All posts by hseldon

Another map of the area of Abolition Acre

Here Brattle, Cornhill, Court Streets, Wilson Lane are  shown,  and careful viewing will show the old Franklin Lane between Cornhill and Court  — all important to AA history.  North/west of Bowdoin a larger map would show the north slope community, where so many African Americans lived.Wilson Ln


Boston Vigilance Committee

In 1850, United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law, allowing Southern slave owners the right to recapture their escaped property despite any northern relocation.  As a result, Boston, a former haven for free blacks and a hotbed for abolitionist activity, was in turmoil.  An immediate response to this law in Boston brought the creation of The Boston Vigilance Committee.  It is this Vigilance Committee, who, through their detailed records, has allowed us a rare view of Boston’s reaction to the Fugitive Slave Law.

Here is the inside cover of the Vigilance Committee’s Treasurer’s Accounts,  Francis Jackson was Treasurer.  Careful records showed those who contributed to the work of the Committee, and the ways money was spent, for instance:

1852, July 6 “Lewis Hayden for Mrs. Brown 3. J.S. Brown 5 same for Mrs. Cooley 13.24……….21.24”

1853  Feb 10  “for costs Court in suit brought by Shadrack against his master…”


Did the July 18, 1776, readers believe ???????

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: all people are created equal, endowed with unalienable Rights to Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness

A portrait of the first public reading of these words in                     July 18, 1776       Massachusetts, July 18, 1776

The founders generally did  not believe them — SLAVERY

Most founders believed the words were about MEN — did not include “WOMEN”

The groups to whom these rights were unalienable were to be decided in “political” debates for centuries.

THOSE WORDS ARE AND ALWAYS WILL DEFINE THE  GREATNESS OF OUR NATION — Justice Cardozo said those words  “will extend themselves to the limits of their logic.”


Maria Stewart, early advocate for rights of “WOMAN”

In 1832 Maria W. Stewart was bringing both women and men together for her lectures.  Known first as lecturing to women there came a day when a couple of men “sat in” probably quite skeptical.  At the next lecture there were several men, and so the number grew until it was clear that she was admired by both men and women.  Marilyn Richardson names her America’s First Black Woman Political  Writer.   Her early argument against the colonization efforts also denied what most people knew to be central to outragethe founding of the nation.  Abolition was clearly an “Outrage”  to the founding convictions .   Here is an 1837 ad the Union Forever.


Background for Abolition Acre


The truth about the founding of the Nation is that we were born in a horrible contradiction.

Our Declaration of Independence:      “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Our Constitution:   “Representatives shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, three-fifths of all other persons…” (Article I, section 2)

“The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think      proper to admit, shall not be prohibited prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight…….”  (Article I, section 9)

“No person held to service of labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another shall be discharged from such service, but shall be delivered up on claim  of the party to whom such service may be due……”Article IV, Section 2)


The determination of representatives empowered slaveholding States.                    The slaves were declared to be less than fully human! The system of bringing slaves into the country was secured for at least 20 years! The slaves who escape are to be returned to the slave “owners”!

This contradiction is a part of the founding political life. It cannot be denied by any review of the facts of our beginning. Given such a foundational start helps us understand the contradictions which we see daily as we note acts which defy our stated beliefs.  This political contradiction is rooted in the actions of our founders, who clearly  acted in contradiction. To deny that is simply to be wrong!


The Future Abolition Acre

Abolition Acre Responses from some of the “walk ‘n talkers”, July 18:

“Will we mark these spaces?  Will we salute the courage of those who challenged the shame and hypocrisy?  Will we help spread the word of the courage shown here?  In AA, we will.  “A nation is judged not merely by those it produces, but by those whom it chooses to honor”  JFK   Francis

“I was inspired and left with hope that the AA is woven into BPS elementary school curriculum.   What a gift to BPS children to be informed about the long and rich history of Black Bostonian’s  resistance to oppression and the role of white allies. ”  Fran

“Abolition Acre has more history to tell a greater view of importance of that part of town.”   Frank

“I do hope that Scholars will join to bring this history of life.  — never walk by the courthouse w/o remembering the disgraceful actions who imprisoned Burns.”  Ann

“It’s always a bit of a thrill to stand in the actual location where a historic event took place, and Abolition Acre is full of such locations.”  Edith     

“Lost history comes when the story line stops and a new one replaces it. The significance of a place like Abolitionist Acre relates to the history we value and remember. If we can pass that along and impress that story on another person that energy will persist a little longer. We are intent on learning those stories which enrich our lives with color and meaning since we see history as reoccurring. We look backwards to see more clearly what is happening to us now.  …… Let’s use our perspective as historians to act as futurists to create a better society for all of us to enjoy.    Thanks for showing us the place where so much important history occurred. ” –Frank

“Not one plaque, not one marker of any kind, acknowledges the stirring and disturbing events which occurred in the places you took us Saturday.  Yet so much of what took place is so positive, and speaks so well of the participants, white and black, men and women, together.  To me, the derelict alley way, the broken pavement around city hall plaza, is an apt metaphor for the blind eye we turn to our own history, or at least those parts of our own history that are not pretty to observe.  ………..I am well aware that elsewhere in the city –  the African Meeting House, the statues of Garrison, Phillips, Tubman, the fine plaques to Stewart and Walker to name a few –  this history is highlighted. But that is not enough.  At the very seat of the city’s government, physically right where many of the key events took place, this painful, but also inspiring history is ignored. ”      Francis

ABOLITION ACRE: “Reclaiming” Boston History Too Long Ignored

There is now an opportunity for Boston history  too long ignored to be told.  “The Beacon Hill Scholars are a diverse group of individuals who seek to research, preserve, and interpret the history associated with the free African Community that once thrived on Beacon Hill in the early 19th Century.

Part of the reason why that story has been ignored is rooted in the racist assumptions which too frequently labelled that north slope community “nigger hill”. It was perceived as a portion of the city where most of the residents were servants for white folks on the south slope.  With this “mind-set” approach to the north slope, it is no surprise that it has received little serious historic attention. Now comes a time for  a generation of Beacon Hill Scholars to reclaim that north slope history.

With the advent of Abolition Acre, there is an opportunity to tell the historic truth of that north slope community.  The theme of Abolition Acre, while it does not focus on the north slope brings a new “moment” to tell how it shaped Boston and national history:

Abolition Acre features three abolitionists, two black, one white:    Maria Stewart, early black public lecturer,  paving the way for new roles for women, demanding new rights. David Walker, black prophet … ” we are not BRUTES, but Men”.    Garrison, white editor of the Liberator, leader of abolition.

It features the “defiance” by which the north slope community violated the “Fugitive” Slave Act.

It features how the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society, black/white supported Garrison, and converted public leaders to anti-slavery.

NOW is the “moment”, Scholars and friends, to reclaim true history