Boston’s famous Freedom Trail walking tour begins at the Boston Common Visitor Information facility and ends at the Bunker Hill Monument. Ruth and I had done it, so we were looking for something new. The man at the counter recommended the Black Heritage Trail and said that a free guided walking tour was about to begin across the street from the State House. This walk sounded both worthwhile and interesting, so we headed for that spot and met Amelia, our guide. This 1.6 mile trail winds through Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood and involves climbing many steep hills. The venerable Freedom Trail takes several hours and focuses on the Revolutionary War, but the Black Heritage takes about 90 minutes and is about what led to the Civil War, the War itself, and its aftermath, roughly from 1638 through 1909.
These tours are organized by the Museum of African American History at 14 Beacon Street. The National Park Service conducts them at 10 am and 1 pm, Monday through Saturday. At one point, Amelia told us to check out Acorn after our walk. It wasn’t on our route. She called it the most photographed street in Boston. She took us to the Robert Gould Shaw 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial on the Common’s northeast corner to begin.
Shaw was the white military officer and noted abolitionist who led the 1st Black regiment in the Civil War after it was determined in 1863 that they could fight. Shaw was killed in the Battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina and buried in a common grave with his men. Noted 19th century sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens created this memorial and put 34 stars over the participants heads, one for each of the states existing when the Civil War began. Kansas was #34 and Nebraska, admitted in 1867, was #35.
We heard about interesting locals like Mumbet as we walked. Her ironic given name Elizabeth Freeman, Bet was the first slave to file for and win her freedom in Massachusetts. This was granted in 1875. She hired her own lawyer to sue for her freedom. We were in the neighborhood on the north side of Beacon Hill, now home to politicians and the well-off, but a working class area after the Civil War and home to much of Boston’s Black population. Louisa May Alcott, who wrote Little Women, lived on Pinckney Street.
We stopped and talked about many residences, meeting houses, and Phillips, a structure that became one of this city’s first integrated schools. We entered no buildings because they are all privately owned now. The most fascinating to me was the Lewis and Harriet Hayden house on Phillips Street. Hayden, a fugitive slave, and his wife maintained a station on the Underground Railroad. They kept gunpowder in their home and threatened to ignite it if slave catchers entered. Thanks to their and others involvement, only 5 humans were recaptured and sent back to The South as slaves.