eventually create a hexagonal prism shape. The frame of the photo cuts off the top of the cupola.

There are two people walking side by side in front of the building. The photo is taken during the day in bright sunshine.

CAPTION: Phillips school

CREDIT: James Lemass

RELATED TEXT: This architecture is typical of 1800s Boston schoolhouses. Built in 1824, this was a white-only school until 1855. Black children attended school on the first floor of the African Meeting House or, after 1834, the Abiel Smith School. When the Massachusetts Legislature abolished segregated schools in 1855, the Phillips School became one of Boston’s first integrated schools.

↑ back to top

TEXT: John J. Smith House, 86 Pinckney Street

DESCRIPTION: Born free in Richmond, VA, John J. Smith (1820–1906) 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 Railroad. During the Civil War, Smith was a recruiting officer for the all-black 5th Cavalry. He was later elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for three terms. Smith lived here from 1878 to 1893.

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TEXT: Charles Street Meeting House, Mt. Vernon and Charles Streets

DESCRIPTION: This horizontal photograph shows the Charles Street Meeting House, originally a white Baptist Church. The church building sits in the middle of the photograph. It is a red brick building approximately four stories tall and is topped with a white, wooden steeple which is at the front of the roof and ends in a curved triangle at the top. The steeple has at least two large arch openings in it. On the first floor there is a wooden door for the entrance into the structure. There are three windows facing the street and one window on the side of the building on the second and third floors. These windows have many panes of glass in them. On the fourth floor there is a clock inset into the area between the floor and the base of the steeple. The Meeting House is surrounded by other red brick buildings on either side.  The photograph was taken in the spring and the trees that are in the foreground on the left and right side of the photograph show early white and light green buds. The sky is light blue and has no clouds.

CAPTION: Charles Street meeting house.

CREDIT: Susan Cole Kelly

RELATED TEXT: This meeting house was built in 1807 by the white Third Baptist Church of Boston. New England’s segregationist tradition of church seating prevailed. Timothy Gilbert, church member and abolitionist, tested the tradition in the mid-1830s by inviting black friends to his pew one Sunday. Gilbert was expelled. Joined by other white abolitionist Baptists, Gilbert founded the First Baptist Free Church, which became Tremont Temple—considered to be one of the first integrated churches in America. After the Civil War, Boston’s black population increased, and the largest of its churches bought the building in 1876. The African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) remained here until 1939, the last black institution to leave Beacon Hill.

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TEXT: Lewis and Harriet Hayden House, 66 Phillips Street

DESCRIPTION:This is a photograph, rectangle in shape, depicting the front face of a three story red-brick building. The second and third stories each have three windows. All of the windows are spaced apart evenly – with the center window of each story directly in the center of the building. There are two windows on the bottom floor, placed directly underneath the center windows and right windows (if you are looking at the building) on the two floors above it. All of these windows have green shutters. When looking at the building, one can see on the left hand side of the home, directly under the windows on the far left of the second and third stories, is an entry way. There is a white frame holding up a glass arch and entryway, also framed in white. After passing through this initial frame one would approach a green door. In between the entryway and the center window on the first floor, there is a plaque, but the camera is too far away to be able to see what it says.

CAPTION: Lewis and Harriet Hayden House

CREDIT: Susan Cole Kelly

RELATED TEXT: Lewis Hayden (1816–1889), born enslaved in Lexington, KY, escaped with his wife Harriet and settled in Boston. Lewis became a leader in the abolition movement, and the Hayden House became an integral stop on the Underground Railroad. The Haydens reportedly kept kegs of gunpowder in their home that they threatened to ignite if slave catchers tried to enter. Hayden also recruited for the 54th Regiment, was a Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons, and was later elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

↑ back to top

TEXT: John Coburn House, 2 Phillips Street

John Coburn (1811–1873) was a clothing retailer and community activist. He served as treasurer of the New England Freedom Association, an organization dedicated to helping people escape from slavery. In 1851 he was arrested, tried, and acquitted for the courthouse rescue of Shadrach Minkins, a freedom seeker who was caught in Boston by federal slave catchers empowered by the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Coburn was co-founder and captain of the Massasoit Guards, a black military company in 1850s Boston that was a precursor to the 54th Regiment.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Smith Court Residences, 3, 5, 7, 7A, and 10 Smith Court

These five homes typify those of black Bostonians in the 1800s. 

