• Dedication of the Shaw Memorial 1897

    Boston African American

    National Historic Site Massachusetts

David Walker & Maria Stewart House- 81 Joy Street

Several of Boston’s most prominent African American activists resided at 81 Joy Street (originally 8, then 4 Belknap Street) in the early 19th century. David Walker, one of America’s earliest abolitionist authors, and Maria Stewart, the first woman to speak publicly for abolitionism and women’s rights, both resided there. A three-and-one-half-story brick home was built on this site in 1825; it was replaced around 1902 with the current building.

David Walker was born in Wilmington, NC and moved to Boston around 1825. He ran a used clothing shop in the city. By February 1826, Walker had married a local woman named Eliza Butler. From 1827 to 1829 David and Eliza were tenants at 81 Joy Street. He was a member of the Prince Hall Masons, the Rev. Snowden’s Methodist Church, and the Massachusetts General Colored Association, the first abolitionist organization in Boston. Walker was also an active supporter of Freedom’s Journal, the first newspaper owned and operated by an African American. Walker became one of the earliest and most forceful abolitionist authors with his Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World and Expressly to the Coloured Citizens of the United States. The Appeal enumerated the sufferings of black men and women, but it also demanded that African Americans fight for change. In one of many vivid and forceful pronouncements, the Appeal states:

Remember Americans, that we must and shall be free and enlightened as you are, will you wait until we shall, under God, obtain our liberty by the crushing arm of power? Will it not be dreadful for you? I speak America for your good. We must and shall be free I say, in spite of you. You may do your best to keep us in wretchedness and misery, to enrich you and your children; but God will deliver us from under you. And wo, wo will be to you if we have to obtain our freedom by fighting.

After David and Eliza Walker relocated to Bridge Street, James and Maria Stewart moved into 81 Joy Street. The Stewarts were admirers of David Walker and James Stewart, who was a mariner, may have helped to distribute copies of Walker’s Appeal in the south. In September 1832, Maria Stewart gave her first public speech to a group of men and women at the African Meeting House; yet this was not solely her first speech. This is the first recorded occurrence of an American born woman, of any race, speaking publicly on a political issue. Stewart, throughout her years in Boston, continued to write and speak for women’s rights and against slavery. She also published some religious meditations in 1832. Now widowed, Maria Stewart moved to New York in 1834.

The Rev. George H. Black, one of the founders of Twelfth Baptist Church, and Leonard Black, a self-emancipated freedman from Maryland, resided at 81 Joy in the late 1830s and early 1840s. The lives of these two men are discussed in the Life and Sufferings of Leonard Black, A Fugitive from Slavery. Written by Himself (1848).

Note: The David Walker and Maria Stewart House is a private residence and is not open to the public.

Sources:

Hinks, Peter P., ed. David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of World. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

Richardson, Marilyn, ed. Maria W. Stewart, America’s First Black Woman Political Writer; Essays and Speeches. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987.

“Historic Resource Study Boston African American National Historic Site” by Kathryn Grover and Janine V. da Silva

Did You Know?

George Middleton House, Beacon Hill, Boston

By 1800 some 1,100 Black Bostonians made up one of the largest free African American communities in North America.