Date of Award
Open Access Thesis
Master of Arts (MA)
The Freedom Trail has become an iconic symbol and major tourist attraction in the City of Boston. Yet since its Cold War-era inception, the Freedom Trail has remained problematically focused on a consensus history of leading white men who brought forth the American Revolution. Other heritage trails - most notably the Black Heritage Trail - have been established to correct the deficiencies of the Freedom Trail. These organizations have attempted to provide a revisionist counter-point by telling stories of internal struggle and by exploring groups traditionally overlooked by historians. However, with so many trails possessing so many particularized foci, many different narratives compete for the limited attention of visitors to Boston. This divide among the different heritage trails threatens to "resegregate" history as perceived and interacted by the public.
Using methods successfully employed in researching the antebellum black community on Beacon Hill, this thesis makes use of government minutes, deeds, court documents, census data, church records, and other public records to fill a gaping hole in the Freedom Trail`s narrative. Four generations of communities and people of color were studied, spanning the entire eighteenth century. Slavery dominated the lives of people of color through much of the century. However, by the 1760s, the first landowners of color on Beacon Hill purchased and developed their land: Tobias and Margaret Locker and Scipio and Venus Fayerweather. Others, such as Lancaster Hill, organized and petitioned against slavery and exploitation alongside the freemason Prince Hall. Following the Revolutionary War, the legacies of activism and property ownership combined on Beacon Hill. The Smith, Watts, and Barnes families are used as case studies of those who subdivided, developed, and sold land and homes along today`s Joy Street to house other families of color and formed a physical neighborhood that would thrive as black Beacon Hill for generations to come. Such stories bridge the interpretive gap between the Freedom Trail and the Black Heritage Trail, deepening the narrative of the former and building a prologue for the latter. The end result offers a far more vivid, critical, and complete public understanding of Boston`s history.
Hanson Plass, Eric M., "“So Succeeded by a Kind Providence”: Communities of Color in Eighteenth Century Boston" (2014). Graduate Masters Theses. 270.