Boston's Black Heritage Trail and Freedom Trail

Recognizing that the Freedom Trail, which was created in the 1950s, failed to incorporate African American history, Boston created the Black Heritage Trail several decades later. By including nearby sites from both tours, this walking tour integrates the city's two heritage trails within a route that is still not as long as the original Boston Freedom Trail. The tour also includes a couple "bonus" historic buildings and monuments along the way. Enjoy!

Start Tour

Entries on this tour

Thumbnail
Charles Street Meeting House (Black Heritage Trail Site 5)
The Charles Street Meeting House is the fifth stop on the Black Heritage Trail in Boston. Built in 1807 by the Third Baptist Church, the Charles Street Meeting House, then called the Charles Street Baptist Church, is significant as the location of many anti-slavery meetings in the decades prior to the Civil War. During its first decades, the church practiced racial segregation with black attendees being relegated to the gallery and generally barred from many of the privileges of full membership in the congregation. In 1836, abolitionist Timothy Gilbert was expelled from the church for inviting African Americans to sit beside him in his regular pew. In subsequent decades, the congregation took a stand against slavery and African Americans like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth delivered speeches alongside white abolitionists like Charles Sumner. White membership in the congregation dwindled and the congregation sold the building to the Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1876. That congregation had been formed in 1833 and had grown to become the largest black congregation in Boston after the Civil War. The congregation sold the building in 1939 owing to the declining number of African American families in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Thumbnail
John J. Smith House (Black Heritage Trail Site 4)
The fourth stop on the Black Heritage Trail in Boston, this historic home was the property of John J. Smith, an African American abolitionist who helped slaves in the Underground Railroad. Smith also recruited soldiers for the all-black 5th Cavalry during the Civil War, an important regiment in the fight for equality in the military given the prestige of the cavalry in the mid-19th century. After the war ended, Smith served three terms in Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Thumbnail
The Phillips School (Black Heritage Trail Site 3)
The Phillips School is the third stop on the Black Heritage Trail in Boston. The school was opened in 1824 and only allowed white children to attend its classes. Black children at the time had to attend classes in either the first floor of the African Meeting House or the Smith School after 1834. During 1855 the Phillips School became one of the first schools in Boston to accept black and white children together.
Thumbnail
Lewis and Harriet Hayden House (Black Heritage Trail Site 6)
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.
Thumbnail
Vilna Shul
The Vilna Shul is a historic synagogue in Boston’s Beacon Hill area that now serves as a Cultural Center that hosts events, programs, educational tours, and Jewish services one Friday a month and on holidays. Current exhibitions are Reconnect Tapestry and Restoration of the Vilna Shul.
Thumbnail
John Coburn House (Black Heritage Trail Site 7)
The John Coburn House is the seventh site on the Black Heritage Trial that goes through Boston, Massachusetts. Coburn was a businessman and a community activist who made it his mission in life to help escaped slaves find freedom and safety from pursuing slave catchers. He was also involved in the desegregation movement and fighting for equal rights for African American citizens. Coburn is famously known for co-founding the Massasoit Guards and serving as the Treasurer of the New England Freedom Association.
Thumbnail
Smith Court Residences (Boston Black Heritage Trail Site 8)
Owing to the historic significance of many of the residents of Smith Court, including William C. Nell who fought for racial equality in 19th century Boston, the buildings of Smith Court are part of the Black Heritage Trail in Boston. These dwellings date back to the early 1800s and a majority of the residents of Smith Court were black by the 1830s. Residents include James Scott, who assisted runaway slaves and author William Cooper Nell who also led the Boston Vigilance Committee who assisted fugitive slaves. These notable homes stood at the center of Boston’s black community during the middle and late nineteenth century. Prominent black business leaders such as Joseph Scarlett lived on Smith Court until 1898.
Thumbnail
Abiel Smith School (Boston Black Heritage Trail Site 9)
The Abiel Smith School is one of the oldest buildings constructed solely for the education of African American children. Its establishment was the result of years of concerted efforts from activists and parents in the Boston community. After several decades of petitions, the Boston School Committee agreed to provide partial funding for the African School that had been established in 1798. At the time, the African School was being held on the first floor of the African Meeting House, but the school was in poor condition. Funding for the Abiel Smith School came from the will of a white businessman and the school’s namesake, Abiel Smith, and the school was opened in 1835. While its construction marked a huge step forward for African American education, the Abiel Smith School eventually came to exemplify the inequality in Boston's school system.
