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Mass. & US
The 1600s

1635 First African slaves in Massachusetts arrive in Salem in exchange for Native Americans sent to West Indies in bondage.

In 1600s African slaves concentrate in port towns. Places like Boston, Salem, New Bedford, Nantucket will later attract blacks to whaling and the maritime industry.


1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties recognizes slavery for blacks, Native Americans, or mulattos; their natural rights include use of the legal system.

The 1700s
Mass. & US


1700 Judge Samuel Sewall publishes The Selling of Joseph, an early anti-slavery "memorial.


1729 Elihu Coleman, a Nantucket Quaker, writes A Testimony Against that Anti-Christian Practice of Making Slaves of Men.




1754 In Boston, the Massachusetts slave census counts 647 males, 342 females.

1754 The Massachusetts slave census counts the total population of enslaved blacks in the colony.

1770 Quaker merchant William Rotch helps Prince Boston sue for wages earned as a sailor aboard one of Rotch's vessels. Boston wins the case, and slavery "ends" on Nantucket.

Paul Revere engraving of
Boston Massacre

1770 Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave and sailor, is the first person killed in the Boston Massacre.


1773 Philllis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects is published. "Distinguished" gentlemen (John Hancock among them) testify that she is the author, even though she is a slave.

1773 -1778 Petitions to the Legislature, signed by Prince Hall, a self-educated spiritual leader, and other free blacks, remind the Legislature that they seek the same rights and freedoms from Britain as their white peers.

1775 The Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery is formed, the first anti-slavery society in the US.















1780 Paul Cuffee of Westport refuses to pay taxes in protest against the state constitution's exclusion of blacks and Native Americans from voting. Cuffee also protests school discrimination and builds an interracial Quaker school.

1780 - 1783 The state constitution provides the Declaration of Rights, including equality of all men. First test cases by slaves Quock Walker and Mumbet (Elizabeth Freeman) declare slavery unconstitutional.

1784 Of 4,000 residents, "Negroes" account for about 2.5% of Nantucket's population.



1787 Prince Hall petitions the Boston school committee for a separate school for "colored" children.

1788 Three Boston free blacks kidnapped and taken to the West Indies. Petition to Legislature by Prince Hall and 21 others successful and they are returned to Boston.

1798 - 1800 A private school, the African School, is established in the house of Prince Hall.

1784 First African Lodge of Freemasons under Prince Hall as master officially recognized.


Prince Hall

1800 to 1809
Mass. & US

African Meeting House in Boston

1806-1808 The African Meeting House is built in Boston; two years after opening, the African school is housed in the basement of the building.




1808 By an act of Congress, it is illegal to transport enslaved Africans into the US after January 1, 1808.

1810 to 1829
Mass. & US


1815 Abiel Smith, a wealthy white businessman, dies and leaves money in his will to fund the African School (through the Boston school committee).

Abiel Smith will



1818 Unlike many other communities of its size, Nantucket does not have a public school system. Pressure begins to build as many citizens start a growing movement for "Free Schools" on Nantucket.


1817 Sabbath (or Sunday) school is organized at the Smith School (The African School was renamed in Smith's honor.)


1816 The American Colonization Society is formed to encourage the emigration of free blacks from the US to West Africa.

Paul Cuffee, ship captain and a prominent and wealthy Westport bi-racial African-American/ Wampanoag, leads an expedition to West Africa for settlement

1822 After 100 years on Nantucket, African-Americans are prominently linked to the whaling industry. Absalom Boston commands an historic voyage on the ship, Industry, with an all black crew.

1820s John Russwurm, an African-American activist, serves as an instructor at the Smith School.

1821 - 1827 Legislative acts passed to improve the public education system in Massachusetts.

1824 The African Meeting House is built in "New Guinea" as a church/school.




1827 A bill of indictment is brought against the town for violating the 1789 law requiring towns to establish public schools.

African Meeting House on Nantucket


1825 Mass. General Colored Association founded to abolish slavery, improve conditions; David Walker leader.

1826 John Russwurm is one of the first blacks to graduate with a degree from a US school, Bowdoin College.

1829 Mr. Jacob Perry, the first and only black teacher in the African school, is hired. He is well received by the school committee.




1829 William Cooper Nell is awarded the prestigious Franklin Medal (as an outstanding scholar), but must act as a waiter's assistant in order to attend the ceremony he was excluded from on the basis of his color.

1829 David Walker's Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World is published. Southern laws prohibit its distribution because the emphasis on education and action is considered too dangerous.

1830 to 1839
Mass. & US

1830s The number of blacks on Nantucket has increased to nearly 500, but they are still segregated from the whites in many ways, including education and housing.

Click here for state census numbers.

1830 David Walker is murdered at his business on Beacon Hill. He was Wanted Alive for $10,000 or Dead for $1,000.

1830 The first National Negro Convention begins in Philadelphia on September 15. One of the main goals of the meeting is to support efforts for free blacks to emigrate to Canada.


1831 William Lloyd Garrison begins to publish The Liberator.

1831 Influenced by Walkers Appeal, Nat Turner's insurrection occurs in Virginia.

1832 Edward Pompey, a well-known and respected member of the black community, becomes representative on the island for dissemination of The Liberator.

1832 William Lloyd Garrison forms the New England Anti-Slavery Society at the African Meeting House.


1834 A map by William Coffin Jr. shows New Guinea (the black neighborhood) in relation to the larger town of Nantucket.



1833 Lydia Maria Child, an influential abolitionist and supporter of the Underground Railroad, writes An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans.