•Number 3 

Owner James Scott’s Underground Railroad activity is documented in the records of the Boston Vigilance Committee. Like John Coburn (see 2 Phillips Street), Scott was arrested, tried, and acquitted for the 1851 rescue of Shadrach Minkins. William Cooper Nell, abolitionist and community leader, also lived at Number 3. Nell, the driving force in the struggle to integrate Boston’s schools in 1855, is considered the nation’s first published black historian. 

• Number 5 

Owner George Washington was a bootblack, laborer, and African Meeting House deacon. 

• Numbers 7 and 7A 

Joseph Scarlett, chimney sweep and entrepreneur, owned this building in the 1860s; it served as rental property. 

• Number 10 

Scarlett also owned this property next to the African Meeting House. At his death in 1898, Scarlett owned 15 properties in Boston, a testament to his hard work and success in business.

The brick apartment houses on the west end of the court and on the corner of Joy Street typify the tenements that developers built between 1885 and 1915. The apartments provided inexpensive, dense housing units for the waves of late-1880s European immigrants. Except for the Smith Court Residences, most wooden houses were torn down to make way for these four- and five-story apartments.

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TEXT: Abiel Smith School and Smith Court

DESCRIPTION: This horizontal photograph shows the Abiel Smith School, the first school for black children in Boston, located at Smith Court in Beacon Hill of Boston, Massachusetts. It is located on the down slope of Joy Street and the photograph is taken from a position even lower than the building. From left to right the buildings, of which there are three, each building is positioned shorter than the previous one. The Abiel Smith School is the third building in the photograph, closest to the bottom and shown as a three story, red brick building. Since it is at an intersection, we see both the side facing Joy Street and part of the building located on Smith Court. The side facing Joy Street has two windows framed with black shutters that are under one foot wide and around 48 inches tall spaced on a deeply inset entrance. There is a small black plaque attached to the building on the left side of the entrance halfway up the inset. At the corner of the building, there is a sign hanging off of a metal pole that is parallel with the street and extends off of the building about two feet. From this black metal pole hang two black link chains hanging perpendicular from it which hold a sign with a smaller image of the Abiel Smith School and has the name of the building on it. The sign is black and the image of the school is red. The text is in a gold font. The second floor of the Joy Street sign has three windows framed with black shutters that are under one foot wide and around 48 inches tall spaced. A metal pole extends from the middle window on this level and extends about six feet at a fifteen degree angle which has an American flag hanging from the end over Joy Street. The Smith Court side of the building shows a partial view of two floors. The first floor has two windows with 24 panes of glass framed by white wood. Beside the first window is an old sign that has a black frame and a white interior. There is also an old fire alarm system above the window that is a circle which extends from the building and has a button in the middle. The second floor is mostly obscured by a black lamp post, but does partially show one window with twelve panes of glass framed by white wood. There is a white woman in a purple short sleeved shirt and light colored shorts walking down Joy Street towards the photograph next to a black and yellow fire hydrant. The photograph was taken during a summer day, but there is limited sunshine because the streets of Beacon Hill are very narrow which causes a number of shadows.

CAPTION: Abiel Smith school at Smith Court

CREDIT: Susan Cole Kelly

RELATED TEXT: White philanthropist Abiel Smith willed money to the city of Boston for educating African American children. The city built this school building with Smith’s legacy. In 1835 Boston’s black children attended the Smith School, which replaced the school in the African Meeting House. The school remained Boston’s black public school until public schools were integrated in 1855.