Thumbnail
African Meeting House and Museum of African American History (Boston Black Heritage Trail Site 10)
The African Meeting House is the final stop on Boston’s Black Heritage Trail. The structure was built in 1809 to house the first African Baptist Church of Boston, making this the oldest surviving African American church building in the United States. The church also served as a school and a gathering place for Boston’s black community. Famous abolitionists and leaders such as William Lloyd Garrison, Maria Stewart, and Frederick Douglass spoke to audiences assembled within these walls. Since 1972, The African Meeting House houses the Boston's Museum of African American History. Two years later, the building became one of the first National Historic Landmarks for its connection to the anti-slavery movement and African American religious history.
Thumbnail
George Middleton House (Black Heritage Trail Site 2)
The house that stands at 5 Pinckney Street, Boston is the second site of the Black Heritage Trail and served as the home of George Middleton. His house is the oldest home still standing on Beacon Hill. It was built in 1786-1787, just after the American Revolution. Its wooden construction is typical for new homes going up during the late eighteenth century. Middleton was the Colonel of the Bucks of America, a founder of the Boston African Benevolent Society, and a Grand Master of the Prince Hall African Lodge of Freemasons.
Thumbnail
Massachusetts State House
Built in 1798, the “new” State House is located across from the Boston Common on the top of Beacon Hill. The land was once owned by the first-elected governor of Massachusetts, John Hancock. Charles Bullfinch, the leading architect of the day, designed the building. The dome, originally made out of wood shingles, is now sheathed in copper and covered by 23 karat gold, which was added to prevent leaks into the State House. In the House of Representatives chambers hangs a wooden codfish called the Sacred Cod. The Sacred Cod signifies the importance of the fishing industry to the Commonwealth. At the top of the golden dome sits a wooden pinecone, which symbolizes logging in Boston during the eighteenth century.
Thumbnail
54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial (Boston Black Heritage Trail Site 1)
The 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial features Colonel Robert Gould Shaw leading the men of the 54th Regiment. The monument's emphasis on a white officer reflects the racial mores of the era when the monument was created, as well as the tendency for military memorials to feature commanding officers. The 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was the most well-known African American regiment to serve the Union owing to the prominence of many of the black men who recruited, led, and served in the regiment. The monument is the first site on Boston's Black Heritage Trail, which takes visitors through sites of historic significance to the African American experience in central Boston between 1800 and 1900.
Thumbnail
Boston Common
Established in 1634, Boston Common is America’s oldest public park. Puritan colonists purchased the land rights to the Common’s 44 acres from the first settler of the area, Anglican minister William Blackstone. The price was 30 pounds, and each homeowner paid him six shillings. The pasture then became known as the "Common Land" and was used to graze local livestock until 1830. Boston Common was a place for celebration as well; bonfires and fireworks celebrated the repeal of the Stamp Act and the end of the Revolutionary War. Over 1000 Redcoats made camp on the Common during the British occupation of Boston in 1775. It was from here that three brigades of Redcoats left to make the fateful trip to Lexington and Concord.
Thumbnail
Boston Athenaeum
Established in 1807, Boston Athenæum remains one of the oldest private libraries in the United States. As membership grew, the organization added a collection of art, as well as thousands of rare books. By the 1850s, it was the center of Boston's literary and cultural scene as well as one of the largest libraries in the United States. Maintained as a private library that the public can visit, the collection includes over half a million books as well as a variety of rare and unique artifacts and works of art. The Atheneum sponsors numerous lectures, art exhibits, and concerts, as well as structured discussions where community members can engage with authors and scholars.
Thumbnail
Granary Burying Ground
Established in 1660, some of America's most notable citizens such as Paul Revere are buried in this cemetery. This cemetery has 2300 markers but is likely the final resting place of an additional 2700 souls. It was named for the grain storage building that was located across the street. It is estimated there are over 5,000 Bostonians who have made the Granary their final resting place. The Infant’s Tomb, where hundreds of children have been interred, is located near the central obelisk that marks the grave of Benjamin Franklin’s parents. Alongside the far wall, an elaborately embellished obelisk marks John Hancock’s tomb. Paul Revere is buried near the back of the Granary; a large marker placed in the 19th century stands by a smaller, older slate marker. Matching stones in the two front corners of the burial ground commemorate James Otis and Samuel Adams. Next to the stone for Adams is the grave marker for the victims of the Boston Massacre. On the right hand wall is a plaque marking the tomb of Robert Treat Paine, the third signer of the Declaration of Independence buried in the Granary (the others being John Hancock and Samuel Adams).