Oberlin College, the first school in the US that admits both blacks and women, opens.

1835 The Abiel Smith School is constructed and dedicated to relieve overcrowding and poor classroom conditions in the African Meeting House.

Susan Paul, the daughter of the minister of the African Meeting House, writes a Memoir of James Jackson, the Attentive and Obedient Scholar.


1836 Anna Gardner is hired as a teacher at the African School. She is a committed suffragist, abolitionist, and integrationist. One of her best students is Eunice Ross.


1836 Schooling for Working Children established by law. No children under 15 to work, but enforcement poor.


1838 Cyrus Pierce, a contemporary of Horace Mann, extols the virtues of public education to the people of Nantucket.


Horace Mann

1837 Massachusetts enacts first Board of Education, with Horace Mann as Commissioner. Mann initiates comprehensive, free school system over next 12 years. His progressive public school ideas are influential throughout the country, but he does not support school desegregation.


1840 to 1844
Mass. & US

1840 Eunice Ross is found "amply qualified" to attend the High School, but is denied because of her color.


1841 Eliza and Nathaniel Barney, prominent Quakers, serve as organizers of the first anti-slavery convention on Nantucket.

Eliza Barney

Frederick Douglass speaks at the Nantucket Atheneum.


During this time, members of Boston's black community actively oppose the Boston School Committee and work to increase awareness in their community of their cause for equal schools.

Click here to read about events in Boston from The Liberator.

1841 John Quincy Adams successfully defends black mutineers in Amistad case before the Supreme Court.

Frederick Douglass speaks at the Nantucket Atheneum at the anti-slavery convention, and quickly establishes himself as a dynamic anti-slavery speaker and activist.

1842 As a member of the school committee, Nathaniel Barney works to integrate the schools - but it only lasts for one day, when the Town Meeting overrides his efforts.

As a result, members of the black community denounce the prejudice of many whites in Nantucket in an address through the local newspaper.

Nathaniel Barney

1842 Stephen S. Foster incites riots at the second anti-slavery convention in Nantucket by suggesting that the churches in the US and by association, local ministers, are in league with Satan. (In response to the outcry in the region, Foster generates a pamphlet to explain his position.)

1843 At Town Meeting, a motion is passed that specifically prohibits the integration of the public schools. The School Committee ignores the vote, and desegregates the schools for a year.



1844 Blacks are resegregated when the School Committee is replaced by anti-integrationist. Black students are transferred back to the African School.

Black parents begin a boycott of the African School.

1844 William C Nell organizes another of his many petitions calling for an end to segregated schools.

Black parents in Boston begin a boycott of the Smith School.


1845 to 1849
Mass. & US

1845 Edward Pompey organizes a petition to the State Legislature calling for an end to segregated schools.

Other members of the Nantucket community opposed to Pompey's petition respond with one of their own to the Legislature.

Despite the passing of the 1845 State Act designed to end school segregation, the citizens at the Town meeting vote to continue segregation.

1845 The Boston School Committee ignores the new state law.

1845 The Legislature passes a law that requires integrated schools.

1846 Phebe Ann Boston, the daughter of Absalom Boston, is the second qualified African-American denied entrance to the High School. With the threat of a lawsuit by her father, the citizens at the Town meeting elect a new school committee that officially desegregates the school system.

Eunice Ross, now in her twenties, finally attends the High School.

July 2 - The Great Fire destroys industrial build-ings supporting the whaling industry on Nantucket.

Soon, the economy of Nantucket collapses and many thousands of people, including most of the blacks, leave the island in search of work elsewhere.

1846 A Report to the Primary School Committee on the Petitions of Sundry Coloured Persons for the Abolition of the Coloured Schools states that the Boston school committee will maintain segregated schools.

Click here to see classroom enrollment at the Smith School.




1847 Frederick Douglass begins editing The North Star. William Cooper Nell is the publisher.


Robert Morris

1849 Robert Morris and Charles Sumner are hired to sue the city of Boston on behalf of Benjamin Roberts five-year-old daughter, Sarah Roberts.

Two conflicting reports released by majority and minority factions "On the Abolition of the Smith School," are released by the Boston School Committee.

Click here for songs from the Anti-Slavery Harp, sung at anti-slavery meetings from this time period.



Charles Sumner

1850 to 1855
Mass. & US

1850 Justice Lemuel Shaw rules in favor of the city of Boston in the Roberts case. His ruling will later be used by the US Supreme Court in the Plessey v. Ferguson decision, justifying the "separate but equal" doctrine.

1850 The Compromise of 1850 admits California as a free state, abolishes the slave trade in Washington, DC, and strengthens the Fugitive Slave Laws.


1852 Uncle Tomís Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, is published.


1854 William Pindell enrolls his mulatto son into an all-white school. Once the school committee discovers this, they transfer the boy.

Members of the Boston City Council, now dominated by the Know-Nothings, challenge the School Committee, reporting that it is possible to desegregate the schools.

Click here to read an article from the Frederick Douglass Papers (North Star).



1855 A second law, amending the 1845 Act, passes the state Senate and House of Represent-atives. The new law holds the school committee directly liable. As a result, the Boston school system is desegregated, and the Abiel Smith School is closed. At this time an 1852 map by McIntire shows growth of black community on backside of Beacon Hill.

1855 John Mercer Hughes becomes the first African-American elected to office in the US. He speaks at the 22nd meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Boston.

William C Nell writes The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, one of the first book written by an African-American that celebrates the achievements of African-Americans.



© Massachusetts Studies Project 1997 - 2005