The Lewis and Harriet Hayden House is the sixth stop on the Black Heritage Trail on Beacon Street in Boston, Massachusetts. Both Lewis and Harriet were escaped slaves who managed to get free thanks to the Underground Railroad and bought a house in Boston once they got the chance. This house would be used to serve as an Underground Railroad house for many escaped slaves to use in their pursuit of freedom.
Lewis Hayden was born into
slavery in Kentucky. His first owner was
a Presbyterian minister. While he was
still young, members of his family were sold to different owners. His own mother threatened to kill him while he
was a child to spare him the horrors of slavery. Years later, he was traded for a couple of
carriage horses. He met and married his
first wife, Esther Harvey, in 1830.
They had two sons together, one of which died shortly after his
birth. Unfortunately, Esther and their
son had a different owner, and they were sold to a new owner. Hayden never saw them again. In 1842, Lewis Hayden married Harriet
Bell. He took in her son Joseph as his
own child. Determined not to lose his family
a third time in this life, he escape with Harriet and Joseph through the
Underground Railroad. They managed to escape
to Ohio, and later Canada, with the assistance of abolitionists Calvin
Fairbank and Delia Webster. Fairbank and
Webster were later tried and convicted for their actions.
After some time in Canada, the
Haydens moved to New Bedford and finally to Boston. They bought a house, which Harriet operated
as a Boarding House for other new free blacks in Boston. Lewis Hayden began to run a clothing shop out
of a storefront at 107 Cambridge Street.
His venture was successful and he eventually needed more space. The clothing shop moved to a larger spot at
121 Cambridge Street in 1853. The
clothing shop was a place where Lewis held many abolitionist gatherings to help
fellow slaves get to freedom. The Hayden House, however, was an actual stop on
the Underground Railroad for slaves to pass safely to their destination. Records
from the Boston Vigilance Committee, of which Lewis was a member, report that
many self-emanicipated former slaves received the assistance of the Haydens and
safe shelter at their home on 66 Phillips Street between 1850 and 1860.
There is a story that claims that
the Haydens kept barrels of gunpowder under the front steps at all times. They
could greet people with candles who came to the front door, and if anyone tried
to force their way into the household, the Haydens could drop the candle and
kill everyone. This stop on the Underground Railroad was so important that
Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, was taken in to see how
slaves on the run felt.
Lewis led a busy life outside of the Hayden
House, he helped recruit members into the 54th Regiment, an all-black regiment
that was led by a white Robert Gould Shaw, and he gave money to help fund John
Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. This was because John Brown had visited the
Hayden House on his last trip to Boston. Lewis also went on to serve in the
Massachusetts House of Representatives for a term, and then spent the rest of
his life by working for the Massachusetts Secretary of State as their