Phillips School // 1824

Built in 1824 and considered one of the finest schools in Boston, the Phillips School (originally the English High School) in Beacon Hill, educated only white students until 1855. Black students attended the underfunded and overcrowded Abiel Smith School on nearby Joy Street. Although the architect of the school has not been identified, stylistic evidence suggests that it represents the mature work of Asher Benjamin. English High School was founded in 1820 for the purpose of providing an education to “lads intending to become merchants or mechanics.” The disparities in quality of buildings and size of classes between the Abiel Smith School (for Black children) and the English High School (for white children). In response to this disparity in education, Black activists and their allies launched a long and successful effort to integrate the public schools which finally occurred in 1855 through an act of the legislature. With the passage of this law, Massachusetts became the first state to prohibit public school segregation and this school became one of the first integrated schools in the city. The school was named after Wendell Phillips, a white abolitionist from Boston. The school changed names numerous times, but closed in the mid-late 1900s. In 1983, the old school was converted to condominiums, which it remains to this day. The building is now a stop on Boston’s Black Heritage Trail.

Glapion-Middleton House // 1787

George Middleton and Louis Glapion built this two-family residence in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood in 1787, which is now the oldest extant home on Beacon Hill. This wood structure is a typical example of late 18th century Boston homes built by African Americans. Louis Glapion worked as a hairdresser and may have been from the French West Indies. Glapion lived and ran his business out of 5 Pinckney Street until his death in 1813. His wife Lucy continued to live there until 1832. George Middleton was a “horse breaker” (horse trainer) by trade and was adored in the diverse community of Beacon Hill. Middleton was one of 5,000 African Americans to serve in the military on the Patriot side of the Revolutionary War, leading an all-Black militia called the Bucks of America. The group is believed to have guarded the property of Boston merchants during the Revolution. After the war, he became the third Grand Master of the African Lodge, later known as the Prince Hall Masons. In 1796, Middleton founded the African Benevolent Society, which helped orphans and widows through job placement and financial relief. He died in 1815, outliving his wife and apparently left no children when he died in 1815.

John J. Smith House // c.1840

Born free in Richmond, Virginia, John J. Smith (1820–1906) moved to Boston in the 1840s. Upon his arrival in Boston, he found the city was much more accepting of African Americans than the South, where slavery was still rampant. He opened a barbershop on the north slope of Beacon Hill, which at the time, had become a diverse neighborhood of free blacks and wealthy abolitionists. His shop became a gathering place for abolitionist activity. After the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850, Smith sheltered refugees and helped with their escape plans. The Fugitive Slave Act was drafted by Senator James Mason of Virginia, and allowed slave catchers to travel north to bring escaped slaves back to chains. In addition, any person aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was subject to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine (over $30,000 in today’s dollars). During the Civil War, Smith recruited for the Black Massachusetts regiments and 5th Calvary, helping bolster the fight against slavery and confederacy. After the War, he became the third African American to sit on the Massachusetts legislature when he was elected to represent Ward 6 in the state house of representatives. He was re-elected in 1869 and 1872, making him the first black legislator to serve more than one term in Massachusetts. In 1878, Smith was elected to the Boston Common (City) Council, where he served for “a number of years” as one of its first African-American members, the same year he moved into this house in Beacon Hill. During his first year on the council, Smith was responsible for the hiring of Horatio J. Homer, the Boston Police Department’s first black officer. Smith lived at this house until 1893 before moving to Jamaica Plain and Dorchester where he died at the age of 86.