Thumbnail
Park Street Church
The 217 foot steeple of Park Street Church was once the first landmark travelers saw when approaching Boston. The church was founded in 1809, at the corner of Park and Tremont Streets, atop the site of Boston’s town grain storage building, or granary. Park Street Church became known for supporting Abolitionist causes where, on July 4, 1829, a young William Lloyd Garrison delivered his first major public speech against slavery.
Thumbnail
King's Chapel and Burying Ground
King's Chapel is one of the earliest congregations that are in continuous use in the city. It was founded in the city hall of Boston in June, 1686. The building has been modified only slightly over the centuries, and it is still located at the site of its first dedicated house of worship, constructed in 1689 at the junction of Tremont Street and School Street. It was designed by one of the most renowned Colonial-period American architects, Peter Harrison. King's Chapel was added to the List of National Historic Landmarks in Boston in October 1960, and remains active to the present day with regular services, managed by the Unitarian Universalist Association. The first and oldest cemetery in Boston, King's Chapel Burying Ground is the final resting place of many of the first settlers of Massachusetts Colony. The only cemetery in Boston between its founding in 1630 and 1660, this is also the location of the grave of Puritan minister John Cotton Mary Chilton. The first woman to debark from the Mayflower is interned here, as is the colony's first governor John Winthrop. Given the age of the headstones and the potential for inaccurate and missing records, historians are not able to identify all of the men and women who were buried here.
Thumbnail
Benjamin Franklin Statue & Boston Latin School
Established in 1635 in the home of headmaster Philemon Pormort, Boston Latin School became the first public school in America. The school's first building was located here between 1645 and 1745. That wooden school was later demolished to allow for the expansion of King's Chapel, but the institution continued to educate young men for two centuries before admitting its first female students in 1972. Boston Latin continues to operate in the Fenway neighborhood, educating future leaders. Among the many distinguished graduates, five of the signers of the Declaration of Independence attended classes at Boston Latin School. A statue of Boston Latin School attendee Benjamin Franklin stands where the school once stood.
Thumbnail
Old City Hall
Built in the midst of the Civil War and completed in 1865, this building replaced the existing city hall and served as the seat of government for the city of Boston until 1969. The former city hall was constructed in 1810, and was originally built as the Suffolk County Courthouse. In 1969, Boston built its current city hall and moved its offices from this location to present facility. The building now holds a variety of tenants, including the Architectural Heritage Foundation and the Boston Preservation Alliance. The building became a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
Thumbnail
Irish Famine Memorial
The Irish Famine Memorial sits outside in a small park at the corner of School and Washington streets in downtown Boston. It is a monument to the many people that died of starvation during Ireland's potato blight in the mid-nineteenth century and the million more who chose that difficult time in history to emigrate to America.
Thumbnail
Old South Meeting House
Built in 1729, the Old South Meeting House is best known for its role during of Boston Tea Party. On December 16, 1773, several thousand colonists gathered at the meeting house to discuss the proper response to British taxation. From this historic church, the participants launched the most famous political protest in colonial history.
Thumbnail
Old Corner Bookstore
The Old Corner Bookstore sits on the corner of School and Washington Streets in downtown Boston. It is a part of the Freedom Trail. Built in 1718, the structure is the oldest commercial building in Boston. However, the building is no longer used as a bookstore or publishing company. Leased to a number of retail establishments over the past century, the first floor of the building is now occupied by quick-service food chain.
Thumbnail
Old State House
Completed in 1713 to house the government of Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Old State House was home to the Massachusetts Assembly and the Council Chamber of the Royal Governor. Although under the authority of the royal governor, Massachusetts' assembly had become one of the most independent colonial legislatures and many of the meetings and events that led to the American Revolution were held within this building, including the call for a Stamp Act Congress.
Thumbnail
Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770
At this precise location on March 5, 1770, tensions between British soldiers and American colonists escalated until the soldiers shot and killed five colonists. As is often the case, the actual trigger was a minor dispute although the tensions that led to the event were complex and longstanding. Samuel Adams and other colonists labeled the event "The Boston Massacre." Those who sided with the Crown called simply referred to it as a "riot," a term that emphasized the insults and minor attacks of colonists upon the soldiers.

This tour was created by David J. Trowbridge on 04/14/17 .

This tour has been taken 126 times within the past year.