The African Meeting House, built by free black laborers in 1806, is considered the oldest surviving black church building in the United States. In the 1800s the building served as the center of religious, social, educational, and political activity for Boston’s free black community. William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society here in 1832. Frederick Douglass spoke here, and it was a recruitment station for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War. At the end of the 1800s a Jewish congregation bought the building, and it served as a synagogue until 1972, when it was acquired by the Museum of African American History.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Planning your visit

Boston African American National Historic Site works in partnership with the Museum of African American History, the City of Boston, and private property owners to promote, preserve, and interpret the history of Boston’s free African American community on Beacon Hill in the 1800s. It includes homes, businesses, schools, and churches of a community that struggled against the forces of slavery and injustice.

Black Heritage Trail® 

This 1.6-mile walking tour begins at the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial and ends at the Abiel Smith School (see map). For information about tours, call 617-742-5415 or visit

↑ back to top

MAP and TEXT: Black Heritage Trail

DESCRIPTION:  This map is a wayfinding map that shows the walking route for the Black Heritage Trail through the North Slope of Beacon Hill. It is untitled and shows the 1.6 mile walk through the neighborhood of Beacon Hill. Parts of the walking route are on wide sidewalks, narrow sidewalks, flat streets, hills, and narrow sidewalks with many obstacles such as trees, baby carriages parked outside of homes, and trash on pick-up day. There are also many frost heaves that can trip you.  Please exercise caution while walking through the neighborhood. There is no tactile map available.

At the bottom of the map is the legend with symbols for wayfinding. Wayfinding symbols include the trail (a blue line), specific sites for the Black Heritage Trail (a small blue triangle), and the Rapid Transit stops (a bold black "T" against a white background surrounded by a black thin line circle. This symbol is seen over two different stripes of color (in this case green on top and red on the bottom) which indicate the color of the Rapid Transit line. )

The Trail begins at the Robert Gould Shaw, 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial which is located 95 feet west of the intersection of Park Street and Beacon Street. The Trail then goes west down Beacon Street for two tenths of a mile and cross the street at the intersection of Joy Street. The route then goes north on Joy Street for one tenth of a mile and passes Mount Vernon Street before turning left onto Pinckney Street. The trail goes west on Pinkcney Street for three tenths of a mile and passes by Anderson Street on the right, Louisburg Square on the left, and West Cedar Street on the left before turning left onto Cedar Lane Way. The trail travels south on Cedar Lane Way for three hundred fifty eight feet before turning west (to the right) on Mount Vernon Street. It will then travel one hundred fifteen feet before turning right on Charles Street and travel one tenth of a mile north. The trail passes through Pinckney Street before turning right onto Revere Street. The trail travels east on Revere Street for one hundred forty feet before turning left onto West Cedar Street. It travels two hundred eight feet north before turning right onto Phillips Street for two tenths of a mile east. Turning left onto Irving Street, the trail goes three hundred feet north before turning right onto Cambridge Street for three hundred ten feet. A right hand turn onto Joy Street will bring you south three hundred seventy feet to a right onto Smith Court where a walk of seventy feet will bring you to the entrance to the Museum of African American History located at the Abiel Smith School.


RELATED TEXT:This 1.6-mile walking tour begins at the Robert Gould Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial and ends at the Abiel Smith School.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Museum of African American History

The museum preserves, conserves, and interprets the contributions of African Americans in New England from colonial times through the 1800s. It also honors those who found common cause with African Americans in the struggle for liberty and justice. The museum operates the Abiel Smith School and African Meeting House.

Museum of African American History, 

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Accessibility

We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. 

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: More information


46 Joy Street
Boston, MA 02108

PHONE: 617-725-0022 extension 330


↑ back to top

By using this site, you agree to follow our Terms, Conditions, License, Privacy Policy, and Research Protocols.