William Nell & James Scott House // 1798

One of my favorite homes in Beacon Hill is tucked away on Smith Court, a small dead end alley, across from the Museum of African American History. Built by two white bricklayers, the double house is one of the older extant homes on Beacon Hill. The front of this wide but shallow two-family-home consists of yellow painted clapboarding; the back of the house is a windowless brick wall. This type of construction was typical for Boston before 1803 and especially for residences on an alley.

Starting in 1830, 3 Smith Court was rented to numerous African American men and their families. From 1830 until 1845, one side of the house was rented by bootblack and waiter George Washington; the other side was rented by the barber Andrew Telford and his wife Rachel Turner. James Scott, the longest resident of 3 Smith Court, lived there for nearly 50 years. He was a tenant from 1839 to 1865 and owned the property from 1865 until his death in 1888. Scott was born in Virginia and worked as a clothing dealer in Boston. In 1851, Scott was arrested in his shop and charged with spearheading the rescue of Shadrach Minkins from federal custody. It is not clear whether he actually participated in this rescue (he was acquitted for lack of evidence), but Scott did assist other fugitive slaves. For example, on 18 July 1856, James Scott boarded self-emancipated slave Henry Jackson and his family at 3 Smith Court. From 1850 to 1857, William Cooper Nell was also a tenant of 3 Smith Court. Nell was one of Boston’s most forceful advocates for school integration. He was the author of several histories including Colored Patriots of the American Revolution and he worked at various times for the Liberator, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, and the Frederick Douglass’ Paper. He was also very active in the Boston Vigilance Committee and he sheltered or aided numerous self-emancipated slaves at 3 Smith Court.

Thanks to the National Park Service for the write-up!

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