The Black Heritage Trail is a walking tour that explores the history of Boston’s 19th century black community. Between 1800 and 1900, most of the Afro-Americans who lived in the city lived in the West End, between Pinckney and Cambridge Streets, and between Joy and Charles Streets—a neighborhood now called the north slope of Beacon Hill.
The first Africans arrived in Boston in February of 1638—eight years after the city was founded. They were brought as slaves—purchased in Providence Isle, a Puritan colony off the coast of Central America. By 1705, there were over 400 slaves in Boston and also the beginnings of a free black community. That 18th century free black community settled in the North End. Prince Hall, the founder of the African Lodge of Masons, was a member of that community.
The American Revolution was a turning point in the status of Africans in Massachusetts: at the end of the conflict, there were more free black people than slaves. When the first Federal census of 1790 was enumerated, Massachusetts was the only state in the Union that recorded no slaves. The all free community (black community) in Boston was concerned with finding descent housing, establishing independent supportive institutions, educating their children and ending slavery in the rest of the nation. All of these concerns were played out in this Beacon Hill neighborhood.